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6.22.2006

Mezzo-Mezzo 

In honor of the Giants being at .500 for the umpteenth time this year, I present several paired items that straddle the fence of reason.

On One Hand: Pedro Feliz has an on-base percentage over .300.
On The Other Hand: It's only .306.

On One Hand: The Giants are at .500 and only 2.5 games back.
On The Other Hand: Every other team in the division has better prospects than the Giants to trade at the deadline.

On One Hand: Felipe Alou called a member of the media a "messenger of Satan."
On The Other Hand: At least he didn't call someone a "piece of [expletive], [expletive] fag."

On One Hand: Lance Niekro brought a refreshing burst of youth to the Giants' lineup.
On The Other Hand: He's spent more time on the DL than any other Giant this year. (More or less.)

On One Hand: Our team's home park is named after a company that's more than happy to rip up its customers' privacy rights.
On The Other Hand: At home you can switch to Working Assets. At the park you can switch to Mays Field.

***

Small print update: Now reading Rabbit Redux, the second book in Updike's Rabbit cycle. I've just started and can't wait to see how Updike develops Harry Angstrom, who in the first book is perhaps the most fascinating and in many ways frightening anti-hero in American literature since, well, Captain Ahab is the first who comes to mind. Other suggestions welcome.

Now listening to the echoes in my head of Tuesday night's Elvis Costello/Allen Toussaint concert at the Paramount in Oakland. Literally: our seats on high caught a bit too much of the dissonance, which puzzles and frazzles me in a different way.

Question: If you're going to record an album and tour with one of New Orleans's finest, subtlest, grooviest musicians, why overburden the songs with ornate clever-by-half lyrics, guitar feedback and angsty post-punk drums?

Answer: Because I'm Elvis Costello, dammit. Don't you know I've written a lot of songs, too? What are you, some kind of little fool?

Elvis is probably the sharpest, most prolific, and most curious aging rocker of his generation, still full of vim and vinegar, but the marriage of Toussaintian horn sections and graceful swampy piano rhythms with his electric singer-songwriter narcissism didn't always work for me.

It was most clear not in their new collaborative material, most of which they played Tuesday night, but in "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror," their collaboration from the 1988 Spike album. By the third verse, Costello's grim dada lyrical spew felt coldly flashy, his voice straining the top end of its range, the opposite of Toussaint's innate warmth, and I couldn't wait for the song to end.

Still, much of the show was to die for. The full-ensemble blowouts of several Toussaint classics, including "Fortune Teller" and "Yes We Can Can," were fabulous. So were the moments when Toussaint took control, as with his Professor Longhair solo homage and the new "Ascension Day," with Elvis's vocals the only accessory to the minor-key lament.

I also loved Costello's own reworking (with horns) of "Watching the Detectives," a song I've long had on my happy-to-never-hear-again list. The ballad "Poisoned Rose" from King of America showed how Elvis has opened up in his middle age to become a gruff but accomplished balladeer. I'd rather hear him sing slow and low than sneer his way yet again through "Pump it Up." Tuesday night we got both.

**UPDATE: My Man Elbo has an excellent take on the show as seen through his musician's ears.

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