Tuesday, June 30, 2009

So, I traveled out to Chicago for a few days of vacation. It was definitely an entertaining trip. The main objective was to visit Andrew, who has lived in Chicago for the past 6-months and is now moving to North Carolina. I flew out of Pittsburgh with Brian and Ryan on Thursday. Thursday evening, Ryan's brother Ben was meeting us. He was flying out of DC.

Upon arrival at the airport, we learned our flight was delayed 20-minutes. That was probably good since we cut it pretty close anyway and that gave us a little time to grab a bite to eat. We flew into Midway and caught the Orange Line into the city. We prompty checked into our hotel and, well, it was pretty awesome. Directly across the river from Trump Tower and an amazing view of Chicago River.

After spending a little time at the hotel, we decided to head out and catch some sites. The first location was the Millennium Park. They were setting up for "Taste of Chicago," so there wasn't any traffic to deal with for the most part around the park itself. One of the cool things in the park is Cloud Gate, better known as "The Bean", which gives visitors a very unique perspective of the Chicago skyline.

And then there was the Buckinham Fountain, which most people will remember from the opening scene of "Married...with Children."

After that, Brian, Ryan and myself went to Potbelly's for a sandwich and entertainment by the guitar player up in a perch. The debate ensued on whether he was paid to entertain or just received a free lunch. I'm betting on the lunch. Anyway, after eating, we headed down the street and essentially ran directly into the only person I know living in Chicago, Jason. I tried to figure out the odds of that occuring but was unable to come up with a formula. I figure it's pretty astronomical though. It was definitely cool that it happened, though, and we were able to make plans with Jason before leaving Chicago.

We decided to spend some time doing a little more site-seeing in the city since Andrew didn't get off work until 5:00 and it was 2:00 at this point. We headed down to the North Avenue Beach for a bit, which is very well developed and very cool. We then went to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Since it was in the 90s, not many animals were out and about to watch.

We finally met up with Andrew and had dinner. His apartment building was pretty interesting in that Charlie Chaplin and Bugs Moran had lived there and parts of Chucky were filmed in the building. After visiting a few establishments, we headed back downtown to the hotel. Upon leaving the train area and heading up the steps, we found that the City of Chicago was resealing the sidewalks. Since there was no other means of escape, we stepped on the freshly sealed asphalt where I promptly slid and fell.

That didn't really bother me too much over the course of the trip until the last evening. Then it hurt a bit. It's still healing. We stopped at a 7-11 on the way to the hotel where I made friends with crazy people, including a former lady security guard from Beumont and a Bohemian woman who just wanted toothpaste. All in all, it was an entertaining first day.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Death of an Icon

I was going to write about my Chicago trip but Michael Jackson died in the middle of it so I thought I would talk about that today and save the Chicago trip for tomorrow. It was easy to know something happened with Jackson since you couldn't walk a block in Chicago without hearing someone blaring Jackson out their car windows or through their portable sound system (80s-style) or out of nearby shops. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Jackson was quite a character. It was nearly impossible to listen to the radio in the 80s or early 90s without hearing a Michael Jackson song. Thirteen No. 1 hits and 5 No. 1 albums don't do justice to his musical contributions. He defined an entire genre of music, bringing incredible beats, energy and dancing with his voice. "Thriller" continues to be a musical marvel to this day.

Of course, you can't take the good of Jackson without the bad. The constant controversy surrounding him clouded his genius. Bizarre news stories about his daily habits were released at a pace that far surpassed his musical releases. He shot back at the tabloids in his song "Leave Me Alone," but his behavior was too eccentric to ignore. And the allegations of abuse was much more than most could handle. Whether innocent or guilty, Jackson's judgement was questionable, at best.

But I have to ask whether the public would be as mournful today if Jackson weren't so strange. His strange antics have kept him in the public eye far more than his music in recent years. If Jackson had simply grown old, looked normal and faded into retirement, would people be as moved by his death? Sure, they would mourn and listen to old Jackson tunes but would there be this type of out-pouring of grief? The public longed for Jackson's "crazy" habits as much as they longed for his terrific music. He became a reality show of sorts. His monetary woes, his custody issues, his ever-changing and more terrifying looks -- all part of the sideshow that was Michael Jackson.

I was in high hopes that Jackson would shock everyone and make a comeback following the 02 tour. I was in hopes he would actually be able to perform again. I had read several articles listing new artists, like Akon and RedOne, that were axiously hoping to work with the King of Pop following his concerts in the UK. That was all wishful thinking, I'm sure. But at least there was a hope of such a thing occuring. Now that hope is gone...at least Michael's music remains.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dave Matthews Concert

After attending the Dave Matthews Band Concert on Saturday night, it's pretty easy to see why people travel all over to see the group and will go to multiple shows a year to watch the same group perform the same number -- they're awesome. Unfortunately I have no pictures as the event staff said "no cameras" and, like an idiot, I simply didn't take a camera into the venue. That hardly stopped the other 22,998 fans from bringing in a camera. How they accomplished this, I don't know -- nor do I really want to know. But I digress...

The Hold Steady opened for Dave. I purchased a Hold Steady CD a while back and never really got into it but couldn't remember why until last night. The lead singer, Craig Finn, doesn't really sing. He just kinda talks in a monotone way over the music for most of the song. There are very few lyrical pieces to the music. It's not bad...just not my cup of tea. After about 40-minutes, they cleared the stage and the giant curtain went up in preparation for Dave.

The venue filled in a hurry at 8:00 p.m., in anticipation for the opening of the show. We had seats in Row Z (26 for those with a math/alphabet issue) which had a decent view of the stage but I would have much rather been about 25 rows closer. The show started and everything was electric. The crowd was into it from the first notes and, well, it was just phenomenal.

They hit alot of their hits, like "Ants Marching," "Two Step," "Best of What's Around" and "Bartender" and mixed in a lot of stuff from the new album Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King. Maybe they jammed a tad too long on a couple songs but the jams were all cool, especially the prolongs "Ants Marching." No "Satellite," "Crash Into Me," or "Space Between," but they couldn't hardly play the entire collection (unfortunately). After 3-hours, they finally closed with "Halloween," which delighted the fans in attendance.

Needless to say, I probably could have stayed another three hours to listen to them play. They honestly sounded as good at Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as they do on a post-production live CD. Boyd Tinsley tore up the violin and Carter Beauford was amazing on drums. Really, the whole show was just amazing. And the crowd was well-behaved, which was nice.

Leaving the show was a spectacle as we sat in the parking area for a good hour hoping a group of people were going to fall out of a truck. It never happened unfortunately. However, the concert the girl in the next car over was putting on herself was definitely entertaining. Once we got on the highway, it was smooth sailing home except the downpours. The whole experience, though, was definitely positive. And I will most certainly be getting tickets to next year's Dave Matthews visit to the area.