Thursday, November 5, 2009

Coming back

I haven't blogged since July, which is pretty inexcusable even though I tend to update this thing rather haphazardly. It's partially because I'm never really sure what direction I want to go in with this blog. And it's also partially because I've moved to New York.

I'm in the city because I'm going to grad school, which is pretty intense. It's time consuming, and when I'm not busy working, I like spending time with the friends who've always lived in this area, while also spending time getting to know the people in my program. (Most of them are pretty fabulous, and I recognize that I'll never get to hang out with so many like-minded people again, so I really want to enjoy what I can).

I've been going in and out of the city for years because of work, concerts, and many other things. But living here is something else.

I'm going to try updating more in the future, not just about concerts and whatnot, but about the wonderful wacky things I'm encountering in this city. So stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mad Rad

AMC has a brilliantly fun marketing campaign, Mad Men Yourself, to celebrate the upcoming third season premiere of Mad Men. It's one of my favorite shows, so I gave it a shot. You can make avatars of yourself in different outfits, with different accessories, and in different settings... I made three for myself, here's one of them:

Figures that a show about ad executives would have some of the best marketing campaigns out there...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The X-Files goes acoustic

As an X-Phile and guitar player, I feel it is my duty to post the following: an acoustic guitar cover of The X-Files theme. Pretty neat:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

France Travelblogue: Leftovers

While I've had a lot to say about my trip to France, I obviously haven't gone into every single detail. But I do have some final observations and thoughts about other places I visited and things I saw.

I'll start with a little bookshop I was dying to visit...

Shakespeare and Company

This English-language bookshop, which happens to be within walking distance of the Notre Dame cathedral, opened in 1951. Its name can be traced back to the another English-language bookshop of the same name. That bookstore — opened by American Sylvia Beach — was open from 1919 to 1941. The original Shakespeare and Company was home to all the major expatriate writers of the Lost Generation (a group of writers I love). It eventually closed when France was occupied during World War II.

So years later, the current Shakespeare and Company opened (and took on the name when Sylvia Beach died). While it's not the original bookshop, it also has a very interesting history since it served as a base of sorts for Beat Generation writers like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs.

The shop is cramped and quaint, and definitely a great place for bibliophiles to visit. And you can also get your books stamped in there, in case you'd like to get a souvenir that feels a little extra special.

Another neat thing about Shakespeare and Company is its "tumbleweed" program. Young writers can stay above the shop in exchange for doing a little work around the bookstore. I actually met one of these tumbleweeds outside, while she was filling a coffeepot with water from a public "fountain" outside the store. (Apparently Paris is filled with these little water dispensers — many of which look like pretty sculptures — that people are welcome to gather water from). A Princeton student, she said she was spending her summer in Paris doing the tumbleweed thing after spending a semester abroad. I have to admit, I was pretty jealous — tumbleweeding honestly sounds like it could be a ton of fun. And a great story to tell people when you're older and living the not-so-bohemian life.

Final Thoughts and Impressions

So all in all, I'd say that my first trip to Paris was a great success. We were only there for five nights, and yet we saw all the major sights and even ventured outside the city. And I even wandered through the St. Germain area a couple of times to get some sense of what Parisians do in their spare time (answer: eat and drink a lot, while sitting outside).

I didn't get to shop that much (aside from buying souvenirs), even though I would have liked to buy myself something "chic" from Paris. I blame this partially on our busy schedule and partially on the fact that I didn't really spot anything unique enough to justify dropping Euros on. But maybe the next time I'll go, I'll try looking more into the whole shopping/fashion scene.

I found traveling through Paris relatively easy. The Metro is a great resource and well-priced (people can also buy a "book" of 10 tickets for a good rate instead of wasting money on individual tickets every single time). Tickets can be used on the buses and trains alike, the map is relatively easy to understand (though if you suspect you might need to make a million transfers, you're better off double-checking with a local).

It's true that you can get by with English, but I still have some knowledge of French from my school days, and I have to say that this came in very handy. I wonder if I would have had a tougher time if I'd had no knowledge of the language whatsoever. But even though I used gestures and spoke broken French half the time (though it was incidentally pretty good when I was ordering food), I found it easy to get directions and basic information from people when I was using French. And it does help to use a little French to break the ice — people will honestly do their best to communicate with you and help you out even if they don't speak English.

Meanwhile, I also found everyone I encountered perfectly polite. Though my poor mother apparently had to deal with the "rude French" stereotype when she went into a restaurant asking about vegetarian food — even though someone brought her in saying that they served vegetarian food, the next person she encountered basically shoved her out the door as soon as she tried asking him a question. However, I'm not going to damn the French based on one impolite person because I'm still looking forward to going back someday.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

France Travelblogue: Venturing Outside Paris

Even though Paris is filled with a never-ending array of shops, monuments and activities for tourists, there's plenty to see in other parts of France too. So I ventured outside the city twice to get a different taste of French history and life.

The first stop was a pretty "typical" place for a first-time visitor to check out. Yes, I'm talking about...

Château de Versailles

The Palace at Versailles is legendary. I've been wanting to visit it ever since I was about nine or ten-years-old, the age when I read (and reread) an adaptation of The Three Musketeers. A few years ago, my desire to visit Versailles came back full force after I read a biography on Marie Antoinette. While the palace does not have the happiest history, it has an amazing history — especially considering it was really only used for about a century, a relatively short period of time compared to other historical places in France.

All I can say is, visiting Versailles was definitely worth it. Yes, it was extremely crowded (and even a bit stuffy), but if you're the least bit interested in the history, it's most worthwhile. And even if you aren't that into it, you might learn something from it! I had the opportunity to visit the King and Queen's respective apartments, saw certain portraits I read about in the previously-mentioned Marie Antoinette biography in person, and also visited the Hall of Mirrors. I also had the chance to look into part of the chapel that Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI got married in. This was neat, not only because of the royal connection, but also because of its connection to the arts. Apparently, Mozart once played the organ that still lies within that chapel!

We wound up seeing Versailles with a tour group, which I would recommend because it will help you get through the massive lines to enter the palace a lot faster. The only regret I have is that our tour ended up being a half-day tour, not a full-day tour (we weren't made aware that two options existed since a travel agency booked the tour for us). If I'd had more time, I would have been able to explore the gardens more extensively, and would have also visited the neighboring estates. I'll have to go back someday, since I'd really like to see Marie Antoinette's little "hamlet." But I'm still glad I had a chance to see the palace at least once so far.

Claude Monet's House at Giverny

We ventured even further away from Paris during our last full-day in France. This time we decided to go somewhere a little less decadent, so we wound up making a trip to Giverny, which is also home to Claude Monet's house and gardens. (Monet and several members of his family are also buried in the local church's graveyard). The village itself is a lovely, quaint area that happens to be approximately 50 miles away from Paris. I personally found it a pleasant break from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Meanwhile, visiting Monet's house and gardens seriously make you feel like you're walking through a life-size painting. The Japanese Garden is the instantly-recognizable one. It still houses the beautiful water lilies and mini bridges that became famous in Monet's paintings. And each bit of wildlife is simultaneously tranquil and vibrant, even while other people are trekking all over the property.

The garden outside Monet's actual house is a little more haphazard and European in nature, but also very colorful due to the flowers that are everywhere. And then there's the house itself — a beautiful, charming, cozy place with cheerfully painted walls and matching furniture. Being inside that house and walking through the gardens, I could see why Monet was so content to live there for so long.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

France Travelblogue: Monuments Galore in Paris

Paris is home to a number of monuments — with interesting and varying histories — that are incredibly famous throughout the world.

The Eiffel Tower exists thanks to the Exposition Universelle of 1889, the Arc de Triomphe honors those who have fought for the country, and Notre Dame de Paris has origins going back to the 1100s. It's no wonder that these structures have become so iconic and popular to visit for those passing through Paris.

Of course, these are not the only major monuments worth visiting (though they really are magnificent and worth one's time). Here are some of the other places I enjoyed seeing during my trip:

The Pantheon

Funky architecture? Check. Foucault's Pendulum? Check. Religious iconography and famous dead people's tombs? Check. Originally built as a church, the Pantheon is currently the final burial place for many of France's finest minds. Marie Curie, Victor Hugo, Voltaire, and Jean Jacques Rousseau are just among the few buried here.

The building itself is a fascinating place to visit. When you walk in, you'll see a ton of religious imagery in the form of paintings and sculptures. And there's a giant Foucault's Pendulum for everyone to see. The arches and domes are beautifully detailed as well. And then there's the crypt, which happens to be a much quieter, darker area of the Pantheon. It's certainly atmospheric, but not necessarily as unnerving as the Catacombs might be for some people. While it might be sobering for people to walk through a burial place, it's also really neat when you realize exactly whose tombs you just walked by.

Les Invalides

Les Invalides is home to another famous dead person — Napoleon Bonaparte (whose sarcophagus is pictured to the left). He isn't the only person buried in the area — family members like Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon II, and other military figures are in numerous tombs and vaults at Les Invalides.

Les Invalides is an interesting place. While you can visit Napoleon's tomb, which is inside a beautiful domed church, you can also go through France's military museum and museum of contemporary history. Even if war isn't typically your thing, there's a lot to see. I saw cannons going back to the 1400s, as well as a large number of World War I and II tanks. The gift shop is also neat since you can buy everything from Napoleon paraphernalia to postcards of French advertising during both World Wars.

Palais Garnier

This is the beautiful, famous opera house in Paris — the inspiration for The Phantom of the Opera. It's open for visitors to take a tour, though there can be times when the auditorium is closed for rehearsals. (That's what happened when I visited, so maybe I'll try swinging by someday when the auditorium is open). But whether or not you get the chance to see the auditorium, it's still worth one's time to visit this opera house. The Grand Staircase is magnificent in person, and every inch of the opera house oozes with opulence. It's no wonder it took approximately fifteen years to complete the building!

Sacré-Cœur Basilica

Located in the village-like Montmartre district of Paris, the Sacré Cœur is a beautiful white basilica that also happens to be built on top of the highest point in the city. Though it's a relatively young structure compared to some of the city's other houses of worship, it still has the majesty and beauty found in older churches. And while the steps leading up to the basilica are filled with people selling souvenirs and playing music, the building itself is pretty quiet, even with visitors shuffling through. (You're also not supposed to take pictures inside). It's definitely worth stopping by the Sacré Cœur if you're looking for some history and an opportunity to visit a different part of Paris.

Monday, July 13, 2009

France Travelblogue: An Introduction to Paris in June

Ever since I graduated from college a couple of years ago, I've been working hard on one of my life goals — traveling. It's a topic I keep coming back to whenever I take some time to update this blog. Previous entries have focused on international and domestic trips alike.

I had the chance to expand my traveling horizons recently while taking a family vacation to Paris, France at the end of last month. Since I went with my parents, who opted to get some help from a travel agency, I didn't have to plan things as extensively as I would have had I been traveling on my own. But I did still take some time to map out an itinerary on top of the loose one we already had in place. Paris is one of those cities where you can never run out of things to do, but because there's so much to do, it's a good idea to figure out what you're most interested in seeing while you're there. This is a philosophy I tend to follow whenever I'm traveling somewhere for the first time anyway, especially since I never really get to spend more than a week or two visiting a particular destination. I feel there's more time for aimless wandering during repeat visits.

We naturally covered the basics during this particular trip by visiting the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame Cathedral, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, and more. All of these places were definitely worth visiting, and I'm already mentally prepared to go back to the Louvre someday in the future. But Paris has even more to offer — enough for me to decide on writing a series of blog entries about my travels through the city, instead of the single entry I was planning to write when I first started this post.

Over the next couple of days, I'll write about some of my favorite sights while traveling through Paris... and I may or may not have some useful travel advice to dispense.

Until then!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Finally - some great radio in the NY area

Even though there's a ton of music in New York City, I haven't really listened to any of the radio stations in the area since I was about 12 or 13 years old. That was the year that my station of choice, Z100 — a pop music station, went a little too pop music for my tastes. I'd just started playing the guitar, and while I wasn't only interested in guitar-driven music, I was definitely more interested in a less-manufactured sound. Sadly, an overly-manufactured sound had become extremely popular at the time, so I gave up on Z100. The rock stations had started playing an abundance of nu-metal, hip hop stations didn't interest me much at the time, and the rest suffered from easy-listening syndrome.

So a few months ago when a friend of mine told me that there was a new rock station that she'd stumbled across while looking for something to listen to in her car, I was really excited. And when I finally checked it out, I think I heard something like David Bowie and Radiohead back-to-back with each other.

The station I'm talking about is 101.9 RXP, and I've been listening to it more frequently over the past couple of weeks. There are times where it just reflects my early music collection (in the past hour, I've heard everything from The Verve to The Doors and Moby circa-Play). And there are times where I just get to hear some great classic rock tracks and some awesome new stuff.

It's really exciting... even though I've started listening to some international and out-of-state radio more over the past couple of years, this is the first time in nearly a decade where I find myself listening to a local radio station. Maybe there's still some hope for radio and the music biz after all!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Regina Spektor charms sold-out crowd at NYC's Beacon Theatre, 6/17/09

With a new album (Far) coming out June 23, Regina Spektor has been keeping herself busy. Though she has tour dates lined up through September after her album drops, this didn't stop her from performing a sold-out show in New York City's Beacon Theatre Wednesday night.

Spektor charmed the audience from the second she took the stage in a simple black outfit, which made her look like she was ready for a piano recital. Though she was aware of the adoring audience, which was filled with people who cheered enthusiastically and even gave her flowers towards the end of her set, Spektor couldn't stop gushing about how thrilling (and occasionally nerve wracking) it was for her to be there. When the person in charge of lighting took a moment to shine the lights throughout the otherwise darkened venue, Spektor laughed nervously as she realized how many people were there. "Now I can see them all!" she exclaimed. But a few seconds later she added that it was "really nice" getting a chance to see everyone there.

The set focused largely on Spektor's newer material from Far, including the single "Laughing With," but that didn't stop anyone from enjoying the show. Spektor's strong vocals and brilliant piano playing — only occasionally backed by a small string section and drums — had everyone's attention, even if the material wasn't always familiar to us. She eventually mixed things up by throwing in a few songs from Begin to Hope including the fascinating "Apres Moi. And she even touched upon some older material like "Poor Little Rich Boy" (complete with Spektor drumming on a chair while playing her piano) and "Consequence of Sounds" (which she performed with great spirit after a false start).

The concert was a perfect showcase for Spektor's talent and charisma, which are even more overwhelming in a live setting. For two hours that night, it was easy to forget about the world outside as I sat there watching her perform.

Setlist: Folding Chair, Lucky Penny, Time is All Around, Eet, The Calculation, Machine, One More Time with Feeling, On the Radio, Blue Lips, Riot Gear, Laughing With, Bobbing for Apples, That Time, Apres Moi, Human of the Year, Poor Little Rich Boy, Holocaust, Consequence of Sounds, Man of a Thousand Faces

Encore: Samson, Us, Fidelity

(Crossposted at Pop Wenches)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Doves return to NYC at Terminal 5: 6/4/09

There are some bands out there that have a pretty good following. They get excellent press and they have a solid amount of fans. Yet, they still manage to "fly under the radar." The UK's Doves totally fit this bill.

But their Thursday night concert at New York City's Terminal 5 — their first in the city in approximately four years — would have suggested otherwise. The venue was packed with adoring fans (even the bizarre, obnoxiously rowdy types behind me seemed to know all the lyrics to each song), excited to catch the band in the area. As even bassist/singer Jimi Goodwin pointed out, it had been far "too long."

The band, noted for being consistently solid live, did a great job despite some sound issues that popped up here and there. The sound problems seem to be a Terminal 5 thing for the most part — I've read and heard numerous complaints about the venue since I first went there to see The National perform, and I suppose there is some truth to what people have said. Goodwin wound up spending the first few songs motioning at the sound and monitor guys to adjust the mix.

But with or without sound issues, the band powered through a set featuring numerous songs from their current album Kingdom of Rust, alongside a good mix of songs from their first three albums, thrilling the crowd immensely when they performed songs like "Snowden," "The Cedar Room," and "Caught By the River" to name a few. "Black and White Town" from 2005's Some Cities was one of the big hits during the night, prompting a good chunk of the crowd to dance along with fists pumping.

Doves' newer material also translated well to the stage, with audience members transfixed during Kingdom of Rust's title track and "10:03," which proved to be one of the more beautiful performances of the night. The band succeeded in recreating the moody, moving quality of their studio recordings onstage, transporting many of us in the audience into what felt like another realm. While it's a real shame that Doves aren't bigger than they are, their live shows indicate that they are truly passionate about their art, which is the best gift a band can give their fans.

Watch footage of Doves performing "Kingdom of Rust" and "Here It Comes" (from 2000's Lost Souls, with drummer Andy Williams taking over lead vocals) at Terminal 5 below. The full setlist follows at the end of this post.

Setlist: Jetstream, Snowden, Winter Hill, Rise, Pounding, Almost Forgot Myself, 10:03, Words, The Greatest Denier, Kingdom of Rust, Ambition, Black & White Town, The Outsiders, Caught By the River

Encore: The Cedar Room, Here it Comes, Last Broadcast, There Goes the Fear

(Crossposted at Pop Wenches)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Art Brut kick off Mercury Lounge residency in NYC; 6/1/09

Loud, fast, silly... yet sincere. These are some of the terms one could use to describe Art Brut, the English/German punk band that started a residency at New York's Mercury Lounge last night. The band played to a sold-out crowd that ate up frontman Eddie Argos' every word, performing songs taken from all three of their albums.

Despite suffering some recent back problems (which he referred to a few times during the night) Argos was in top form as he "jumped rope" with his microphone cord, waxed poetic about comics like Booster Gold, and relayed personal anecdotes to accompany his sometimes equally personal lyrics. He even plunged right into the audience, staying there for a good few minutes, while performing "Modern Art."

The band and audience kept playing off each other the entire night, making it one of the most energetic small shows I've seen in ages. Between their never-ending (successful) attempts to keep us entertained and Argos' lyrics about topics like a love of DC comics and chocolate milkshakes, the band just made us feel like we were all hanging out with a bunch of old friends and acting silly. Only, Art Brut are the types of friends who play sold-out, week-long residencies and get to perform encores after a room full of people shout "Art Brut, Top of the Pops!" Some people just have all the luck.

Setlist: Alcoholics Unanimous, Direct Hit, Modern Art, Summer Job, Rusted Guns, What a Rush, Emily Kane, Demons Out, DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes, Pump Up the Volume, Good Weekend, Positively 5th Street, My Little Brother, Nag Nag Nag Nag

Encore: Bang Bang Rock n' Roll, 18000 Lira, Post Soothing Out

(Crossposted at Pop Wenches)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Travelblogue: Memorial Day in Music City

Life has gotten pretty hectic lately, so I didn't get a chance to post about this earlier. But I'm here now, and would like to say the following:

I spent my Memorial Day Weekend in Nashville, Tennessee.

This statement has led to some interesting reactions from the people I know. A number of people thought it was cool and liked the photos I had to share from my trip. But others were confused and asked why I would go to Nashville, what could have prompted me to go to Nashville, and what exactly is there for one to see in Nashville?

My response? I just wanted to go somewhere I hadn't before, I also wanted to experience more of the south, and I (rightly) figured that you can always find something to do wherever you decide to go on vacation... even when it's not the most glamorous, obvious place to go.

In some ways, Nashville is no different from Any City, USA. It's got some really spiffy looking metropolitan buildings. It's got some rundown, run-of-the-mill looking shops and restaurants. There's that one street that's really lively and happening. Then there's a bunch of random boring streets that might make you wonder what prompted you to visit in the first place. But ultimately there's a lot to experience, and you can find some really neat things along the way. And that's exactly what happened to me. Here's what I enjoyed about my trip:

1. Nashville puts the music in Music City
Country music is not something I listen to everyday — when I do listen to it, it's either of the "alt country" variety, or a song by one of the greats like Johnny Cash or Patsy Cline. But despite the fact that country music isn't exactly a huge part of my life, I'm still a music fan. I enjoy seeing other people immersing themselves in it, and I love learning about music history. This is something I got to do in Nashville. First stop — the Country Music Hall of Fame, where I got to see everything from a three-neck guitar-like instrument that belonged to an early country musician to Elvis' gold Cadillac and Hank Williams' stuffed squirrels. I got a perfect glimpse into the world of country music, with its hard work and themes of heartbreak, alongside some of its tackier gaudy mementos. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Next up, the Ryman Auditorium, which was home of the Grand Ole Opry for a good thirty years or so. Since we didn't have access to the kind of money needed for a rental or taxi that could get us to the current Opry House, my friend and I decided to check out the Ryman. And it was a spectacular treat. We took a backstage tour, which meant we got to go inside the dressing rooms (which are actually newer additions to this building that first opened in 1892). We were able to learn fun anecdotes about country stars, past and present, and about how performers like Elvis, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash all managed to get banned from the Opry in some way. By the time our tour was done, we got to do a self-tour, which allowed us to take pictures on the stage of the Ryman, sit in the pews, and view some fun memorabilia like a shiny dress that once belonged to Loretta Lynn. It was definitely a worthwhile visit!

2. The history (beyond the Grand Ole Opry)
There's a lot of different historical things you can see in Nashville, and some of these things overlap with music (as evidenced above). But there's a lot more. For one thing, you can visit plantations! We didn't have time to visit the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson's old haunt, but we did get to go to the outskirts of the city and visit the Belle Meade Plantation, where we got a fun history lesson about the grounds' mansion, its relation to horse racing, and stories about the family it once belonged to. Our mansion tour guide told us that about sixty to seventy percent of the house's original belongings had been recovered when the historical society took over, so that made for a really nice authentic experience. And they were also recreating the daughter's wedding, so we got a chance to see wedding decor/food from the old days. The grounds outside the plantation are also beautiful and educational, featuring cabins, a doll house that children once played in, a carriage house with tons of old carriages inside, and more. It was a nice way to step back in time for a little while.

Another cool bit of history we discovered — the remains of James K. Polk and his wife on the grounds of the State Capitol in Nashville. We stumbled across their little memorial by accident while wandering the Capitol's grounds alone on the Saturday that we landed. It was definitely one of the more unexpected items I planned on finding there, but it was also a worthy discovery nonetheless.

3. The food
While we had a tendency to grab breakfast at Panera, since we knew it was affordable and featured comforting breakfast foods we were familiar with, we tried to find ways to enjoy authentic southern food. Our first night there, we stopped at BB King's, a popular blues club that features live music. (And some fun nicely designed t-shirts and whatnot in their "gift shop" area. The items sold are great souvenirs that don't really look like souvenirs). We wound up getting some delicious chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, and white cheddar mac 'n' cheese. Simple, but delightful. Determined to get grits the next night, we asked the waiter at Big River if we could get a side of grits (which otherwise came with shrimp) to accompany our meals. As my friend put it, "We're from the North..." and were clearly in the mood to try this little Southern staple. Turns out, I really liked the grits, even though they're just a very basic comfort food. Ours had some white cheddar in them, so I think that's what ended up making the grits so enjoyable. It was a fun, basic introduction to the region's food.

4. The people's commitment to Southern hospitality
I'm in my early twenties and can sometimes look a bit younger according to people I know. Yet I've never been called ma'am so much in my life! Everyone — including an elderly gentleman working as a tour guide at the Ryman — called me "ma'am," while addressing me. And people took out time to help me and my friend out whenever we seemed to need a little help with our sightseeing. These all sound like very basic things, and it's not like I don't experience politeness up north, but there is something very sweet and sincere about the people of Nashville. Their kindness was a pleasant supplement to our trip.

5. The "odd and end" sights
The AT&T building (or "Batman Building" as pictured at the top of this post), hokey tourist shops, the number of stores selling boots and cowboy hats — all of these were really fun things to see on the side while we were vacationing in Nashville. In fact, I might have gone a little overboard trying on different hats. But I didn't bring any back, so I consider that a rare moment of self restraint.

There is also a replica of the Parthenon in Centennial Park, a beautiful structure featuring an enormous golden-colored statue of Athena.

And another "odd and end," though it doesn't really seem to fit anywhere here: the Cheekwood Botanical Garden, which houses an art museum and tons of gardens including a water garden, herb area, Japanese garden, and more. The grounds are beyond huge, and there's so much to see that one might as well spend an entire day in there. Sadly, rain and a decision to eat something wound up cutting our visit short. But I can totally imagine myself going back to Cheekwood someday just to explore it further.


All in all, it was a tremendously successful trip. And while I wish I'd had a car of my own to get around in from time to time, there really was plenty for us to see and do in the two-and-a-half days we spent there. Next time I go back, I'll try to venture out further and see what else I can find.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Franz Ferdinand play NYC's Roseland Ballroom, 5/7/09

Franz Ferdinand first came on the scene five years ago, with a self-titled debut that is arguably still their most popular album to this day. But the band is still alive and kicking, and currently touring in support of their latest album Tonight: Franz Ferdinand.

I finally got a chance to see them live at New York City's Roseland Ballroom this past Thursday, and I'm glad to say that they truly lived up to their reputation as a fantastic live act. The band members seemed genuinely excited to perform in the packed venue, and their constant energy was infectious, causing attendees to dance and sing along throughout the show.

Frontman Alex Kapranos oozed confidence, swaggering and pouting in true rock star fashion, while jumping around and throwing in some high kicks. It was impressive to see how well he could still play while performing these antics. He also threw in a bit of humor, poking fun at guitarist/keyboardist Nick McCarthy, who injured his foot during this tour. Kapranos referred to McCarthy as the man with "one and a half feet," and the good-natured McCarthy grinned and made it a point to wave his crutches around every time he hobbled on and off stage.

As far as the set was concerned, the band did a good job of mixing things up by including well-loved songs from their debut, as well as their previous album You Could Have It So Much Better. The band fiddled with the tempo on songs like "Walk Away," and there were times when Kapranos just skipped the singing altogether to let the audience fill in the words. Songs like " 40' " (much "trippier" live) became major highlights during the show.

The concert wound down with a high-energy encore, starting with "Ulysses" and continuing with "Lucid Dreams," which was the epitome of organized chaos. Opening act Born Ruffians joined Franz Ferdinand for the latter, pounding away at a drum kit during the song's synthesizer-fueled ending. Franz Ferdinand then brought down the house with their final song of the night, "This Fire," nearly causing a riot near the front of the stage where attendees danced and jumped around in a fervor that caused the floor to shake. "We're gonna burn this city," indeed.

Watch an excerpt of Franz performing "The Fallen" (the opener from You Could Have It So Much Better) during Thursday night's concert, and then check out the full setlist below:

Setlist: Bite Hard, Dark of the Matinee, No You Girls, Tell Her Tonight, The Fallen, Michael, Turn it On, Walk Away, Twilight Omens, Do You Want To, Take Me Out, What She Came For, 40', Outsiders

Encore: Ulysses, Lucid Dreams, This Fire

(Crossposted at Pop Wenches)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

No explanation necessary

I stumbled across this awesome a cappella rendition of a Dr. Dre cover by Ben Folds (try saying that ten times fast), and had to post it. It's utterly crass, but so much fun.

Incidentally, Ben Folds is releasing an album full of the "best" a cappella performances of some of his songs this week. This one isn't on it, but I'm wondering if I should pick it up or not. I didn't really love his last album, Way to Normal (and some of those songs do appear on this a cappella album), but this might be a fun album to have.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hooked on Dollhouse

I think it's safe to say that I'm really enjoying Joss Whedon's Dollhouse right now, which is a little sad since there are a ton of rumors circulating about the show's "inevitable cancellation" in the near future. Despite enjoying Buffy and Firefly, and following Angel religiously, I was completely uninterested in this show when I first heard about it. I didn't even bother DVRing it the night it premiered, even though I did set the timer for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which airs right before it. [Note: I have not caught up on the Sarah Connor season finale yet, so I'm not going to talk about that show here].

But somehow, despite hearing mixed reviews about the pilot, I decided I would check it out online after it aired. And even though I didn't love the pilot and can't really remember much from it at this point, I was intrigued enough to try watching more of the show. I found it entertaining background noise at first, but the stories began to draw me in more as time went by. And then I heard that the sixth episode was going to be the episode that would truly kick everything into gear. Lo and behold, this actually turned out to be true. Ever since then I've been looking forward to catching up on the show each weekend, and I have to say that after watching last night's episode earlier tonight, I am even more hooked on the show.

I was watching it with a friend, and we were gasping and making all sorts of speculations throughout the episode. It was the first time in a very long time that I was so invested in a TV show. The show certainly isn't easy to get into — there are a lot of grey areas, there aren't any officially clear-cut protagonists (though you do feel sorry for the dolls), and the first few episodes were middling at best. But these last few episodes have been jampacked with all sorts of reveals, and the characters are starting to appear more layered. It's a really neat, dark and mysterious sci-fi series and I'm eager to learn more about the Dollhouse.

I would like to add that we, as a society, have become even more obsessed with our forms of entertainment being completely "awesome" from the very beginning. But a lot of classic TV shows have started out fairly average, only to go on and become excellent and extremely popular for a good chunk of their runs. Whedon's shows have always had a tendency to do this, and other major sci-fi shows like The X-Files were like this too. At this point, I'd rather see an average show with potential, slowly build its way to the top, than see a solid show like Heroes (Season 1) turn into complete tripe as writers keep writing themselves into holes.

I just hope that network executives take this into consideration when they're examining Dollhouse.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

"Mondays is for drinking to the seldom seen kid..."

I've been on a massive music kick lately, which has resulted in me ordering a lot more music than I ever have in a two-week period. I've also been listening to a lot of radio, and discovering a lot of old and new tracks alike.

My current obsession? Elbow performing live with the BBC Concert Orchestra. This performance of "Grounds For Divorce" is pretty epic. I love it when bands collaborate with orchestras, marching bands, etc. The build-up at the end of this particular performance is ten times better than its studio counterpart:

Monday, March 23, 2009

Morrissey plays the Wellmont Theatre, NJ: 3/16/09

The first time I saw Morrissey was two years ago, during the third of five consecutive nights at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. My friend and I had pretty good spots, thanks to our general admission tickets, and we were so thrilled that we decided it wasn't necessary for us to see Morrissey again — unless The Smiths miraculously reformed.

But a few months ago, when we found out Morrissey was about to embark on a tour featuring significantly smaller venues, we decided we just had to see him one more time. After failing to snag highly-coveted tickets to him perform during a Saturday night show at the Bowery Ballroom, we wound up obtaining tickets for the Wellmont Theatre in Montclair, NJ. While the venue isn't as intimate as Bowery is, the concert was well worth it.

The setlist itself wasn't anything particularly spectacular, but it did have its highlights. Morrissey kicked things off with The Smiths' classic, "This Charming Man," and then plowed through a set that included additional Smiths songs such as "How Soon is Now?" and "Ask," along with a handful of older solo material, songs from You Are the Quarry and his latest offering, Years of Refusal. Interestingly enough, he eschewed tracks from 2006's Ringleader of the Tormentors, an album I personally find middling at best.

While Morrissey himself was relatively low key during the show, keeping the theatrics to a minimum when he wasn't throwing the shirts he was wearing out into the audience, there were still plenty of opportunities to witness the type of spectacle one comes to expect at Morrissey concerts.

Fans hung onto to every word, holding their arms out and singing along to old and new material alike. And when Morrissey came out at the end to deliver an encore of "First of the Gang to Die," fans began crowdsurfing en masse in a desperate (and sometimes successful) attempt to try touching Morrissey's hand before he left the stage. Those last few moments were exhilaratingly intense, even for those of us who weren't trying to reach the stage, a perfect reminder of why Morrissey concerts tend to draw such a dedicated following.

This Charming Man, Billy Budd, Black Cloud, How Soon is Now, Irish Blood English Heart, Let Me Kiss You, I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris, Ask, How Could Anyone Possibly Know How I Feel, The Loop, Death of a Disco Dancer, Something is Squeezing My Skull, Seasick Yet Still Docked, Why Don't You Find Out For Yourself, Best Friend on the Payroll, Mama Lay Softly on the Riverbed, Sorry Doesn't Help, I Keep Mine Hidden, The World is Full of Crashing Bores, I'm OK By Myself

First of the Gang to Die

(Crossposted at Pop Wenches)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Baby's First Comic Con

I've always wanted to go to Comic Con. Well, not necessarily always — but the idea of hanging out with a bunch of like-minded, fellow geeks while indulging in pop culture has had long-standing appeal for me. The first time I even realized such gatherings existed was back when I was about 12 or 13 years old, finally making my official entry into the geek world by becoming an X-Phile. As I discovered the wonders of the online fan community, I learned about how my fellow fans celebrated our fandom in real life, by attending events like X-Files conventions. Better yet, I discovered that there were conventions for numerous other TV shows, comics, and more.

I never had a chance to go to anything like the X-Files conventions back then. But I never forgot about the concept either. And as I grew older, and less dependent on my parents, I vowed that I would attend a similar event when I got older.

So I finally fulfilled my own promise by attending the fourth annual New York Comic Con this past weekend. While I'm not necessarily a hardcore comic geek, I'm no stranger to the comic world. For one thing, I'm a Batman fan, and while my love for the Caped Crusader really began with Batman: The Animated Series, I have been acquiring more and more graphic novels over the years — and I've even borrowed a few from friends. And I used to follow Spider-man comics when I was much younger. Throw in my love for science fiction TV shows, and voila — you've got my reasons for attending something like Comic Con. It may be huge and chaotic, but it's the perfect place for a person like me to indulge in assorted geeky interests.

I only wound up going for one day — Saturday, also the most crowded day — but I had an amazing time. Despite the fact that I really only had time to attend one panel, there was so much to do and see! I was able to line up early on to get an autographed poster promoting the new Wonder Woman movie — and the reason why this really excited me was because I was able to get former Batman: The Animated Series producer Bruce Timm's autograph. I discovered the joy of wandering through the artists' alley, and got into a really fun conversation about Batman and the animated series' creative team with a guy working at a table while my friend was getting a sketch commissioned by a neighboring artist. I indulged in my recently-developed Doctor Who obsession by spotting a few people dressed like the fourth and tenth doctors in the crowd, and buying a t-shirt. (I could have had something signed by the sixth doctor, Colin Baker, but I'll confess that I'm really only familiar with the new Doctor Who series). And while I bought numerous graphic novels and comic books, I was also able to grab fun free swag like pins with the Batman and Flash symbols on them.

The atmosphere was just fantastic. Everyone there seemed to be having a great time, I discovered that it was easy to get into friendly conversations with the majority of people there, and it was also tons of fun running around and taking pictures of or with people in costume.

So like I previously said, I only had time for one panel that day, and I wound up attending the Top Cow panel for Beserker, featuring Milo Ventimiglia (of Heroes fame). Ventimiglia is officially "presenting" the upcoming comic, so he was on hand to discuss the subject matter along with the writers and artists involved in the product's creation. It was an interesting panel, and while the concept is definitely on the gory side, it's pretty cool. More information about it can be found in this October Q & A.

Those of us attending the panel were fortunate enough to attend a signing just for us once it was over, and we were able to get our copies of Beserker Issue #0 signed by those at the panel, including Milo himself. Needless to say, this wound up being a major highlight for me. I'm a longtime Milo fan (dating back to his time on Gilmore Girls). While I have a love-hate relationship with Heroes right now, I brought my copy of Heroes Season 1 along just in case. Milo ended up being incredibly gracious, making eye contact and shaking my hand while introducing himself as soon as I got to him. And he actually seemed pleased when I told him I'd been following his work since Gilmore Girls — because let's face it, that means I've been a fan for a good eight years now. I wound up leaving with a signed comic book, signed DVD set, and this picture (as seen on the left) that Milo took himself. Utterly fantastic.

All in all, it was very worth it. The only real drawback was the lack of crowd control — things could have been more organized with the autograph area, and certain alleys could have had more space to accommodate the huge crowds. But despite that, I can certainly see myself going back for more Comic Cons in the future.

(Photo Credits: The Storm Troopers were taken by my friend Gina, the picture with Milo Ventimiglia was taken by the man himself with my camera, the rest are by me)