August, 2007:

Pat Green, Sugarland and Kenny Chesney

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Another long one…

Last night Lois and I saw Pat Green, Sugarland and Kenny Chesney at Madison Square Garden (MSG) in NYC.

We don’t own any Kenny Chesney albums, and don’t know his music well at all. I have heard many times that he gives one of the greatest shows, but that alone wouldn’t have necessarily gotten me to buy tickets, especially as far in advance as we did. I believe that Kenny Chesney was the top touring artist in 2006, but for sure was the top Country touring artist then. He is currently projected to be the top Country touring artist in 2007, and the second overall, to the Police.

Regardless of whether we should have wanted to see Kenny Chesney, we both really wanted to see Pat Green and Sugarland. Lois has loved Pat Green from the first song she ever heard of his. I think he’s great too. I am nuts about Sugarland. Lois likes their music, but Jennifer Nettles grates on her a little like fingernails on a chalkboard. She appreciates the beauty and power of her voice, but can’t stand what appears to be an overly put on twang. Just listen closely to any word she pronounces that rhymes with “life”. I can’t do it justice, but it comes out like: “laaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyf”. Anyway, it doesn’t bug me in the least, nor distract from her absolute brilliance as a singer.

So, we were both instantly committed to going to this show, and we considered finding about about Kenny Chesney to be a likely bonus, rather than the actual draw to go. We bought the tickets well in advance, and tucked them away in our trusty drawer.

We walked from the apartment to MSG and got there a little before 7pm. Since the primary purpose of MSG is to house the Knicks (basketball) and Rangers (hockey), seeing a concert there can be less than ideal. We didn’t want to sit on the “floor” (though tickets were available), since it’s flat, and typically everyone in front of you stands the entire time, forcing you to stand too (keep in mind, we’re old folk). So, I purchased tickets directly opposite the stage, about 1/2 way up the arena. From a broad perspective, these are/were good seats. But, practically speaking, they are nearly a city block away from the stage (given the oval nature of the arena), so the performers look a little larger than ants.

I have written before about the group that owns MSG, Radio City Music Hall and The Beacon Theater. They run their concerts like well-oiled machines, starting with the marketing and finishing with the actual schedules of the concerts. I am incredibly impressed with everything they do. To begin with, they send two emails, spaced a few days apart, reminding you about the upcoming show, and giving details (like starting time, order that the artists will be appearing, etc.). Very nice touch.

Since they run their shows like an on-time train (if only they owned an airline!), we knew that Pat Green would be hitting the stage at exactly 7:30pm, not a minute later. Indeed, he did. He played 5 songs, and was on from just about 1/2 an hour. He was great. I didn’t recognize 3 of the 5 songs, which were likely off of his new album (Cannonball) which we own, but I haven’t listened to yet. The other two were wonderful, including his biggest hit, Wave on Wave, which he closed with. It was incredibly well done, and the audience went wild for it, singing along the entire song. He had tons of energy and was super jazzed to be in front of such a big crowd in NYC (specifically at MSG), and kept repeating that throughout his set.

After exactly a 15 minute intermission, Sugarland came on. They played for 45 minutes and played hit after hit. I knew every song, and delighted in every song. Not only do they sound great, but their energy is incredible as well, and Jennifer Nettles gives an excellent show. She dances and prances and basically engages the audience extremely well. And, of course, there’s her voice. πŸ™‚

As good as both Pat Green and Sugarland were, to me, MSG is not nearly as good a venue to see these types of groups as the other places we typically frequent. It’s not just that it’s large, but given that it’s a sports arena, it’s gigantic, there is no carpeting, etc., so sound just bounces around the place. That forces them to really crank up the volume. Of course, while that solves some of the problems, it creates new ones, including reverberation, piercing notes, etc. It can really be quite unpleasant at times. This is no fault of the bands, nor likely even of the people working the sound board, just a fact of life in these kinds of arenas. Given how many fans Kenny Chesney has, he can’t realistically come to NYC and play a smaller venue, unless he does what The Allman Brothers Band did, and play for a few solid weeks at a place like the Beacon Theater…

For both Pat Green and Sugarland, there was a giant drape behind the stage showing the cover of their current albums. On either side of the stage was a very large screen showing the highlighted performer (live) at that time. So, even though people were small on the stage (from our seats), you could always see what the current soloist (vocal, guitar, drum, etc.) was doing, reasonably clearly. It was nicely done.

Both bands were really excellent as well, though because of the acoustics, it took effort to pick out individual instruments.

After a 20 minute intermission, things started happening. I’m not trying to be mysterious, we really didn’t know exactly what was going on because they dropped another drape in front of the stage during this intermission, so whatever they were doing behind it, was invisible to most of the crowd. During the other down times, they played pretty good music (a very wide range, not only Country). All of a sudden, it started sounding like the band (Kenny’s) might be playing live (but a tad subdued) behind the big curtain. Not sure, but after the fact, I think not!

Anyway, they started with an interesting set of videos on the aforementioned large screens on the sides of the stage. The excitement was certainly building. Then, the video switched to a (likely) live feed labeled KennyCam. So, from backstage, you (supposedly) were seeing everything Kenny was seeing, but of course, you never saw Kenny himself. It was definitely cool, if a touch on the cheesy side as well, since it dragged out for quite a while (MSG is pretty darn big after all).

When he showed up on stage, they dropped the drape from the front, the crowd erupted maniacally. The entire stage had been transformed into a multimedia showcase. There were even larger screens (at least 4) behind and above the stage, and they were utilized to perfection! On occasion, they showed live scenes, on occasion music video style action, and on occasion just very heart-warming stills or videos of scenes that seemed to go with the current song. Truly brilliantly done.

Even though I don’t know his music (in the sense that I don’t own his albums, and therefore specifically listen to him multiple times), I recognized the vast majority of his songs (even many of the words). This is a testament to how much radio air time he gets, since Lois and I often listen to Country on XM Radio (as previously reported). I characterize most of his songs as fun, in the style and sense of Jimmy Buffet. Kenny’s sound is much larger. He has a huge band, including 4 horn players, multiple lead guitarists, and I’m reasonably sure there were two drummers on the stage as well. They were extraordinary musicians, and somehow, rose above most of the acoustics problems of the evening. Don’t ask me to explain how.

Kenny is a breathtaking performer. Pat Green and Sugarland had seemingly infinite energy, but you have to trust me when I tell you that they didn’t even come close to how much running around Kenny does on the stage. It’s 100% for the benefit of the fans. He does everything he possibly can to connect with as many individual fans as he possibly can. He shakes hands, gives high fives, etc., whenever he gets the opportunity. He never stops smiling, and seems to care deeply about the audience and their enjoyment.

As opposed to some who choose to be political on the stage (in either direction), he made one very simple statement: “There are a lot of problems in the world. We can’t possibly solve them tonight, so let’s enjoy the music and have a good time.” Amen!

I might have thought in advance that he was particularly beloved by humans of the female persuasion. I would have been wrong. The guys in our section were insane for him. Many were dancing throughout the show. All knew every word to every song, and belted them out as loudly as you can imagine. It was actually fun being surrounded by people who clearly idolize the performer they came to see. The energy was contagious in a way that both Lois and I (independently!) described as “being in a revival meeting”. It had the same kind of genuine fervor.

For me, I don’t think Kenny has such a great voice. There’s nothing wrong with it, and perhaps he missed a note here or there because of the physical energy he puts out. That said, it didn’t make the slightest difference. There was a pure joy throughout the show, that is in some ways indescribable.

I would sum it all up with one word (but you have to pick the word) πŸ˜‰

Extravaganza or Spectacle

Here’s what I really think going to his concerts is all about, and I think he’s well aware of it, and his fans are too, even if it’s not conscious on their part:

A Kenny Chesney concert is an opportunity to come sing your favorite songs with Kenny himself!

Seriously, 90% of the crowd sang every word of every song with him, as loud as they could, and Kenny encouraged every bit of it, often stopping to sing and pointing the mike into the audience. It was like being invited into his living room for a sing-a-long, with 15,000 of his closest friends.

At one point he said that he had taken his gang out to the Yankee game the night before, and sat in the 10th row (the Yankees beat the Red Sox that night, in fact, they swept this week’s series). Shortly after telling that, he brought out Roger Clemens on to the stage, and then Johnny Damon. I think there was a third Yankee as well, but I didn’t catch his name. The crowd went berserk! During the song (that they sang with Kenny!), Roger pulled up his son from the crowd. It was a wild scene in the audience, and at the end of the song, they strapped a guitar to his son (who seemed a little overwhelmed), and it was as cute as you could imagine.

The encore was one of the more unusual (and fun) that I have ever seen. When they came back out, they did a fantastic number (sorry, I don’t know his music well enough to drop the right name here). After that, the band played without Kenny (a fantastic song as well, with each taking wonderful solos). Kenny spent the time thanking/saluting the crowd, and signing dozens of autographs on hats, programs, etc. He was like a machine, and the fans were eating it up. It was a true celebration of the evening between the star and his adoring fans.

So, we had a great time, and enjoyed the Kenny Chesney concert way more than either of us thought we would, in particular, in a venue that was less than perfect for music. Bravo!

Verizon FIOS TV

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So, I’ve been using Verizon FIOS for my Internet connection in the house for quite a while now, and I absolutely love it! When they first installed it, the tech said that they would be introducing TV over the same fiber connection, likely within 6 months.

Well, it’s been much longer than 6 months, but it finally became available.

Lois and I have relatively pedestrian TV watching habits, including not owning an HDTV (even though I think they are awesome). I had both a cable connection (just basic, no boxes) and a DirecTV satellite with a large-drive DVR connected to the satellite. Don’t ask why I didn’t get rid of the cable when I got the satellite over 12 years ago…

I also have a pretty screwy (but very reliable) wiring setup to allow the cable or the satellite to be displayed on either of our two TVs (one upstairs, one downstairs). That was (by far) my biggest hesitation in ordering FIOS TV.

I got the announcement of availability in my neighborhood in the mail, and then researched it online. As intrigued as I was, I actually decided to wait a while, just because of the pain. Then a few days later, while at Zope, I got a marketing/sales call from Verizon (almost definitely outsourced), pitching me on taking the FIOS TV package. What convinced me in the end was that they too (like the cable companies) are now offering “Triple Play” (phone, Internet and TV). Well, I already have phone and Internet from them, and adding TV will actually lower my combined bill (Verizon and Cable) by a reasonable amount, while giving me more channels plus a DVR for the FIOS stuff as well.

Sold!

So, they installed it yesterday. The tech was great, and I only had to explain my screwy wiring once, and he got it right. Cool. But, in order to get the cooler services, they also had to swap the free WiFi Router that they had previously installed for FIOS Internet service with a better one that handled OnDemand TV as well. The old router was a Dlink 624. When first installed, I was apprehensive, because I didn’t think all that highly of Dlink stuff. It has been flawless for over a year, and I customized it to handle all of my special needs (notably VoIP and Slingbox).

The tech replaced it with a gigantic Verizon-branded router. Turns out that it’s an ActionTec model, clearly made for Verizon.

He told me that I really shouldn’t change the defaults. Yeah, right. πŸ˜‰

Well, by default, it worked correctly (and well) for the Internet, but it didn’t work for my Sling and VoIP, because they were set up to do things in a special way.

The router has a very powerful menu system, which was not intuitive, nor easily discoverable. I struggled to find the right bits to make my changes. When I finally found the right bits, any change I made was “accepted”, but then the router simply stopped working. It would not hand out any DHCP addresses that weren’t the original default. It had no way (that I could find) to marry a MAC address to a DHCP address to “lock” a machine to a particular address.

Oh well, after doing a “Factory Reset” a few times, I gave up, and decided to live with their defaults.

It was extremely painful to make the changes to my Asterisk machine (Red Hat 9), because I can’t easily log in to it, and I couldn’t ssh to it because it was on a different network. πŸ™

I had to boot a Rescue CD, enable ssh, ssh in, mount the internal drive, edit the networking startup scripts, and then reboot. Finally, I got all the right bits working, and the machine (and VoIP service) was working again. The Sling was slightly easier, but painful as well.

Anyway, Lois asked if it was worth it to have upgraded, and the answer yesterday was clearly “No”. Now that’s it’s done, I’m feeling less negative, and we’ll see wither the FIOS TV stuff makes up for the hassle…

A very Wicked Sunday :-)

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If you read my last post, you know that the highlight of yesterday was going to see Wicked for our fifth time. In addition to that specific highlight, the day turned out to be spectacular in a number of other ways. Therefore, this post will likely be very long, and I apologize if you’re only tuning in to hear what we thought of the two leads in Wicked. You can either search or skim to find out the $64k answer to that question. πŸ˜‰

Amazingly enough, I have checked off every single category that I have previously used in this one post. Well, it’s only amazing because there is something about each category in this post. Clearly, I could just check them all off every time if I felt like it. πŸ˜‰

We debated going in on Saturday night, but that decision ended up being made for us when I won a free entry into the nightly 7pm Omaha Hi-Lo tourney, which I played in the house. Since we’re less than a week away from the monthly poker update, I’ll just say that I came 10th (they paid the top 10 only), so it was a “good” result, but economically, far from first place (first was 15 times larger than the prize I won!). Also, because of Wicked on Sunday, this was going to be the fourth straight week that I would not be around to even try and play in the big Sunday weekly tourney. OK, that accounts for the Poker and Gambling categories being in this one.

When we woke up on Sunday, we both checked email on our Treos, and neither of us turned on our laptops. When we got home, we didn’t turn them on either. That made yesterday one of the only days in recent memory when we were in NY, didn’t have company, and both of use chose not to log on the entire day. Not sure it ever happened before, but if so, it’s a rarity. That also meant that there was no poker played yesterday, which is also unusual for a day in NY without company, but not as rare as not logging on. So, this qualifies as being in the Computers, Poker and Gambling categories.

We drove in on the early side, straight to the apartment. On the way, we listened to the latest CD from Girlyman (previously reviewed here) Joyful Sign, and loved it the entire way in. Shortly after arriving at the apartment, I went on my 8+ mile walk around the city. The weather was nearly perfect. 100% cloud cover (the sun didn’t even peek out for a second), and not too hot or too humid. Ten degrees cooler and it would have been perfect. My typical time (average would be a misnomer here) is 2 hours and 15 minutes. Yesterday it took me only 2 hours and 5 minutes, so the cool weather helped. Of course, I listened to my iPod the entire way, and it didn’t freeze this time, adding to the nice day. This qualifies for adding Music as a category, and of course, the entire post qualifies for Personal.

After a shower, we relaxed and watch Friday night’s episode of Monk (on the DVR). We always love Monk, but this episode was weak in comparison to most. We still enjoyed it, but aside from sharing with you what we did the entire day, it also qualified as one of only two things during the day that also correctly put this post into the Frustration category.

We debated what to do about lunch. Both of us were hungry enough to do a big meal, but after the gorging that we did last weekend, we were both glad to have slowed down this week (amazingly, I lost all of the weight I gained last weekend!). So, we also didn’t want to go too crazy. We finally decided to go to the Palm, across from the theater, but not over do it. Yeah, right. πŸ˜‰

We got to the theater, picked up our tickets at the Will Call, and crossed the street, only to find out that the Palm doesn’t open for lunch on Sundays. Perhaps they don’t open for dinner either, but a passerby told us they did, so they might. Marginally disappointed, we decided to find another restaurant. I spotted an Applebees 1/2 a block away on Broadway and 50th. We decided to head there. Serendipitously, when we got to the corner, I spotted the other Ruby Foos on the corner of Broadway and 49th. I previously blogged about how great Ruby Foos is, though I’ve only eaten at the uptown one before. Clearly, we both felt that we were meant to eat there. πŸ™‚

The menu is identical to the uptown location, and the decor is as well. The building itself uptown is two floors, so the layout inside is much more opulent, but there’s nothing wrong with this location. We both thoroughly enjoyed our meals. That’s not entirely true. Lois actually didn’t like the filler and sauce for her main dish, but we so enjoyed the calamari appetizer, that eating just the grilled shrimp and scallops off of the top of her dish was good enough. This paragraph qualifies for the Food and Dining categories.

At the end of the meal, our waitress asked us if we were going to see a show. When we told her it was Wicked, she said that she was really interested in seeing it, because whenever her sister comes to visit her in NYC, she goes. Her sister has seen it five times, but our waitress was working each time, and hasn’t gotten to go yet. Omens anyone? I mentioned to the waitress that we were about to catch up to her sister. πŸ™‚

We strolled over to the theater, and were blown away by how good our seats were. It turns out that EE is actually the 4th row, not the 5th, as the AA row is only right and left orchestra. Essentially, the real orchestra is in row AA. πŸ˜‰

Of course, the omen of EE (5-5) for our fifth time, wasn’t lost on me. πŸ˜‰

We knew we would love the seats, and the performance, but we were both nervous about the abilities of the stars. I don’t want to turn this into a mystery novel, so I’ll dispense with the suspense. We knew within the first few notes that Glinda (played by Kendra Kassebaum) sang, that she was not going to cut it, by our standards. She has an excellent voice, but she doesn’t put it together for this role. Not even all that close. She’s by no means awful (like the understudy I wrote about), but it was passable, at best. OK, we still had anticipation of how Elphaba would sound.

She comes on in the second song, but doesn’t sing until the third. In the second song, it was obvious that Elphaba (played by Julia Murney) was an excellent actress. We were not disappointed in the acting of any of the previous leads (other than the understudy), but we typically sat much further back, so you don’t really appreciate facial expressions, etc. In fact, everything was far more interesting this close up, and I was painfully aware that it would be easy to get trapped into only wanting to see shows where the seats were this good. Given how much we’ve enjoyed so many other shows, and Wicked in particular, from much worse seats, that would be a real mistake!

Then we got to song #3, the first of many that showcase (or can) Elphaba’s talent and range, “The Wizard and I”. As with Glinda, it was obvious in the first few notes that Julia didn’t have it. She’s not bad either (though I believe that the raw vocal talent between the two lies in Kendra, not Julia). There are two problems with Julia’s voice:

  1. She can’t transition ranges smoothly. She might be able to sing in a particular range (high or low) reasonably well, but when she switches (which this role does frequently), her voice often cracks, or does something else that is less than stellar.
  2. She has no power, and when she pushed the notes that require it, I felt badly for her. Also, she couldn’t hit the highest of notes required by the role.

The last problem, though it was relatively minor, is that each of them brought their own special little styling or phrasing to their solos. None was over the top (as was the case with the oft-mentioned understudy), but it’s annoying nonetheless (I’ll expound momentarily on that theme). That said, one surprising positive note was that there was little fooling around when they sang harmonies together, and for the most part, it was pleasant and reasonably done, but most certainly not spine chilling!

The closest I’ve ever sat before yesterday was 22 rows back (so 18 rows further than yesterday). Lois had a single seat in row L once, when we bought an extra ticket for a surprise visitor from England. I sat with our other two friends in the balcony that day. Even in row L, which was only 12 rows further than yesterday, Lois says she saw so many new things from the close-up seats. That’s not a major statement though, since those of you who know Lois, know she’s essentially legally blind (no, for those of who don’t know Lois, that’s not a joke, or a crack at my wife). So, she was particularly thrilled to see things that I had easily seen before, even from far away. I think it made the performance magical for her, even though she felt the same way (if not even more critical) about the singing of the leads.

Now my exposition on styling and phrasing. Feel free to skip this rant, or the rest of the post, if all you came for was a review on this performance of Wicked. You’ve gotten that already. πŸ˜‰

I completely understand (but don’t like!) when a musical group that has been around for ages gets tired of playing the hits in exactly the same way each and every day. From my perspective, it’s still incumbent upon them to deliver what their paying audiences expect, but at least I understand it.

In some cases, they have good reasons/excuses. Bruce Hornsby is now teamed with Ricky Skaggs. When they perform, it’s mostly a Bluegrass theme, and it gave Bruce the opportunity to update some of his big hits in a radical way, but perhaps still appreciated by the fans who came to hear Bluegrass!

For a different perspective, I always love to listen to the live version of Mr. Bojangles by David Bromberg. The song was written by Jerry Jeff Walker. As an aside, Lois and I attended a benefit in Austin, TX in May 2006, with a lot of famous people presenting and/or performing. One was Jerry Jeff, who sang Mr. Bojangles (wonderfully!), and we were about 15 feet away from him! David tells (in the middle of the song) how he and Jerry Jeff used to play the song together live every night (forever), and how he (David) never tired of it. On the other hand, Jerry Jeff did, and after they would perform it for the audience, they’d play it for themselves, and “do horrible things to it“, so I really do understand.

The other excuse/reason to muck with a song would be if you were playing it to the same audience frequently, and you might expect that they would appreciate hearing it differently.

Unfortunately, none of those situations applies to a Broadway play. The overwhelming majority of theater goers are seeing any given show for the first time (and likely only time for that show). Second, the cast didn’t write the songs, and rarely have been in a given role for that long, and shouldn’t have the need for artistic freedom with the piece. Not to mention that there is (or should be!) a director involved, ensuring the quality.

Theater goers should easily fall into one of three categories:

  1. Never seen or heard the show/music before. While you can argue that they might like the stylized version, or least not know or care about the difference, I doubt you could argue that they would like the original (often Tony-winning!) version any less.
  2. Been to the show. Well, they’re coming back for more. πŸ˜‰ Unless they saw this specific cast, doing this specific stylized version, odds are that this group will be at least somewhat disappointed.
  3. Never been to the show, but listen to the CD. This might be the largest group, but certainly is second behind #1 if not. This group only knows the gold standard for how the music is meant to be sung. If they’ve listened to the CD more than once (or, in my case, over 1000 times, no exaggeration), they have no choice but to be disappointed. The correct version is imprinted on their brains. πŸ˜‰

There must be thousands, if not 10’s of thousands of ultra-talented actors/singers out there who would kill for an opportunity to star in Wicked. Here’s why I simply can’t comprehend the way the show is being performed (and I’m sure there has to be something wrong with me, or my thought process):

For the auditions, tell people that they have to listen to the Original Cast CD 1000 times, and come back when they can sing it note for note. Only then, do you audition for the acting part of the role.

What could be simpler? No styling, no phrasing, no ad-libing of any kind. You can either nail the songs or you can’t. If not, then Next!

But, for some reason, perhaps that the Director is bored hearing the same show every day, they allow the improvisations to continue, and they continue to recruit sub-par singers…

OK, it’s finally off my chest (sort of). Both Lois and I are decidedly against seeing it again with these two ladies in the lead. Here’s hoping they get swapped out sooner rather than later. That said, both of us thoroughly enjoyed the experience yesterday, and got to concentrate on other aspects of the show, which were delightful from our up-front perspective. I’m still laughing at the woman who reviewed the story as weak, the sets as weak, and the singing as fantastic. Oh well, that’s what makes the world interesting. πŸ™‚

So, is there a lesson learned here? Yes, trust YouTube! Seriously, it was obvious even from the really poor quality of the cell-phone made YouTube videos of both leads that this was not a role they could handle. The seats were too good, and everything else about the opportunity as it unfolded was awesome, that we really couldn’t pass it up. But, I know to trust my instincts in the future, and go with the force, Luke…

Both Fiyero and The Wizard were played by actors new to us in their respective roles. The Wizard is a character actor whom we’ve seen on TV hundreds of times! Both were outstanding, and added thoroughly to our enjoyment of the show.

The above obviously qualifies for both the Broadway and Music categories, thus rounding out all of my previous categories (with one exception, which I’ll get to next). Hopefully, it was obvious to you that the performances of the two leads was the second reason that this post qualified for the Frustration category…

If you needed any proof of why Lois and I are together after so many years, I’ll share an honest-to-goodness story from yesterday, which is not as uncommon as you might think. During the performance, I was thinking that if I were Bill Gates, I would rent out the theater on a Monday when it was dark, pay Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel (the two original leads, and both are on the Original Cast CD) to join the remainder of the current cast and chorus (or, if I really was Bill Gates, probably bring back the entire original cast for the night), and invite 2000 of my closest friends, to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime good time.

At intermission, Lois turns to me and says: “Wouldn’t it be great if we were rich, and we could pay Stephen Schwartz (the creator of the Wicked Musical) to get Kristin and/or Katie Kate Reinders back together with Idina or Eden Mendoza Espinosa (thanks very much to Steph for correcting my hurried mistakes in the comment below!), for just one night, and invite all of our friends?”

Folks, I’m not kidding. We’re too alike for our own good. The difference between us is that Lois only wished to be rich enough to pull it off. I wished to have the kind of money Bill Gates has, so that pulling it off wouldn’t make a dent, or seem even a little unusual for me to do. πŸ˜‰

I’m telling this next part out of order, because it is 100% inconsequential, other than it is a perfectly valid reason to tag this post with the final category, VoIP. πŸ™‚ While I was out walking, Lois called my cell phone, something she rarely does. She let me know that she couldn’t dial out normally from the apartment, but had to add a prefix of “9”, which routes through our external VoIP provider (see, a legitimate use of the VoIP category). Turns out that calls routed through our house line (which is our default) were failing because the house router got a new dynamic address from Verizon FIOS that was not in the previous ranges, and the firewall at the apartment didn’t like the new address. Problem solved easily this morning…

So, you think you’re done reading? I beg to differ. Our day was not over yet, as this was about Sunday, not just Wicked. πŸ˜‰

We went back to the apartment, packed up, and headed back to the house. On the way home, we listened to another Girlyman CD (Remember Who I am), and it too is excellent! Just as we were pulling in to our cul-de-sac, a car pulled in behind us. Our neighbors two doors down were coming home from the movies. We’re nuts about both of them (and their daughter), and even though we live 200 feet apart, we rarely get to spend quality time with them given each of our schedules.

So, after 10 seconds of schmoozing in the cul-de-sac, we unpacked our car and walked over to their house. We hung out for nearly 2 hours, and then got home and collapsed, watching two 1/2 hour comedies to unwind (both were hysterical), and then dropped off on the early side.

Finally, something not really related to Sunday. Aside from Wicked yesterday, which was a last minute thought, I have been unable to play in any of the weekly Sunday big tourneys in August so far. This has been marginally disappointing, given my excellent (if lucky) results in July. I did play in a number of qualifiers during the month, even knowing I couldn’t play that week, because you are permitted to unregister a seat, and get Tournament Dollars (TDs) which you can use to register into a future tournament. That said, since I knew I couldn’t play, I didn’t enter many qualifiers. I didn’t win the seat in any of them…

Today, while writing this blog, I decided to try my hand at a qualifier, given that I’m likely to be free (for the first time in a month!) this coming Sunday. I put up $15.50, and top three players out of 40 would win an entry. I came third, and won the seat! So, in the first try to win a seat in the first tournament that I can actually play in, for the least amount I could realistically spend to get in, I got the seat. Woo Hoo. Happy endings all around. πŸ™‚

P.S. Even though this post is incredibly long, somehow, I feel that I’ve left out something important from yesterday. Oh well, I should have logged on last night after all. πŸ˜‰

Can you count to 5? :-)

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I just checked, and while I mention our obsession with Wicked in 2 (or 3) postings, I have never blogged about Wicked directly. I was surprised, but it made sense when I thought about it for a second. I started this blog right after our last viewing of Wicked. Last? Yes, for the few of you out there who are woefully uninformed, Lois and I have seen Wicked 4 times already, all between July 5th, 2006 and December 29th, 2006.

It is far and away our favorite show of all time on Broadway, and between us, we have some shows that we’ve seriously loved, going back to Richard Kiley in Man of La Mancha, the original Fiddler on the Roof, etc. We’ve also loved some recent shows (including Brian Stokes Mitchell in Man of La Mancha, he was simply amazing!).

Of the fours times we’ve seen it, one had an understudy for Elphaba that was awful. Even so, not only wasn’t the show ruined for us, I still loved it! I have to say that I felt bad for the rest of the audience who was seeing it for the first time and thought that this is how it was supposed to be performed! πŸ™

Unfortunately, on that day we happened to take two very good friends with us, who happened to be filling in for two other good friends of ours who had to cancel at the last minute, and they really didn’t enjoy it as much as we expected they would. Perhaps if the lead Elphaba had been there, it would have made a difference…

You might wonder whether we had any desire to see it again? The definitive answer is yes. We haven’t gone (or even tried to go), because the two leads both changed on January 9th, 2007 (10 days after the last time we went), and the few YouTube videos of each of them doing their Wicked roles elsewhere were awful. I was wildly disappointed, because the thought of seeing fresh faces doing the leads was a positive thing for me.

I often think about how to find out whether they have settled in to the roles or not, and we are both itching to see it again. Today, out of the clear blue, I did a Google search for “wicked broadway review julia”. I found a review by someone in NJ who saw it this week. She (my assumption as to the gender) was wildly disappointed. That said, the review was the exact opposite of what I expected. She hated the story line (thought it was boring), hated the sets (thought they were boring), but (and this the point!), she got the chills when the two witches sang together.

All I was curious about is whether these ladies can sing. Of course, trusting someone who completely missed the beauty and depth of the storyline, and didn’t understand the simplicity and power of the set design, didn’t leave me in a very trusting mood…

So, off I went in search of more reviews. I found a NY Times site with 756 reviews of Wicked by users (not critics). A maximum of 5 stars, plus commentary. The average rating was 4.25 out of 5. So far, so good, but, how fresh were these reviews? Luckily, they are sorted in reverse chronological order, and the top 4 all had seen the two women I was interested in learning about. All 4 of them gave 5 stars, and all four wrote glowing reviews (which, aside from not knowing these particular leads, I completely agree with, every single word).

So, it would seem that either the YouTube videos were misleading, or they’ve gotten better now that they’ve been on Broadway for a long time, or, like the one night we had the awful understudy, the show overcomes inferior performances all on its own!

We’re up at the house for a slightly longer stretch than usual (what a blessing!). We have to be in the city Wednesday night and Thursday night this coming week. Lois asked me to check whether there were tickets available for either night. I laughed for two reasons:

  1. The show is typically sold out months in advance
  2. We have tickets to see Kenny Chesney on Thursday night, and I have dinner plans with a former colleague on Wednesday night

πŸ™‚

So, on a lark, I just searched for the next available dates. Amazingly, there were two tickets available in the orchestra for this Sunday’s matinΓ©e! I asked her if she wanted to “go for it”, and she was extremely enthusiastic about doing it! We never (and I need to emphasize, in case the bold lettering didn’t make the point, never) go into the city from the house for an activity by ourselves, and return to the house the same day. Yet, we’re about to do just that! πŸ™‚

Now, for the piΓ¨ce de rΓ©sistance, the seating. We got tickets in row EE, center orchestra. I told Lois that was possibly the last row, and she said she was fine with that. However, after paying for the seats, I discovered that it is the fifth row. We have never had seats this good in our previous times there, so we are quintuply excited (get it?). πŸ˜‰

Anyway, that’s it for now. I’ll be sure to write up something small (or long) πŸ˜‰ when we finally get to see it for our fifth time.

Bodies the Exhibition

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This is my final post about our adventures this past weekend (hey, stop clapping!). πŸ˜‰

After our lunch at Pizzeria Uno on Monday, we walked through Bodies. Our godson just finished his third year in Medical School, and this weekend was a celebration of his completing his Medical Boards on Friday of last week. So, he had a particular interest in seeing this exhibition.

This isn’t usually my cup of tea. I was happy to go, but didn’t really know what to expect.

So, this still isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I have to say, the entire exhibition is truly a work of art, and fascinating on any number of levels. Having a med student with us made it all the more special, as he was able to point out specific examples of things that gave unusual views of how the body works, etc.

I was mildly surprised at how many kids were there, given that it could be construed as an icky display on a number of levels (these are real dissected human beings!). But, it’s all tastefully done, incredibly skillfully, and with wonderful explanations accompanying exactly what you’re seeing and why.

We took our time walking through the exhibit, and it took us roughly 90 minutes start to finish. I think we all enjoyed it thoroughly, and I know that I learned a lot as well.

Definitely recommended, especially if you have the slightest interest in understanding how the body works!

Girlyman

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No, I’m not looking to pick a fight with you. πŸ˜‰

Girlyman is a fantastic acoustic group (well, they do use an electric guitar more as a bass, but essentially, they are acoustic). I had never heard of them. Once we locked in the tickets for Spamalot and decided to do a matinΓ©e, I searched a bit for something fun to do Sunday evening.

Lois and I both really love Joe’s Pub. It’s a really small venue, so every show there is intimate, and they are rarely too loud, which is one small complaint that we have from some other venues. So, one of the first places I checked was their site. Sure enough, they had a show that wasn’t sold out, Girlyman. I probably noticed it in my original scan of things to do for the weekend, but since I didn’t recognize them, and didn’t know whether we’d do Broadway in the evening, I didn’t focus on it.

This time, I went to their website (linked above with their name), and the music instantly started playing (Joyful Sign, the title track of their new CD). I was mesmerized. The other songs on the site are really great too, so you can freely discover this great band for yourself.

Lois and I are nuts about beautiful harmonies. In fact, one of our complaints is that many groups that excel in harmonizing, think it’s more appropriate to be understated in its use, a point with which we vigorously disagree. Little Big Town (blogged about in my Martina McBride update) are one exception, a group that understands the harmonies as one of their big strengths.

So too with Girlyman. The three of them sing so beautifully together, that it would be a shame for them to spend too much time singing solos. They pass the solos around very generously as well (none of them hog the mike), but they spend more time singing harmony than solo (both two at a time, and mostly three at a time). Wow.

Knowing absolutely zero about them before the show, it was reasonably obvious to us that they were gay when they came on the stage. At least two of them were obvious, but I’m betting all three are gay. They didn’t abuse that fact and turn the show into a political opportunity, but they sprinkled their show with enough humorous comments as to be proud of who they are, without offending anyone who would rather not know (at least, they didn’t offend any of us in any way).

One subtle example: when they introduced the song Through the Sunrise (also highlighted on their myspace site), they first said it was Bluegrass. Then they corrected themselves and said: “Or in our case, we like to call it Pinkgrass.” After people chuckled a bit, they went on to play the song, and the entire audience (us included) clapped the beat for them the entire song. Tons of fun!

They used to live in NY (Brooklyn to be specific) for a number of years. At least two of them moved to Atlanta recently. They joked that it was ironic that they were playing more often in NYC now that they lived in Atlanta. Someone from the audience yelled out “Move back here!”. To which they quickly (and wittily) replied: “Why, you want us to play here less often?” πŸ™‚

We bought two of their three CD’s after the show, and our godson got them to autograph the latest one, which is cool. We look forward to seeing them again, as soon as they’re back in NY!

Spamalot

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After our wonderful lunch at The Peking Duck House, we walked to Broadway to see a Sunday matinΓ©e of Spamalot. Eons ago, it was one of my favorite movies (Monty Python and the Holy Grail).

Given how much I loved the movie, and in general Monty Python, it’s a bit puzzling (to me) that I never took the time to go see this show. I wasn’t disinterested as much as just didn’t want to get out of my normal routine to go see it.

So, since this was destined to be a chock-full weekend of fun stuff to do, we scheduled this weeks in advance as well, and merrily walked over to the theater after lunch.

Like Curtains, this show is thoroughly entertaining. The music is fun and funny. The comedic acting is superb. Even Lois laughed a lot and enjoyed herself. This surprised me (quite a bit) because I would bet money that if she watched the movie (now or then), she would hate it.

While the show pays homage to the movie, and includes quite a number of the bits that were originated back then, it is not a one-for-one adaptation to the theater. In fact, there are some large themes that are completely new (and done very well). It is entirely in keeping with Monty Python style humor, so if you like that in general, you’ll be sure to enjoy the show.

The female lead was played by an understudy. We haven’t had much success with understudies lately (in particular, the ones from Wicked have disappointed mightily), but this one was amazing. Ironically, it left me wondering if the real lead is that much better, and if so, it could be worth it to go see her just to know.

All four of us loved the show (or so we all told each other) πŸ˜‰ and I am very happy to have finally made the effort to go see it. Recommended (not like Wicked, but like Curtains). πŸ™‚

Curtains The Musical

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Continuing on with our wonderful adventures this past weekend, after dinner at The Palm West on Saturday, we saw Curtains, the musical on Broadway. The main stars are David Hyde Pierce and Debra Monk. We went because our godson was interested in this, we had heard that it was pretty good, but mostly, because we love David Hyde Pierce!

It was thoroughly entertaining. The singing was mostly excellent, in particular when the entire chorus was singing together, but the songs were not memorable in any way. This was more about the story, and the comedic acting of a number of the cast, notably David and Debra. There were quite a number of laughs, and a few interesting plot twists as well.

All in all, a very pleasant evening, and I would recommend the show to anyone looking for a little mindless fun, in particular, if you liked Frasier and/or David Hyde Pierce in general.

P.S. For those who are NYPD Blue fans, Debra Monk played Katie Sipowicz for a number of seasons, in case you didn’t click over to her biography. We liked her in that role, but this role shows that she has real range, since there is zero resemblance to the Katie character, and yes, she can really sing!

P.P.S. The following doesn’t merit a post of its own, but does deserve a mention. Between lunch at Jackson Hole and dinner at The Palm West, the guys went to see the new movie Superbad. I am eternally grateful that Lois decided to skip this, as she would have been apoplectic in the first sentence (no joking whatsoever!). The F-word was said north of 10 times in one sentence…

In addition to non-stop cursing, the first 10-15 minutes are so prurient as to even make a geezer like me blush (and want to wretch!). While the remainder of the movie was still over-the-top in terms of cursing and overt sexual comments, it also got reasonably funny. In particular, all scenes with the police in them were hysterical. Also, there is a character named McLovin (I’m not ruining it, as all of the commercials show him). He does a wonderful job, again, in particular, in all of his interactions with the police. Finally, the ending is actually touching, and done in a reasonably good way, an attempt to redeem themselves a bit.

Bottom line, this movie is not recommended, but if you happen to see it, or happen to like this style of movie, there are quite a number of really hearty laughs in it.

Long Weekend with Company == Food Orgy :-)

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Our godson and his friend (and for years now, independently our good friend as well) spent a long weekend with us (arriving Saturday morning, and leaving this afternoon, Tuesday). We packed in tons of fun during the 3.5 days, and I’ll post a number of blog entries about our escapades. This one is about the food, and I’ll combine all of our meals into this one post.

First, the good news: every meal that we had was outstanding. Next, the bad news: I gained way too much weight, as I purposely let myself go, choosing to enjoy every last morsel of things I should have avoided even tasting. πŸ˜‰

It started with an early lunch on Saturday at Jackson Hole (it’s a chain, and we ate at the one on 35th and 3rd Avenue). While you can get lots of stuff there, they are known for their amazing burgers. Every New Yorker has their favorite burger joint. Jackson Hole is mine (every location, not just this one).

Lately, I’m good about getting a Turkey burger. I did that this time too. But, they have dozens of specialty burgers, and I went nuts and started off a glutinous weekend by ordering a Mexican Burger, yes, with the chili. Of course, the waitress correctly asked me if I was sure that I wanted the chili. since she realized that I ordered Turkey, rather than beef. Of course, I said “Yes”, and I plattered it up with the fries as well. Oh well. It was fantastic, but I was stuffed to the gills after the meal.

At dinner time, we had a reservation at The Palm West. I recently joined OpenTable after being aware of it for a long time. It’s very cool in a large city like NYC, where there are lots of choices. This was the second time I made a reservation through them. The first was The Palm One (the original Palm) a few weeks ago, and that worked perfectly. When we showed up at 6pm at the restaurant this time, they didn’t have the reservation. Very disappointing, since OpenTable sent me an email confirming it just the day before.

Anyway, after 15 anxious minutes, they seated us, and we had an amazing meal. Of course, I had to have some of the gigantic chocolate cake that we all split for dessert… Stuffed again (the same day), but happy nonetheless…

On Sunday, we had lunch at the Duck House. I’ve blogged about it before, so I’ll spare my regular readers. For those who want to learn more, read this. As usual, it was delectable. While I was full, I wasn’t nearly as stuffed as I was on each of the meals on Saturday.

We had dinner at Joe’s Pub. We were there for a show, but that will be the subject of a separate posting. I had my usual for dinner (seared Tuna steak), which was great, but I also had a side of fries, which they nail every single time (so I have to order it every single time). πŸ™‚ Our friend did not enjoy his meal there, which was the first (and only) individual meal that wasn’t rated highly the entire weekend.

On Monday, we had lunch at Pizzeria Uno at The South Street Seaport. We ate outdoors, looking at the East River, and all enjoyed our pizzas (individual sizes and choices) immensely.

We had dinner with an additional friend of ours, our godson’s college roommate for the last two years that he was at Duke. We ate at El Rio Grande (across the street from our apartment), and I’ve probably blogged about it in the past, and if I haven’t, shame on me. It’s our favorite Mexican Restaurant, with incredible food and even better margaritas. I was expecting to use a gift certificate that our goddaughter and her boyfriend gave us when they left NYC 2 weeks earlier (they were both summer interns), but our newest companion faked us all out and pretended to go to the men’s room and instead slipped his credit card to the server, and treated us all. It was, indeed, a treat.

We had dessert and coffee at home, both Sunday and Monday evenings, and I partook of too many of the goodies on both nights…

Today was the last day, and we snuck in an early lunch at Hane Sushi (also across the street from our apartment), and also one of the best Sushi restaurants I have ever eaten in. The link shows two locations, with the one across from our apartment listed as “2nd location”. Ironically, our location was the first one, and it was written up so many times, with the only complaint being the small size. So, they opened a larger flagship location, but ours will always be the first. πŸ™‚

We then dropped off our guests at LaGuardia, and headed to our house, which we’ve sorely missed, but not this weekend! πŸ™‚

More posts tomorrow, but not about food. πŸ™‚

Alison Krauss is Awesome

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Last night Lois and I went to see Alison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas at the Beacon Theater in NYC. We went with our friends who took us to see Harry Connick Jr. at Radio City Music Hall.

We were all looking forward to a wonderful dinner at Ruby Foos first. Of the four of us, I was the only one who had eaten there before, the night of The Allman Brothers Band concert.

Since Lois and I buy our tickets well in advance for most shows, we have a drawer that we keep them in, stacked in the order that the shows will be held. On the day of the show, Lois typically bugs me 10+ times (no, this is not an exaggeration) to make sure I take out the correct set of tickets. I always get annoyed, but we always end up with the correct tickets when we leave the apartment.

Yesterday, for the first time ever, Lois didn’t ask even once if I had taken out the tickets. We got in a cab at 6pm heading to Ruby Foos. At 6:25pm, we were still in the cab, 1/2 a block away from the restaurant, when our friends called my cell. They were running 10 minutes late, and wanted us to order for them. While they were still on the phone, Lois casually asked me whether I had the tickets on me. Of course, I realized instantly that I did not.

Oops. Role reversal. Now I told our friends that we would be the late ones, and that I would call once we were headed back to the restaurant, to see if there was still time for them to order for us. We stayed in the same cab and headed right back to the apartment. When we got there, we asked the driver if he wanted to take us back to the restaurant after waiting 3 minutes for me to go upstairs, and he declined. So, we had a $31.00 cab ride from our apartment, to our apartment…

I grabbed the tickets and we caught a cab to start the entire journey again. At 6:57pm, I called our friends and told them what to order for us. We walked into the restaurant at 7:20pm (the show was called for 8pm). The food was late in coming to the table, around 7:36pm! We asked for the check as the food showed up, and walked out of the restaurant at 7:58pm. The food was amazing (as is the atmosphere there), and Lois and our friends all wanted to return there for a more leisurely dining experience sometime in the future.

Finally, on to the concert. We were seated in plenty of time, and even got to continue schmoozing with our friends for a reasonable time before it started, at roughly 8:20pm.

Alison Krauss has a voice that is nearly as good as Martina McBride (previously reported on by me), but not quite there. One of the few complaints (and yes, I feel silly using that word to describe her stupendous voice) is that she elevates her volume dramatically when she shifts to high notes. She hits them flawlessly, and her voice is crystal clear (at all octaves), but it’s occasionally a tad disconcerting that the volume shift is so pronounced.

While the style of music is eclectic, with a reasonable range, the heart and soul of Alison Krauss’ music is Bluegrass. For 30+ years, I have always liked Bluegrass (and Dixieland as well), but until recently, I never really knew any specific artists. For example, in the past, I used to buy Bluegrass “Collections”, with 20 “hit songs”, for $3 in a bargain bin somewhere. I have a number of those.

As reported previously, after seeing Ricky Skaggs with Bruce Hornsby, and then discovering the Bluegrass channel on XM Radio, I have now come to appreciate specific Bluegrass bands (as well as purchasing a number of their CDs). Ironically, I believe that the real first step in this new discovery was falling in love with Nickel Creek (led by Chris Thile, also previously reported in this blog). I say ironic, because Alison Krauss produced at least one of Nickel Creek’s albums.

I recognized 80% of the songs they played last night from the CDs that I own. I am not crazy about her newest one (and she played 2 or 3 songs from that one last night as well), but I’ve only listened to it straight through once, so perhaps it will grow on me. I can heartily recommend Alison Krauss and Union Station Live (2 volume set) and Lonely Runs Both Ways. They played a bunch of stuff from those CDs, and they were great on all of those numbers.

The crowd was nuts about her and the band, and gave rousing ovations after each and every song (even the ones I could have done without). πŸ˜‰

Talk about loyalty, most of the band members have been together 16+ years! They also were the award winning music behind the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

They performed two songs during the encore. After the first, they quickly (and impressively) rearranged all of the microphones on the stage, and the entire band (sans piano player) got together in the center in a tight grouping, and played an acoustic number called A Living Prayer from the Lonely Runs Both Ways album (the last song on the CD). If you were in the audience, and didn’t get chills when she sang this song, get thee to a doctor (you can pick which kind) right away! πŸ™‚

Anyway, another smashing success in our nice run of fantastic concerts. We both look forward to catching Alison and Union Station again (and again). And, we can’t wait to relax with our good friends at Ruby Foos as soon as possible!