vegas 2010, part 5

Dave and I had dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s Bar and Grill in the MGM. I had a prosciutto and goat cheese pizza on flatbread. We were getting on well with our waitress so I asked her for a recommendation. “This may shock you, but we’re tourists,” I began. I asked her which bars or clubs she’d recommend on the Strip, as a local. As a local, she replied, she wouldn’t go to any of the clubs on the Strip. But the two bars in New York New York – the Bar in Times Square (which we’d visited) and Nine Fine Irishmen – were fun places to get a pint. We thanked her for the advice.

For a Vegas bar pretending to be an Irish pub in New York City, Nine Fine Irishmen does all right. The man next to me ordered a Guinness; I checked with him on its quality. “It’s all right,” he said with a sage nod. I ordered one myself and validated his judgment: I’d say about a seven out of ten. Better than most bars can manage, but not as good as the best you can find in Boston. We stuck around long enough to watch a Celtic rock band play a few numbers and chat up some of the tourists.

nine-fine-irishmen

I had talked Dave and I onto the guest list at Tabu, a privilege which would expire around midnight. So we left New York New York at 11:30 and sidled to the front of the line, brushing past the texting tourists. “This is the Vegas experience I was looking for,” Dave observed. Once inside, Tabu proved to be a typical nightclub scene – dim lights, deafening music, suspicious guy/girl ratio – albeit with the added liberty that Vegas induces. I kept the floor warm until I could coax Dave into partying, whereupon we found a cluster of girls to dance with until 3:00 AM Pacific time. We let them go then (they had to catch a flight in three hours) and retired soon thereafter.

it’s been a year or two since I was out on the floor

I can no longer stay up past 2:00 AM two nights in a row.

I tried this weekend: dancing at Common Ground on Friday with Sylvia, Joanna’s roommate, Rachel and Caitlin’s friend Andrea. I also went out on Saturday when Megan and Amy put out a call for Phoenix Landing. The result: twinges in my lower back as I hunched over the sink the next morning. No spasms (yet). Just the quiet reminder that my body needed time to repair.

I can no longer eat whatever I want whenever I want.

Breakfast on Saturday was a Dunkin Donuts sausage egg and cheese sandwich. Lunch was four slices of pepperoni pizza with some Diet Pepsi. Dinner was a spinach and cheese quesadilla (from Pemberton Farms, home of healthy food, in fairness). Breakfast on Sunday was a post-jiu-jitsu protein shake from the Watertown BSC. Lunch was a grilled cheese with tomato and a side of fries at the Brighton Cafe with Provocateur‘s own Matthew. Dinner was a burger at Lucky’s in Southie, followed by two stiff cocktails at Drink with Rachel V. The result: toxic heartburn.

Add to that a sexy rasping cough from allergies, and I’m a bent old man.

I wouldn’t have it any other way, though. Not strictly true – if I could choose to magically stay healthier and see my friends in one weekend, I would. But that’s not an option. So I suffer a little so that I can jump and scream to “Flagpole Sitta” at 90s Night. So that I can rap “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” with a total stranger in Cambridge. So that my friend Aaron can elaborate on the differences between Old Fitzgerald and Maker’s Mark while pouring me a vieux carre in Drink on a quiet evening.

All this talk about living passionately, cramming a life full of promise, carpe diem and that shit? Time to start taking it seriously.

how old are you, are you old enough?

1. “I went to The Pill for the first time.”

“How was it?”

“It’s great. It’s a new wave / indie pop dance night. Good crowd; hipsters, but less intense.”

“Less intense?”

“Yeah, dialed up only to about a 3. Not trying as hard to not try as hard, if that makes any sense.”

2. I had the above conversation with Rachel V. at Copperfield’s Down Under, a basement bar and music venue near Fenway attached to the well-known Red Sox boozer. We were there (along with Vickie and RJ) to see Bonus Round, a cover band fronted by a coworker of mine. They played all night to a bar packed to capacity and covered both Concrete Blonde and K’s Choice, and if you need me to say than that I can’t say enough. I’ll be seeing them again.

3. There is no #3.

iceland part two

General impressions of Reykjavik:

  • More Like NIceland: Everyone I met in Reykjavik was cordial. Not quite friendly and outgoing, the way you’d get in the American South, but civil and helpful. Mix a laidback eagerness to please with the inherent stoicism that comes from any cold-weather climate, and you get an Icelander. I stumbled stepping off a curb and a complete stranger asked, “You okay?” The cute blonde at the coffee shop rattled off a list of suggestions when I asked for a good place to go dancing. One in three cars I saw on the street had all its doors unlocked. And everyone speaks English.

    At least once a day.  Every day.  Just like this.

    At least once a day. Every day. Just like this.

  • Weather: Every day, you’d get 45 to 90 minutes worth of blizzard. Then the sun would come out. Then it would rain – sometimes light spitting, sometimes a steady downpour. Then overcast. Then sun. Then, perhaps, more snow. You get odd little patterns like these when you live between the North Atlantic and the world’s quota of glaciers.

  • Food. Pricey. Everything on Iceland other than fish, lamb, hot water and light beer needs to be imported. Since I didn’t fly three thousand miles to experience Reykjavik’s notion of a cheeseburger, I ate seafood for most meals. Lunch on Saturday was fish and chips, and the fish had that sinus-filling freshness that suggested they’d been in the sea the other day. Saturday dinner: plokkfiskur at a restaurant called Boston – a fish “stew” that’s served like a plate of mashed potatoes.

    I asked the waitress at Cafe Paris what the fish of the day was for lunch on Sunday. She looked up for a moment, searching for words in her head. “Hot dog,” she replied, in the heaviest accent I heard that weekend.

    “No, sorry – the fish of the day.”

    She nodded, turning to double-check on the chalkboard at the front of the restaurant. I followed her gaze. “Had-dock” was, indeed, the fish of the day.

    Iceland just can't get enough of these above-average hot dogs.

    Iceland just can't get enough of these above-average hot dogs.

  • Actual Hot Dog: Apparently, hot dogs (or pylsur) are a big deal in Iceland. I saw the longest line that I saw for any establishment – including the nightclubs I visited on Saturday – outside a one-man hot dog stand on the Reykjavik harbor. In the snow. The hot dogs taste pretty good, but the toppings make the difference. Icelanders order their pylsi with a creamy remoulade. You wouldn’t think a hot dog lacked for something sweet but it really ties the package together.

  • Beer: If you want to drink the local brew, know these three brands: Viking (like Budweiser, but with flavor instead of water); Gull (a bit hoppy for my taste but still solid) and Thule (which I didn’t try). These are all golden-colored lagers with hearty taste. You can also find Guinness on tap nearly everywhere.

    Apotek before things heated up.

    Apotek before things heated up.

    Clubs: As with other cities in Europe, the nightclub scene in Reykjavik doesn’t really start until midnight, and doesn’t really start until 2:00 AM or so. I ended up killing a lot of hours in coffeeshops until the night scene picked up. Though you have your choice of fine dancing establishments, I bounced between Cafe Paris and Apotek from midnight onward.

    In Apotek, a stringy-haired elf of a man snatched a scarf off a girl and taunted her with it as she tried to grab it back. She called the bouncer, who remonstrated with the guy until finally tossing him out. The miscreant dragged his weight, clinging to a railing in the end to keep from being thrown outside.

    This didn’t kill my mood, though. I danced until 4:00 AM, hopping on a bench with a bunch of strangers to lord my gangly might over the crowd. This being Europe, I recognized almost none of the songs. That never hurt me, though.

how come you taste so good?

A friend (whom I won’t embarrass by linking to, unless she says it’s cool) requested a list of bad-ass strip tease songs. Realizing that there are several different types of strip teases, I reeled off the following:

“Start Me Up” – Rolling Stones. Good for high-energy shows. A Sarah-Katherine Lewis favorite!

“Gimme Shelter” – Rolling Stones. For mysterious shows with a lot of scarves and veils and the like.

“Honky-Tonk Women” – Rolling Stones. A reliable stand-by.

“Brown Sugar” – Rolling Stones. Has a very teasing tone to it; good for when you want to lead the person on a bit.

At this point I realized I had, without intending to, picked four Rolling Stones songs in a row. In fact, you could probably compose a good strip-tease playlist entirely of Rolling Stones songs.

Seriously. It just keeps going.

“(Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” – Also good for teasing someone. The alternation between the whispered verses and the shouted chorus lets you change tempo really easily. And the lyrical content makes it obvious.

“Time Is On My Side” – Last song before closing, when it’s only three customers and one dancer in the bar.

“Paint it, Black” – Not quite whips-and-chains material, but I picture a very salsa-esque dance with a lot of flounces and maybe a bullwhip. Like Salma Hayek in From Dusk ‘Till Dawn.

“Street Fighting Man” – Good for a birthday boy or the bachelor the night before a wedding. Lavish attention on him; make him feel tough.

“Tumbling Dice” – Sassy but upbeat. Do this with a big grin on your face and a lot of pole-work.

“It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)” – As with “Satisfaction,” the alternation between steady verses and screamed chorus makes this ideal.

But it’s not universal. There are quite a few Stones songs that would send mixed signals.

“Ruby Tuesday” – Real tough beat to do anything with.

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – Just throws the look-but-don’t-touch strictures right in the customer’s face. Plus, as High Fidelity so aptly observed, the connection with The Big Chill disqualifies this song almost immediately.

“Heartbreaker (Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo)” – Got a real sexy rhythm, but it’s all about cops shooting civilians and kids dying in the Struggle. Oh, yeah. That brings out the tips.

“She’s So Cold” – Of course, the stripper isn’t actually enthralled at your barely-concealed erection. We know she’s faking it. But why remind everyone?

“Let’s Spend The Night Together” – Someone’s going to take this literally and rush the stage. You know they are.

“Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” – Real dirty, sultry blues make it perfect to start, but then what do you do for the 3-minute jam session at the end? Stand up there and twirl?

And then there are some that you would not want to use at all. You would crash and burn miserably. Things would end in tears and gunshots:

“Angie”
“Mother’s Little Helper”
“Wild Horses”
“Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby?”

So, clearly, you need to choose with care.

my hometown

Thanksgiving weekend, comparing and contrasting my experiences in Baltimore (where I grew up) and Boston (where I live):

The TSA

  • Boston: Though I’d already put my jacket on the X-ray conveyor belt, the security goon asked me to strip out of my Ravens hoodie as well. Another goon rifled through my toiletries kit before putting it back on the X-ray for another scan.
  • Baltimore: Though I’d already put my shoes on the X-ray conveyor belt, the security goon asked me to remove my belt as well. Hoodie stayed on. Toiletries made it through unscathed.

Marriage

  • Baltimore: I’m officiating a wedding in rural Pennsylvania this June, at an outdoor amphitheater near Swarthmore College. “So what do you have planned for this all natural, non-denominational commitment ceremony?” the groom’s older brother joked. “Because I’m definitely picturing Lord of the Rings. I want elf ears and crossbows out the wazoo.”
  • Boston: That Sunday, I recounted the story to Melissa and Fraley, whose wedding I’ll be officiating three weeks earlier. “That sounds cool,” Mel said. “… wait, they were joking?”

Drinking, Dancing and Carrying On

  • Baltimore: I caught up with Liz, whom I hadn’t seen in about nine years, on Friday night. We carpooled over to her friend Keith’s rowhome in Highlandtown. After pregaming for a bit, we squeezed into Keith’s car and hit up The Depot, a narrow little lounge on Charles Street. We had several rounds of cheap beer and a Jaeger shot that felt like a punch in the stomach, then spent most of the evening dancing to 80s pop on the industrial black floor.
  • Boston: Highlandtown reminds me a lot of Medford, or East Somerville just off of Pearl Street. And The Depot reminded me a lot of Toast in Union Square. In fact, I’ll bet when Depot has their goth nights it looks exactly like Toast.

    At one point, Keith got up to stare curiously at an all-black painting hanging near the men’s room. It turned out that the painting actually had several plastic roaches set just into its surface. Also, the artist was sitting right next to it, waiting for someone to notice so he could trap them in conversation. Keith shot us several plaintive looks. Tell me that couldn’t happen at the Middle East on Mass Ave.

sephiroth!

The lights went down on the Wang Theater and up on the crowded stage. A conductor with a shock of white hair and a black jacket with large silver buttons took the podium and tapped the orchestra to life. A screen behind the orchestra lit up, displaying the parallel lines of Pong. The orchestra led us through a medley of video game themes over the first twenty years of gaming history – Pong, Donkey Kong, Elevator Action, Burger Time, etc – while those same classics played nostalgically across the screen: the opening act of Video Games Live‘s debut in Boston.

Then some asshole in red shoes showed up.

I can not overstate how much of a douchebag Tommy Tallarico is. I humored him patiently for the first five minutes he showed up, until I realized that he intended to spend another five minutes talking up himself and his show. His ham-handed attempts to win over the crowd annoyed me further. “Some people think video games are just for kids,” the forty-year old mocked, summoning a mighty “BOO” from the crowd in a way that Ric Flair would wince at. “Some people think video games cause violent behavior.”

(“Some people live in houses filled with strawmen,” I murmured)

Video Games Live is a gem. Its music appeals on several primal levels – from the nostalgia of childhood classics being played beautifully to the epic awe of today’s million-dollar soundtracks. VGL uses entirely local musicians – the City Arts Orchestra on stage and the Brookline High Choir for vocals. They covered a broad sampling of games, from the Mario and Zelda series to releases as recent as the new World of Warcraft expansion. I’m glad Melissa made sure we went, and I’m glad Serpico, RJ and Katie H were there with me.

I just need to stress how much Tommy Tallarico sucked. He served no purpose other than to leech energy out of the show. That might have actually been his role – stretching a 70 minute show to 2 hours with a lot of talk. I don’t know why, though. They have more material than they played. I only hope that, as the show becomes more monetized, corporate pressure fills the time with more music and less of that jackass.

(Seriously – playing your game’s score with a professional orchestra while cut scenes flash in the background? It’s a commercial people pay to see. Win-win!)

I won’t spoil all the show’s little surprises, but I have to pass this one along: the winner of a Guitar Hero battle in the lobby before the show got called on stage in the second act. Tallarico handed him a Guitar Hero controller. “If you get over 200,000 points in ‘Sweet Emotion’ on Hard …” he began. The kid shook his head, motioning upward with his thumb. “Expert?” Tallarico asked. The audience roared.*

I’ve been quieter at close football games than I was watching that guy blow through Guitar Hero. The live orchestra backing him made it an epic spectacle. Plus, the tension of competing against the game transformed the song from a rock staple to a pitched battle. Imagine if Joe Perry broke every finger on his left hand, then going to see Aerosmith’s first live concert after they’d healed – will he pull it off? will he be as good as we hoped? That, plus lasers.

After VGL, Katie H. gave me a ride to Central Square. I headed toward ImprovBoston, only to find Dana already walking down the block. “You heading to Phoenix Landing?” he asked. “Robert just texted me; he said the place is packed.”

We found ourselves jogging to get there, one of those unspoken decisions born of enthusiasm. You live a buttoned-down life during the week, so when the opportunity comes to shake it out and perform in front of friends and strangers, you don’t want to waste a second in transit. And that’s what we do when we dance. We threaded our way through the crowd to the foot of the stage. Dana immediately leaped onto the benches that surround the dance floor and began attracting attention. That’s what he does.

After a while I joined him.

____________
* This led to that classic exercise in futility, Changing The Settings In Guitar Hero. Anyone who’s played GH or Rock band knows how frustrating it gets when you’ve almost started the song but want to change one thing – the number of players, the difficulty, etc. Now imagine doing that on a stage in front of two thousand people. “You have to back all the way out!”, I yelled from the back of the balcony. “Main menu! Main menu!”