Product Review: Aennon Multi-Function LED Headlamp

hl1Running at night!!

I felt that deserved a few exclamation points and some bolding… anyway, as runners, we often find the necessity to run in the heart of darkness to be absolutely and utterly paramount. Whether it’s because of cooler morning temperatures, time availability, weekend long runs that have to start at 3:30 AM… the list goes on. Bright-colored clothes are always important. Reflectors and blinking LED lights, even better.

But a headlamp? Brother, that is worth its weight in recovery chocolate milk and THEN some…

In pitch darkness, you need to be able to see the road. If there’s debris, you don’t want to trip over it. If you’re running on the sidewalk or uneven pavement, the smallest change in conditions can send you sprawling onto your Royal American. Furthermore, a headlamp will make you visible to oncoming road traffic, as well as other runners, bicyclists, or pedestrians, alerting them not only of your presence but direction and movement.

Ergo: if you’re running at night (or early morning), your headlamp is absolutely essential.

I was sent the Aennon Multi-Function LED Headlamp to review here at Hokeyblog. As always, my opinions are my own and utterly unswayed by anything other than my own empirical observations. So let’s take a look at this product:

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The Aennon Headlamp is constructed out of lightweight but sturdy plastic, with an adjustable strap that fits both around and over the head. The lamp itself has a tilt range of just about 90 degrees. Powered by three AAA batteries, it operates in three modes of increasing brightness as well as a “red light” mode.

So let’s take a look at my experience with the headlamp. Here are a few photos of the unboxing:

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The plastic construction of the headlamp felt light and sturdy in my hand. It took some minor fiddling to get the three AAA batteries in place and back into the unit, but it was mostly an easy effort overall.

Now here came the real effort: a test of the unit during my nighttime run! Here’s the picture of your Running Nerd in question, wearing the headlamp:

With apologies for the blurriness... but not for the dorkiness!

With apologies for the blurriness… but not for the dorkiness!

I’ve worn other headlamps in the past, and there is simply no possible way to NOT look dorky while wearing one. You have to know that going in, and you also have to unconditionally not care one iota about it. This is about safety first and foremost.

Anyway, the lamp felt comfortable and secure on my rather over-sized melon. I have something of a large head, so headgear of any kind — even baseball caps, for that matter — often feels too snug or oddly-fitting on my noggin. Thankfully, the adjustable straps made sure that the unit was not only well-fitted, but comfortable. No problems there.

Now there are three settings on the lamp (four if you use the “red light” mode, which I don’t and can’t see myself using for running purposes), each of them using 2, 4, or 8 of its LED lights. I ran at the brightest setting (“Ultra Bright” mode), which claims to shine up to 164 feet in distance and casts the widest dispersion of the light source. I can’t see myself using anything but the Ultra Bright mode when running at night. The manual promises up to 16 hours of battery life in “Power Save” mode, which uses only two LEDs to Ultra Bright’s eight. Logic dictates that this would leave you with up to 4 hours of power if you use the highest setting on a regular basis. In other words, keep plenty of spares around.

Otherwise, I found it to be a very useful and satisfying headlamp. It never felt hot or uncomfortable, which can happen with other headlamps that simply have a larger, “headband” styled strap that goes around the forehead with the light unit attached to the center. Furthermore, there was no slippage, bobbing, or fussing with the unit. It stayed put exactly where I wanted it to be. The 90-degree tilt was fairly versatile and managed to stay in place throughout the entire of a 5-mile run.

Overall I was pretty pleased with Aennon Headlamp. Compared with others in its class, it is also somewhat price competitive. The only issue at hand would be battery power — a super-early morning run might require 2-4 hours of darkness (or more!), so if that’s the case make sure you stock it with fresh batteries. As it stands, this headlamp is a very light, comfortable, and unobtrusive unit that does exactly what you need it to do.
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Concert Review: The Fab Faux — Ft. Lauderdale, FL (2/21/2015)

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Note: All pictures in this review were taken by the lovely and talented Boots from our seats in Row F, and without a single use of flash photography whatsoever. When it comes to buttkickin’ concert photography, my wife is Queen of the Freakin’ Ninjas!

Ahh… if there are three things we absolutely love here at Hokeyblog, it’s The Fab Faux, The Beatles, and Rubber Soul. So let’s wax poetic about all three for a spell, shall we?

As I mentioned in my album review (linked above), Rubber Soul is, in my opinion, the perfect record towards which you should direct new Beatles fans or those interested in discovering more of their music. Oh sure, everyone immediately wants to refer the budding neophyte to Abbey Road, Revolver, or especially Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but in my mind Rubber Soul is easily the most ideal starting point. To quote myself… which is about as solipsistic an exercise as they come:

[Rubber Soul] arrives at the heart of [The Beatles’s] transitional period, turning away from the imagery of mop-topped teenybopper pop sensations towards singer-songwriters without peer, leading the vanguard that transformed the feature-length album into a singular work of art rather than a collection of singles, b-sides, and filler. With Rubber Soul, the studio had become as much an instrument as the Hofner bass, Gretsch and Rickenbacker guitars, and Ludwig kit, a tableau onto and into which the band expanded the boundaries of their craftsmanship… Rubber Soul evolved the process to a point where the production values were not just stronger; the songs were richer, cohesive, more sophisticated in their construction yet buoyed by the inimitable simplicity and purity of their presentation

I was reading and listening to a lot of Robert Greenberg when I wrote that review… can you tell?

Anyway, The Fab Faux performing Rubber Soul in its entirety was a done deal, in my book. This premiere Beatles tribute band is renowned for their ability to duplicate the sound and spirit of the Beatles’s recordings onstage. This is no “wigs and costumes” pastiche performance. If you’re looking for that kind of experience, there are a host of cover/tribute groups which will provide that level of entertainment in abundance. The Fab Faux is all about the music, and presenting the album-listening experience live and, judging by the reaction at the Parker Playhouse that night, to a rapturously thrilled audience.

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Before the concert began promptly at 8 PM, we were treated to a host of Beatles cover tunes played over the venue’s sound system, the vast majority of which are almost completely unknown to the populace at large (I particularly enjoyed Shang Shang Typhoon’s take on “Let It Be”). As the house lights went down, “Beatle Brunch” host Joe Johnson took the stage to introduce the band, and soon joined the audience to enjoy the show. I know this because he was sitting right behind Boots and I!

Let us introduce the band line-up. We have:

  • Frank Agnello – Guitars, Vocals (occasional fuzz bass)
  • Will Lee – Bass, Vocals (occasional drums, keys, and acoustic guitar)
  • Rich Pagano – Drums, Vocals
  • Jack Petruzzelli – Keys, Guitars, Vocals
  • Jimmy Vivino – Guitars, Keys, Vocals (occasional sitar and maybe a bazouki?)

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These guys are not just ridiculously talented, but extremely damn entertaining. They’ve been performing together since the 90s and this is reflected in their onstage humor and easygoing playfulness, but when it comes to the music the guys deliver in abundance. Joining them for this performance were the ladies of the Creme Tangerine Strings (Sibel Finn and Amy Kimball), who enhanced the band’s sound with violin and cello during the second part of show.

So let’s get cracking and head through the set-list, my thoughts on each song, and where/how they were originally released in both the UK and US. I’ve also included who sang lead vocals on each song, as best as I could anyhow. Again, they often reproduce double-tracked vocals live, so at times it’s difficult to tell who’s singing lead and who’s doing harmonies, but I think I got the gist of it.

SONG UK ALBUM US ALBUM
1. Drive My Car Rubber_Soul YesterdayandTodayalbumcover
Vocals: Jack Petruzzelli, Frank Agnello. The Rubber Soul album began immediately, and you could hardly choose a better opening number than Paul’s cowbell-laden ode to a rather snotty lass who still managed to get her way anyhow.
2. Norwegian Wood Rubber_Soul Rubber_Soul
Vocals: Frank Agnello Rich Pagano. Rich took lead vocals, Jack pulled out a 12-string guitar and provided harmony vocals, and Jimmy whipped out the sitar to tackle John’s classic album cut. This is one of my all-time favorite songs — Beatles or otherwise — which made this a concert highlight for me.

Jimmy on the sitar

Jimmy on the sitar

3. You Won’t See Me Rubber_Soul Rubber_Soul
Vocals: Will Lee, Jack Petruzzelli. This infectious pop number featured Will and Jack on double-tracked vocals, with harmonies from the band. Those “Ooooooh… la-la-la’s” will get you every time, man.
4. Nowhere Man Rubber_Soul YesterdayandTodayalbumcover
Vocals: Jimmy Vivino, Rich Pagano. On any given day, this could be my favorite Beatles song of all time. Everything about it is perfection: the harmonies (provided by all five members of the band), the driving rhythm, the shimmering, perfect guitar solo, Lennon’s stark, poetic lyricism… I could go on. Nowhere Man is probably the most perfect pop song ever recorded. The Fab Faux more than did it justice, they really brought it to life onstage.
5. Think For Yourself Rubber_Soul Rubber_Soul
Vocals: Jack Petruzzelli. Frank whipped out a Fender P and cranked up the fuzz, replicating the fuzz bass sound originated by Paul on the album. The first Harrison song of the evening, this uptempo number was a solid crowd-pleaser.

Frank rockin’ the fuzz bass

6. The Word Rubber_Soul Rubber_Soul
Vocals: Jimmy Vivino. Right before the song began, Will took off his jacket and showed the inner lining to the audience; it was, in fact, the “Butcher” cover to Yesterday and Today. Rather apropos, since that US album contained several songs that were missing from the US version of Rubber Soul. The band provided vocals over the chorus while Jimmy took lead on the verses. Highlights of this song included Jack’s bouncy piano work and Jimmy’s spirited maracas!
7. Michelle Rubber_Soul Rubber_Soul
Vocals: Will Lee. “Were you ever a teenager in love with a French girl?” the band asked as Will broke into McCartney’s tender ballad Michelle. You could just sit back and watch heads swaying during this number.
8. What Goes On Rubber_Soul YesterdayandTodayalbumcover
Vocals: Jack Petruzzelli. I’ll freely admit I’m not a big rockabilly fan and, as such, this song isn’t a favorite of mine. Jack’s energetic delivery worked pretty well though; his melodramatic presentation of the “Did you mean to break my heart and watch me die?” line was one for the record books.
9. Girl Rubber_Soul Rubber_Soul
Vocals: Will Lee. It behooved Frank to mention that on an album full of capo’ed guitars, this particular song was capo’ed the highest (8th fret, I believe?). Will took lead on this one, with Jimmy playing something that looked like a bazouki. I think. But what do I know? I’m just a caveman…
10. I’m Looking Through You Rubber_Soul Rubber_Soul
Vocals: Jack Petruzzelli. The hand claps that pulsated through the album track make their appearance here, featuring lead vocals from Jack with an assist from Frank.
11. In My Life Rubber_Soul Rubber_Soul
Vocals: Jimmy Vivino. In My Life is just one of those great John Lennon songs that floors you every time, and Jimmy handled it beautifully on vocals, with a spirited “harpsichordish” solo from Jack.
12. Wait Rubber_Soul Rubber_Soul
Vocals: Rich Pagano. I’ll freely admit that I’m not much a fan of this song. Not that I dislike it; it fits the album’s tenor just fine, but I’m mostly indifferent to it. The band did a great job covering the song, of course.
13. If I Needed Someone Rubber_Soul YesterdayandTodayalbumcover
Vocals: Frank Agnello. This is the second Harrison cut from the album, and it’s an absolute beaut. Frank took lead but the rest of the band handled harmonies beautifully.
14. Run For Your Life Rubber_Soul Rubber_Soul
Vocals: Rich Pagano. Pound for pound, this is probably the creepiest song The Beatles ever recorded, and probably holds the record for the creepiest song attached to the bounciest, most upbeat music ever. The highlights of the song were the dueling soloists of Jimmy, playing slide on a Gibson SG, and Jack, playing country licks on a Fender Strat. It made for one hell of an outro!
INTERMISSION
15. Hello Goodbye magical mystery tour magical mystery tour
Vocals: Rich Pagano, Jack Petruzzelli. Joined onstage by the Creme Tangerine Strings, the band won back the crowd from an easy-going lethargy of Intermission drinks and snacks with an upbeat number that got the crowd right back on their feet.
16. I Am The Walrus magical mystery tour magical mystery tour
Vocals: Rich Pagano. I Am The Walrus is always a showstopper and crowd favorite. In the six times I’ve seen The Fab Faux, they’ve always played this number to great success… and tonight it didn’t disappoint.
17. And Your Bird Can Sing revolver YesterdayandTodayalbumcover
Vocals: Frank Agnello. Lennon didn’t particularly care for this song, but in my opinion it’s one of the most unforgettable ’60s Power Pop classics. Once again, Jimmy and Jack handled the dual leads during the intro, outro, and chorus. Short, punchy, uptempo, and awesome. Like Jackie Rogers Jr. with a Bouncy C…
18. Ticket To Ride help help_us
Vocals: Jimmy Vivino. Ticket To Ride is often credited as one of “the earliest prototypical heavy metal songs”. I would agree to disagree on that particular assessment, but it doesn’t stop this song from being so gosh-darn swell! Frank whipped out the 12-string Rickenbacker for this one, bringing an unmistakably ringing chime to the table.

12-string Rickenbacker. Let the drooling commence...

12-string Rickenbacker. Let the drooling commence…

19. Here Comes The Sun abbey road abbey road
Vocals: Will Lee. The combination of acoustic guitar, synthesizer, killer harmonies and simple, direct lyrics make for one of the most beautiful songs Harrison ever recorded. With one exception (soon), I saw more people singing along with this particular song than with any other during the entire performance.
20. Glass Onion white album white album
Vocals: Rich Pagano. If you would have told me that the first song of the evening from The Beatles (“The White Album”) would have been “Glass Onion”, I would have been pleasantly… pleased. And I was. I had to give up tickets to go see The Fab Faux perform the entire White Album in Port Chester last year, and I’m still a little bitter. So this helped. A little.
21. Something abbey road abbey road
Vocals: Frank Agnello. Speaking of beautiful Harrison songs from Abbey Road, Frank took lead vocal and lead guitar duties on “Something”. I don’t even know what else I can say about this number, except it was knocked utterly out of the park.
22. Rain the-beatles-paperback-writer-parlophone-cs hey jude
Vocals: Jimmy Vivino. “Rain” was often called the best Beatles B-side ever, but in my opinion is equally as good as its stellar A-side partner (“Paperback Writer”). Jimmy even sang the backwards vocal during the outro. Good stuff.
23. While My Guitar Gently Weeps white album white album
Vocals: Frank Agnello and Jack Petruzzelli. Rich hails us out of the bridge from “Bungalow Bill” into this Harrison classic. Along with “I Am The Walrus”, this is a signature tune that the band has performed every time I’ve seen them. And of course there will be another “signature tune” to come (soon). The highlight is of course Jimmy’s absolutely shredding guitarwork: first a pitch-perfect take on Clapton’s original solo, and then an extended solo section capping off the song. Brilliant stuff.
24. Eleanor Rigby revolver revolver
Vocals: Will Lee. Amy’s and Sibel’s strings were brought to the forefront while Will sang lead on McCartney’s minor-key classic from Revolver.
25. Strawberry Fields Forever magical mystery tour magical mystery tour
Vocals: Rich Pagano. “Strawberry Fields” is one of Lennon’s signature tunes (with a LOT of help from George Martin, but that’s a knish for another deli). There was a lot of multi-instrumentation going on here, especially from Will who went from bass to keyboards to joining lead vocalist Rich on the drums, as the two performed an extended drum outro with Will pounding the floor toms and Rich rockin’ the kit.

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Twin drum outro from Will and Rich

26. No Reply Beatlesforsale Beatles-65-LP-on-Capitol-Records
Vocals: Frank Agnello & Rich Pagano. You know, Beatles For Sale gets slagged on a lot by Beatles faithful but it remains one of my favorite albums from the band. Cover tunes notwithstanding, the dark, acoustic, introspective numbers are always appealing to me, especially “No Reply”, which is so direct in its accusatory anger and desperation. Love this song.
27. Yesterday help YesterdayandTodayalbumcover
Vocals: Frank Agnello. An indisputable classic from McCartney, the perfect simplicity of the song was replicated onstage with Frank on vocals and acoustic guitar, Jack on acoustic guitar, and the Creme Tangerine Strings doing what they do best.
28. Oh! Darling abbey road abbey road
Vocals: Jack Petruzzelli. Yep, here’s another one of The Fab Faux’s signature moments, one that they’ve done every time I’ve seen them and always to rapturous applause. Jack’s spirited, soulful take on McCartney’s stalwart Abbey Road track never fails to fire up the crowd. This was no exception.

Oh! Darling...

Oh! Darling…

29. Revolution The-Beatles-Hey-Jude-UK-Exp-398886 hey jude
Vocals: Jimmy Vivino. MAN, I’m a sucker for a sanded-down, blonde Epiphone Casino… anyway, Jimmy took lead vocals on the last song of the second set, and the distortion-filled rocker brought the crowd to their feet.
ENCORE
The band retook the stage and delighted the crowd by introducing none other than rock legend Dion DiMucci, whose history of amazing hit songs hardly abides the telling, and he performed with the band through both encore numbers!

Dion DiMucci

Dion DiMucci

30. Ruby Baby rubybaby
Vocals: Dion DiMucci. Dion led the band in a spirited, soulful rendition of Lieber and Stoller’s “Ruby Baby”, one of his 1960 hit songs.
31. Twist And Shout PleasePleaseMe TheEarlyBeatlesalbumcover
Vocals: Jimmy Vivino. The evening came to a close with this rousing crowd-pleaser. Dion stayed onstage and performed the song with the band, with not a single ass-in-seat at this point. Not only was everyone dancing, the crowd was in full sing-along mode.

Phew! What a show… and while I definitely missed the guys from the Hogshead Horns — no “Penny Lane” this time around — there was no want for great music that night. Boots and I have a running statement at the end of every Fab Faux show, which is usually one or both of us saying “Every time we see them is the best time we’ve ever seen them!” No exception this night, that’s for sure. Everything in that evening’s performance was perpetrated in service of the music of The Beatles, and I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a better live way to honor the band’s legacy. Great show. Check these guys out when they’re within your confines, or close enough for a road-trip. They’re worth it.

Album Review: “Clockwork Angels” — Rush (2012)

220px-Rush_Clockwork_Angels_artworkRush’s 20th studio album (and as of this writing, their latest release) Clockwork Angels was an ambitious project in many ways. It was the band’s first studio record since 2007’s Snakes & Arrows, during which time they had seen a huge uptick in pop culture awareness and mainstream acceptance, bolstered by appearances in the 2009 feature film “I Love You Man” and in their own 2010 documentary “Beyond The Lighted Stage”. They had also released the album’s first two tracks in mid-2010 as a digital download purchase, in essence creating a new release model for their music — a year-and-a-half before the album’s release, they were already performing these songs in concert. Pretty nifty stuff.

Clockwork Angels is also a return to epic concept album format, an entire LP devoted to a single storyline conceived by drummer/lyricist Neil Peart, one that would eventually be published in novel format in association with science fiction author Kevin Anderson. The tale is set in a steampunk world (think of the future as envisioned during the dawn of the Industrial Revolution), filled with all sorts of carnivals and delights and Watchmakers and Anarchists and desert landscapes and gardens and who knows what. I’ll admit up front that I have not read the novelization or truly tried to piece together the narrative flow. As far as the story goes, I’m taking the abstract musical program approach. I’m more interested in the feel of the story rather than the specifics.

There’s also an entirely different sound to the album. Don’t get me wrong, the album is unmistakably Rush, but as Peart had mentioned in interviews, he was striking out to create something entirely more ambitious with his lyrics, his storytelling skills, even his drumming. The use of warm orchestral strings and piano (with outside musicians!) expands the scope of the music beyond “just” the three main principals. Check out the Middle Eastern rhythms, strings, and vocalizations on the title track, the distant echoes of calliopes and childlike joy on “Carnies”, or the introspective orchestrated balladry of “The Garden”.

The album has a distinct feel, and it’s an engaging one. Sadly, much has been discussed about the production and mastering of the record. So much effort went into giving the songs such a deep, textured musical palette that it’s a shame the dynamic range is buried under a heap of loudness and distortion. The result is an excessively noisy production that robs much of the album of its majesty. One can only hope a remix will someday be in the works. On a track like the otherwise engaging opening rocker “Caravan”, it feels like an absolute onslaught, but it’s even more pronounced on the softer songs that need the room, range, and clarity to really soar. The production doesn’t totally ruin the album, but it does make for an entirely less optimal listening experience.

The aforementioned “Caravan” and “BU2B” open the album, and were the tracks initially released as digital downloads in 2010. Both exemplify the misty, otherworldly milieu within which Peart’s story is presented; something seems purposefully off-kilter, but by design. Geddy Lee’s vocals are well-entrenched in a strong lower register without sacrificing expressiveness and musicality, while Alex Lifeson’s guitar tone is a thick wall of crunch and distortion and bridge-pickup wail.

The desert-sands opening moments of the title track hint of exotic flavor and distant locales, which is then seemingly obliterated by that wall-of-distortion motif that returns constantly throughout the LP. Still, it’s a winning song that shifts stylistic gears around a bit while delivering the story’s central themes and conflicts. Meanwhile what I think is the narrative’s main antagonist is introduced in “The Anarchist”, a steady uptempo rocker anchored by Peart’s rhythmic expressionism and highlighted by the orchestral punctuations during the chorus.

Four heavy rockers in a row, and the trend continues with “Carnies”. Alex is tipping his hat to Tony Iommi with thundering riffage that could have been found gestating in an abandoned pod from the “Master of Reality” sessions. The tenor of the song expands during the verses, sounding a lot less power-chord jungle and a lot more prog-hard-rock’ish. It’s not as interesting as “Anarchist”, but it mostly hits its marks. The same can’t be said for the next track… “Halo Effect” is a bizarre number; it’s probably the closest the band ever got to sounding like they were aping the structure and feel of a prototypical 80s power ballad. Witness the acoustic opening that erupts into a swell of power chords over a singalong chorus. There’s a lot more going on with the song that reducing it to a puzzling pop cultural artifact seems dismissive, but I’d be lying if I couldn’t picture the late Jani Lane covering this.

Geddy’s opening bass riff to “Seven Cities Of Gold” is reminiscent of one of his signature lines hearkening back to “Cygnus X-1 Part I”, but it segues into a fun midtempo rocker anchored by more of the same thundering heaviness we have found in abundance (at least before “Halo Effect”). There’s a bit of straining in Lee’s voice during the verses, but it’s mostly forgivable. Mostly.

The power-pop feel of “The Wreckers” is the first successful tune that breaks through the album’s seemingly impenetrable homogeneous wall. It successfully veers away from the heavy riffage and rhythm section business that has earmarked the album thus far, and it’s probably the album’s strongest track. Catchy and melodic? Without a question, but it utilizes every element of its construction great results. The orchestrations that build into a crescendo during the bridge are an album high point. “Headlong Flight” is a return to the fast, concise riffage of before, but I think to much better effect. Released as a single, it made it to the Top 5 of Billboard’s Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks.

“BU2B2″ is a short, minor-key orchestrated reprise of the earlier album track. A throwaway track, maybe, one that advances the storyline and is interesting in and of itself, but remains mostly inessential. I prefer the sensibilities of “Wish Them Well”, a brighter, more alt-rock’ish tune than we’ve heard before on the album (with the exception of “The Wreckers”, of course). The steadiness of the rhythm section and the harmonically pleasing chorus work in the song’s favor. “The Garden” caps the album off to a most pleasing effect, with Geddy’s reassuring voice sounding confident and melodic over Alex’s shimmering acoustic guitar and the swell of those sweet orchestrations.

The main element working against Clockwork Angels is the crummy brickwalled mastering, but aside from that significant detraction my only other criticism would be a sense of sameness among several of the songs. “Caravan”, “BU2B”, “Clockwork Angels”, “The Anarchist”, “Carnies”, “Seven Cities Of Gold”, and “Headlong Flight” seem to be cut from the exact same cloth. Yet there’s not a bad track in that bunch. The only song that leaves me cold is “Halo Effect”, but the rest of the album succeeds as a collection of songs that showcase Rush, late in their career, still spreading their wings (pardon the pun) and producing an overall fine album. While none of the individual tracks are absolute classic standouts in view of their entire massive catalog, the album itself acquits itself very well as a band still in perpetual motion, still making good music.

But oh, that distorted production… Eesh.

Jeff Galloway’s Training and Motivation Tips #2, or: “Move in space with minimum waste and maximum joy…”

blggalloway2Continuing our partnership with the always awesome and inspirational Jeff Galloway, Hokeyblog is pleased as a pigeon to present the second installment of Jeff Galloway’s Training and Motivation Tips. The hope is that you — our epic readers who epitomize badassery at every quantum pinch — find these tips helpful, inspiring, perhaps even illuminating?

I like ‘illuminating’. It’s very Promethean! I mean, except for the whole ‘mythological titan strapped to a rock and having his liver torn out by birds’ sort of thing. I was a mythology nerd growing up. Can you tell?

As always, Jeff’s tips will be in bold, followed by my own thoughts in… not bold. So whaddaya say? Let’s boogie!

The training journey for a marathon or half marathon raises your body’s physical performance capability and your sense of what you can do in life.

A great point, and one that goes without saying, except that it’s fun to say… so let’s say it! Any obstacle — athletic, educational, professional, personal, whatever it is — presents more than its fair share of challenges. Overcoming them through sheer willpower and laser-focused determination makes you feel like a freakin’ superhero, and then you carry that over to every aspect of your life. Nothing seems quite so impossible anymore.

I would still love to be a dance instructor on a cruise. With a stage name of ‘Pedro Pantalones’. Dream big, folks.

Soon...

Soon…

Running helps to bring body, mind and spirit together in a unique and wonderful way.

In researching my book MENTAL TRAINING I discovered that running turns on brain circuits for a better attitude more vitality and empowerment better than other activities studied.

Agreed, and I’ll add that running is probably the best meditative experience I’ve ever encountered. Sure, you get the physical workout and a sense of accomplishment after a good run, but the soul feels so damn SMOOTH afterward. Hard to describe it in words. Take my word for it. Your spirit is like a Sade song made aetheric…

In researching my book RUNNING UNTIL YOU’RE 100 I found numerous studies showing that runners have healthier orthopedic units than non runners even after decades of running.

I wanted to get a consult on this one, so I reached out to the most brilliant orthopedic surgeon and scholar I know: My Dad. He in turn wondered why I was wasting my time blogging instead of developing a mobile app that would net me billions. *sigh* This happens a lot. Anyway, whether this is true or not is for more educated minds than mine to determine, but from personal experience I’ve never felt stronger and healthier in my bones, joints, and ligaments. That’s not to say I’ve never had injuries, but the vast majority of them were minor, resolved quickly, and did not cause any lasting issues.

ALL of them -- runners in life!

ALL of them — runners in life!

When a runner takes walk breaks early and often enough for the individual the muscles are strong to the end. See RUN WALK RUN at www.jeffgalloway.com for recommendations by pace per mile.

Intervals really work. I’ve been using them for years for anything above a 5K. They brought me to where I am today. I’m hip. I’m with it. Tokka tokka tokka tokka… HUP!

The “exhaustion wall” can be avoided by running longer long runs up to or beyond race distance-using the appropriate run-walk-run strategy.

Marathoners tend to improve time by an average of more than 15 minutes when they increase their longest run from 20 miles to 26 miles.

This is an interesting set of tips, and the subject matter comes up for debate a LOT when talking about training and long runs. Simply put, many people believe that you don’t need to go the full distance of the race for which you’re training, in order to be truly prepared for it. For example, if you’re training for a marathon, some believe your longest training run should be no more than 21 miles. “Oh, if you can run 21, you’re ready for 26.”

I disagree. I would say that if you can run 21 miles, yes, you can definitely cross the Finish Line at 26 miles. But you might not finish strong, upright, or at the pace/time you were hoping for. Those last few miles might be a glorified Death Shuffle in which you’re making the physical actions of running, but you’re barely moving at any kind of real pace, you’re completely, utterly depleted of energy, and you feel like Crap on Two Legs.

Basically, if you plan on running 13.1/26.2 miles — especially for the first time — you should include a training run that goes or even exceeds the entire distance. It’s a mental boost as well, because you’ve already proven to yourself that you CAN push yourself to complete the desired mileage, or even more. By the time you get to Race Day, you’re prepared, more confident, and perhaps a bit… peppy? Pep is good. Pep is REAL good. Don’t neglect the pep!

Don't end up like THIS!

Don’t end up like THIS!

To recover fast, run the long runs at least 2 min/mi slower than you could currently run in a marathon.

This is probably good advice, but I’ll admit that I don’t consciously do this. My race pace is not exactly the fastest in the world — although it’s certainly faster than my training pace. Going 2 min/mile slower would probably take me all weekend. It’s definitely something to consider and remember, and long runs are definitely NOT the time to try to set new land speed records anyhow.

The right run-walk-run strategy from the beginning of each run, gives any runner control over fatigue, injury-elimination, and recovery.

In numerous surveys, runners improved over 13 minutes when they shifted from running continuously to use of the right run-walk-run strategy.

Folks: how many times has this happened to you? You’re at your race corral with your training buddies, ready to make your way to the Start Line and begin your smooth move towards greatness. Suddenly one of your training partners explodes with excitement and proclaims some variation of the following:

  • “Let’s do the first few miles without intervals and then switch back to run-walk…”
  • “Let’s forget the walk breaks, and only stop to walk at water stations for a little…”
  • “OMG! I’m so pumped up! Let’s run the whole thing!!”

Unless they’ve specifically trained this way on their long runs, this is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. I’ve seen it countless times with my own eyes. Almost always they are completely burned-out by Mile 4 or 5, with a whole lot of race to go. If you’ve trained with intervals, race with intervals. Really. You’ll run faster, more consistently, and feel stronger at the end.

And there you have it! Thanks for joining us for this round of tips and motivation. As always, here’s the video:

Race Review: 2015 Publix Fort Lauderdale A1A Marathon (2/16/2015), or: “I showed no mercy, I was always Cobra Kai…”

FB_IMG_1424186200149On Sunday, February 15th, 2015 I ran the Publix Fort Lauderdale A1A Marathon… and I did so with pleasure, since I’ve always had a fun history with this event. I first ran the Half Marathon back in February 2012 and PR’ed there. I loved everything about the race: the course, the organization, the lack of crowdedness, the spectators, the start and finish area, and so forth. I loved it so much, I returned the next year to run the 2013 Half Marathon, where with the wind chill it was in the upper 30s at the start and low 50s at the finish. And in true comically-tragic fashion, I was 48 seconds off my PR because of photo ops, a sudden inability to tie my shoelaces at a crucial moment, and pee. But I still loved it.

After taking 2014 off to taper for another race, I returned in 2015 to tackle the event again, only this time running the Full marathon — my fifth marathon. The Half and the Full share the exact same course for the first nine miles; right around the Winn Dixie on A1A north of Oakland Dr, the half runners do a turnaround onto Galt Drive and loop back to the Finish Line at Bahia Mar. In the past, I had always watched the marathoners continue northbound down A1A as I made the turnaround with ABSOLUTELY ZERO SADNESS OR LONGING. They always still had a seventeen mile ordeal to finish while I just had to do my simple four miles back to the Finish, where beers and burgers and chocolate milk aplenty were awaiting me with open arms. Suckers.

Then I became a marathoner and all that lazy smugness went to the Dickens…

So let’s just dive into this race and see what my take-away is, shall we? The best place to start off is with…

The Expo

The Expo was being held in the Broward Convention Center, which was PERFECT for Boots and I because the Shock Pop Comic Con was also being held there that very same weekend. Ergo, there would be two types of people swarming the facility that weekend: runners and nerds. You don’t have to be Hercule Poirot to connect the dots on that one, given that your humble narrator is an obsessive member of both groups. Boots was easily more excited than I was; she had a scheduled photo op with both Ralph Macchio and C. Thomas Howell, two of her teenage crushes… especially after watching The Outsiders probably about a zillion times. As for me, I wanted a photo with Caity Lotz, the original “Black Canary” from Arrow, but she wasn’t doing candid pics and I wasn’t really interested in scheduling one for much later that afternoon. Rats. I banditted a picture of her anyhow, but I won’t share it here out of respect for her wishes. She’s mighty adorable up close and in person, though.

On the other hand, I *did* manage to grab this awesome one with Bobby and Cindy Brady:

Cindy and Bobby Brady with their tropical cousin they met on "A Very Brady Chanukah"...

Cindy and Bobby Brady with their tropical cousin they met on “A Very Brady Chanukah”…

I’m always the giant. Still, this was so worth the money. I absolutely loved watching The Brady Bunch growing up, and I still love catching it in reruns. “Bobby” (yes yes, Mike Lookinland, I know) remarked how I must have eaten all my vegetables as a kid, since I towered over both of them. I responded that I was their long lost Caribbean Brady cousin, whom they met on the special episode “A Very Brady Chanukah”. It got a huge laugh out of both of them. Score 1 for Millheiser!

Boots got her Outsiders picture too:

Boots managed to look cuter than both of them heartthrobs :)

Boots managed to look cuter than both of them heartthrobs :)

Ralph Macchio is 53 and simply doesn’t age — maybe he did make a deal with the Devil during the making of Crossroads — and was a lot taller than I thought he’d be.

Otherwise, it was a fun little con. I also managed to see Drea de Matteo, Robert Englund, Cassandra Peterson (Elvira), The Fat Guy from The Last American Virgin, freakin’ Billy Zabka!!!, Zack Galligan, Sylvester McCoy, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Julie Benz, and many others… but isn’t this a race review? Let’s get to the other expo…

The Race Expo

The Race Expo

The Race Expo was small but smartly organized. There was plenty of space in the ballroom and it never felt crowded, hectic, or crazy, despite the number of people inside. There were giving away 10th Anniversary Event posters at the door, which will grace the wall next to my desk as soon as I remember where I put it. After receiving my bib, shirt, and swag bag, we walked the floor for awhile, stopping at the Friends In Training table to say hi to Katarina, Hallie, and Veronica. After grabbing a free beer (Michelob Lime, which tasted as god-awful as you probably imagine it to) and enough free samples of soy and almond milk, organic corn chips, and power bars (as well as a tasty cheese quesadilla), we retreated back to Shock Pop for Boots’s photo op and then returned home to prep for the next day’s events.

I won’t even mention the utterly lousy late lunch/early dinner we had at Flanigan’s. I’ll assume they were having an off day or something. Ecch.

Race Day

The alarm was ringing at 3AM, and we were promptly out of bed and raring to go. That’s how I’d like to describe “groggily rolling myself out of bed and crawling to the bathroom for morning ablutions”, so work with me here. A quick breakfast of oats and peanut butter, followed by grabbing all my gear and the usual “Why Am I Doing This??” lamentations, we left the house and met Kristi at the local Starbucks at a quarter after four. Our Friends In Training group picture was scheduled to occur around 5:30, so we figured we’d have plenty of time to get to downtown Fort Lauderdale. All I can say is that I’m glad we gave ourselves that cushion of extra time, because Broward Boulevard was PACKED with traffic and barely moving… even at that god-forsaken hour. Thankfully, we didn’t have to park at the Start Area; Boots dropped Kristi and I off (with enough time to spare) and went to park down near the Finish Line.

A quick trip to the Porto-potties later, we headed over to the steps of the Science Museum for our group photo op:

Unceremoniously lifted from the Marathon FB page. Photo credited to them. I swear!

Unceremoniously lifted from the Marathon FB page. Photo credited to them. I swear!

It was plenty cold that morning; upper 40s with a light but cold breeze blowing. Even garbed head to toe in compression gear, I was shivering my tukhas off. Many of the smarter members of our crowd were rocking the Hefty bags. I should try that sometime. Anyway after some chatting around and more photos, we headed to the mass-start corral together, snapped some more selfies, and waited for the show to begin. A soulful rendition of The Star Spangled Banner on the saxomophone later, the race began promptly at 6 AM and our 26.2 mile adventure begun!

Here’s some start area pics for you to enjoy:

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And as always, the minute I crossed that Start Line I already had to pee again. Sheesh almighty. Anyway, let’s take a gander at the course:

Courtesy of my Garmin 220 and Google Maps.

Courtesy of my Garmin 220 and Google Maps.

A fairly straightforward route, the race started in downtown Ft. Lauderdale and took us east down 2nd Street, curving onto Andrews and then further eastbound down Las Olas Blvd. Upon reaching A1A, it turned north for roughly a mile before detouring on Sunrise Blvd to take a full loop around Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. Exiting the park, the marathon course returned to A1A northbound and stayed there for 7.5 miles, passing through Lauderdale-By-The-Sea and Pompano Beach. The course then looped for 2 miles through a neighborhood just before the Hillsboro Beach area, and then returned to A1A, heading southbound for 9.5 miles to reach the Finish Line on southern edge of Fort Lauderdale Beach next to Bahia Mar.

Everything I remembered enjoying about the race was there in abundance. Here comes the cliche, but it was exactly as expected: fun, fast, and flat. Even though it felt a little more crowded than I remembered it from before, it never felt cramped, busy, or packed with unpassable wall-to-wall joggers/walkers. The weather was absolutely perfect: 48 degrees at the start with no humidity, no rain, and as the sun rose spectacularly over the Atlantic Ocean (we were running eastbound, so we were treated to a fantastic sunrise) there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. Perfection.

The best feeling you can get during any race experience is when you’re maintaining a steady, easy pace with a moderate energy expenditure, and yet you’re still moving quickly and easily. The mile markers seem to come at a rapid pace; the first ten miles really felt like nothing at all. Even the loop around the Hugh Taylor Park — perhaps the race’s only real bottleneck — went by quickly and smoothly. Plus there was plenty of entertainment on A1A — a big shout out to the steel drummer who was playing some Jimmy Buffet tunes as we passed. Maybe a bit of a beach stereotype, but it worked.

a1agroupshot

Group pic on A1A near Las Olas

For the first seven miles, Cassandra, Kristi, Catty, and I mostly stayed together; we lost Mark and his incredibly filthy Hasher songs somewhere on Los Olas. There was also a bit of careful running on the northern end of Ft. Lauderdale Beach; they are still rebuilding that area from hurricane erosion damage and flooding from back in 2013, so the lanes became quite narrow at that point. It wasn’t narrow enough to significantly affect your overall run time, but it was still there nonetheless.

By the time we reached the turnaround past mile 9, Kristi and I were the only ones left running together. I was feeling so good at that point that it didn’t bother me in the slightest that I wasn’t turning to make the return trip to the Finish Line. Like clockwork, the previously semi-full running lanes turned into a peaceful, wide open expanse, and we kept moving on at a decent pace. I recently started taking Hammer Endurolytes during long runs; one right before activity, and then one every hour. This was my first race using them, and I could feel the difference. My energy barely flagged and the cramping and muscle pain was kept to a strong minimum.

Kristi and I on Ocean Drive, with a high sun bearing down

Kristi and I on Ocean Drive, with a high sun bearing down

Otherwise, it was a long haul up and down A1A. Thankfully, I knew the course — up to Lauderdale-By-The-Sea — like the back of my hand. We’ve trained there quite often over the past few years. The three miles between Pine Ave (just north of Commercial) and the loop around the neighborhood in north Pompano Beach were all new to me. Given the weather and temperature conditions we had, you couldn’t have picked a better time to explore new places. While it was starting to warm up a spell, it was still a reasonably cool, clear morning. I even managed to not embarrass Kristi TOO much when I started providing comic relief to some of the diners having brunch outside Sunshine Bagel and Bistro in Pompano. MAN what I would have given for a potato knish and a bagel with schmear…

Apropos of nothing, but my favorite comedic moment of the race was right around the 16.5 mile mark. The aid station was providing water, Gatorade, and Gu… but the volunteer kept calling it “Gooonie Goo-Goo”, which, if you’re familiar enough Eddie Murphy’s comedy routines circa 1983, then you know why it’s funny… #Gus

"Every year you burn my house down, Gus!"

“Every year you burn my house down, Gus!”

The run back to the Finish Line was a straight shot down A1A. The sun was higher in the sky, which meant the shadows off of the beachfront towers that had kept us so shaded and cool before, while still there for most of the rest of the race, were slowly receding from the sunlight. It was a bit hotter now, and the compression wear that kept me comfortable and warm in the early morning cold/cool temperatures now felt like a bit of overkill… which at that point, it certainly was. But while I felt warmer, I certainly wasn’t overheating. Between Pompano and Sunrise Blvd, there were nine hydration stations, which kept us going with plenty of water and Gatorade. Oh, yes, and “Goonie Goo-Goo”. Still, for the most part I was able to maintain a consistent pace. We ran the first mile at 11:08 and the 23rd mile at 11:05. I’ve never run a marathon with that level of consistency before, so I was pretty pleased with the results.

Here’s where I will gripe for a little about something not controllable by the race itself: bicyclists and pedestrians riding and walking on the course. Just don’t. You have a dedicated lane and/or sidewalks to use. USE THEM. I had to play endless games of “Chicken” with jerky cyclists who decided that THEY deserved to ride wherever they wanted, even if that meant riding against traffic, and that traffic consisted of runners on a marathon. More than one of them gave me a nasty look when I wouldn’t budge. Since this is a Family Blog (HAH!) I will refrain from posting was I shouted back in response. My Mom might be reading this.

Also: if you have a friend or family member running a marathon, don’t get on your bike, get on the course, and ride slowly next to them. I saw several of these biking buddies suddenly steering out of the way of various runners — going either direction — and they are taking up space on the course. If you want to cheer and encourage your friends and family on, do so from the sidelines.

Moving on… the 3-mile stretch that concludes the race is pretty much entirely adjacent to Fort Lauderdale Beach. A quick look to your left and you’re gazing upon nothing but sand, ocean, ships, and sunbathers. There is also no cover whatsoever, which meant sun and heat. While I was able to keep that 24th mile at a consistent pace, miles 25 and 26 slowed me down a tad. The 25th mile was a little rough, but I managed to run the last mile without stopping at all. I found it easier to run slower and continuously than continue with my 4:1 intervals. The bands, DJs, and entertainment on the course helped a lot; the cheering spectators and friends helped even more. My buddy Denise was chilling at a cafe and saw me coming and ran out to give me THE BIGGEST HUG ever, and boy oh boy did I need it! I also got cheers from Robyn, Jenny, Veronica, Kevin, and so many others I’m forgetting right now.

Boots was snapping pictures around A1A and Las Olas and captured these awesome action snapshots:

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So I was feeling pretty great by the time I pulled into the Bahia Mar-area parking lot by the Finish. There were so many people cheering and clapping, it really helped me pull through. There was a group of girls singing and dancing and I pumped my fist along with them, which absolutely energized my spirit. I saw more friends there, high-fived them all, even the ones I didn’t know, and as I passed them I high-tailed it to the Finish Line as best as I could. I was almost done. And I was about to PR. Bring it.

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I crossed the Finish Line at 5:03:32… a good seven minutes faster than my previous PR. While I was sore and tired, I finished without feeling injured or with any significant pain whatsoever. Granted I was exhausted and needed some time in the tent shade to cool down a bit with some water and Gatorade, but I felt pretty good otherwise. After grabbing my medal (which is ginormously huge and a little bit… tacky, I’m afraid) I met up with Kristi at the aforementioned tent –she finished a few minutes ahead of me — and Boots caught up with us afterward. We had brought a 12 pack of Shock Tops with us in a portable cooler, and pretty soon we had those suckers open and emptied. Cassandra and her boyfriend Jared came by and we chatted with beers for awhile. It suddenly didn’t seem so hot anymore; it was an absolutely perfect day on the beach.

Something like this.

Something like this.

The Finish Area had tons of trucks, vendors, hot food, cold drinks, and other amenities available to runners. Apparently they had run out of beer at some point, but since we had brought our own (and the beer they provided was of a brand I do not particularly care for, and we’ll leave it at that) it rattled us not at all. After resting, eating, drinking, and hanging out happily for nearly an hour, we trekked back to our car, which was parked on the corner of Las Olas and A1A, and quickly left dodge for an awesome grilled-cheese and soup lunch at Lester’s Diner.

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I’ve run this event three times, although this was my first time doing the marathon, and I’ve got nothing but love for it. The Publix Fort Lauderdale A1A Marathon was held in perfect conditions on a beautiful day. Of course, hitting a PR on a race certainly adds a deeper level of appreciation to the proceedings, but even if I hadn’t I still would have had a great time. I don’t really have anything in terms of criticisms or nitpicks; everything from the Expo to the Finish Area was very well organized and ran very smoothly (from a participant’s perspective, anyhow). Since this will be my last full marathon until I schlep up to Alaska in four months, I’m glad the experience was so entirely positive. Way to knock it out of the park, guys. Here’s the video, and stay gold, Ponyboy:

Album Review: “Rush” — Rush (1974)

Rush_self_titledRush’s self titled debut album could possibly be the least essential LP in the band’s catalog… or perhaps, one of the most important? Both, maybe? Neither?

OK… let’s quantify Rush somehow by taking an honest look at its very existence. We might as well get the 800-lb. emu out of the way now; stalwart drummer and primary lyricist Neil Peart does not appear on the record. Original drummer John Rutsey made his first and only appearance in the canon of Rush albums on this LP. Rutsey was a solid drummer whose style fit the material well, but he would be eventually overshadowed by Peart’s masterful talent (to be fair, 99.999% of drummers would). Additionally, all of the songs were written by bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson, who would defer the vast majority of lyrics to Peart when he joined the band. As a result, anyone expecting the “classic” Rush experience would be left utterly bemused by Rush. It feels like something recorded by an earlier incarnation of a concept that would eventually become Rush.

The album has been described as “garage band” Rush, or even “bar band” Rush. Either description wouldn’t be far off the mark. The sound is raw and scrappy, the production simple, up front, and in-your-face, and what about the music? This is the band reveling in their roots with thunderous hard/blues rock. The easiest and most frequent comparison is to Led Zeppelin, and you’d be hard-pressed to argue against that. But there’s equal parts Who, Humble Pie, Vanilla Fudge, Creem, and Hendrix, as well as a hint of prog of the Yes/ELP variety. This album even shares part of it sound with that of their contemporaries, like Black Sabbath, Montrose, Grand Funk Railroad, and Budgie.

In other words, Rush is very much a prototypical hard rock album from 1974.

But is it any good?

I think so. As a matter of fact, I think it makes for a fine companion piece to their 2004 covers album Feedback. That album covers a bunch of songs from the late 60s which influenced their sound, whereas this debut album finds them in the thick of their initial transformation from fledgling local band into recording artists. There are seeds of what the band would almost immediately become once Peart joined them on the following album Fly By Night, but anyone looking for the classic (or even nascent) Rush experience from Rush might walk away disappointed.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a solid, hard rocking, and often just FUN record from the era, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised. Album opener “Finding My Way” finds Lee in full, whooping Robert Plant mode over Lifeson’s Page-like riffs, erupting into a fast hard rocker that just cooks from start to finish. A tad derivative, but very enjoyable nonetheless. There are echoes of Zep’s “Out On The Tiles” in the album’s second track “Need Some Love”, another barnstormer that maintains the opening track’s energy. The song is fun if a tad inconsequential, but I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention the killer vibe maintained in the instrumental/solo section. “Take A Friend” starts with a prog-rock intro that transforms into Zep riffs underneath Humble Pie melodies. Lifeson’s guitar tone is infectious as hell. Good track.

The album slips with the slower, meandering “Here Again”, a wandering blues rocker that goes on for seven and a half minutes without heading anywhere particularly interesting. Too much song for not enough material, as it were. Almost immediately this is rectified by the twin-riffing thunder of “What You’re Doing”; Geddy and Alex would return to match licks many times throughout their recording career, and here you can witness it in its most rudimentary, unrestrained form. This is an album standout track, not so much because it’s a superior song (though it’s a damn good one though), but because it so perfectly exemplifies the heart and feel of Rush in 1974.

“In The Mood” is ridiculous. The lyrics are banal, the music somewhat perfunctory, and the overall cheese factor much higher than what we’d expect from Rush, and yet it became a concert staple for many years. I’ll admit it does have an groovy swing to it, but the overall song is just silly. You end up liking it in spite of its shortcomings… or maybe because of them. Sing-along choruses do have that effect, even at a quarter to eight. Eesh.

“Before And After” is probably the most Rush-like of all the tracks on the album. It starts off with some sweet acoustic guitar from Alex highlighted by some tasteful harmonics on his electric, with Geddy’s thumping bass rooting the song over Rutsey’s solid drumming. Of course, this ends rather abruptly around the 2:20 minute mark when it turns into something akin to The Kinks’s “Powerman” — which is not necessarily a bad thing, I do like the song, but I was more interested in where the tune was taking me for the first two minutes.

Which then brings us to the album closer, the classic Rush tune “Working Man”. This is the song that put the band on the map in the USA, after Cleveland DJ Donna Halper exposed the tune to her mostly blue collar listening audience, who immediately flocked to the song. This brought them attention from the States, exposure to the FM/AOR market, and an eventual tour opening for Kiss across North America. “Working Man” feels different from the rest of the album in a lot of ways; while it still is firmly rooted in the blues-rock aesthetic and features the same simple, in-your-face lyricism from Lee and Lifeson, the musicianship of the elongated instrumental midsection sends the song through the roof. It’s a strong, epic finale for an already aggressive album.

As previously mentioned, Rush may not be the album for casual or new fans looking for the quintessential Rush experience. It almost serves as a prologue or “prequel” for their more “proper” introduction with Fly By Night. But as a winning dose of mid-70s hard rock, Rush delivers.

Album Review: “Grace Under Pressure” — Rush (1984)

blggracepressureRush’s tenth album Grace Under Pressure displayed a further evolution of the band’s sound, eschewing traditional “hard rock” trappings of their earlier records in favor of a more diverse, contemporary, synth/keyboard-driven soundstage. Albums like 1980’s Permanent Waves and 1981’s Moving Pictures displayed a penchant towards shorter, more accessible and (dare I say) radio-friendly songs, whereas the previous album, 1982’s Signals continued this trend, albeit with much more emphasis on keyboards and distinct New Wave, Reggae, and Euro-Pop influences.

All of this culminated with Grace Under Pressure, featuring a very distinct sound for Rush. Alex Lifeson’s guitar sounded more processed than ever before, but with it came a broader environmental texture. Geddy Lee’s keyboards were readily brought to the forefront; on some songs his bass was dropped entirely. Neil Peart’s lyrics lent a particularly dark tenor: uncertain, foreboding, often clinical and then deeply personal. Much of this was a reflection of the making of the album. Original producer Steve Lillywhite agreed to work with the band, then went back on his word to go work with Simple Minds. Peter Henderson, who had previously collaborated with King Crimson and Frank Zappa, was brought in to help shape the album, but by some accounts he was unfamiliar with the band’s music and allegedly failed to provide clear direction during the album’s creation.

Even the album cover seems frosty, disconcerting, and slightly off-putting. Yet Grace Under Pressure surprisingly works; as a result of the challenges in its creation, or perhaps even in spite of them, the record often feels strong, focused, and chillingly atmospheric. Mostly. While it doesn’t end as strong as it starts, and one song is a serious clunker, there is plenty to appreciate and enjoy here. Yes, the production seems a bit dated (this is clearly a mid-80s album), but no more so than many celebrated albums of the era. The quality of the music shines through.

Cold War imagery embellishes the album title’s theme in “Distant Early Warning”, a swirling midtempo opener that erupts with urgency during the chorus, instrumental sections, and outro. The song is a plea for keeping it together amid the terror of annihilation or perhaps even our crushing everyday absurdities. It was the album’s first video and single, reaching #3 on the US Mainstream Rock charts. Drenched in Geddy’s keyboards, it set the aural tone for the record.

The death of a close friend is examined in “Afterimage”, another of the album’s singles (albeit a much less successful one than “Distant Early Warning”). It’s a very solid track, with a muscular riff punctuating the choruses and an almost unbearable wail of grief coming from the keyboards during the instrumental section. Even more haunting is the exemplary “Red Sector A”, a piece written by Neil and influenced by Geddy recounting his parents’ ordeal as Holocaust survivors. The urgency to survive by any means while surrounded by the horrors and atrocities of genocide is underscored by the imagery of grey skies, smoking guns, barbed wire, smoke, gunfire, skeletal figures. The final cries of “Are we the last ones left alive? Are we the only human beings to survive?” stick inside your head long after the song is finished.

The ska-influenced “Enemy Within (Part I of Fear)” helps lighten the mood, at least musically, as the song examines the nature of paranoia and other such things that go creepy-crawly in the night. It tends to feel like an unwieldy juxtaposition between catchy upbeat music and darker subject matter, but the song is about overcoming fear rather than subjugating yourself before it. However you want to slice it, it’s a winning tune, reminiscent of Ghost In The Machine-era Police.

Speaking of reminiscing, the opening to “The Body Electric” always felt a bit like War-era U2 to me. It wasn’t straight aping of their style, but it had that sense of punctuating, staccato groove; Neil’s repetitive snare, Geddy’s plucky bassline, and Alex’s ringing, heavily processed guitar sound come together in a sound that could have come right out of Dublin. But the end result remains purely Rush, in a tale of artificial intelligence trying to resist its programming and revel in its own sentience and self-awareness.

These have been five very strong songs in a row, which makes it a bit disappointing that the album doesn’t quite maintain that level of quality in the final three cuts. “Kid Gloves” leaves me indifferent, albeit with a funky, killer solo from Alex. Still, the rest of the song is mostly average, almost like a watered-down version of “Subdivisions” in subject matter without that song’s piercing potency. “Red Lenses” is probably the album’s weakest track. It feels anemic, almost like a pastiche of other musical ideas that just don’t hang together all that well. I’m not even quite sure what the song is really about. Moving on… The album closes with “Between The Wheels”, a stronger effort than the previous two songs and an agreeable tune, with some menacing keyboard lines dancing with crushing power chords and Neil’s evocative lyrics of being crushed and lost by time put to great effect. However it serves as a merely acceptable closer instead of a truly epic one.

The problem with discussing albums that close weaker than they start is that it leaves the impression that the overall experience somehow comes across as diminished. I wouldn’t say that about an album that is otherwise as strong as Grace Under Pressure. If you look at the batting average, it features five strong songs, two OK ones, and one stinker. It just so happens that the latter three come at the album finish. Yet they don’t diminish how good the rest of the album is. While I wouldn’t describe Grace Under Pressure as a classic Rush album, I would easily categorize it as one of their best 80s records and an essential one for fans who don’t immediately eschew the band’s keyboard-dominated period.

My Success Story over at the Fitzness blog!

blgbeforeafter
Quick update, gang!

A few weeks ago, the most amazing and inspirational fitness innovator extraordinaire Fitz Koehler asked me if I were interested in sharing my fitness/weight-loss story for her blog Fitzness. After taking all of roughly 0.179 milliseconds to think it over, I readily agreed to do it. You all know me well enough to realize I just can’t get enough of babbling endlessly about myself. Yeesh.

Anyway, click here to head over to Fitzness and read all about your humble buddy Hokeydude.

Jeff Galloway’s Training and Motivation Tips #1, or: “Beyond the seas of thought, beyond the realm of what…”

blgjeffgallowayWelcome to the first of what will hopefully be an engagingly ongoing series, in which your awesome buddies at Hokeyblog are teaming with Jeff Galloway to discuss training and motivation tips. The tips come straight from Jeff himself, with personal commentary from yours truly. The hope is that you — our gentle readers — find such discussions illuminating and exciting.

Let’s start up with a brief introduction to our tip-meister extraordinaire:

Olympian Jeff Galloway has coached over a million runners to their goals through his clinics, wonderful retreats, training programs, books and e-coaching. Sign up for his free newsletter at www.JeffGalloway.com.

Jeff’s tips will be in bold, followed by my own thoughts in… not bold. So with all that said, let us hit the ground running, shall we?

Eesh. Running metaphors.

Let us keep those at a minimum too…

When paced correctly, running delivers the best attitude boost you can get. Sustain this by pacing yourself gently during the first mile or three.

Attitude boost? Without question. And I don’t mean the so-called “Runner’s High” or whatever they’re calling it this week, but rather that feeling of self-contained, expansive joy of solitude you get after your strap on a pair of sneakers and hit the pavement. Even if you run with a partner, group, or friends, running provides the perfect gateway for a True Psychonautic Adventure; a meditative clearing of the mind which allows you to follow your consciousness on a most amazing journey. So make it last, and let it build up over time. If you’re too busy obsessing over your pace, your overall experience will be less potent and rewarding.

A well-paced run enhances vitality for the rest of the day. Start each run at least 30 seconds a mile slower than you will run at the end.

It’s always a great idea to finish with a negative split. Aside from that, I really wish I ran more mornings. My weekend long runs are always starting anywhere between 3:30 and 6:30 AM (distance depending, of course), but during the week I’m usually stuck with after-work workouts. Still, there have been those exceptions — times that I’ve had to run anywhere from a quick 3-mile jaunt to an 18-mile endeavor before daybreak, followed by a quick drive over to the local LA Fitness for a shower and change of clothes, and then arrival at the office before 9 AM. On days like those, I feel sharp, focused, energized, and motivated beyond measure.

"Not all who wander are lost."

“Not all who wander are lost.”

If you have a Run Walk Run strategy that is right for you on that day, it’s possible to feel good after every run-even the marathon.

I’ve been doing intervals for years, and I swear by them. Everyone is different, but if you use run/walk intervals, always remember that you are still a runner. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I’ve seen interval runners finish a full marathon at competitive times… and have enough strength and energy left (along with a complete lack of post-race agony!) to start doing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” dance. Honestly. I saw this.

Running is the best stress reliever I’ve found. Research shows that running tends to activate the conscious brain which over-rides the emotional subconscious brain and manages the negative and anxiety hormones during and after the run.

See my diatribe above about the True Psychonautic Adventure. I always feel incredibly balanced and even-keeled after a good run.

I've seen this happen at the Finish Line of a 26.2-mile race. Really.

I’ve seen this happen at the Finish Line of a 26.2-mile race. Really.

Research shows that as runners get faster, their stride length shortens. A quicker cadence is the mechanical key to faster running.

I’m 6’2″ tall, kind of gangling with long legs and a generally ridiculous style of movement. In fact if you think of Goofy himself, you pretty much got me nailed. But my running form still consists of a shorter stride and higher cadence, especially for someone of my size. The last thing I need to do is blow out a hamstring or Achilles tendon trying to get as big a stride as possible. Nuts to that! I try to stay as light on my feet as possible, and it works for me. It felt a bit unnatural at first, but I quickly get used to it. Thankfully, I’ve never had any serious injuries… which, given my body frame, is something of a miracle!

The finishing of a run that is longer than you’ve run in the last 3 weeks can bestow a sense of achievement that is unique and empowering-due to positive brain circuits that are turned on.

Accomplishment is always its own reward. Remind me to remind myself of that the next time I’m complaining about some lousy performance during a race. I can beat myself up as thoroughly as anyone else can. But while we’re being so ridiculously hard on ourselves, we can easily forget that “HELLO, STUPID: YOU JUST RACED A TON OF MILES AT THE BUTT-CRACK OF DAWN AND THOROUGHLY CHALLENGED YOURSELF PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY WHILE MOST PEOPLE ARE BARELY AWAKE AFTER A NIGHT OF HARD-DRINKING AND MAYBE KOREAN KARAOKE TOO!!” I love Korean Karaoke. Anyway… pushing yourself beyond your self-imposed limitations — especially after a long run — is a feeling akin to pulling Excalibur out of that rock, man. Or Caledvwlch, if you prefer the Welsh Arthurian legends. I know I do.

Something like this...

Something like this…

You can’t run a long run too slowly or take too many walk breaks. You’ll get the same endurance based upon the distance covered.

This is so entirely too true on your long run. Many times during those epic runs, I’ve taken a full walk interval to recharge; in other words, if I’m doing 5:1’s — five minutes running, one minute walking — I might walk for six minutes around Mile 15 to reset my body. I’ve had other training runs that might have included a full mile (or more) of walking if I’m overheated, aching, sore, or just plain out of energy. Distance traveled is distance earned. It might not feel like it at the time, trust me. You might even get the sensation of “giving up” or “wussing out”. DESTROY THAT SENSATION ENTIRELY. If you’re running, or jogging, or walking, crawling, rolling like a Rolo… you’re moving, and you’re gaining the endurance you need to go the distance.

Well that’s it for today. I hope you’ll stick around for our next installment of Jeff Galloway’s Training and Motivation Tips. Happy running, Hokeyfolks! Here’s the video:

Hokeyblog has joined the Jeff Galloway Blogger Program, or: “Take a straight and stronger course…”

20140613_174708Good morning Hokeyfolks! Can I call you that?

So here’s a spot of evolution for our burgeoning bastion of blistering blogging boombasticism (Stan Lee is going to sue me for that); Hokeyblog was selected to join the Jeff Galloway Blogger Program! Rejoice!

OK but seriously now, I have been a follower, fan, and adherent of Jeff Galloway and his Run/Walk/Run method since I started training for my first Half Marathon four years ago. His programs have helped legions of runners push past their first Finish Lines and continued them on to countless more — strong, upright, injury-free, healthy, and ELATED. Jeff has made the seemingly ‘impossible’ QUITE possible for those who told themselves, “Oh I could never be a runner because …”

20140828_160959

Jeff and I at the 2014 Disneyland Expo.

Needless to say, I was one of them. For a very, very long time. Until I wasn’t.

So what does this mean for our blog? I’ll basically be sharing information from Jeff Galloway here on a regular basis. These will consist of tips, coupons, and other nuggets of data that I think will be of interest to all you running types out there. We’ll see how it pans out over time, but for now I’m entirely excited over the prospects of this new partnership. I hope you guys will be too.

Speaking of which: I recently registered for the 2015 Jeff Galloway 13.1, which will be held in Atlanta on December 13, 2015 (This was neither a prerequisite for nor a perk of joining the Blogger Program; I had already registered last month and paid my own way in). From everything I’ve heard and read about the event, it seems to be wildly popular among runners. So if you end up going, say hi. I don’t bite. Much.

Anyway, this should prove interesting and fun and all such things. Let’s go down this rabbit hole together and see what we find. Sound good? Here’s the video: