Sunday, June 26, 2022

Battle of the Bands, UK Semifinal 1: Black Sabbath vs. Queen

Earlier this year, The Rock Universe whisked me away to a mysterious time and place to witness a battle of the bands of unparalleled greatness. I documented the experience, and now I'm sharing the battles here on the blog. Today we've got the next matchup of the tournament: Black Sabbath vs. Queen. Here's how it went. 

A week had passed, and I was back in my seat for the second battle. Despite pushing to be impartial about this whole thing, truthfully I was little bit bummed that the Doors were knocked out in the first round. But Van Halen wasn't going down, and the Doors put on a great show. On top of that, they exited with such style and grace that even the staunchest of Van Halen fans in the audience left the arena with a newfound appreciation and zeal for Morrison, Manzarek, Krieger, and Densmore.

But my time for reflection was over. The house lights went off. And seconds later, Queen's stage was lit up. They broke right into "We Are the Champions".

As soon as I heard the song begin, I uttered one short statement out loud, to no one in particular:
Big mistake.
Starting off the competition with a song where you declare over and over that you're the champion is like a boxer stepping to the middle of the ring with his opponent before the fight starts, and instead of touching gloves, he taunts the other guy.
It didn't help that Freddie Mercury was prancing and gyrating around in Black Sabbath's direction.
And with that, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Instinctively I looked over to Black Sabbath's stage. Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler were turning up the dials on their amplifier stacks. Ozzy Osbourne was walking back and forth with an energy that made me a little nervous. And Bill Ward was just having none of it, yelling out in Queen's direction as their song wound down.

Long before the final note, Black Sabbath burst into "Paranoid". The sheer volume and pace caught Mercury, May, and Deacon by surprise, and knocked them back a few steps. Roger Taylor fumbled his drumsticks.

I figured the 3-minute onslaught was teaching Queen a little lesson, but remarkably, it wasn't. As soon as Sabbath closed out the song and Osbourne thanked the crowd, John Deacon started in with the bass line for "Another One Bites the Dust", and Mercury went right back to his taunts, pointing at the four members of Black Sabbath whenever he sung out the song's title.

The crowd went wild with a mix of cheers and jeers. I shook my head and sighed.
Bigger mistake.
Sabbath punched back heavily with "After Forever", which opens with the line, Have you ever thought about your soul—can it be saved?
I think that was directly aimed at Queen. And it hit them hard. Mercury gathered his bandmates for a discussion. As Sabbath kept pounding out the song, it seemed to me like Queen was having disagreements about which song they should play next.
Sabbath wound down their song, and as the crowd cheered heartily, I looked over at Queen's stage again. They were scrambling to take their places. Visibly rattled, they started into "Killer Queen". A hit song, and a nice song. But I'm not sure it was the right choice. It felt like the crowd had started to lean toward Sabbath's side of the arena, and there was anticipation and energy while they waited for Ozbourne and company to start in on their next song. Sensing a pending knockout, the band went for it.

Bill ward began pounding out steady quarter notes, and the crowd stood up. Once Iommi's guitar started straining, everyone knew what was coming. Iron Man.

By far, this was the loudest and most energetic the audience had been. And the song was about twice as long as the typical rock standard. Occasionally I looked across at Queen's stage, and it was always the same: Mercury, May, and the crew just walking back and forth with arms folded in front of them.
Frustrated, they did the only thing they could once it was their turn again: Break into "Bohemian Rhapsody".

It was their last-ditch effort. Their Hail Mary pass. A 6-minute song to equal the pummeling length of "Iron Man". And performing out of desperation did help their efforts. The excitement among the crowd built up from the intro onward, Brian May nailed his solo, and the entire performance was a true spectacle of rock. The crowd cheered heavily as the song finally ended with all four band members slouching in exhaustion. 

But Black Sabbath had the final song of the contest. And sensing a weakened opponent, they not only went for the knockout, but made a statement to all the other bands in the tournament. Geezer Butler laid down another familiar bass line, this time to "Hand of Doom".

The changes in tempo, the heavy drumming and guitar work, the vocals from Osbourne—it was all too much. Mercury tried pushing back by singing something into his microphone, but no one could hear him.
Before the song even ended, May and Deacon frowned, took their guitars off their shoulders, and placed them on their stands. Taylor put down his drumsticks and walked away from his kit. And as a final act, Mercury, illuminated in a single spotlight, fell into a dramatic pile of defeat on the stage. This battle was over. The crowd acknowledged Black Sabbath as the winner, The Rock Universe confirmed, and we all exited the arena.

The quiet environment outside was a welcome thing. I took a breath and spotted some Queen fans nearby walking away from the battle. I heard one of them say, "That ending was so Freddie. I don't even care that they lost."
Here are the set lists:
We Are the Champions
Another One Bites the Dust
Killer Queen
Bohemian Rhapsody 

Black Sabbath
After Forever
Iron Man
Hand of Doom

And here's the updated bracket.

Next week it's back to the US section of the draw, where the #2 seeded KISS will take on the #3 seeded Ramones. 
Which band are you going with?

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Battle of the Bands, US Semifinal 1: Van Halen vs. The Doors

Earlier this year, The Rock Universe whisked me away to a mysterious time and place to witness a battle of the bands of unparalleled greatness. I documented the experience, and now I'm sharing the battles here on the blog. Today we've got our first matchup of the tournament: Van Halen vs. The Doors. Here's how it went. 

Walking up to the arena for the first time was a treat. It looked like an "old barn" type of venue, which was great enough by itself, but what was even more pleasing to me was the fact that it was not named and sponsored by a huge corporate entity. No bank, no insurance company, no media conglomerate. In fact, it didn't have a name at all.

What it did have was a buzz. People were milling around, talking, getting excited, selling t-shirts (bootleg or otherwise—take your pick). I wondered where everybody else had come from. No one seemed confused or out of place, though. I figured I'd stop looking around like a lost tourist and try to blend in.

I walked into the arena and a mellow blue light acted as a beacon to direct me to my seat. I was around center ice, right side, second level. This was fine. There was no way I was going to be picky about seating.

Two stages were set up at the same end of the arena—one for Van Halen, the other for The Doors. Jeez, they'd be battling right next to each other. I wasn't provided with any sort of rule book. Would it be no holds barred? Would one band play a song while the other had to remain quiet? No idea. But the arena was filling up quickly, and before I knew it the house lights went out. The crowd roared in the darkness.

Suddenly, the lights flashed onto the Doors' stage, and there was the band, blitzing out the introduction to "Touch Me". The crowd roared again, and once Jim Morrison sang out Come on, come on, come on, come on now touch me, babe, they roared louder, all the way through to the final note.
Cheers lingered as the stage lights turned off, but in moments the lights above Van Halen's stage flicked on, and the band jumped out with "Let's Get Rockin". The high energy and distortion caught us all a little off guard, and it was great. What we were getting hit with was three minutes of pure energy and showmanship. The song ended just as heavily as it started, and before the stage lights went down, David Lee Roth played to the crowd, asking how we were doing, prancing around, and yelling out in celebration.

Then the spotlight was back on the Doors, who pushed back with "LA Woman". The song was more than twice as long as Van Halen's first offering, and more complex as well. We all a chance to have more of an experience. Morrison and company were telling a story, that's for sure. A few minutes in, when the song slowed down and Morrison started chanting out "Mr. Mojo Risin", everyone started clapping along in rhythm. And as the song sped back up, the excitement in the crowd increased as well. By the time the song ended it seemed like the Doors had us all back on their hook.
But Van Halen started right back in with "You Really Got Me". The supercharged remake swung the momentum back hard. The sound and style of Eddie Van Halen's solo alone was enough to visibly stagger some in the audience, and just like Federer vs. Nadal, Agassi vs. Sampras, the back-and-forth rally was fully on.
The Doors slugged their hardest with "Break on Through (To the Other Side)". It was a short, high-energy song in answer to Van Halen's style, and all four band members working so hard together did sway the crowd back. But Van Halen was onto their opponent's plan. They didn't give us any time to think, counterpunching even harder with "House Of Pain". And it was so hard, so raw, and so heavy that Morrison and Manzarek folded their arms and put their heads down. Krieger and Densmore looked at each other, shrugged, and shook their heads side to side. They seemed perplexed by the technical marvels of Eddie Van Halen's play and tightness of the entire band, and at how, despite all the young women who'd swooned for Morrison, even more had flocked across to watch Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth do their thing.

But The Doors had one more song to counter with. After convening with his band, Jim Morrison walked up to the microphone under a single spotlight and began reciting poetry to a quiet blues bass line. With the audience captivated, he finished the final stanza and the band broke into "Love Me Two Times". I think most of us knew it was a kind of farewell song—a way to gracefully and artfully bow out to the victor. And it was perfect. With the last hard note of the song, Morrison kept hold of the microphone, lowered his head, the lights went off, and the crowd roared once more.
Then the lights hit Van Halen's stage one last time, and as a celebratory song, Eddie Van Halen broke into "Eruption". And he just kept going. And going. And going.


The Rock Universe had made up its mind, and it chose Van Halen to move on in the tournament, citing their technical wizardry, heavy rockin' sound, and high energy. 
All four members of The Doors walked out of the arena quietly. 
Outside, Morrison said, "The Rock Universe chose the other band, and that's fine. Just listen to that guy Eddie. He's still playing in there like a freak of nature. 
"But who needs it? We play hits. We play with strength and grace and subversion. Our lyrics have deeper meaning. And we're fine with the result. Van Halen moves on, we'll move on too."
And with that, the Doors began to walk farther away from the arena as thunder rumbled and the introduction to "Riders on the Storm" wafted through the air.
Here are the set lists:
The Doors
Touch Me
LA Woman
Break On Through (To The Other Side)
Love Me Two Times
Van Halen
Let's Get Rockin'
You Really Got Me
House of Pain
And here's the updated bracket.

Next week we go to the UK side of the bracket, where the #2 seed Black Sabbath takes on the #3 seed, Queen. 

Who's your pick?

Sunday, June 12, 2022


Remember the sneak peek of those custom rock band cards that I shared here on the blog a few months ago? 
Well, I haven't posted anything else about them since then. I've hardly even been around, or commented on other blogs lately. But there's good reason. It seems like The Rock Universe appreciated those custom cards enough to want me to experience all eight bands live and on stage. To explain:
A few weeks ago I was transported to a mysterious time and place where I was invited to witness a battle of the bands of unparalleled greatness. The Rock Universe even tasked me with documenting it all on paper so I could share the experience back on this planet, in the present day, right here on this blog.

So you see, I've been out of town. And I mean really out of town.

But now I've got the battles all written down, and I can tell you that it was one incredible show after another. Over the next 7 Sundays I'll share them all with you, featuring one battle each week until we get to the finals.

Here's how the tournament was set up:

There are 8 cards in the set (4 US bands and 4 UK bands), so The Rock Universe created a bracket-style tournament. The draw was set with the four US bands on one side and the four UK bands on the other. All they had to do was battle it out, single elimination style, until a US band and a UK band would meet in the finals.
Here's the bracket, with seeds included:


I'll alternate between draws, featuring a US battle next Sunday, a UK battle the Sunday after that, and so on. And since I only gave a sneak-peek at the card designs, each blog post will begin with a reveal of the card for both participating bands.

First up, it'll be Van Halen (#1 seed) versus The Doors (#4 seed).

Do any of the first-round matchups look particularly intriguing to you? What are your choices for first-round winners? Second-round winners? Champion?
Leave your thoughts in the comment section. I hope you'll follow along for the next few Sundays. Get ready to rock! 

Sunday, June 5, 2022

A Custom Checklist Card—For Free!

Who doesn't enjoy a good checklist card?
Okay, okay, I'm sure some of you aren't big fans, and you might even say that the only thing a checklist does is take up space. And that's totally fine.
But as an '80s kid, I grew up with checklists. And I did mark them up. Look!

The whole idea brings back a lot of nostalgia—so much so that I created and printed out checklist cards for each series of my customs. (Front and back shown):


The ink color for each card matches the ink color I used on the back of each custom card for that particular series.

Because they're checklists, though, and didn't exactly require enormous amounts of design effort on my part, I didn't want to offer them for sale on my Bonanza or eBay stores. 
However, Bonanza has a cool feature: 
Sellers can create and offer "freebies" in their stores. Simply put, if a buyer makes any purchase—even just one item—they can choose a designated freebie from the seller's store and add it to their cart, no charge. (One freebie per checkout.) I figured this feature would work perfectly for checklist cards.
So from here on out, if you purchase a custom card from my Bonanza store, go right ahead and add the corresponding freebie checklist to your cart.  

If you buy from my eBay store, just send me a message saying that you'd like a checklist card and I'll add it to your envelope.
And if you already have some of my customs and would like a checklist card just for the heck of it, leave a comment below and I'll get one out to you.
Once you receive the checklist, you can pretend you're a little kid without any awareness of card value and mark it up all you want. It'll be just like old times.

And it brings a question to mind:

How many of you collectors have ever used a pen or pencil to mark up a checklist during your childhood days in the hobby? Do you still have any of those marked-up cards?

Share in the comment section, and thanks for reading!