Lollapalooza Twenty-Six Years On

Bob is one of my closest friends. We met back in 1988 when we both worked for Northern Telecom, and we’ve managed to stay in touch through a few moves (on my part) and the birth of his daughter Megan. In fact, when Kathy (his wife) announced she was pregnant, I can remember being a little angry. Single people hang out with single people, couples hang out with couples, and parents hang out with other parents. I was certain we wouldn’t be friends with them much longer. I am grateful that I was wrong.

Bob and I share the trait in that we rarely let what other people think influence our behavior. For example, I’m a fifty year old guy who plays Pokémon Go. He’s a fifty year old guy who likes Electronic Dance Music (EDM). This year Megan bought him tickets to the Buku festival in New Orleans, and he enjoyed it so much he decided to get tickets to this year’s Lollapalooza in Chicago. I went to the first Lollapalooza in 1991, and so when he invited me I thought it would be an interesting experience to go again.

Lollapalooza 4-Day Wristband

While alternative music is a well established genre now, it wasn’t 26 years ago. What we tend to think of as “alternative” was often just called “college radio” back then (you young folks can look up what a “radio” was). Perry Farrell coined the term “alternative nation” when he established Lollapalooza festival as a farewell tour for his band Jane’s Addiction, and the first festival was a pretty unique experience for me.

I’ve always been attracted to people who defy categorization. Being a “smart guy” in the rural south was pretty isolating, and so I tended to associate with other outcasts, and it wasn’t until I attended the North Carolina School of Science and Math that I really felt like I fit in anywhere, but even there you had your normal high school cliques with the jocks and the rich kids, etc. It was cool to be able to attend a festival more targeted at “my people” for lack of a better word. It wasn’t very commercial and it seemed like people were there for the music as well as, maybe, to learn something.

I enjoyed my first Lolla, so I don’t really understand why it took me several years to return. In part it is because I am adverse to crowds, and also it isn’t a cheap festival. I returned in 1997 when the company I worked for had season tickets to the venue, and it was a shadow of its former self. The amphitheater held over 20,000 people but I think less than 8,000 showed up. I did get to stand feet away from Tricky, and I enjoyed both the Tool and Orbital sets, but I wasn’t surprised when it was announced that it would be the last Lollapalooza tour.

Lollapalooza was revived in 2003 but it wasn’t until 2005 when they settled on Grant Park in Chicago for the location that it became something of a permanent fixture. Over 100,000 people attend each day of the festival, which is now four days long.

I wasn’t sure I could last four days (I didn’t) but I was eager to go to the event and see what it had become.

While I love Chicago, I’m not sure Chicago 100% loves Lollapalooza. I know the hotel industry does since the hotel prices were much higher than normal, and it was looking like it was going to be an expensive trip. Luckily, I have a friend who splits his time between Chicago and Miami and he offered up his apartment for the weekend as he was going to flee the city during the festival. Andrea came along since her and Kathy are friends, and they were going to hang out together while the rest of us went to Grant Park. Four of us were going to the show: me, Bob, Megan and her friend Claire.

While the apartment was over a mile from the park, it was a lovely place to stay. It’s nice to be in a home versus a hotel. Andrea and I arrived Wednesday afternoon, and as she had work to do I decided to prepare myself for the long weekend with a much needed nap.

View from the Apartment

On Thursday the six of us met for lunch and then the four of us headed over to the event. They were staying a a hotel across from the Trump Tower Chicago. It was funny to watch people taking pictures of themselves with it, usually sporting obscene finger gestures.

Megan and Claire in front of Trump Tower

There were a couple of entrances to the event, with the main one being near Michigan and Congress. From the hotel we were closer to the northern gate. As you approached the barriers you were asked to hold up your hand with your wristband.

Lollapalooza - northern entrance

While the instructions were pretty specific, the wristband is to go on the right wrist, not a lot of people seemed to get the memo and both Bob and I were bothered by this for some reason. There was also a long list of things allowed in the park and things forbidden. No outside food or drink but you can bring in a bag. Bob had a Camelbak but even those had to be brought in empty (there were numerous “hydration stations” in the park). Once past the first barriers the line broke into those with bags and those without.

Security was really lax at Lollapalooza. I got the most minimal pat down and there were no metal detectors. While the event was non-smoking, people had no trouble bringing in cigarettes, vapes and other contraband. It was one of the things that really detracted from the show for me.

Once inside we decided to learn the layout. Grant Park is large, and the festival is spread out over seven stages (eight if you count “Kidapalooza”).

Lollapalooza - map

The main stage, Grant Park, was on the south end in a large field. If you faced that stage there was another stage called Lake Shore behind and to the left. The largest headliners were on the Grant stage, and shows were staggered so that they weren’t on at the same time. On the opposite side of the park was the Bud Light stage. I didn’t like that stage much, as it seemed to be in a little valley and the area was much more claustrophobic than the area around Grant. Unless you were pretty close it was hard to see the stage. It also had a second stage off to the side sponsored by Tito’s Vodka.

Lollapalooza - Day 1 Schedule

On the western side of the park was the Perry’s stage featuring EDM acts. We spent a lot of time there since EDM was one of the main reasons for attending. It was the first place we stopped to see an act, in this case Tritonal.

Lollapalooza - Tritonal

Seeing EDM performances in the middle of the day is a bit odd. First, it’s pretty much just one or two guys hunched over gear and it is hard to differentiate that from just someone clicking on “play” in an app. Also, the strobes, fire and video effects lose something in bright sunlight. Still, it is music to bob your head to and it was kind of fun to hang out and bounce a bit. Bob kept getting high-fives from people walking by and seeing his Buku shirt.

We decided to check out the main Grant Park stage for Cage the Elephant.

Lollapalooza - Cage the Elephant

The lead singer wore fishnet stockings and a dress, and that at least took me back to my last Lolla when the lead singer for Tool performed in a bustier and kabuki makeup. It was also here that I first experienced the most annoying aspect of the festival.

Many of the people didn’t seem to be there for the music. When a band got started, groups of people would form a little “train” and push their way through the crowd. A few minutes later they would push their way back. Sometime they might stop right in front of you or in the middle of your group. Often they’d light up a cigarette or a joint or start puffing on their vape. Frequently they would be more interested in chatting up the person next to them versus listening to the music. I will say that I was glad that mobile phone usage was less than I expected (I’ve been to concerts recently where people record the whole thing), but being in a crowd of mostly young people with the attention span of gnats lessened the whole thing for me.

Lollapalooza - Buckingham Fountain

We did find refuge in one place – the Cocktail Bar. Situated in the center of Grant Park is the large Buckingham Fountain. Off to the east was a little archway with the words “Cocktail Bar” on it, and inside provided a delightful respite from the crowds. Situated along Lake Shore Drive, this area had grass, trees, lawn chairs and access to a number of decent cocktails. At $14 a drink it was also one of the more affordable items available in the park, believe it or not. In addition to being quiet and relatively free of obnoxious young’uns, there was also a bank of toilets you could use without leaving the area. We would end of spending at least an hour here each day.

Weather was hit and miss Thursday (as well as most of the festival). It looked like it might rain at any minute, and so I was happy to find that the app Dark Sky is now available for Android. This is an app that does “microforecasts” – it doesn’t try to forecast the weather for the day, just the next hour or so. As I was writing this it was raining, and you can see how it will taper off over the next hour.

Lollapalooza - Dark Sky

It’s not 100% accurate out very far, but it is really good for about 30 minutes, sometimes saying things like “light drizzle starting in 7 minutes and lasting 13 minutes”, etc. You can also set it up to send notifications when it is about to rain at your location.

The last show of Thursday had split headliners, with Muse at Grant Park and Lorde at Bud Light. Bob wanted to see Muse so I left him and headed north. About this time Dark Sky warned me that it was getting ready to pour in four minutes, so I made a dash for the exit. The rain was pretty torrential but I was able to make it to the subway without getting too damp, and I watched the rest of the thunderstorm from the comfort (and rather exquisite view) of the apartment. About three songs into the Muse set the show was canceled and everyone was told to leave the park. I understand the reasoning but it would kind of suck if the main band you came to see was canceled as there is no way to reschedule the show.

Lollapalooza - Day 2 Schedule

On Friday we got an earlier start and also entered through the north entrance. First stop was Perry’s for a performance by San Holo. He was pretty good but again it was broad daylight and we were looking at a guy hunched over his equipment.

Lollapalooza - San Holo

It was at San Holo that I got my first request for an “old guy” selfie. A young man came up to me and wanted a selfie, and while it was probably just for my devilish good looks I think he thought it funny that someone my age would be at the EDM stage in the middle of the day. Well, as the young kids say, send it.

I got another odd old guy comment later in the day. At Lolla they encourage you to pick up trash, and if you bring them a full bag you can get a small prize, like a shirt. Megan and Claire did it just because they wanted to, and as I was following Megan around and helping with the trash another guy, probably in his mid-40s, walked by and said “you’re a good Dad”.


When I decided to come to Lollapalooza I posted the lineup on-line and asked if there was any of the lesser known bands I should try to see, and I was told to check out The Lemon Twigs, so we headed over to their set.

Lollapalooza - The Lemon Twigs

They were … odd. I liked the music well enough, but it seemed like a band in search of an image. The guy on drums was shirtless with white makeup and this whole Marilyn Manson thing going on. The lead singer was dressed in a blue jumpsuit while the guy on keyboards had on a Hawaiian shirt and khakis. The bass player was a woman who kind of stood off by herself. It was cool that the three men would switch positions and instruments, but it was weird to watch.

It was a bit of a toss up for the next act. Bob and I wanted to see Phantogram while the girls wanted to see Bishop Briggs.

Lollapalooza - Phantogram

I really liked the Phantogram set, well, except for the children constantly pushing themselves forward and back (sigh). What a lot of people don’t realize is that while these band names may sound new, bands like Phantogram have been around for a decade. How do you get to Lollapalooza? Practice, practice, practice.

Bob wanted to get some batteries for the DJ Snake set later that night (he has rave glasses that blink to the music) and so he had to leave the park. I went north to catch the end of the Tegan and Sara set at the Bud Light stage.

Lollapalooza - Tegan and Sara

As I mentioned above, I really didn’t like this stage. It felt very boxed-in and with the level of acts performing here you could always expect a crowd.

We all decided to meet back at the Cocktail Bar.

Lollapalooza - Cocktail Bar

It was a little more crowded than on Thursday, but we managed to find seats. Bob had tried to smuggle in three packages of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but of course the crack security staff confiscated them. Well, two of the packages – for some reason they left him one. Sharp as tacks they was.

We left the bar and headed back north to check out Foster the People. It was a bit more of a madhouse so we kind of stayed toward the back. While the lens was kind of angled here, you can get an idea of how low the stage looked from the back.

Lollapalooza - Foster the People

The final show for Friday was DJ Snake at Perry’s. Yes, there was fire.

Lollapalooza - DJ Snake

And to answer your question: yes, the old guy did bounce, and I did “get low” when he said to “get low”.

Lollapalooza - Day 3 Schedule

We got a later start on Saturday and decided to enter at the main entrance. This was a mistake. It took over 45 minutes to get in. Of course, after the wait I wasn’t even touched by security, just waved right through.

Lollapalooza - Line at the Main Entrance

We wandered around a bit and decided to try to get decent spots for Glass Animals. Megan took a group selfie:

Lollapalooza - Group Selfie

Left to right: Me, Claire, Bob and Megan.

I’m not that familiar with Glass Animals, although I’ve heard them on SiriusXM “Alt. Nation”. I enjoyed their set, but one thing happened that kind of illustrated my biggest disappointment with members of the crowd.

Lollapalooza - Glass Animals

When I used to go to concerts, people would smuggle in beach balls. Once in the venue, they’d inflate them and play “keep it away from security”. It was fun to bounce them around waiting for the show to start.

Glass Animals have a song called “Pork Soda” with the line “pineapples in my head” and images of the fruit appear throughout their show. Before they started a roadie came out with a bunch of inflatable pineapples, and he handed them out to the crowd. Instead of tossing them around, most people just kept them as souvenirs (sigh).

Despite that, I enjoyed the show and plan to check out their music.

Now the one show I’d been waiting for was Banks. I am a huge fan of Banks. Had I bought Goddess on vinyl I would have wore it out. Of all the performers in the lineup for this year’s Lollapalooza, hers was the show I would not miss, and I made sure to get there early for a decent spot right in front of the stage.

When you are waiting for a show to start, they would often post pictures and videos on the screen by the side of the stage. Some of those would feature bands “From the Vault” (i.e. older Lollapalooza festivals). When I mentioned earlier that it can take a decade for a band to make it to the Lolla stage, many of the bands that have played here seemed to have disappeared. Take Broken Social Scene from 2008:

Lollapalooza - Broken Social Scene

or Delta Spirit from 2012:

Lollapalooza - Delta Spirit

Never heard of either of those.

Anyway, I really liked the Banks crowd. Of all the bands I had seen at the festival, I felt most at home among these people. You could feel the excitement build as it got closer for the show to start. One thing that is really cool about Lollapalooza is the bands start on time – the schedule is very tight.

Lollapalooza - Banks

Banks strode onto the stage flanked by two dancers in mesh and launched into “Poltergeist”. It was magical. Her music is pretty ethereal in the first place, and with the addition of the choreography it just jelled. It was the only set I saw all weekend that tried an artistic presentation, and yes while I’m biased I think she killed. Most of the tracks were off her second album, The Altar but she did play several from Goddess including “Begging for Thread” which is probably how most people know her.

Afterward I thought about heading north to see The xx, but I might have mentioned I hated the Bud Light stage, so still high from the Banks show I headed out.

I skipped Sunday. Andrea and I had a late brunch and then met Kathy to go and hang out at the zoo. I did have a slight FOMO, and one thing did happen that I would have liked.

Lollapalooza - Day 4 Schedule

Bob and the girls went back to the Cocktail Bar, and there was a stand there promoting Tito’s vodka. After chatting with the person in the booth for awhile, they were given wristbands that let them in to a special lounge near the Tito’s stage. It was apparently very nice with an open bar, but I just couldn’t handle the thought of the crowds one more day.

Overall, I’m glad I went but unless something unusual happens it will probably be another 26 years before I go back, although who can guess what Lollapalooza would be like that far into the future. I know I’m in the “hey, you kids get off my lawn” age bracket, but I was pretty disappointed with the most of the people in the crowd. They seemed very self-centered and more interested in being seen than seeing. A lot of the young women wore fairly revealing clothing, and although few people can actually pull that look off I was happy that they were comfortable enough in their body image to try. The closest thing to a theme among the women was to wear Chuck Taylors (Converse All-Star sneakers, preferably in black), Daisy Dukes short enough that the pockets showed and mirrored sunglasses, which seem to be making a comeback. The guys wore mostly athletic jerseys, namely NBA, although in any particular group you couldn’t wear the same jersey. Of course there was the one dude with a jersey with the number “18” on it with the name “You Over” on the back, and I just had to wonder if that ever worked to meet girls (my guess is, no).

Around the food areas the trash was pretty impressive, even while people like Claire and Megan worked to pick some of it up. It made me despair a little for our future, but I bet that thought has occurred to everyone who reaches my age for as long as people have been reaching my age.

This also wasn’t the crowd I remember from the first Lollapalooza, at least through the rosy lens of a quarter century. At least there was the exception of the crowd at Banks. I stood next to a young lady from Columbus, Ohio, whose head was nearly shaved. She had modest gauges with hoop earrings through them, and this was her third or fourth Banks show. She didn’t seem ruled by her mobile phone, and was both well spoken and intelligent. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, this one from Henry Rollins:

“I want a soul mate who can sit me down, shut me up, tell me ten things I don’t already know, and make me laugh. I don’t care what you look like, just turn me on. And if you can do that, I will follow you on bloody stumps through the snow. I will nibble your mukluks with my own teeth. I will do your windows. I will care about your feelings. Just have something in there.”

This won’t be my last music festival, I still have Burning Man on my bucket list, but I hope there is more there, there, at the next one.

Review: Kurios by Cirque du Soleil

I love Cirque du Soleil. I’ve seen more Cirque shows that I can accurately remember. This weekend I saw Kurios in Atlanta and it is my new favorite.

It is hard to beat Alegria, the first live Cirque performance I ever saw. Andrea and I were living in Santa Rosa, California, and we drove down to San Francisco to see the American premiere of the show. As we were sitting there, we were overcome with a sense of joy and wonder that we had not experienced since we were children, and we later identified the emotion as “delight”. It’s the delight of a young child on Christmas morning, and it comes all too rarely in our adult lives.

Now, I am not saying that Kurios is the best Cirque show ever created. First, I haven’t seen them all, and second, there are individual acts, like the Balance Goddess in Amaluna, that I liked more than any single act in Kurios, but the show taken as a whole was really, really strong.

I want to state that I am not a Cirque “fan boy”. I don’t see everything they produce nor do I think everything they do is golden. When a new show is announced we look at the description, and sometimes a show comes near to us that doesn’t seem that interesting. However, when I learned that this show was to be “steampunk” Cirque, I was in from the start.

It is hard for me to accurately define steampunk. According to Wikipedia it is a subgenre of science fiction, but outside of books it tends to reflect a sense of fascination and wonder often identified with the late Victorian era. It can appeal to certain people involved with technology since that world is becoming more and more virtual (you can almost live in virtual worlds accessed via your “phone” where you interact with your virtual friends and have virtual relationships) and in contrast steampunk is very physical. Before electricity became easily available, most motive energy was derived from steam, which resulted in a very mechanical aesthetic. Think clockwork gears, brass and struts, such as this steampunk keyboard.

Or, if you need another example, just check out the Kurios set:

The stage is circular, like most Cirque shows, although this one had a small raised area along the edge that would often host a number of odd devices and people that would travel along its track. In the back were two large clockwork towers, and as the show started the center stage was dominated by a large chair with various devices hanging off of it. Like the shows I’ve seen before, it would start off with various characters wandering through the audience. One was a mystical turbaned man with a large sphere sticking out of the turban. Various images were projected on the sphere and occasionally he would stop in front of an audience member, touch his temple and the images would change as if he was seeing the person’s future or dreams.

The first main character we are introduced to is the Seeker – a man with white, unkempt hair in a lab coat. He wandered around the set playing with the various devices, and he was assisted by a number of clockwork “kurios” would would help clean the lab, ride a bicycle to generate power, etc. Cirque shows usually start off this way to allow for stragglers to get to their seats. Another Cirque tradition is a clown in the role of Master of Ceremonies, this time played by Facundo Gimenez channeling a half-Italian, half-Spanish character who goes through the usual introduction involving exits, phones and the prohibition against photography.

The show kicks off properly by a parade by the band and the introduction of a whole group of characters, all in period dress. I liked the music in Kurios more than the last few performances I’ve seen and I loved how they integrated it into the show – in the main opening number the percussionists use a table, themselves and pretty much everything else as instruments.

We also get to meet the other main characters. There is Nico the Accordion Man whose clothing contains hundreds of folds that can make him look tall or short. Klara wears a metallic hoop skirt that acts as an antenna so that she can receive invisible signals. The most imposing character is Mr. Microcosmos, whose body is made up of a huge sphere that looks like a Bathysphere used for exploring the sea, although he also appears in the opening number as the front of a large train that expels many other members of the cast. It is out of this sphere that one of the best surprises of all pops out: Mini Lili is played by Antanina Satsura is 3.2 feet tall and weight 39 pounds. She is a perfectly proportioned little person who provides a counterpoint to the size of Mr. Microcosmos. At one point Mr. Microcosmos is on stage in a much larger device that opens up to reveal Mini Lili’s parlour, complete with wingback chair and chandelier, where she sits making a phone call.

What I loved about Kurios was this level of detail. They really carry the theme throughout the show. Outside of the Bathysphere, there are a lot of references to sea life. There is a contortion act done on the back of a huge mechanical hand where the performers wear these sea-life inspired costumes that work really well in the piece, and the second half opens with a trampoline aerial performance that also invokes the sea in the form of jumping fish. It didn’t take me long to find a scholarly reference that the Victorians were very much interested in things like sea life, as this was the first time that the technology existed to start exploring that part of our planet.

Which brings me to the only miss of the night: the invisible circus. A large round elevated stage is rolled out to the front and the clown played by Gimenez describes various acts being performed by “invisible” players, including a man riding a unicycle on a high wire, a lion taming act and even a high dive into a pool filled with three inches of water. Like a mechanical flea circus, you see various things move and even see the splash when the invisible diver lands, but I found the whole act strained and not funny.

I was so jaded by the bit that when Gimenez led a woman from the audience on stage for a mime performance I was ready for the same uncomfortable feeling. The act was him pretending to be on a date, and in the set up you understand he has both a bird and a cat as pets. He answers the “door” and leads her to a couch where he mimes some of the hesitation that can come from a first date. To alleviate this he goes off in search of drinks, but then reappears as the bird. The lady from the audience did a great job of playing along and I was starting to warm to the bit, when the bird is eaten by the cat (also played by Després) who then hops up on the couch to investigate the lady.

As a cat owner, what followed was one of the most talented and hilarious pantomimes of the behavior of a cat I’ve ever seen. I was crying I was laughing so hard. Thus, all is forgiven.

I’m not going to go through and describe all of the acts as a) I didn’t take notes and b) you can find it elsewhere, but what makes this my favorite show was how well it all integrated into the theme. It was like they took it to the next level. For example, most Cirque shows have a hand-balancing act. The performer comes out and slowly builds a tower on which they will do various feats of balancing. This one started out as a dinner party hosted by Klara and attended by some of the other characters, including the turbaned mystic from the beginning of the show. At one point he levitates a candelabra, but it won’t come down. So another guest starts stacking chairs to get high enough to retrieve it.

As the tower gets higher and higher, the lights go on in the catwalk above the stage where a duplicate dinner party is revealed, only this one is upside down. They too build a tower but this one heads down toward the stage. While the hand-balancing act was entertaining on its own, it was this extra level of theatricality that made me love this show.

My overall favorite act was one called Rola Bola. A man in a aviator’s costume comes out and does a balancing act on a small platform on top of a ball. Good, but I’d seen that before. Then he builds up a small stack of acrylic cylinders and boards, and he separates them with a smaller metallic cylinder on its side. Again, I had seen something like that before. It wasn’t until he added a second metallic cylinder, perpendicular to the first, that I started to think “wow”. Now there are at least two axes of motion, and when the whole thing was raised into the air I knew I was in for something special.

Not only did he balance on this contraption, he took of his jacket and contorted metal loops around his body, all while remaining balanced. He ended that part of the act by rotating the whole thing 360 degrees. Truly impressive.

He followed that up by adding a third metal cylinder and another stack of objects that at this point was so high he had to use a little pole to get on top of it. Once again elevated, he was able to remain balanced with these three plus axes of motion, although there was little room left for acrobatics.

Is Kurios perfect? No, I saw a few mistakes at Saturday night’s Atlanta show and the invisible circus bit really could be dropped, but overall it is one of the the strongest Cirque shows in recent memory and I might even have to see it again.

It’s in Atlanta until the beginning of May, when it moves on to Boston, DC. New York and Miami. If you can make I highly recommend you get a ticket. You won’t be disappointed.

Review: Louis C.K. at The Comedy Store

I’m a fan of the comedian Louis C.K. and I also really admire the way he markets his performances. When he does a special, he frequently offers it on his website for $5. With no DRM and high definition formats available, it is a great way to see and own his work.

His latest special is called “Louis C.K. at The Comedy Store” and I watched it last night. It was solid, like most of his work, but not quite my favorite. Don’t get me wrong, I think I got more than $5 worth of laughs out of it, but one of the issues I have is that the first thing I saw him in was also one of the best things he’s done, and one of the best bits of comedy ever made.

Note: for purists there may be spoilers below, so stop reading if your that type. Yes, you know who you are.

It was with Conan O’Brien, and while I remember seeing better versions, this is the one I found on the YooToobz and the quality isn’t great:

I’m a year older than Louis and I identify with a lot of what he talks about as we’re from the same generation. However, he is also a parent and I’m child-free, and I have a hard time relating to his parenting-based humor.

There were a couple of bits that stood out in this show. I like it when he talks about flying, as I am a frequent flyer, and he did a bit about traveling with crying children. Again, since I’m child-free, I don’t do crying children well (or deal well with those packs of pre-teen girls whose voices can hit vocal ranges so high it upsets the dog but that’s another issue) but I did find a great way to deal with them on planes. At the recommendation of my friend Ben I bought a pair of Etymotic 4P earbuds, and now that I can use my phone pretty much the whole flight, with just a little bit of music I can drown out almost anything.

In the show he tells a story about getting the “stink eye” from another passenger when his daughter was crying on a plane, and he talked about his limited options. He then pantomimed strangling the child and handing her limp body back to the guy. Okay, not everyone’s idea of humor, but short of that there isn’t much he could do about it, and that situational comedy appeals to me. I was watching this with my friend David and we both thought of the final episode of the show M*A*S*H during this bit.

Where he really shines is when he points out how lucky we have it and how spoiled we are as a society not to realize it. He riffed on people who are trying to “find themselves” and determine what to do with their lives by saying “Eat food”. Basically, wander around looking for food, and when you find it, eat it. While that is a vast oversimplification, if one were to deconstruct existence to its bare minimum, that would be it. So as long as you have enough to eat, consider yourself lucky.

My favorite bit was when he compared America to the world’s worst girlfriend; someone who does horrible things but justifies it every time by bringing up a past event when they were wronged. Of course he is talking about the events of 9/11, and I think we need more people talking about our reaction to that event. A lot of people died and a lot of money was lost on that day, but our actions after the fact caused considerably more death and destruction than 9/11 itself. To question it is often portrayed as being unpatriotic, but nothing is more patriotic than to question authority in a democracy.

I wanted more of that, and for me I found his Beacon Theater show more to my liking. In this one he does put a few images into your brain that you might wish to remove (I’ll never be able to watch “The Wizard of Oz” in the same way again) but there are a number of “gut laughs” as well.

Still a bargain at $5, and I eagerly await more from him.

Louis CK’s Long E-mail

I am a fan of Louis CK. He’s brilliant but still seems down to earth, and quite frequently he makes me laugh but more often he makes me think.

Today he released a new show and once again he’s made it available for $5 – no DRM and in a number of formats. I love that he’s confident enough in his fan base that he doesn’t encumber his work with DRM, and I pretty much buy everything he tells me to buy. I plan to watch it tonight.

He also sent out a rather long e-mail on why he did this show in a comedy club and not a theatre. Let’s get serious – Louis CK at the moment can sell out Madison Square Garden, so working in the much smaller space of a club must have been a change.

In the e-mail he talks about some of the clubs he played, and he even mentioned Charlie Goodnights in Raleigh. I used to spend a lot of time there, and I got to know the staff well enough that I could almost always reserve a table right next to the stage. I would ask for the one off to the left (as you are facing it) as most people are right handed and thus tend to focus a little more to their right, and there was a good chance that I would get to interact with the comedian.

I got to chat with Bobby Collins and Elayne Boozler (among others), and had a very memorable exchange with the late, great Rich Jeni. Note that I didn’t heckle or try to be a douche but with my voice and introverted nature, plus my prime location, I almost always managed to come to the attention of the person performing.

Good times.

Louis CK did this show at The Comedy Store in LA. When I lived there we used to hit the Improv a lot, but one time we decided to spring for The Comedy Store. The tickets were spendy for college students so we had to make it a special occasion. The headliner was Andrew Dice Clay.

Note that this was when Clay was thin and had hair and not too many people had heard of him. I think it was 1986 or so, might have been 1985. Anyway, we had no idea what we were getting into. Clay’s humour is rather singular, and being in a group of easily offended liberals, we didn’t know what to think.

I laughed my ass off.

There is just something about seeing comedy in a club. One Sunday night my friend Howard and I hit the Improv and for a two drink minimum we got to see a number of acts, including Jerry Seinfeld. Seinfeld just walked in, did about ten minutes, and left (this was before he was super famous). I’ll still remember the guy after him: Rick Ducommun. He killed. He started off complaining about having to follow Seinfeld and then just had us in stitches.

On nights like this each comedian gets a set amount of time, and when their time is up a little red light flashes in the back of the club that can be seen from the stage. When Ducommun stopped his act and told us he had to go, there was almost a revolt. He was that “on” that night.

After the noise died down, he laughed and said “hey, so I got the light, what can they do?” at which time the entire stage went dark. After we laughed even more, they gave him another five minutes or so.

It was pure magic.

Ducommun had his fifteen minutes, as fame can be fleeting. In the year after that show he had an HBO special (at one time the pinnacle of the comedy mountain) but then disappeared. Louis CK seems to realize that it could, and probably will, happen to him, but he continues to keep coming up with new ways to keep us engaged.

This makes me real eager to see his show, and looky, it’s done downloading.

Review: So You Think You Can Dance 2014 Tour

Okay, so, yeah, I like So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD).

I’m not sure how we got started watching it. I think that was back when I paid attention to American Idol and since it was the same producers we just kind of left it on.

Now, I am not a “dance guy” – I am as much a dance guy as I am a folk singer (can’t sing, can’t play guitar, do it anyway). In part is it due to the fact that I don’t speak its language. I live on a farm, have a pickup truck and (currently) three tractors. Not much call for dance around here.

When I was in college I took a class called “Film and the Novel”. I thought we would read a book and then see a film adaptation, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, the course taught us conventions used in film that have parallels to those in a novel, and by learning those conventions I developed a greater understanding for the more avant garde cinema.

I’ve never had that opportunity with dance. But, the people on the show have talent, low body fat, and as I once described it, the women are all hot and the men … non-threatening.

All joking aside, I found myself really enjoying the two hours I watched the show each week. Most often my reaction was “cool” but on a couple of occasions I was moved to tears. Not really sure why, but something spoke to me.

Anyway, a couple of years ago the Season 9 SYTYCD tour came to Durham and I scored third row seats. We had a great time. We missed last year’s show due in part to non-interest but I was motivated to return because of the strong group of contestants in Season 11. Every show I watch that comes out once a year proclaims “This is the best season evah!” but they kind of meant it this year. Every one of the Top 20 dancers was solid, although I didn’t see a break out star like Travis Wall or Twitch they worked well as an ensemble.

The show was at the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) and we were about 20 rows back from the stage. The tickets weren’t cheap so I was surprised that we were the only two people sitting in a line of eight seats. It really did make the experience enjoyable not sitting cheek to jowl with your neighbor. It started at 7:40pm, ran for an hour, and then there was a twenty minute intermission followed by another hour to end promptly at 10pm.

These kids work hard in this show. While the producers, judges and choreographers are presented via taped segments on a large screen behind the stage, the dancing is pretty much non-stop, with one number blending into the next. Quite frequently the dancers have to manage their own props as well, moving them off and on stage. It’s a lot of dancing and a lot of costume changes.

Speaking of hard work, this show the dancer Tanisha Belnap seemed to be in nearly every piece, especially in the first half. While not my favorite dancer of the group, she did a solid job and it became almost comical as a new number would start and there she was. I almost wonder if one of the other dancers was hurt and she was standing in to help so they could limit the stress to their body.

I also liked the music. In the television show they will display the song and artist being played but not here, so I decided to use Sound Search for Google Play on my phone. After going zero for three I switched to Shazam and it did much better. I’m not sure if it was the loudness or the occasional cheers but Shazam seemed to have a much easier time tagging the tracks, so it is my new default app for that.

While I had a great time, I did find myself obsessing over the dancers’ feet. A lot of the numbers are in bare feet, and if you have ever been on a stage you’ll remember that they ain’t the cleanest. So after a short time you could see the dirt on their feet clearly. I couldn’t help but laugh and think to myself “Welcome to the Tarheel state”.

I only saw one blatant mistake (a small fall) and the only numbers I really didn’t care for were the ones from the “Michael Jackson” night. Back when I was active on Twitter my crowning achievement was getting called an asshole by the executive producer of the show on the occasion of Michael Jackson’s death. He didn’t get the rights to perform to Jackson’s music so there was no “special” back then but they did get them this year, although the songs they used were definitely B-list.

I even think I’m beginning to understand this whole dance thing. There was one number with two pairs of dancers where the two women danced together as did the two men. They were wearing formal wear and the whole thing suggested a commentary on marriage equality. It wasn’t sexual – it just seemed to celebrate the happiness two people can feel with each other. Later, when a taped segment by Travis Wall was played, he called the piece “Equality” so I think I nailed it. Granted, it had all the subtlety of a sledgehammer but I still liked it.

Contrast this to when we went to the Sydney Opera House. Since it was my first trip to the city, I wanted to say I’d seen a performance in that building. Unfortunately, the only show we could make was a modern dance performance. All I can remember is that I liked one piece involving large ribbons, but the rest of it was lost on me. Toward the end the stage was covered in a white powder, so I started making up dialog in my head that it was a massive amount of cocaine and riffing from there.

I did love seeing my favorite dancer from this season, Valerie, as well as the one who beat her our for the prize, Ricky. Ricky is an amazing dancer and deserved to win but it would have been nice to see a tapper take the top prize.

The only other criticism I have is that while only the top 10 of the initial 20 contestants were introduced, they actually had the top 14 performers from the show. Would it have really hurt to introduce them as well? You could hear people in the audience going “wait, there are twelve up there” etc.

The final number had the whole cast (all 14) dressed up as cheerleaders dancing to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off“. Even though it was the last number, I found myself grinning. It was just plain ol’ fun, and I while I probably get more than my fair share I can always use more.