I haven't been going to many music shows in the last year, but this past week has been pretty busy. On Saturday, I caught ?uestlove's (The Roots) dj set at a small club near my house. He is a resident dj there, but appears infrequently due to a rather full-blown career. Last night, I checked out a Toyota-sponsored set from Gang Starr's DJ Premier. The two could not have been more different.
?uestlove was spinning tunes to dance to, period. He had several subsets consisting of classic and recent hip-hop, 80's top 40 dance and soul, and the continuity was pretty good. There was minimal technical showboating, with jarring transitions wherever he felt like it, but there was good flow and there was only one point where he started to lose the audience. Otherwise, the crowd was loving it and the dj was having fun.
DJ Premier seemed to phone it in. He has a pretty polished set, but you definitely got the feeling that everything was scripted, especially the frequent call-and-response with the audience. After opening with some good tunes and a long but well-chosen Gang Starr medley, "Primo" dropped into an extended technical noodling session that killed the dancefloor and thinned the crowd. I had hoped that we'd be treated to more original work, but that was not the case. Thank god for the top shelf open bar in the VIP lounge. So here are two examples of famous producer/performers spinning other peoples music, with very different results. They both had attentive, enthusiastic audiences, great sound systems, and plenty of good mp3s (no vinyl was harmed in the making of these shows).
What went wrong with Premier's set? Maybe it was because it was really a corporate gig (tickets were free). Maybe it was the fact that cutting up old Run-DMC tracks is just not entertaining anymore. He is truly a master dj, but there was a whole lotta chatter between tracks and too many lapses in danceability.
If you have the chance to catch a ?uestlove show and aren't afraid to dance to whatever the hell is making his afro bounce that day, do make the effort. If you have a chance to see Premier on the Scion tour, do make the effort to get a VIP pass.
Tonight I'm going to the Phillies game, and then Josh Wink is spinning at the same place ?uestlove played for like $5 or something. Not sure I'll make it, but having access to world-class DJ's for peanuts is not something to be taken for granted so I'll do my best to get there.
The other night, my wife and I were cleaning up the debris left over from tearing down the plaster ceiling in our living room. We had already spent quite a bit of time in the car, searching out Philly's city dumps, to get rid of what must have been close to a ton of debris, and a lot of that time was spent trying to circumnavigate the Mummers parade. Normally held on New Year's day, it had been rained out and pushed to the following weekend. We drove down to Oregon Ave and tried to cross Broad St, but ran into a police barricade. There were string bands tuning up and pushing their set pieces around. Oh man, I thought, we are at cheez ground zero. Deep in South Philly, surrounded by macho men wearing feathered costumes, pumping mini-parasols in the air to banjo-N-sax big band riffs. I was a little bummed that we were in the car on what must be one of the very very very few 70 degree January days in Philly history, instead of riding our bikes through Mummerland, but we had work to do. So, after two dump runs with our bags of ancient, horrible drywall and plaster, we decided to stroll the three blocks up to Broad to see why there was still a ruckus at 6pm.
And what timing. We caught one string band just as they were beginning a performance, and they were pretty great. The costumes, the zany set pieces, very French powdered whigs meets Corpse Bride...hard to describe but easy to appreciate. A little piece of Burning Man, but so far to the opposite of the spectrum that you almost reach the other pole. The Mummers need to discover Black Rock, but that's unlikely. Anyway, I realized immediately what the Mummers are all about...I guess it was seeing a really good band right off the bat...the last time I went to the parade was probably in the early 80's.
Next up was the Fralinger string band, and I didn't need anyone to tell me that they've won the past 4 consecutive years. Their 'Native American' theme was over the top but not offensive, and was just a theatrical wonder in the middle of an intersection. The costumes were nuts, the choreography right on, and the set pieces inventive and well-executed. They did go on to claim their 5th title, and deservedly so. Just in case we were going to go home thinking that the Mummers are above tackiness (under those feathers), the next band pulled out some forehead-slapping Mexican stereotypes (drunken, gap-toothed, cactus costumes???) and cliche musical numbers. Oh well, my faith in the mummers is 66.6% restored.
They said the internet is for porn, but I didn't believe it until tonight.
First off, I had a horrible burrito yesterday. A friend told me that there is a single solitary mexican food joint in philly that makes a decent burrito (and the huevo insanicos pictured above), but I took a chance on a 'mole chicken' from a food court. What was I thinking? Blech.
Anyway, here's another yarn from my trip Eastward:
When we entered western Wisconsin from South Dakota, I noticed that we would pass through the town of Sparta. This was the home of my (college) freshman roommate, and I knew his father had a garage there and that they share the same name, so I decided to see if I could find it and pass on a greeting to his son (whom I haven't had contact with since 1995 or 6). It took a little exploring and one stop at an auto supply store for directions, but we did find the garage. I got out of the truck and walked up to the bay, and sure enough there was an older fella in greasy coveralls with a crack in one of his glasses lenses and a name patch that confirmed that this was the dad. I said “Hi, are you Mr. Man, Sr.?’ and I thought he might bolt, like I’d come to repossess his precious LOTR one-ring or something. He wouldn’t make eye contact with me as I explained that I had shared a room with his son and perhaps he could relay a ‘hello’ for me after all these years. Well, they don’t talk so much anymore it seems, hardly ever I guess, but then he said he’d see his son that weekend which seemed a bit hard to believe. I backed away slowly as he laughed at a joke that neither of us had told and I hadn’t heard. It was disappointing and fascinating at the same time. On the upside, I did pick up a sixer of New Glarus brewery's excellent farmhouse ale, Spotted Cow. It's unfiltered and delicious.
Just got to Philly yesterday. Me and brother loaded up the groovy box truck and struck out for the promised land. 3600 miles later, here I am in my new yet old home. Highlights included the Badlands national park, seen above, and the coincidental timing of Sturgis Bike Week in lovely SW South Dakota. Harleys and their doting owners as far as the eye could see.
We stopped in Wall (drug), SD to wait out a storm, ran into an old girlfriend of mine in Wisconsin, sat in traffic in Chicago, found the home of the Jackalope in Douglas, Wyoming and always always always found more Harleys. I lost a quarter playing slots at some Nevada truck stop, and picked up 2 cases of Sprecher Special Amber Ale in Madison. The penultimate stop was a family reunion outside Frederick, MD with hay rides and camping under clear, breezy skies.
All in all, it was a great way to spend 7 days, see a few new sides to the country and spend time with my brother.
Many people visit Angel Island in the SF Bay, but not so many camp there. They've got campsites for just a few dozen people, so when the day-use tourists take the last ferry home, you're pretty much running the place. I camped there last night, for the second time, and I can't speak highly enough of it. It certainly didn't hurt that the sea breeze kept a record-setting heatwave at arm's length and the night was cloud and fog-free. Regardless of whether you have cold beer, 160 proof Austrian rum and fresh fish tacos at the campsite, the most amazing thing about it is the view of the SF skyline. Absolutely sublime to sit in one place in total isolation and have a panoramic view from Berkeley to the Marin Headlands with the Bay bridge, GG bridge and SF in between.
I just got back from Dolores park, where about 15k people watched the World Cup final on a jumbotron. The event was sponsored by this crazy German dude (and donations during the event). My wife got to the park at 8am to grab some amazing real estate right up front, so we were able to hear all the audio and see the ball clearly on the screen. There was a French section behind us and some Italians scattered about, but the crowd just wanted a good game. The weather was flawless, the soundsystem was excellent (from where we were sitting) and everyone was really well-behaved. It was amazing.
[6/30 update to 'smell you later': Well, today is it. I'm basically waiting for security to come by my desk, cut my badge in two and peel the STAFF icon out of my profile. It's been a great ride and I don't regret a moment of it. I've made some great friends, learned a ton of stuff from some incredibly dynamic people and (fingers crossed) I leave with 65% confidence that people on the 3rd floor know what the hell it is that I did for CNE/GNE/G&E/CPK/ETC. There are too many people to thank, so I'll choose someone at random. Collin Oguro, you represent all the people I'll miss. I don't think we've said more than 15 words to each other in almost 3 years, but you get me those 70x70 icons so damn fast and they're so beneath you. I hope we have the opportunity to work together again in the future.]
I've been trying to come up with a list of 'things I'll miss' list for my imminent departure. Inspired by B. Colayco.
-Kickin' it on the stoop with the Big E, a coupla tall Racer 5's and a dying Homer Simpson church key
-Buying all kinds of alcohol in various configurations at a supermarket or corner store. Dog bless BevMo and the wealth of regional craft brewers
-Drivers who stop at cross-walks for peds and bikes. Not EVERY driver, but enough to make a difference
-In-N-Out (all off-menu of course)
-No need for storm windows or screens
-White Russians (two of them, anyway)
-Bike lanes and Critical Mass
-Toronado Barleywine Festival and sunny afternoons at Zeitgeist
-Victorian architecture: the antidote to row-homes
-Living next to an ocean I haven't swum in for 6 years
-the margarita & mariachi cavalcade at Puerto Alegre
-Steph, who's cut my hair for the last 6 years, dropped her rate when I was looking for a job, and let me get a haircut with no pants on when I walked in from a rainshower.
-No vehicle inspection. This essentially defines 'quality of life'
-Lane sharing for motorcycles, and all of the tolerant drivers who don't take it personally when a cycle zips through traffic. I just don't think this would work on the East coast.
-Cherry & strawberry season
-The dulcet song of Homer's laugh, reverberating off every planar surface in the office
-My good friends: Racer 5, Big Daddy, Boont Amber and Maximus. I will miss you guys sorely
-Delicious tap water. The Bay Area is blessed with drinking water that comes straight from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite. One of those little things that you only realize when you drink tap water from just about any other major city.