While most two-disc sets would be better limned to a single record, Stadium Arcadium is never boring, thanks to group MVP, guitarist John Frusciante. The axeman proves as good as Steve Nash at making his bandmates better.


But First, at Least Two Elimination Games...
1. Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way (Open Wide/Columbia): “It turned my whole world around,” sings Natalie Maines in “Not Ready to Make Nice,” the Texas trio’s defiant anthem about the backlash following her anti-Bush jibe in London. “And I kind of like it.” Indeed, what’s not to like, especially when ace producer Rick Rubin enlists an all-star cast, including John Mayer, Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, the Chili PeppersChad Smith, Keb Mo’ and Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, to help smooth your transition from Red State country to Blue State alt-roots. Indeed, the only hint of Nashville is in fellow Chicks Martie Maguire’s sawing fiddle and Emily Robson’s plucked banjo, along with Maines’ legendary country performer dad Lloyd’s pedal steel and mandolin. The Dixie Chicks may have paid the ultimate price by alienating their conservative fan base, but what the group has lost in sheer numbers, they’ve more than made up for in hip credibility by appearing on such unlikely outlets as the cover of Time, 60 Minutes and even the Howard Stern Show. All of which would mean nothing if the music wasn’t up to the makeover, but, thanks to songwriting collaborators like alt mainstays Dan Wilson of Semisonic and the JayhawksGary Louris, it surely is. The Chicks evoke classic Laurel/Topanga folk-rock on “The Long Way Around,” which is as much an homage to Fleetwood Mac as their cover of Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide” on Home, vintage Tom Petty on “Not Ready to Make Nice,” a thematic cross between “I Won’t Back Down” and “The Waiting,” and their nod to the ethereal harmonies of Ladies of the Canyon Joni Mitchell and Linda Ronstadt on “Everybody Knows,” their wry observations on the isolation of fame. And while the rollicking, tongue-in-cheek blast at small-town hypocrisy, “Lubbock or Leave It”—which pokes fun at Buddy Holly’s birthplace (“I hear they hate me now/Like they hated you”)—and the gospel-tinged, call-and-response of “I Hope” both touch on the unpleasant aftermath of what they now call “the incident,” the album also broaches such relevant daytime talk show topics as caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease (“Silent House”), infertility (“So Hard”), giving up a child for adoption (“Voice Inside My Head”) and renewing the passion in a marriage (“Baby Hold On”). The trip may not have been easy for the Dixie Chicks, but Taking the Long Way more than justifies that circuitous journey. — Roy Trakin

2. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stadium Arcadium (Warner Bros.): Of all their L.A. post-punk-funk-metal contemporaries, from Guns N’ Roses, Jane’s Addiction and N.W.A. to Rage Against the Machine and Beck, who'da thought that the Chili Peppers would be the last ones standing? For a band that had to cover Stevie Wonder (“Higher Ground”) for their first semblance of a song, thanks to very busy producer Rick Rubin, RHCP has mined a melodic streak since '91’s smash “Under the Bridge” through such hits as “Californication” and “Scar Tissue” which serves them well on this nearly two-hour, 28-track, double-CD opus, even if they’ve been accused of copping riffs from Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” on the undeniably catchy “Dani California.” And while most two-disc sets would be better limned to a single record, Stadium Arcadium is never boring, thanks to group MVP, guitarist John Frusciante. The axeman proves as good as Steve Nash at making his bandmates better, with an array of styles from the Hendrixian psychedelia of “Dani” and the wah-wah funkadelia of “Hump de Bump” and “Warlocks” to the delicate acoustic Frippertronics of “Slow Cheetah,” the Cream-styled blues jam of “Torture Me” and the tuneful wall of sound on “Especially in Michigan,” which pinpoints him as the American version of The Edge. And that’s just the first disc. Flea’s bass helps carve out the tunes like a latter-day Macca, while Anthony Kiedis, though his range is still lacking, nevertheless manages to underline the vocal hooks, etched in stone by Chad Smith’s array of tribal percussion. Almost too much to absorb in one sitting, the album firmly established the Chili Peppers as heirs to a Calipop tradition that stretches back to ‘60s groups like Gary Puckett and the Union Gap and the early surf bands. And while their days as groundbreaking iconoclasts are way behind them, the progenitors of SoCal hedonism are aging gracefully into their role as elder statesmen, as much a tribute to their savvy management team Q-Prime’s long-term strategy of building them as a global attraction as to their own impressive survival. —RT

3. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room: Based on the best seller by Fortune reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, who originally helped grease the Houston energy giant’s downfall by simply questioning the company’s numbers in terms of its explosive stock valuation, Alex Gibney’s documentary is an entertaining layman’s analysis of this country’s largest-scale bankruptcy ever, particularly timely given last week’s convictions of principals Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. Describing the situation as a “house of cards” above a burning tank of gasoline, Gibney gleefully documents the demise with pop culture references to It’s a Wonderful Life and The Simpsons, capturing the hubris of Enron execs and traders alike, turning their swift collapse into a cathartic conclusion. It’s not hard, in a Michael Moore-like way, to draw conspiracy conclusions from Lay’s strong ties to George Dubya and his father, while the film leaves open-ended the suggestion that the same book-cooking is probably going on at any number of major companies who manipulate Wall Street to their own ends. The real question is, how did our economy survive the massive effects of Enron’s duplicitous boondoggle without plunging into a depression itself? —RT

4. United 93: Like Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, U.K. filmmaker Paul Greengrass’ documentary-like look at the events of 9/11 is way too intense to qualify as entertainment, but it does offer the outsider’s view of evil’s banality and how an everyday, mundane airlines flight can turn into Armageddon. Opening with one of the terrorists murmuring a silent prayer as he reads from the Koran in preparation for his suicide mission, the movie juxtaposes the beliefs of the hijackers with those of the passengers, interspersing scenes from the Air Traffic Control units and the military featuring, in many cases, the actual officials from that day as themselves that play like a scene out of 24. The confusion and disbelief that registers on the faces of those involved as it quickly dawns on them what’s happening is belied by their calm under pressure, the idea that each one is just doing their everyday job, albeit under the most extreme circumstances imaginable. The footage inside United 93, the only plane not to reach its intended target (the Capitol building), is almost too much to bear, but the ability of ordinary people to rise to feats of heroism, on both sides of the equation, make this a film worth seeing with lessons that are timeless. —RT

5. Seymour Cassel: Long before John C. Reilly and Steve Buscemi (whom he co-starred with in ‘92’s In The Soup), this character actor, who made his debut as an associate producer and performer for John Cassavetes’ groundbreaking 1959 neo-realist Shadows, was the king of indie actors. You may not have heard the name, but you’ll never forget his face. The Harlem-born performer earned an Oscar nomination for his role in Cassavetes’ 1968 breakthrough Faces and turned in an incredible performance opposite the director’s wife Gena Rowlands in the 1971 comedy Minnie and Moskowitz, as well as his later films The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Opening Night and Love Streams. More recently, he’s appeared in three Wes Anderson movies, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou in addition to his role as demented agent Morty O’Reilly in the FarrellysStuck on You. Still a presence at 71 with an omnipresent cigar and a twinkle in his eye, Cassell’s bemused presence in a movie invariably elevates it to another level. — RT

6. Duma: Now available on demand, this modest feature about a boy and his cheetah from director Carroll Ballard (The Black Stallion, Never Cry Wolf, Fly Away Home) was given short shrift by Warner Bros. despite a concerted press campaign to keep it alive. It is that rare wildlife movie in which the humans, including a remarkable turn by Alexander Michaeletos as the youngster who goes through the rites of adulthood taking his pet cheetah back to his wild African homeland, are just as finely drawn as the animals. Campbell Scott and Hope Davis are his parents, but the movie isn’t about them as much as it is about the kid, the pet he’s had since it was a cub and the relationship with a fellow traveler played by Eamonn Walker he meets along the way. The scenes of the cheetah are stunning and will have you wondering how they did it, but the emotional payoff—the realization that to love something, you must eventually set it free—is a universal one for all living things. —RT

7. Steve Carell: I’m not a huge fan of Jon Stewart, where he got his start, nor did I think that the BBC version of The Office could be topped, but Carell has won me over as the hilariously inappropriate boss Michael Scott on the NBC series, which has the potential to be the network’s next Seinfeld, with a wonderfully wacky cast of characters including Six Feet Under’s marvelous Rainn Wilson as the obsequiously squirm-inducing and aptly named Dwight Schrute. Carell’s performance in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy as dimwitted weatherman Brick Tamland brings a mute pathos to the part that has to be relished to be believed, as I have done on countless cable viewings. The distracted look in Carell’s eyes, involuntarily darting back and forth, makes his characterizations at once side-splittingly funny and unspeakably sad, kind of like a combination Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton for our own modern times. —RT

8. 80s Hits Stripped (Sidewinder Records): Everything old is new again, or ‘80s pop stars reinvent themselves by playing “unplugged” versions of their hits. And while new renditions of Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl,” Howard Jones’ “No One Is to Blame” or John Waite’s “Missing You” don’t sound particularly promising, what does stand out is the ability of certain songs to rise above their genre-trapped arrangements in naked form to reveal their status as worthy compositions. And while The Outfield’s “Your Love” and Heart’s “These Dreams” are exposed as the pop schlock they are apart from their rocking origins, the approach works just fine with Berlin’s “The Metro,” re-thought as a flamenco guitar exercise, the Billy Idol live workout on “Rebel Yell” and Men at Work’s “Down Under,” given a spooky, ambient do-over by a re-born Colin Hay, fresh from his low-key contributions to the Garden State soundtrack. On the other hand, Tommy Tutone’s classic use of a telephone number as a hook in his hit “867-5309/Jenny” doesn’t survive the transition from amplification to acoustic nearly as well. —RT

9. Nelly Furtado, “Promiscuous” (Geffen): Sometimes desperation pays off. A newly sexed-up ingénue takes up with rap auteur Timbaland for a stylistic transformation that is just so out there, it works, especially the shout-out to her alleged main squeeze, "Is that the truth or are you talkin' trash, is your game MVP like Steve Nash?" I did an aural double-take when I saw her perform the song on the final Saturday Night Live of the season and eagerly await Eva Longoria’s answer version to her man Tony Parker. Or how about, “I’m digging my man Dwyane Wade/Wonder when he’s getting paid.” —RT

10. Gripe of the Week: Not a complaint in the usual sense, but the general feeling of bittersweet sorrow as you realize your teenage kids have one foot out the door. It reminds me of the scene in Lawrence Kasden’s Grand Canyon when Mary McDonnell sees her son comforting a girl as he returns from summer camp and flashes back on the first time she strapped him into a car seat, which had me welling up with tears even then, when my kids were just infants. The moral is, life goes by so fast, as does the time you spend at home with your kids, which is over in a blink of the eye in the scheme of things, so enjoy them while you can. And you better have something to talk about with your wife when they’re gone and you’re suddenly alone together. —RT

Rock Kills Kid, Are You Nervous? (Reprise) / Muse, “Supermassive Black Hole” (WB):
A couple of friends from Toronto rented a Chrysler Sebring convertible and drove down the coast from San Francisco last week. Along the way, they slipped the debut album from L.A.-based Rock Kills Kid, and this accomplished, varied and totally rawkin’ LP proved to be the perfect soundtrack to the curvaceous, scenic, top-down trek, conducted under crystalline skies. When they showed up at the house, they were still raving about it, and I realized the CD was sitting on the stack, still unlistened to (Sorry, Fernando—I suck). I soon discovered that it worked equally well for after-dark patio listening (accompanied by In-N-Out Double-Doubles, a robust Zinfandel, etc.), particularly the opener and first track, “Paralyzed,” a firebomb of hot licks and attitude that makes most indie bands sound like wimps. The funny thing is, this dramatically contoured rocker out-Muses Muse, whose own new single (another big fave on the drive down Route 1) features a quantized beat and a falsetto vocal in the manner of Brit Daniel’s lark through Spoon’s “I Turn My Camera On.” While I’m not ga-ga over the Muse cut, nor does it seem like the obvious next step for a band that seems to be nearing critical mass after nearly a decade of Radiohead comparisons, I’ve gotta hand it to the Brits for havin the cojones to go with their impulses. I have no such ambivalence, however, toward “Paralyzed,” and there’s more where that came from, starting with the second track, “Hideway,” which unabashedly cops a chunk of melody and a ton of the vibe from the Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way”—but hey, their seamless transition from Muse to P. Furs while holding firmly to their own identity is nothing to sneeze at. Props to Mark Trombino (Jimmy Eat World, Blink-182, Rilo Kiley) for his chromium-alloy production. —Bud Scoppa

Friday, June 2nd
Rob Thomas and Jewel:
Good Morning America Concert Series @ Bryant Park

Salute to Recreation @ Northridge Park: Featuring diverse activities for people of all ages, the festival offers international foods, dance performances, bands aplenty and some thrill-providing carnival rides. While parents peruse the art exhibits or try their luck at a silent auction or two, kids can get cute with some perky pals at the petting zoo, leap to their heart's content in the jumping booth and create the perfect masterpiece at the crafts station.

Game Six, Pistons @ Pistons on ESPN: Can the Heat close out the Pistons tonight in Miami?

Phillies vs. Dodgers @ Chavez Ravine (Prime Ticket): Head out to the ballpark to check out two hot teams from the NL battle it out.

Arctic Moneys w/ We Are Scientists @ SOMA in San Diego.

Saturday, June 3rd
Phillies vs. Dodgers @ Chavez Ravine (Channel 13)

Hairspray @ Pantages Theatre: For more details click this link http://www.hairsprayontour.com/

Game Six, Mavs @ Suns on TNT

Nine Inch Nails w/TV on the Radio @ Smirnoff Music Centre in Dallas

Madonna @ Staples Center

Ice Cube w/ Tha Dogg Pound @ House of Blues on Sunset. Ages 18+

Sunday, June 4th
Sesame Street Live: Super Grover! Ready for Action @ The Kodak Theatre: Going on all weekend long, perfect for the whole family. Check this site for more details: http://www.sesamestreetlive.com/

Phillies vs. Dodgers @ Chavez Ravine (Prime Ticket): Concluding game of this four-game series.

Heat @ Pistons on ABC: If the Pistons win in Miami Friday night, Game Seven will take place back in Detroit.

Monday, June 5th
Bruce Springsteen With the Seeger Sessions Band @ the Greek Theatre

The Break-Up
Jennifer Aniston, Vince Vaughn, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Bateman
After their latest squabble, art dealer Brooke decides to break up with her boyfriend, Gary, who hosts bus tours of Chicago. But breaking up and moving out is hard to do, especially when the former couple's friends, family and even complete strangers offer their advice on how to deal with the situation. To make matters worse, the former flames live in a sweet downtown condo out of which neither wants to move.
Thoughts: I am hoping it’s this year’s Wedding Crashers. Vince Vaughn is always funny.

Give I.B. a bottle of water. (4/12a)
Bunny's hoppin' again. (4/12a)
Your desert deets are here. (4/12a)
Walkin' tall in vintage fashion (4/12a)
The latest tidbits from the vibrant live sector (4/12a)
Gosh, we hope there are more press releases.
Unless the Senate manages to make this whole thing go away, that is.
No, not that one.
Now 100% unlicensed!

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