Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stick Men, UKZ, Julie Slick, NYC, and W Hotel...INSANE

As advertised, Julie Slick and I went to New York City this weekend and oh man, did we have a blast. This Friday is my beautiful daughter's 23rd birthday, so this trip was also a bit of an advance gift though we usually celebrate Ms. Julie's birthday the entire month of January.

There's the princess on stage at World Cafe Live last year.

Anyway, the last time we spent the night in New York, because we had so many plans and places to be, we decided it was silly to stay in a really nice hotel when we could use the money for other things, so I did a quick internet search and booked a room at a place described on the internet thusly: "Our 700 comfortable, renovated rooms, were designed with the budget traveler in mind. If you are looking for a good value in a great location, our hotel is for you. For a very reasonable price, you can enjoy our excellent service and all the amenities you need to make your stay in New York City a pleasant one."

Ahem. Good value? Well, yeah, if you don't mind towels and sheets with brown spots on them accompanied by the distinct smell of pee, a window in the room which did not lock and led to a catwalk where any maniac could stroll by and make an unannounced visit; a bathroom without a door...arghhh...Julie and I ended up calling Eric, who by chance had a gig in NYC that night, and begged him to come stay with us so that we'd have a male presence in case a murderer or rapist was in the building.

"You're staying WHERE?" Eric exclaimed when we pleaded for his company. "Oh my God, that's the place where Bill Bruford found a rat in his room when he was touring with King Crimson!"

I do believe I blogged about that experience here a couple years ago, but I'm too lazy to find the link. Trust me, it was traumatic.

Needless to say, I was never going to let that happen to me again, so this time, I decided to go all the way and book a spectacular room and surprise Julie with the location -- when we got off the train at Penn Station, she had to idea where we were staying until we actually arrived at the hotel door.

Now this was much more our style...and to see Julie's face when we walked into the lobby was priceless - damn I wish I had my camera out to catch her smile:

The bar was pretty hilarious, though. These were not New York hipsters, but rather New Yorker wannabes hipster wannabes and um, they kind of failed. But who am I to judge; and hey, we were there, too, though even I'm not crazy enough to drink in a place charging $17.00 for a cocktail. Okay, I'm lying, but still.

Now our bedroom was quite worth it -- and note to self: After you do this blog post, look up what kind of pillows they use at the W because you really need to order some for your bed in Philadelphia:

Check-in time was at 3:00 p.m. and we had to be at Town Hall at 7:30 for the Stick Men and UKZ Band show so that left us with approximately four hours to do our usual shopping and eating damage.

"Now Julie," I said. "Please. We don't have much time and I'm already exhausted from the walk from Penn Station (32nd Street) to the W (47th Street). Town Hall is at 43rd Street. Promise me you aren't going to make me go to the East Village on foot. Every time we're here, you swear you aren't going to run me ragged but somehow you manage to drag me twenty-five miles . You can't do that to me tonight; we have a show to see and hopefully an after-show hang-out with the bands. And, because you need to be at work on Sunday and I have to be at the Beatle show at noon, we have to be on a 6:45 a.m. train home so that's not going to give us a lot of time and I really, really, really want to save my energy for the show tonight.

"Okay, Mom, I promise. And since you did hint that we were staying sort of near the train station, I looked up some shops in the area and I know exactly where I want to go...plus, the wine bar we chose for a light pre-concert meal is on 31st Street near Broadway so that's the farthest we'll walk, I swear."

"Thank God," I sighed. Okay. 31st Street wasn't that far a hike. And I figured even though Town Hall was only a short 12 block walk, after Julie had a few glasses of wine, it would be easy to convince her to take a cab.

"The first store I want to visit is at 45th and 9th Avenue," she said as we exited the W.

Arghh...Broadway to 9th Avenue alone is almost as far as walking ten blocks. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but already I was starting to see where this was leading.

"What kind of shop is this?" I asked.

"Home decor. All the places I want to go are home decor. C'mon Mom, I have a new apartment and I want to get some cool stuff!"

Erm, "all the places she wants to go"? How many were there? Okay, here's the plan. Buy her whatever she wants at Store #1 and mitigate the damages, i.e., she won't need to go anywhere else afterwards, other than the wine bar. I was starving and eagerly anticipating out visit there.

Well, no such luck. I could tell as soon as we walked in that there was nothing in that shop which Julie would want. It was more touristy than anything else, and though they did have some cute, offbeat knickknacks, they didn't have anything that were one of a kind pieces, signed by the artist...stuff I taught Ms. Julie to appreciate from the time she was a young little pup. I mean, if you collect penguins or frogs, this is the place for you - penguin salt shakers, pitchers...you get the idea.

Julie and I both turned our noses up and left.

"What now?" I asked, with more than a little trepidation.

"Well, I've been dying to go to ABC Carpet and Home," she replied with a devilish grin.

"Where's that?"

"19th Street," she answered sheepishly.

"19th Street! Oh God, Julie, that's the Flat Iron District - and right on the way to the East Village. 19th and where?"


"Broadway! Broadway is really more like 5th Avenue down there. That's like a ten mile walk!"

"Mom, you're exaggerating."

"Oh man...but this is exactly what I did not want to do. It's already 4:00 p.m.; by the time we walk there, it will be after 5:00 p.m.; that's like a six floor store so I know you'll want to spend at least an hour in there; we'll have to rush through dinner and then by the time we get to Town Hall, I'll be snoring in my seat."

"Mom...stop. We don't have to go. Actually, I'm starving. Let's just walk to 31st Street and go to the wine bar."

"Really? Are you sure?" Naturally I was smacked with guilt. Stop being such an old whining curmudgeon, I said to myself. How often do you get to spend quality time with your daughter.

"Really. I am fine with just eating, going back to the hotel to change, and then heading out to the show."


Of course I then learned that the wine bar was not only at 31st Street, which was 14 short blocks away, but at Fifth Avenue, which was decidedly not short blocks from where we were on 9th if you are at all familiar with NYC. But I figured a two mile walk was nothing in my travels with Julie and I gladly started walking, though cursing myself for wearing, erm, trendy high black leather boots instead of comfortable walking shoes. But this was because I thought we were going straight to the show...had I known we were going back to the hotel so Julie could change into a dress (sometimes I think they switched babies on me in the hospital), I would have gone with footwear a lot more sensible.

Anyway, we arrived at our destination at 4:30 p.m. and we could tell just from the exterior that we'd picked a winner.

Our culinary destination of choice was Ayza Wine and Chocolate Bar and with a name like that, how could it be bad?

Of course there was one slight problem. They didn't open until 5:00 p.m. and we had thirty minutes to kill.

"ABC Home and Carpet?" Julie asked hopefully.

"Noooooooo...." I moaned.

"Oh, c'mon, Mom. What else are we going to do? And we're already at Fifth Avenue. If you think about it, 19th Street is only twelve blocks away, and they are such short blocks it's more like six blocks. It'll be good exercise. And I promise we can take a cab back."

Julie really does hate cabs and I can't say I blame her - she's not only a health nut who believes in going everywhere on foot, she loathes wasting money on taxis. Again, there goes that "baby must have been switched in the hospital" theory I have but hey, even though I know that's not true, if it was man oh man did I make out on that deal!

So, despite her promise to the contrary, my poor swollen feet and I started walking and yuck, we encountered an area of NYC I'd never had the pleasure of seeing before - the cell phone/perfume/watch/wig district. I'm serious. There were at least one hundred stores, over a four block stretch, which all sold exactly the same thing. Bottles of stinky discounted perfume, cheap watches, cell phones, and inexplicably, synthetic hair wigs. And outside each were hawkers, yelling at us to come in, come in, see our beautiful merchandise.


"Let's not walk this way back to the restaurant," Julie said.

No shit.

We arrived at ABC in fifteen minutes so yeah, it wasn't that bad, but once in the store, I almost died. It was like this incredible assault on every single one of my senses. I mean, it was utterly fantastic, but there was just too much stuff to see; the prices were INSANE (I mean, there were stacks of plates teetering on a display table; I'd pick one up and it had a $500.00 price tag)...there had to be several million dollars worth of inventory scattered throughout and there were security guards everywhere. But wow, the place was freaking packed with customers. You'd never know there was a recession going on by the looks of all the happy shoppers.

But can I just say this? While they had a lot of really cool stuff, once again, nothing was one of a kind; I think they have a bunch of savvy buyers who go to Thailand and buy stuff in bulk for pennies and then bring it back to ABC and mark up the price by like 5,000%.

I could be wrong but I doubt it.

Julie was also not impressed though she did say she "got a lot of ideas" by looking at the stuff and then snidely adding "I can probably find similar things at Pier One imports...not that I would buy anything there..."

I sighed and looked at my watch. 5:20. Yes! We could eat!

I had no trouble at all dragging Julie from the store, and we happily loped back the twelve (short...I had to keep reminding myself they were short) blocks to 31st Street. By then the sun had set and the temperature had dropped by, oh, like thirty degrees so I was not only exhausted, I was freaking freezing to death. But please don't interpret this as whining - I was having the time of my life with my very best girlfriend.

We were really excited when we entered Ayza. As soon as we sat down, our server brought us a complimentary sake sized cup of warm mulled wine and a basket of interesting sliced baguettes with accompanying dipping oil (and that little oil cup contained a half a dozen really awesome imported olives).

"I think this is pistachio cherry bread," Julie said, swooning as she took a bite.

I grabbed the remaining piece of that and rolled my eyes in pleasure as well.

"You picked a great spot, Jules. Good job!"

I got that gorgeous smile again. Have I mentioned how much I adore my daughter?

We struggled with the menu because there were so many choices but worried that we might be eating again after the show, so we decided to keep it simple, light, and share each dish. We started off with "wild mushrooms dusted with fresh herbs".

Unbelievable. Hands down the best mushrooms I've had anywhere. Our next course was "Hot Artichoke Hearts with Irish cheddar cheese and ripe tomatoes" (as opposed to unripe tomatoes?) and it was so awesomely delicious we forgot to take a photo. Oh well. Trust me, it was even better than it sounds, and came with toasted pita points.

Naturally we were still starving so we asked our waitress if the salads were full sized or tiny plates like the mushrooms and artichokes.

"Oh, you two can easily share a salad," she replied. Of course I should have taken into consideration that she was like a size zero and probably thought a tablespoon of peanut butter could be split in quarters and enjoyed by four people but whatever. Anyway, our salad, though small enough for me to inhale with three forkfuls, was outrageous - "Goat Cheese Brulee with mixed field greens, toasted walnuts, marinated beets, truffle oil and walnut sherry vinaigrette".

Interestingly enough, though, and somewhat disappointing, was the fact that they only offered maybe five-six choices each of red and white wine, which was way strange for a restaurant dubbing itself a wine bar. I questioned our server if there were any specials after looking over a not so exciting list, but she said they change the list almost weekly so that explained that.

In any event, Julie was most happy with her Malbec and I enjoyed a lovely Albarino. Okay, so we both enjoyed more than one. It was just such a cool place with great vibes; for a brief moment we considered dessert because they offered plates of home made chocolate truffles, but then I remembered my stupid diet which I'd already broken by even having the smidge of cheese and bread so we refrained.

By now it was somehow 7:00 p.m. so yeah, we hopped a cab back to the W, Julie changed into a beautiful black dress and high black boots and even put on eyeliner (mine)...and off we went to Town Hall which...sigh...was another five block walk in what was now total sub-zero weather but we had an absolute blast.

Wow. Does this mean I finally get to talk about the music? Yay! I've been writing a mini-series here, I know, but we had so much fun I wanted to document everything. Oh wait, before I launch into said music, I did want to say as Groupie Mom, I was in heaven. So many fans in the theater recognized Julie it was ridiculous.

"Oh my God, there's Julie Slick, Adrian Belew's bass player. Hi, Julie! We love your work. Where's Adrian? Where's Eric?"

"Eric is music director for a Rock School show today so he couldn't make it," we repeated like a broken record all evening. Not that I minded...(but it would have been awesome if he could have made it to NYC, too)

So we schmoozed in the lobby for fifteen minutes before taking our seat, and once we did sit down, Julie turned to me and grinned.

"Get your money's worth just now, Mom?" she teased me.

"Ha! You know it. I'm just so proud of you..." (and naturally I got all teary eyed but I managed to stop myself from completely falling apart)

The fabulous Stick Men took the stage. What can I say about Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto that I haven't said already in prior posts? They are just amazing, amazing musicians and I absolutely adored this trio, which also featured someone I'd never seen live, the brilliant (and movie star handsome) Michael Bernier on Chapman stick. They reminded me of the Adrian Belew Power Trio the way they smiled at each other and interacted on stage. A highlight of the show was when both Tony and Michael played their sticks with bows...just gorgeous material - I literally could have watched them all night except for the fact that I was just so excited about seeing Eddie Jobson perform next - his first show in the United States in close to thirty years.

This is when I wish I had some music journalist training. There are some lovely reviews of this show by real musicians over at Progressive Ears forum board but please take into account that there are always asshats who have something negative to say -- as I remarked in my comments section to a particular idiot yesterday, "You are pretty bold sitting behind your monitors in your mother's basement, aren't you." I don't mean to be nasty in saying that, but I don't know, it freaks me out when people take shots at musicians who are legends...and legends for a reason because they are brilliant and have long, stellar careers. Michael and Tony were just so interesting together - they're doing something different and creative in this band, and Pat...well, at one point I turned to Julie and said, "You know, you can really tell that Eric has studied Pat Mastelotto. He reminds me so much of Pat in both his playing style and even his smile and facial gesture while he's drumming...I don't think I ever noticed it before. Of course it could be that when Pat played with you guys, I watched you (Julie and Eric and Ade); and when he played with King Crimson, it just wasn't the same vibe and from where I was sitting, I could see Gavin Harrison and truth to tell, the sound system at the Keswick sucked and really all I could hear was Gavin, too. Which is not a cut on Gavin Harrison...no way (btw, I hope everyone got a chance to read his most excellent interview in Modern Drummer)...but it was what it was and I had bad feelings that night from the minute I arrived because of security guards screaming over and over again NO CAMERAS NO CAMERAS like we were a ten year old audience attending a Hannah Montana show...actually we were treated more like criminals just waiting for the chance to break the law. Security guards (and, um, others) at concerts where the audience is made up of mostly middle aged people really need to lighten up. Oh, that's right, they're such derelicts, those baby boomers.

Anyway, here are some amazing shots of Stick Men taken by Ms. Julie Slick with her new Canon EOS 40D digital camera:

Then it was time for UKZ. Eddie Jobson is a genius. Adjectives that come to mind when I watch him play the keyboard and violin: Sensitive. Highly inventive. Haunting. Pure, unadulterated beauty.

He was amazingly humble on stage and was very endearing when he stood center stage and took the mic, thanking incredibly loyal and loving fans who'd come as far as South Africa and Sweden to see him play that night.

And then we have Trey Gunn on war guitar/bass (okay, I'm screwing that up, I know but it's now night time and I am drinking sake) and on drums, Marco fucking Minnemann. Marco's a monster. He's the best young drummer I've seen since Eric Slick. Holy fucking shit, his solo was a masterpiece. Oh, how I wished Eric were there but he's met him and seen him play and when I told him my impression, he said "I know, he's sick, isn't he?" Trey Gunn is pretty damn good, too. I'd never seen him before, either. Now I understand all the fuss. But naturally I could not help but remark to Julie "I hope he's wearing underwear." Because she laughed and didn't tell me to be quiet like I expected, I had to tell her what I was really thinking."I bet he's got a closet full of handcuffs and whips. And maybe even a dungeon in his house."

We both giggled and yes, I know, I'm a bad mother but we were tipsy on all kinds of wine. Oh yeah, and vodka/tonics in the Town Hall lobby. Hey, we were celebrating Julie's birthday!

Here's Trey and Marco. Aren't they cute?

Ahem. I say the skirt has to go.

Here's Alex Machacek, and it was immediately evident that he's a classically trained guitarist:

And cutie pie Marco during his solo:

Okay, now here was a serious highlight. Chill rendering. Tony and Pat took the stage for King Crimson's Larks Tongue in Aspic Part II. I am sitting there watching Eddie, Tony, and Trey and I'm so into it I'm giddy.

Hey, I know the guy in that last photo! It's Andre Cholmondeley, who was all around tech man for the show and about to go on tour himself along with my son and some real luminaries in the music world starting this Thursday through next Sunday. Click on Andre's name for further details.

I totally apologize for not posting a photo of vocalist Aaron Lippert. For some reason, I don't have a good photo. But trust me, he was amazing and I can't help it, I have to make the Greg Lake/John Wetton comparison. Same kind of poetic, lovely English voice although in reading his bio, I just learned he's "a citizen from Belgium, born in New York, and now a resident of Boston" so what do I know.

So because we, erm, had VIP backstage passes, we were lucky enough to be invited to a private party at a bar next door that Eddie arranged for all his fans who'd traveled the world to see him, and of course all of our pals from both bands were there as well. What an incredibly gracious thing to do! They had a private back room but Julie and I found ourselves at the bar area with Pat, Tony, and Bob Duncan from Roland. We had a blast though for some reason I get like the village idiot around Tony and can't form a coherent sentence but what can you do, it's not every day I converse with my musical heroes. Even after almost three years, I still get like the village idiot around Ade sometimes, too. Oh, who cares. Life is so fucking good it's ridiculous. Anyway, enough of that, one other cool thing was that I told Pat what I thought about his playing...seeing so much of him and Eric, and he seemed really humbled by that and replied "Eric has learned from a lot of drummers beside me!" which was an awesome thing to say but again, I was struck by how in sync the two of them were when I saw them play in Canada so I know I'm right.

Anyway, it was now 1:00 a.m. and Julie and I were totally wiped out and...sob...knew we'd only have five hours sleep in our wonderful bed a the W. So we braced ourselves for the five block walk in what now felt like an Arctic chill; we somehow made it back without turning into ice sculptures, changed into our pajamas and sunk into the insanely fantastic pillows, closing our eyes with contented sighs and wishing we could sleep until noon.

And then all hell broke loose.

Sirens - ambulances, fire engines, police; and they appear to be stopping outside our building. Wtf? More sirens. We get out of bed and peer out the window. We see reflections of twirling lights -- they're right outside. And then a big red alarm goes off in our room and starts flashing.

"Oh. My. God." I moaned to Julie.

"Mom, what do we do?"

"I don't know. They aren't telling us to evacuate yet and I'm sure they must have a loudspeaker system. Do you hear anyone out in the hall?"


"I'll call the front desk."

Naturally no one answered, even though I let it ring and ring and ring and they have 24/7 service.

Also naturally I started thinking I smelled smoke.

"I don't want to get dressed and go back out in the cold," Julie cried, burying herself further in the covers.

"Me, either." And I was so tired and inebriated I actually thought "Well, dying in the W Hotel in New York City would be a very fitting oh so cool death. Kind of like a Nelson Rockefeller deal."

But the light in our room kept flashing and I really did not want to meet my demise, especially after having such an extraordinary day/night with my daughter, so I figured I had to be responsible and get us the hell out of there. But just as I was about to insist, the loudspeaker finally came on and said "FALSE ALARM FALSE ALARM DO NOT EVACUATE DO NOT EVACUATE".

I mean, really. Only us. And now we were wide awake and completely freaked out.

So much for our evening in a luxury hotel.

We did manage to get an hour or two sleep and then our wake up call came at 6 and we had just enough time to throw on clothes, hop a cab, and race to Penn Station where our train was scheduled to leave for Philadelphia at 6:45 a.m.

Julie slept the whole way home; I am a lunatic who can't sleep on any moving vehicle because I know for a fact that the minute I do fall asleep, we will all be killed in a horrific accident.

We arrived in Philly by 8:00 a.m. and poor Julie headed off for a double shift at the restaurant where she works when she's not on tour as a fabulous rock star; I figured I'd at least get 4-5 hours sleep but learned as soon as I walked in that I had to be at the Beatle show earlier than expected and had just enough time to shower and get dressed before we had to leave.

Now. Normally I would launch into telling you all about the Beatle show, but that honestly deserves a post of its own so that will be my project tomorrow or the next day.

Anyway, for now, let me just say that the weekend was the best; the music was sublime, I had an awesome meal, and I spent quality time with one of the greatest woman in the universe - bass player extraordinaire, gourmet chef, and someone poised to conquer the world, my beautiful daughter and the birthday girl, Ms. Julie Slick.