Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Last Summer Day

And so summer officially ends, and autumn inevitably begins. No more blistering hot days, no more sweltering summer nights. No more just work and no-homework. With my 22nd birthday officially two days behind me, what better way to celebrate the end of carefree bliss and the beginning of reality than going to see My Morning Jacket at The Greek.

God, where to begin? It was amazing! spiritual! existential! out-of-body! FUCKING SWEET! After taking some detours along the way, The Cobra and I finally arrived at The Greek at 8:07 p.m. We heard "Off The Record" in the distance and were surprised. The ticket said doors opened at 7:30 p.m. This was not the case. The show started at 7:30 p.m., and there was no opening band.

Fuck, we already missed half the set!

An empathetic security guard heard our groans and assured us that we had not missed much, especially because they were playing a three-hour set! Oh, what bliss. The Cobra and I saw MMJ about two years ago at The Wiltern. This was at the time when she invited me to their concert and I went not ever having heard a single song. I left feeling blasted away by pure perfect music. That first MMJ concert, in the packed small venue on Wilshire and Western, was and is the best concert I have ever been to. The best performance I have ever seen, though, was MMJ at The Greek.

After getting some overpriced Newcastle, we made our way to our seats in South Terrace. They weren't bad as you could still see the band clearly from a high top right angle. We sat down just as they started busting out "I'm Amazed," the first single from Evil Urges. According to the gentleman next to us, we had only missed "Evil Urges," "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Pt. 1," "Off The Record," and "Anytime."

I feel like MMJ is a time capsule band. It's like they go through the history of rock in one set. They can be soft rock pansies, classic rock shred heads, psychedelic tripsters, alt-country stars, and something that can't even begin to have a label. And every song is always epic in its own way. They are at their best when the song starts out slow and and then builds up until they careen out of control and just pick at the guitar until their fingers bleed.

Jim James was a rock star god on stage. Not only can the dude play, he also performs. During his ambient, trippy songs such as "Gideon" and "Phone Went West," James would adorn his head with a towel, and he would just step into his zone, jamming and grooving. He was in his own world. On bring-down-the-house epic rock songs like "Anytime," "Mahgeetah," "What A Wonderful Man," and "Lay Low," Jim James and company were all over the stage. James and the second guitarist Carl Broemmel would dance around each other in intricate weavings and patterns. James would go to the crowd and just shake his legs and hips as if possessed by some dancing demon or channeling Elvis on coke. And nearly every rock-out-with-your-cock-out song had James and the band performing like they were all on acid. But they weren't. They were just having the purest fun you could ever have.

When they played their love songs like "Thank You Too!," "Sec Walkin," and "Two Halves," The Greek turned into quite the magical place. Around "Thank You Too!," their eighth song, I finally managed to take my eyes off the stage and look around me. The Greek is a fucking beautiful venue. It starts at the main stage and expands in all peripheral directions. The seats get higher and higher, but relative to the theatre, the nosebleed section isn't that far away. The entire theatre is surrounded by large, magnificent trees, silent mountains and the city's twinkling lights. We are completely encompassed by nature. It was the perfect setting for a band like this.

The best part of the show had to be the last nine songs, starting off with my favorite song of all-time "Dondante." I remember the first time I heard this song. The Cobra and I were pretty drunk at The Wiltern and the slow drum beat kicked in, grabbing our attention. It kept going and going and then we heard this almost trembling guitar wave come in. And oh, how Jim James sings in that haunting shriek of a voice. It just feels like he's crooning and howling in pain.

"In a dream I saw you walkin'
Like a kid, alive and talkin.'
That was you.

In the classroom you were teachin'
On the streets you were policing.
That was you.

To the one I now know most,
I will tell them of your ghost like a thing
That never, ever was."

On this second performance, he keeps it the same: he sings those first verses and then a little dancing guitar solo comes in, but it's fucking sexy. I'm just feeling this song, my body rocking back and forth, my head nodding to and fro. The guitar line picks up, playing faster, faster, faster, more intense, intense, intense, and then BOOM! a sound wave rips through the stadium, blasting me back in my seat, and I am cleansed and free. The first time I saw this song live, I was stunned. The second time I saw it, I was moved. Not only did they play the Okonokos live version, they expanded on it, adding a new jam element and more fury and anger. James was just slamming his guitar as hard as he could with his hand and pick as if punishing it for all the sins it had committed. It's time for the song to fade out, and Carl Broemmel brings out his saxophone. The sax sings the final sad notes to Los Angeles and finishes the song.

The Cobra and I knew at this point that we were a part of something bigger than ourselves. MMJ slowed it down after "Dondante" with the haunting love ballad "Librarian." People were falling in love all around us with the Greek, with the band, with James, with each other. We knew it was time to lighten up, and we did. Fate then intervened, and the eerie wahs of "Smokin' From Shootin'" rang through the crowds. Puffs of smoke from all places Greek floated above the crowd. I found that rather ironic.

"Do you feel my smokin guns? / They're smoking from a shootin, smokin from shootin / smokin from shootin / at everyone? / Do you live your life / on the road? / Yeah, losing that I'm loving / Askin for nothing / Running from something that isn't there."

With one comes the other, and "Touch Me I'm Going To Scream, Pt. 2" followed immediately. The band changed all their instruments and opted for synthesizers and other electronic doo dads that contribute to this song's awesomeness. What impressed me most was the light show that they had for this song, as if this is what the song is supposed to look like. The backdrop of the set were these large looming eyeballs in sideways wedding ring cases. The band had at least fifty lights shining on them, four circular lights behind the drums, and blasting strobe lights underneath the drum set. You just had to be there to see it. In a fading motion from left to right, the lights would light up consecutively to the beat of the opening synths. The song plays, and it's fucking beautiful, man. It goes on for what may be minutes but felt too short. Then the song reaches climax. James puts the synthesizer down, shakes his head, and sticks out his hand, The guitar is placed in it, and he tears through the strings by playing a power chord that rips through the stadium, popping everyone's ear drums. The crowd goes wild! Everyone tries to match James by singing at the top of their lungs. He lets out this high pitched wail that shatters souls like glass. They extended the song and gave it legendary status. The song wained and descended ever so slowly to a complete stop. The speakers sounded off with the final four second track "Good Intentions." A crowd cheers over the speakers, and Jim James' voice says, "Ok. Cool." The end. The show was over.

Until the encore ten minutes later.

I feel like a band always plays their best songs in the encore. It's the ones that they know the crowd will love, they personally love, or both. These are the songs that the band wants you to remember them by, because they are there for a reason. They engaged the happy crowd in a sweet sing-along with "Golden." They made us feel like we were on ecstasy or LSD through "Wordless Chorus" and its strobe-riphic light show. They made us dance with Satan on "Highly Suspicious." They made you cry with "Run Thru" and that piercing guitar. And they sent us to imaginary places with "One Big Holiday."

And that was it. The concert was over. Just like that. I've been looking forward to this show since I bought the tickets in May, and it was over in 3 hours. With the said and done, summer officially shed its last ray of light.

On the bright side, we had gotten out around 11:30 p.m. on a Sunday. I was still on a high from the show, and so was The Cobra. We were chattering about the show all the way down hill.

"You know, The Cobra, the night is quite young. What should we do?"

She seemed to have read my mind. "Hmm, we are in Los Feliz, and there is The Dresden."
"I think that sounds like a brilliant idea."

It was our first bar experience.

Inside, we both just looked around, taking it all in, and just reflecting on the experience. It was dark and quiet--the perfect setting for the songs to keep playing in our heads.

It still feels like the concert was just yesterday. It feels like it didn't even happen. But it did. It fucking did. That night was not real. It was as if we had gone to another place. When interviewed by Rolling Stone after their career-defining four hour set at Bonnaroo Festival this past summer, James recalls the moment he got his first guitar. "I was completely captivated by it, like it could take me to another dimension." My Morning Jacket has proven that music has the power to open up your mind, introduce new perceptions, and show you things you've never even dreamed.

Post Script:

Oh, we also watched this so bad-it's-kinda-good-but-it-was-4-bucks-so-who-cares-movie called Far Out Man starring Tommy Chong as a stoner burnout living in the 90s. I'm not going to talk about it just to save space, but here's a photo. Cheers.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Hollywood Dream

The boys are back in town: Vince, E, Drama, Turtle, and Ari, and they've come back in full swing.

Entourage has always been received with mixed reviews, at least in my circle of friends. The acting is not great, everything works out a little too easily for the crew, and are there really no ugly women in L.A.?

My answer to that: who the fuck cares? Entourage is not supposed to be an Emmy-winning drama or something to philosophize about. This HBO phenomenon is about living the good life in Hollywood. It's fun, and you live vicariously through it (or hopefully, like me, one day). Sure, for story's sake, we need Vinnie Chase and The Chasers to fall on hard times just to stay interested and see them succeed. "Everyone likes a comeback, Vince. Since Britney fucked hers up, you're next," Ari boasts in season 5's second episode. While the plot is moving along quicker than the forever-feeling season 4 to speed up Vince's comeback, the first two episodes are setting up what looks to be a promising 13 episodes.

We find E and Drama trying to keep the cash coming in with new clients and new episodes, respectively. Drama is doing the whole long-distance thing with that really hot French chick that he boned on the beach in the season 4 finale. However, the promise of a mainstream Hollywood film reunites the crew to get back to work. Ari and E fly to Mexico to track down a very bearded Vince and the cuddly Turtle fucking some really hot girls.

Oscar winning material, I know.

The second episode assesses the situation in which the entourage finds themselves: Vince is pretty much a Hollywood leper. No one wants to touch him since the disaster of a film Medellin. But with a new work ethic, desperate to prove everyone wrong, Vince and E read scripts like no other until they find one written by the eccentric pair of writers played by Lukas Haas (Brick) and Giovanni Ribisi (Boiler Room). E wants to sign them, but Ari won't let Vince play lead because it's an indie flick. No more indie flicks according to the wunderkind agent. "It's like the Holocaust. NEVER AGAIN!" Vince hooks up with Justine Chambers from Season One, Turtle busts out a brilliant line ("Well, you've already lied to your boyfriend so why don't you tell him that we didn't fuck tonight."), and Drama gets drunk after blowing up at his really hot French girlfriend and getting subsequently dumped. Oh, and there's been quite an abundance of celebrity appearances with the likes of Carla Gugino and Mark Wahlberg. I hear Michael Phelps and the Cuban goddess Jamie Lynn-Sigler will make cameos in a future episode.

I still love this show. It's always great to see what part of L.A. the boys are in such as visiting Urth Cafe or walking down Rodeo Drive. The show isn't just about a group of guys partying, it's about the city that is built on the facade of stardom, where dreams live and dreams die. The show is still hilarious, too, mostly due to Ari and Drama. Watch for great Ari tantrums where he just randomly throws files or breaks people's phones for no reason--pure agent gold. I've also recently come to the conclusion that Entourage needs to come out with a soundtrack: the episode song enders are always brilliant, whether it be classic rock ("Gimme Shelter" by The Rolling Stones; "Peace Frog" by The Doors), hip-hop ("The Good Life" by Kanye West), or alternative awesomeness ("Dream" by Alice Smith; "If I Ever Feel Better" by Phoenix--the last ep's episode closer). As the first two episodes have proven, season 5 looks to be promising.

It's good to have you guys back.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Cobra and The Velvet Margarita

The Cobra has been reborn.

The Cobra is a new found woman.

Finally, The Cobra is 21 years old!

I feel like I've been waiting for The Cobra's 21st birthday longer than she has. I can't tell you how many times I'd be like, "The Cobra, we need to go to this bar. Oh wait, you're not 21 . . . " or something of the sort. Do you know how long we have waited to finally explore the L.A. bar scene? 21 years, you fool. The past year has pretty much been me going to bars and telling her about it. Now, she finally gets to experience what I've talked about. And in typical Cobra fashion, she had to choose the right place to host the festivities. She chose wisely as we got wasted away at The Velvet Margarita (1612 Cahuenga Blvd in Hollywood).

This bar is one of those places that I've always passed and have been wanting to visit. The front entrance alone stirs curiosity with its black awning and bright pink, cursive letters. It just screams "delightfully tacky" (Hooters). The Cobra and her crew were already drinking before Gladly and I arrived around 11 p.m.

I had read on some website that this should be one of Quentin Tarantino's favorite bars because of its unique mix of American pop culture and Mexican aesthetics. It reminded me of a much more Gothic version of the strip club from From Dusk Till Dawn. You step in and are bathed in purple lights. The ceilings are high and adorned with black-and-silver sombreros. To the immediate left was our crew at a reserved table. To the immediate right was a little nook full of Hollywood hipsters. The nook was pretty sweet because it was set-up like one of those old Mexican caves with candles in the crevices. The candles lit up velvet paintings of Dia de los Muertos skeletons and Mexican icons.

Next to this nook is the impressively well-stocked bar. I didn't have to wait at all to get a drink. The bartenders were courteous and made damn good drinks. Now usually, as I'm sure you all know by now, I would normally order a dirty martini, but I figured, "Fuck it, I'm at a margarita bar," so I ordered the El Guapo Classic Margarita with a salted rim. And damn it was good! For me, salt is key to a margarita. The bitterness of the salt perfectly complements the sweetness of the margarita. It got me pretty buzzed too. Suddenly, this 4 at the bar became a 7--it was that good.

The bar is separate from the restaurant although they are in the same room. They're divided by a velvet plush wall. With the high ceilings, velvet divider, moody lighting, and all the skeletons around, I felt like I was riding The Haunted Mansion from Disneyland Mexico. Another bar, the patio bar, is located outside. After you walk down the hallway of velvet paintings of American pop culture figures like Frank Sinatra, Bruce Lee, and David Bowie, you can step out to the patio bar to have a smoke. It was a Wednesday night so obviously the place was dead. When this bar is open on weekends until 4 a.m., though, I have a hunch it's going to be raging, and I'll be contributing.

By the time Gladly and I finished touring the place, the rest of the party had come, and it was finally time to initiate The Cobra into society. We started her off with three Patron shots and a bottle of champagne. She downed them like a champ. The very nice and cute waitress then brought out red tortilla chips with three dips (chipotle, tomatillo, and bean; for free I might add), some apple pie bites, and a delicious chicken quesadilla. Eating said food sobered me up, so I got a Newcastle and 2 more Patron shots.

The Cobra and I downed them. That former 4 that became a 7 transformed into a 9.

Lots of catching up with old friends, 2 more Patron shots for The Cobra and me, and fun was had by all. Nothing noteworthy occurred that night because The Cobra's 21st was enough. Seriously, it was a long time coming. It's really starting to hit me that we're all growing up. I'm turning 21 + 1 next week (no one likes to be 22, let's be real), Boy Band turns 21 in a month, and that fucking word pops up in every conversation: senior. Well, thank God it's only September. There's a lot of maturing to be done, and I expect to do some of it at The Velvet Margarita.

To 21 more years of being those typical 21 year old drunks, even when we're 42.

Happy Birthday, The Cobra.

P.S. Download "Love Lockdown" by Kanye West. I'm a little obsessed.