Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Forget Halloween Candy, Give Me Halloween Cupcakes!

Here's what I'm going to be eating tonight (OK, so I already ate the eyeball one--it rocked!)...

No, No, Nostradamus!

In the spirit of Halloween, today I will share with you one of the few things in this world that truly scares the crap out of me. No, it's not spiders (though I'm not a fan), snakes, flying, public speaking or any of the usual suspects. It's frickin' Nostradamus and his predictions from 500 years ago. I am bracing myself for an onslaught of ridicule...

The truth is, I have always been interested in conspiracy theories and prophecies and all of that sort of stuff. But when my aunt, uncle and I rented a movie called The Man Who Saw Tomorrow back in the early 90s, I became pretty obsessed with Nostradamus. The movie is narrated by Orson Welles and it frightened me so much that, I kid you not, I barely slept for two weeks after watching it--I was a nervous wreck. I ended up buying a translation of Nostradamus's "quatrains" in order to read his supposed predictions for myself. After that, I avoided anything and everything related to the famous seer for over fifteen years, because I just got too wound up (and made fun of).

Unfortunately I was lured into refreshing my memory of Nostradamus's predictions by an ad I saw recently for a History Channel special on the topic. When I went to Tivo it, there were actually two other shows on that same night about Nostradamus, so I taped those, too. I watched two of the three so far, and I am sufficiently freaked out again.

I'm not that bothered by the vague quatrains themselves, because I do realize that they could apply to a number of world events across several hundred years, and that it's simply human nature to interpret Nostradamus's predictions to corroborate current issues in the news. That's why I laugh at how every other week either the Sun or the Enquirer is proclaiming that another one of his prophecies has come to pass. What does unsettle me a bit, however, is when several different religious, astronomical, cultural and scientific sources all point to the same prediction about, say, the end of the world. Before watching the History Channel program last night, I had conveniently forgotten that December 21, 2012 has been alluded to by a ton of sources for a long time (I could not possibly list them all here, but one if the most referenced is the Mayan calendar), as the date at which point we will all cease to exist. That creeps me out. Even if you don't get worried about any of this kind of thing, you have to admit that no one really knows what in the hell is going to go down when there's a planetary line-up on that day that hasn't happened in tens of thousands of years (though that link did make me feel a bit better). Obviously there's nothing we can do about it if the sun blows up or magnetic poles reverse or a comet hits--all of which have been mentioned as possibilities for what will happen on 12/21/12 (in addition to, of course, humans destroying the world by nuclear war). But I just kind of wish that it was all predicted for a year that none of us would actually be alive, you know?

So, I'm going to try my best to forget about all of this (though you know when 2012 hits it's going to be Y2k-like mania all over again (and yes, I fell for that, too)). I think this short video has the right attitude. It's pretty hilarious so I encourage you to watch it, but be forewarned that: 1) It takes a long time to load, 2) You must play it with sound and 3) There is a lot of swearing in it, but in a good-natured way (but it's not safe for work for sure).

Finally, in honor of Nostradamus, I predict: "e will use Halloween as an excuse to eat a lot of candy, chocolate and other unhealthy things tonight!"

Happy Halloween! I'm gonna pig out like it's December 20, 2012!

- e

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

When Pirates Attack

I spent the vast majority of the day running errands as it was 66 degrees and sunny outside (I fear it may be the last nice day of the year...) and was surprised to come home and find news of an honest-to-God pirate attack headlining Apparently it's the second time pirates have besieged ships off of the coast of Africa in the last few days! I just can't believe it.

When I was searching online to find more articles about this crazy incident, other recent pirate news came up that I thought I should share. The first bit is very timely with tomorrow being Halloween and all--it seems that pirates are quite popular costumes this year. The second story I came across I really don't understand but thought it was funny--apparently in the Caymans, volunteers are getting awards for helping out with "Pirates Week." When I read the article, it didn't even explain what Pirates Week was. So I did some more investigation, and now I need to bust down to Grand Cayman right away! Because Pirates Week is an annual eleven-day (?) national festival starting November 8th?!?! They have a mock pirate invasion and everything! This might just be the coolest country ever. I'm kind of upset, though, because I've been to Grand Cayman several times and have never heard of this celebration. All I ever saw there that was pirate-related was souvenir rum cake with a pirate ship on the box. If you've been down there, you've got to remember what I'm talking about--there's no way to escape that stuff! Anyway, this festival looks hilarious. If anyone ever goes or has been, you better let me know and send pictures as soon as possible.

And by the way, you KNOW Disney is totally going to make a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie since all of this pirate hoopla won't die down... not that I'm complaining.

- e

Monday, October 29, 2007

Oh, What a Night!

A few years ago, I saw Jersey Boys in New York with Miss M. While she had had a very long day and actually nodded off several times during the show, I raced out of the theater during intermission to call my parents and tell them how awesome it was and that they MUST see it. Miss M and I were probably the youngest people in the audience that night by at least 20 years, but I was bouncing around and singing along to every single song, because I was raised on the music of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. I tried to figure out a way for my family to all go see the show when we were visiting relatives in New Jersey, but it never worked out. So when I got an email earlier this year announcing that the production was coming to Chicago, I took the day off of work and spent three hours waiting in line outside on the day tickets went on sale (it was February, and it was freezing) to get seats for the night of Friday, October 26th. It seemed so far away at the time, but this past weekend our show date finally arrived.

For those of you unfamiliar with the musical, it chronicles how four guys from New Jersey formed the group "The Four Seasons" and rose to fame. I won't spoil anything for anybody, of course, but it is actually quite a crazy story. I think that some people (my husband) went into the show thinking that it was just going to be song after song after song, but there actually is a riveting plot that is intertwined amongst shortened versions of the group's hits. I noticed when we walked into the theater that they had signs warning patrons about "smoke machines, flashing lights and profane Jersey dialogue." How hilarious is that? Apparently there is a completely different level of vulgarities that belongs just to New Jersey. But I applaud the show for "keeping it real." If you can put up with the swearing, then you will be able to enjoy some of the group's biggest hits. I guarantee you know at least one of their songs no matter how old or young you are: Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry, Walk Like a Man, My Eyes Adored You, Can't Take My Eyes Off of You, and of course, December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night). There are many more besides those, too!

My parents, my husband and I greatly enjoyed the show Friday night. While I personally did not feel that the crowd in Chicago was as participatory as the crowd in New York had been (maybe it had something to do with the proximity to Jersey?), at the end everyone did stand up and dance and sing to Oh, What a Night. There was even a heated auction afterward for a page of Sherry sheet music that was signed by Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio--it went for $1,000!

Jersey Boys is touring around the country (and goes to London next year), so if you get a chance to catch it, I highly, highly recommend it. Even my husband, who was extremely skeptical about the show because he doesn't like what he terms "yaiiii yiiii yiiii music" (falsetto singing of lines like: "Bi-ig girls, they don't CRYYY YAAAIIIII YIIIIII!!!") was extremely impressed. You don't even have to take my word for it - the production won a ton of Tony Awards (including Best Musical). And if you watched The Emmy Awards this year, then you saw a short montage of clips from the musical during the tribute to The Sopranos. The guys who performed are the same cast I saw this past weekend.

I had been looking forward to the show for so long that now I'm a little bit depressed that it is over. But I can still rock out to their songs on my iPod and sing Who Loves You? to my dog when the mood strikes me (which seems to be at least once a day...).

- e

Friday, October 26, 2007

Things I Did When I Gave Up Looking for Frodo, Part Two

Time for the next round of pictures from my 2006 trip to New Zealand.

When we last left off, my husband and I were at the Agrodome, where my husband completed his Zorbing quest. After he dried off, we made our way to Skyline Skyrides where we took a gondola to the top of Mount Ngongotaha--quite a spectacular view of Lake Rotorua. But the best part was when we took ski lifts to an even higher point on the mountain and then rode a luge on one of three awesome tracks back down. The New Zealand luge is not even remotely like the luge that they use in the Olympics. It's just a crappy piece of plastic on four wheels with a steering wheel that you pull back to drag some other piece of plastic on the ground in order to slow down. Kind of tough on your hands and wrists, but still incredibly fun--it was actually the high point of the entire vacation. Just imagine being on the top of a mountain looking out at a beautiful lake as you ride this little go-cart thingy down while taking in the extraordinary view. We went up and down and up and down countless times, and even went to another luge track in Queenstown at the end of our trip, but the one in Rotorua was much better. If you ever get the chance to do this, I highly, highly recommend it!

On the way back to our hotel to freshen up before dinner, we took a walk through one of Rotorua's many thermal parks. The town is famous (infamous?) for its sulfuric stench, resulting from geothermal activity in the area. There are bubbling pools, geysers, and clouds of fog all over the place. Here I am realizing that it is not fun to be enveloped in a cloud of stink!

Finally it came time to relax for a bit and we took in a traditional Maori tribe dinner and demonstration. If you've ever seen Whale Rider, then you are familiar with the Maori. They used intimidation tactics like widening their eyes and sticking our their tongues to ward off enemies invading their space when others started settling in New Zealand in the early 1800s.

The next few days were spent driving down to Wellington and taking a ferry over to the South Island. Soon we were in the Abel Tasman National Park region. We stayed several nights in the most awesome cabins in the world at The Resurgence. If you ever go to New Zealand and are in this area, this is where you must stay--check out their web site to see the views. The lodge hosts, who live in the main, huge cabin, made arrangements for us to go on a half-day kayaking trip in the national park. I am the worst kayaker in the world, and my husband and I had already had a bad experience kayaking in Thailand (let's just say that my arms give out after about, oh, ten minutes), so we knew what we were getting into. Except for one tumultuous area of mini-rapids that scared the crap out of me (but that most people found "fun"), it was a fairly smooth adventure (and yes, my husband still did most of the work, but I got blisters that proved I was doing something!). We lucked out - the only completely sunny day on the trip was this one. There were seals and rare birds all over the place, so that was cool, too.

Our trip recap will be concluded in Part Three...

- e

Thursday, October 25, 2007

NOT Phenomenal

As you know, I haven't been watching a lot of TV lately because I'm bitter that all of the new shows mostly suck. But even I could not escape the promotions for Phenomenon, the NBC series that premiered last night that I thought was going to be about magicians. There were ads on TV, on the Internet, in my magazines--they were really pumping this thing up!

Despite the fact that I find it hard to look at Criss Angel because of his ridiculous hair, I was intrigued by the fact that both he and old school "paranormalist" Uri Geller were going to be judging ten contestants on LIVE TV. It was the "live" part of the show that reeled me in; I mean, what would happen if someone was trying to bend a spoon with their mind and it didn't work!?!?

I would have a great time laughing at them, that is what would happen.

So, I Tivoed it yesterday and my husband and I watched it a few hours later (it would still be "live" in my mind, OK?). The first thing that I thought was silly was the term "mentalist." That is what the judges kept referring to themselves and the competitors as. I guess that no one can just be a magician anymore, they have to be an illusionist or a mentalist. I honestly thought they had just made up that expression for the TV show, but it's actually quite established already. However, all I can think of when I hear that term is the original (BBC) version of The Office when Gareth (the British Dwight) would call someone "a mentalist" if he thought they were crazy. I like that use of the word much better.

I got over my dislike of the word and became excited to see some cool tricks. But then they introduce the "celebrity assistants"-- Rachel Hunter (who looked totally pissed, I honestly don't think she smiled the entire time), Ross Mathews (The Tonight Shown intern), and Carmen Electra. You've got to be kidding me. My expectations were lowered significantly.

There are ten people vying to be "the next phenomenon," but only four did their acts during the premiere. This stressed me out greatly, because they didn't let the audience know that we'd only be seeing four in the first show (in fact, they kept repeating that there were ten contestants), so I kept saying, "They're 20 minutes in, there's no way they're going to get through eight more people!!!!" I'm wound tight enough as it is, I don't need more stress watching TV.

But I only got more freaked out. While the first act was kind of cool (the guy made Carmen Electra think that someone was touching her when in fact no one was), the next two were absolutely despicable. I did NOT tune in to watch someone physically hurt himself or potentially KILL himself?!?! What the HELL was going on??!?! The second guy's "trick" was to set a bear trap off on his fingers and claim it didn't hurt, and the third guy played Russian roulette with a nail gun. Yes, you read that correctly. Completely sick and twisted. I just became nauseous thinking of how many drunk college students were going to end up trying something similar. Totally not cool; this is not The Deer Hunter, OK? But then Criss Angel starts off his critique of the act by saying, "First off, kudos to NBC for even letting this air on live TV when there was the potential for someone to blow his brains out with a nail gun. I did the same trick, but with a REAL gun, so I know the stakes."

This is NOT something to be proud of!!! I don't care if there really was some sort of "trick" behind what appeared to be just luck. I had my face hidden under a stack of pillows for the majority of the hour, and that is really not how I had planned on spending my night.

The only other two things that happened were the fourth contestant seemingly predicting what random telephone number was picked out of a huge phone book, and Uri Geller "transmitting through the TV" a mental image to the viewing audience. The crazy thing was, both my husband and I guessed what image it was (out of five that were shown). Great, now we've probably been programmed to keep tuning in to the show or something.

The next installment is on Halloween and it is expanded to 2 hours to get through the remaining six contestants. Then I believe two hopefuls will be voted off.

However, I share my husband's sentiments about this show. At the end, he said in disgust, "That was awful, and I refuse to ever watch it again." No argument from me!

- e

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

e's Favorite Things: Pumpkin Cream Cheese

I am not a fan of Halloween. Halloween and New Year's Eve are my two least favorite "holidays" of the year. I don't actually mind little kids getting dressed up and going trick-or-treating, and I will have some candy here in case any city-dwelling children make their way around my 'hood. But I myself hate figuring out a costume, I don't like the scary movies that always play around this time of year, I refuse to go in a haunted house after a bad experience when I was a kid--you get the picture. But there is one reason, and one reason only, for me to get excited when October rolls around. It means Einstein Bros. is going to bust out its most excellent pumpkin cream cheese again. And it means I am going to make my husband go buy as many tubs of it as he can find across Chicago so that I have a supply I can freeze and use for the next several months.

We already made our first rounds this year, and I have nearly 25 containers already. Last year I had thirty and they only lasted me until January. So I think we're going to have to go get another supply before they are taken from the shelves.

This is the best cream cheese that exists on the earth, and the thing is, I don't even usually like pumpkin-flavored stuff. You need to try it to see what I'm talking about, because it rocks. And on top of the taste, it's one of the reduced fat offerings! If you want to see if there's an Einstein Bros near you, click here. The lame thing is that they don't even promote it (nor do they even mention they carry it) on their web site?!? Bad marketers!

Sometimes the employees would seem annoyed when we would buy out their location's entire supply. That makes no sense to me, why would you be mad that someone is buying your products? If you don't want me to hoard it, then make it available year-round! Why can't they? Why do onion and garlic cream cheeses get to stink up everyone's breath for 365 days a year, yet the much better pumpkin variety is only available for a matter of weeks? I demand justice!

Inspired by our annual quest to secure my beloved "shmear," my husband carved three pumpkins this year. I'm not sure if you can see, but the one on the far left has green bell pepper slices sticking out for Shrek-like ears, and red bell peppers are used for the tongues on both that one and the one dedicated to my dog.

Pretty good, no?

We also roasted all of the pumpkin seeds that we dug out during the carving process, so that's been another pumpkin-related food I've enjoyed recently. And before we know it, it will be time for pumpkin pie (which I can only stomach if there is a TON, and I do mean a ton, of whipped cream on my slice) around the holidays!

- e

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

More Than Meets The Eye

A big "sorry I didn't listen to you sooner" shout-out to the readers who had encouraged me to go see Transformers when it was in theaters this summer. I finally watched it on DVD and thought it was awesome - I bet on the big screen it was that much better.

The first twenty minutes or so of this movie had me absolutely captivated. The action never really let up, but that opening scene was the best I've come across in a long time. WOW.

For those of you who never played with the Transformer toys back in the day, they are basically cars and trucks that "transform" into either evil or good robots. Robots that can talk and kick ass, that is! The good guys are called Autobots and are led by gruff-voiced Optimus Prime. The bad guys are Decepticons and are led by meanie Megatron. Can you see why I was more than a little skeptical about how the movie would be?

Anyway, in the big-screen version, the Transformers have come to Earth for reasons I will not give away. The good ones team up with a nerdy high schooler played by Shia LaBeouf, who just so happens to befriend the hottest girl in school (played by Megan Fox) while all the drama is unfolding. Then you've got Josh Duhamel playing an Army officer based in the Middle East whose team keeps getting attacked by the alien robots. Trust me, it works. The fact that everyone in the movie is a decent actor helps greatly.

The thing I couldn't get over in this film was how extraordinary the special effects were. I'm going to make a statement that is sure to cause gasps of shock and possible outrage, but I'm going to proclaim that the effects in Transformers were even better than those in the Lords of the Rings trilogy. Because despite how life-like Gollum looked in those movies and how cool some of the battles and sets were, there were more than a few scenes where I can remember thinking, "That looks fake." I never thought that once in Transformers. When the machines were transfiguring between robots and cars, it was mesmerizing. Whoever worked on the CGI needs a raise! When I walk my dog at night now, I'm glancing around nervously at all the parked cars lining the street because I think they may rise up and squash us, that's how real the effects were! Or maybe that's just how crazy I am.

There are definitely some cheesy parts in the 143 minutes, and times when I caught myself thinking, "I can't believe I'm engrossed in a movie about the toys my brother used to play with over 20 years ago!" or "I feel kind of silly sitting here watching all these monster truck robots talk to each other." But as IGN critic Todd Gilchrist said best, Transformers is "one of the few instances where it's OK to enjoy something for being smart and dumb at the same time, mostly because it's undeniably also a whole lot of fun."

When I was looking at the movie's web site, I found this awesome thing - similar to the Snakes On a Plane site where you could have Samuel L. Jackson call a friend, you can have Optimus Prime call someone! I tried it out and listened to the message and was dying laughing. So, if you want to scare the crap out of anyone in particular, have Optimus Prime give them a ring.

Until today, I was not aware that there are already plans for a 2009 sequel, with all of the main cast members on board. Since I don't have a car, I'm a little less worried about being abducted or chased by a vehicle that is actually an evil Decepticon. But for those of you who do have cars, I would treat your wheels a bit more nicely, just in case.

- e

Monday, October 22, 2007

Kiss My Grits!

If I had already been drinking my tea, I surely would've spit it out when I pulled up this morning and read: "Kid Rock in jail after Waffle House brawl."

Wow. That has to be one of my favorite headlines ever. It just doesn't get any better than that.

I have a soft spot in my heart for the Waffle House establishment because during my sophomore year of college, I drove down to Florida with three sorority sisters and one of the things we did to pass the time was count how many Waffles Houses were along 1-75 South between Michigan and the Sunshine State. Any time someone would spot one, they'd yell out "WAFFLE HOUSE!" But nearly 24 hours later, we had shortened it to "WA HA!" There were just too many to keep repeating all the syllables and forming the proper consonants. I don't remember our final tally, but it was definitely in the hundreds! I just checked on the Waffle House site and they list 1,500 locations in just 25 states!?!? That is INSANE.

I think I've only eaten there three times in my life, though.

But Kid Rock loves Waffle House, so much so that he and his crew graced one in Atlanta early Sunday morning after his concert. Supposedly a female customer started an altercation with a woman in Kid's entourage, and then the men joined in and came to blows both within the restaurant and then out in the parking lot, with Kid Rock even breaking a window! What would've made this story a lot better is if it had turned into a food fight with people throwing huge pancakes all over the place, because I'm pretty sure you could do some damage with those things (besides the obvious damage to your arteries).

Kid Rock has since been released from jail and is enjoying the success of his new album, Rock N Roll Jesus, which has its debut at #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart. I tried to listen to the title track, but was shocked to find that Kid Rock's last few albums are not on iTunes?!?! What?!?! He can't possibly justify that - I mean, only The Beatles can get away with that.

Anyway, it's just a matter of time before Kid Rock picks the location his next skirmish. They need to set some odds on this one in Vegas... will it be a Hardee's, a 7-11, a Popeye's Chicken, or maybe he'll class it up a bit and go for an Olive Garden or Chili's?

- e

This post is dedicated to Nerdy P, who loves her some Kid Rock in all of his White T glory.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Enough, JK Rowling!

Friday night, JK Rowling held a reading and a question and answer session for a packed audience at Carnegie Hall. This event signaled the end of the first book tour she has done in the United States for the past seven years. While responding to a fan's question about whether Dumbledore ever had a true love, she confirmed what many had suspected all along - that Dumbledore was gay.

Now, I don't have any problem with that, per se. But what I do have a problem with is the fact that JK Rowling continues to shell out what I consider to be key information about ALL of her characters long after the final Harry Potter installment went to press. In addition to the insight on Dumbledore, she also proclaimed who Neville Longbottom ends up with, and whether or not Hagrid ever finds a Mrs. If you remember, at very end of my Deathly Hallows review, I linked to information on Wikipedia and MSNBC that compiles all of the additional details that Ms. Rowling had revealed about our favorite wizardly peeps through interviews. I was annoyed about it back then, too. I just don't understand why she keeps doing this. Isn't anything supposed to be left to the imagination? Why doesn't she write another freaking book if she has that much left to say?!?!

If you can't tell, I'm pretty bitter about her latest slew of divulgences. Let us come to our own conclusions!

- e

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Finally, a Good Show

Shout-out to JC for reminding me that The Next Great American Band premiered last night. I remembered this show being touted as the last American Idol season drew to a close, and now it has finally arrived. And I dare say that my husband and I were loving it!

If it's not obvious already, TNGAB is basically American Idol for bands. Except there is a different host and different judges. Although I feared that they would be extremely annoying, they weren't at all. Dominic Bowden typically lives down in New Zealand with Frodo and Gandalf, where he is the host of New Zealand Idol. He is now trying to be the next Ryan Seacrest (which he pretty much admitted) by hosting TNGAB. We are exposed to another awesome accent courtesy of Ian "Dicko" Dickson, who is the Australian version of Simon Cowell - "the mean judge." Sheila E. (remember her from back in the day with Prince?) is much nicer to the contestants, but also actually knows her music and seems like a very cool person. The last judge was the worst part of the show for me - Johnny Rzeznik from the Goo Goo Dolls. I never liked his band and I cannot STAND his haircut or his wishy-washy personality. He needs to cut his freakin' bangs, stop sounding like a Valley Girl and grow a backbone.

The premiere lasted two hours and spanned three days of auditions out in the desert near Lake Las Vegas. It was 107 degrees! I remember being in Vegas when it was 110 degrees and I could barely stand walking outside between air-conditioned casinos for 5 minutes. To be up on stage, mostly clothed, playing a song like your life depended on it in that kind of heat? I couldn't do it.

Early on in the show, my husband and I groaned as a band of bare-chested, long-haired thirteen-year-old (and one twelve-year-old) boys were introduced. They were called Light of Doom, which I'm sure was intended to sound hard-core, but instead left me in stitches. However, when they busted out Flight of Icarus by Iron Maiden, the judges (who I could tell had also been prematurely writing LOD off) snapped to attention. These kids were good. They even did high-kicks while playing guitar, a move that we had to rewind and slow-mo to marvel at again after the show was over.

Another impressive band was The Clark Brothers, who reminded me of a cuter, older, country-version of Hanson. They didn't have a drummer or a bass player, but did play a mandolin and a dobro.

Finally, we also liked Sixwire. This group already had a recording contract in the past, but then their albums didn't sell, so they're hoping that being on national television changes the situation for them a bit. My husband commented that their sound was "tight," but all I could think about was how the lead singer looked like he could be Sawyer from Lost's older brother.

A much more in-depth recap and review of the show (which I agreed completely with) can be found here, if you want to be caught up for the next episode. MTV's review of the show includes some interesting information as well, and focuses on a few of the zaniest bands that were kicked off already.

If you enjoy American Idol and like music in the slightest, I highly recommend this show. It's in an unfortunate time slot on Fridays at 8 PM EST, but with Tivo it doesn't really matter, now does it?

Time to go sign up for the Light of Doom fan club...

- e

Friday, October 19, 2007

... I Can Never Be Free, Such Good Photography!

As promised, here are some pictures from Tuesday night's Van Halen concert. I wanted to wait until my husband gave me the debrief on last night's show at the United Center to see if they did anything significantly different, but it doesn't sound like they veered too much from their successful formula. He enjoyed the show once again, but is now very sad that the experience is over.

Shout-out to CP who took these great pictures at the Allstate Arena - thanks for sharing!

But to truly appreciate some of these pictures, let us first remember what David Lee Roth used to look like. That picture on the right is from only five years ago!

He has now cleaned up quite well now, wouldn't you agree? And on top of that, he took baton lessons. He was whipping this huge baton around for a full minute and I have to admit it was really impressive. Band camp, perhaps?

While many wondered if there would be obvious animosity between he and Eddie while on stage, there was nothing of the sort. I guess if you're raking in over $1 million per show, that's reason enough to bury any hatchet.

The part of the concert I enjoyed the least was Eddie's guitar solo. Yes, I realize this is blasphemy, but what can I say, I like words. At one point there was an overhead shot on the big screen which showed about ten bazillion pedal boards laid out in front of him. He would use these to continually create new sound effects that made everyone who likes that sort of thing go nuts. He switched guitars during the show as well.

As I mentioned in my last post, I had no issues with Wolfgang. In fact, he seemed like a good kid. I've read many write-ups on this tour by this point, and a lot of die-hard fans are accepting him, too. He apparently cannot harmonize quite as well as Michael Anthony did, but other than that, he has risen to the occasion. Eddie got a bit choked up at one point in the concert, stating: "I love my son!" Well, I love that kind of sentimental crap, so my favorite parts of the show were when they would jam together. I still can't get over the fact that Wolfie is only 16! That is INSANE! He really seemed like he wanted to make his dad proud, and I think he succeeded.

Surely I cannot forget about Alex Van Halen... he had a pretty awesome drum solo. Trust me, he's back there...

The Jump extravaganza capped off the night. Here you can see Dave with the random blow-up microphone (which he later attempted to ride).

Well done, guys, well done.

- e

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I Had to Ro-o-ol with the Punches at the Van Halen Concert

I have always believed that everything happens for a reason. Often, however, you don't realize until much later why a situation that seems unfortunate at first is actually a blessing in disguise. Such was the case with the Van Halen concert a cruel twist of fate sent me, instead of one of my husband's best friends, to last night. 

My husband's favorite band in the world is Van Halen, and I'm pretty sure that his favorite person in the world is Eddie Van Halen. I came to terms with this a long time ago. So I knew that when a Van Halen reunion tour was announced in February, he would be going. Until it got scrapped and Eddie went into rehab. Dude was looking like this, so he did the right thing! But hope always springs eternal for VH fans, and sure enough, after Eddie was clean and sober, the reunion tour was re-launched. Not only did I not protest my husband spending an obscene amount of money on a backstage pass to the first Chicago show and another large sum on a floor seat to the second, I encouraged it. I was fully aware that if I came between him and his lifelong dream of seeing Van Halen in concert with David Lee Roth at the helm, I would never live it down. Decades of arguments ending with "...AND you didn't let me go to Van Halen!!!" would be mine to cringe through in the future. 

In my husband's own words: "The very first concert I ever saw was Van Halen at the Metra in Billings, Montana, in 1986 when I was in 7th grade. My mom wrote a note to the principal to take me out of classes and drove me and two of my friends 5 hours to see the concert. David Lee Roth quit the band in 1985, ushering in the "Van Hagar" era. So, I have been waiting 22 years to see Van Halen with David Lee Roth." 

I equated my husband getting the backstage pass and the primo seat with me paying to be an extra on Lost, if they ever offered such an opportunity. And if someone ever came between me and my man Locke, there would certainly be hell to pay. So, the money was spent and the preparations were made. Unfortunately, a few days ago, my husband's friend had to change his plans and was no longer able to fly in and join my husband at the shows. Sympathetic shout-out to BY! I had used my skillz to secure this friend a floor seat for last night's show, while my husband was going to do the backstage pass package. 

Long story short, I came up with the brilliant idea that *I* should go to the concert. Let me size up the love of my husband's life! I needed to understand what all the fuss was about. And so it was. My husband got to the arena hours early for the backstage revelry, at which he had a great time. Fate also shone down upon him and he was blessed with a front-row, center-stage seat (randomly assigned, unbeknownst to him, when he bought the pass). 

He called me when he found out this news, and he was so happy that I knew even before the concert started that the crazy price he paid had been worth it. As we don't have a car, I took a bus-El-shuttle bus combination to get to the venue. I timed it to get there right before Van Halen came on at 8:30. While in line for a slice of pizza, the guy ahead of me struck up a conversation. He was probably in his late 40s or early 50s, and seemed nice enough. 

Guy: It's a lot older crowd than it used to be! 
Me: Yep... 
Guy: This is the shortest beer line I've ever been in in my life! 
Me: Yeah, it's going fast. 
Guy: Everyone's a lot more mellow. 
Me: That's probably a good thing. 
Guy: I'd buy you a beer, but they only let you get two a person. 
Me: Oh, thanks anyway. 

As I stood off to the side of the concession area eating my pizza, I quickly realized that I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was wearing a bright yellow message tee that looked something like this (except that the heart is a guitar on mine): Whereas literally every other person I saw was dressed in black. Oops. 

Then there was the fact that I was a female. I would say that there were at least 20 men for every woman that I could see. Proof of this was that there was actually a line for the men's bathroom and only a short one for the women's. I marveled about this to a 40-something-year-old bleached blond with pancake makeup while waiting for a stall, and she was also incredulous. "Me and all my girlfriends just loooved Dave growing up, so we were sure that this was going to be all women here tonight." I had no response to that. 

The "Dave" she was still crushing on was of course David Lee Roth. This would be the first time he was on stage with the band since the 1984 tour, as alluded to by my husband above. However, the band's bassist, Michael Anthony, had been replaced by Eddie Van Halen's 16-year-old son, Wolfgang. Yeah, you read that right. Not only is his name Wolfgang (which I kind of dig), but he is only 16. 

I made my way to the floor. I was in the second-to-last row, but it was still a decent seat. There were two bizarre mini-blimps flying around overhead. They were actually pretty cool - they were all black and sported the Van Halen logo, and zoomed all over, presumably guided by an unseen remote control. I was pleasantly surprised to find normal-looking people surrounding me. 

The guy next to me was also by himself, and introduced himself as "John." He was probably in his fifties, and said that he didn't have any of Van Halen's music. After he listed off other concerts he'd been to in the recent past, I figured he just liked to go to concerts. And after he remarked about how much he heard people had paid for the front-row seats, I had to tell him that my husband was one of those crazy people.  

Since I only knew the popular songs, I'm not even going to attempt to "critique" this concert. My husband said it was awesome, and that should be good enough for any real fan to believe. If you are interested in what they actually played, the set list is here (scroll down a bit). If you are interested in a real review of the show (as well a documentation of the reunion tour drama over the past year), try Rolling Stone. But what I can share with you is the very strange story of my personal experience at the concert. 
Everything started out just fine. I had a lot of room to myself at the back of the floor area. They kicked off the show with You Really Got Me, which is a cover of The Kinks' song, so I knew that one. I was first struck by how good David, Alex (the drummer) and Eddie looked. These dudes are in their mid-fifties! They were totally muscular - lean and mean! Young Wolfgang was a cutie and as he was completely unassuming the entire time, I believe he won over the crowd. My husband agreed, saying that it would've been bad had Wolfgang tried to be showy. 

A couple in the row in front of me got to their seats right before the show started. She was sporting an outfit and perm that I think I had in 1987. He had on a Jack Daniels hat backwards, a hunting jacket and cargo shorts. When the band came on, he turned around and looked all excited and held his hand up for a high-five. So I high-fived him, and then he looked seriously confused. It turns out that his high-five was meant for his friend who had come up behind me. Oops, again. 

The friend who joined a bit late dressed very similarly to the guy in front of me. But I will call him Baldy, because he was in fact bald (though he also had a straggly, pointed beard). There was another guy that joined them, too. So now there were four people in that group - the couple in front of me, and the two guys who for some inexplicable reason never actually went to their assigned row, but rather hung out next to me in the slightly more open area. From some of their conversation that I overheard, I knew that they were not from Chicago. 

For the first third of the concert or so, things continued to be OK. A highlight was when I actually saw my husband up on the big screen when the camera panned the front-row crowd. While I was a tad concerned because Baldy and his counterpart were bringing back two beers each during each song and definitely had not arrived sober, they were keeping to themselves. I also saw the fairly weak-looking security peeps constantly walking around behind me, circling the perimeter of the floor, looking for smokers. 

I had noticed that behind me in the first row of stadium seats, a guy that looked like Anderson Cooper's older and much less attractive businessman brother had been keeping a look-out for security because his friend (who also looked businessman-ish) kept smoking a joint. Security never caught on. But I kept glancing back there every few songs, and the guy smoked away for the entire two hours. Then John, the normal guy to the right of me, randomly left. I guess he had had enough. He actually didn't realize that Michael Anthony wasn't going to be playing, so perhaps he felt cheated. There were still normal people to my right, and in the last row behind me, and to the right in front of me, but Baldy's crew was growing ever more disorderly to my left. I'm not sure if the guy next to Baldy realized this, or if he was trying to hit on me, but he eventually switched places with Baldy, so that he acted as a buffer of sorts. Baldy was by far the most inebriated person I could spot in the crowd. 

The concert rolled on. David Lee Roth is the consummate showman, a born entertainer. He was hamming it up and everyone loved it. And he could still bust out those high-kick jumps! I had an epiphany of sorts as he mugged for the crowd. He looks like Grover from Sesame Street! His mouth is always hanging open, just like Grover's.
Anyway, the only songs I recognized were Runnin' with the Devil, I'll Wait, Oh, Pretty Woman (Roy Orbison cover), Hot for Teacher and Panama. Panama was played near the end of the show, and that is when things started to turn ugly. Baldy was pretty much out of control. He was in his own little world, attempting to start a mosh pit with his friend standing next to me. At one point Baldy pushed his friend into me, and I went off. The friend, however, took that as an opportunity to introduce himself. 

Drunk Friend of Baldy: Hahhh, Ahm Schlleeeeeve (translation: Hi, I'm Steve) 
Me: You need to control your friend! 
Schleeve: Aah jusszz liv maaah owwhn liiif (translation: I just live my own life) 
Me: Well, your friend is going to get kicked out. 

Even though Schleeve was now standing in front of MY seat, I took a few steps over to the right to get away. Unfortunately, Baldy was not about to calm down. He had now befriended some other drunk guy who passed by, and they had started their own mosh pit. They seemed happy jumping around by themselves, so I relaxed a little bit.

The show was over, but after a brief reappearance of the VH mini-blimps, the band came back on for a Jump extravaganza. There were lasers, a blow-up microphone (don't ask), buckets of glitter raining from the sky and exploding from the stage - it was pretty cool. Since that was the song I knew the best, I enjoyed the grand finale. But next to me, Baldy was deciding that he didn't like his new friend so much. He pushed his fellow mosher with full strength and the guy went careening into the row behind me. Then Baldy jumped on the guy and started punching him. 

I looked around desperately for the security team, but they had all made their way to the exits as the show was nearing an end. One lone, elderly, skinny security guy finally saw the commotion, but he could hardly restrain Baldy. 80s Girl and Hunting Jacket Guy tried to calm Baldy down... and every few seconds he would start walking away, only to then turn around and run full-force at the guy he was determined to beat up. 

It was mayhem, and of course that actually drew a bunch of people to the scene. The lights had now come up in the stadium and I had moved safely away to be near the mixing stage. My husband was supposed to come find me, so I couldn't stray too far. Now the rest of the security guys had swarmed the area, only to find several other ne'er-do-wells joining in on the fight. Eventually four people (including Baldy) got cuffed. Schleeve avoided the whole thing and had followed me to the mixing booth! 

I was distracted by the chaos and did not notice the poor man's Anderson Cooper sneaking up on my left. He approached me. 

PMAC: Hi. Ummmm, please appreciate how hard this is for me. This is probably the most difficult thing I have done, but life is short. 
(I attempt a weak smile, but am thinking: Oh sweet lord baby Jesus, what is going on??? Where is my husband!?!?!
PMAC: I just have to tell you that I think you are the most beautiful woman in the world. I was watching you the entire show. 
(I am now looking around frantically. Schleeve is still next to me on the other side, watching his friend get cuffed from afar.) 
Me: Uh... that's nice, thanks. 
PMAC: Well, I just had to tell you. I'm sure you're here with someone... 
(Crap. Do I attempt to act like I'm with Schleeve? Crap, crap, CRAP! Where is my husband?!?!
Me: Yeah, actually my husband is coming to get me... (I made sure to point with my left hand so he could see that I was indeed wearing a ring.) 
PMAC: OK, well, you're beautiful. 
Me: That is great, thanks. 

He slunk away. And from half-way across the stadium, I saw my husband approaching. We had no choice but to walk by Baldy, who was slouched defeatedly in the stands. 

e's Husband: What happened? 
Me: Welllllll..... you see that bald guy who is cuffed right there? That's who was next to me the entire night. 
e's Husband: No!!!!! 
Me: Yeah, he was trying to mosh during half of the concert and then started a huge fight right at the end. 
e's Husband: Wow. Brian would've KILLED that guy. 
Me: I know. It was a good thing I was here instead. 

And so you see, everything happens for a reason. Had Dustin's friend been where I was, he would have not put up with Baldy for more than two seconds, and it would've been bad. e takes one for the team! 

On the ride home, I got to hear all of my husband's stories from the pre-show festivities. Our camera had broken right before the show, so he is hoping to get some pictures emailed to him from others he met there. If that happens, I will be sure to post a few so you can see what Van Halen looks like from two feet away. 

Despite all the bizarro stuff that happened, I am really glad that I went. They did put on a great show and since I spent a lot of time looking around in the audience, it was nice to see so many people so happy. Ah, the power of music. Baldy really was the exception in the crowd, you must believe me. While a lot of people there looked really rough, they were there to enjoy an excellent concert and re-capture a bit of their heyday. It was kind of cute to see all of these forty- and fifty-somethings looking positively elated, singing along at the top of their lungs during the show. 

As my husband said on the way back, "Van Halen's songs are all happy songs." 

And so, I have made my peace with Eddie Van Halen. He gives my husband something I cannot: twenty-minute-long guitar solos. And so when my husband takes off tomorrow night to see him once again, I won't be sulking and pouty back at home. I'll just be praying that Baldy doesn't show up again at the United Center... 

- e