Monday, January 25, 2010

Why I love Los Angeles...

I love Los Angeles because every so often, you have an experience that you couldn't get anywhere else that will last you a lifetime.

There I was Friday night, minding my own business, browsing through my google reader. When suddenly this headline on LAist caught my eye: "Radiohead to Play Los Angeles to Raise Money for Haiti"

Um, come again?

Apparently, Radiohead is in town recording their next album and decided to stage an impromptu benefit concert to raise money for Haiti. From their website:

Radiohead for Haiti
We're doing a show this Sunday (24th January) to raise funds for the relief effort in Haiti. The venue is The Music Box Theatre at The Fonda in Los Angeles, doors at 7pm. All proceeds are going to the Oxfam Haiti relief fund. We're trying to raise as much money as possible, so tickets will be sold by auction at this site from 8pm tonight until 11am Saturday (PST):

We're in the middle of recording at the moment, so you'll be catching us on the fly.... but if you're up for it, then we are too.

See you then

This is when my heart starts beating really fast. The Music Box is one of those small old Hollywood theaters - seating a max of 1,500 people. The last time I saw them at the Hollywood Bowl, I was one of 18,000. If I were to get the tickets, this could literally be a once in a lifetime performance. The fact that all the proceeds were going to aid the people of Haiti was the perfect excuse for me to spend the money. I hadn't made a donation to Haiti and was planning on making one, just not quite as large as what was required here. lol I checked with Mr. Insom - "Can we get these?" "Sure." Awesome. After a nail-biting Saturday morning spent frantically clicking refresh on the Ticketmaster website to make sure the prices hadn't spiraled further upward, I had them. Two tickets to possibly the best rock concert of my life.

Doors opened at 4pm (I misread the email and thought it was 5pm - doh!) - I got there at 2:50pm and was one of the first 100 people in line. I had come prepared. In my possession were the following items: a hand cranked flashlight, two sweatshirts, binoculars, a huge bottle of water, dim sum leftovers, headphones, not one but two books, and a fully charged iphone. The pièce de résistance was a large cushy pillow (actually one of doggy insomniac's beds lol) that allowed me to sit on the concrete for hours without my ass getting numb. I set up camp and took a deep breath... the sun was shining and pleasantly warm, folks around me were in good spirits, I had plenty of stuff to occupy myself - I was content.

At 4pm, everyone in the line inched forward to pick up their tickets from the box office. I was under the impression that the concert seating was straight general admission and knew that there were two sections: the main floor pit which was standing only and the balcony which had seats. I had gotten to the line early so that I could run to the balcony. I'm short and the prospect of staring at some giant muscle man's back for 2 hours wasn't very appealing. I wanted to be up high so I could see everything and get clear sound.

I got my ticket stub and was blinged out in a colorful assortment of wristbands.

It actually turned out that when you bought your tickets, you were automatically assigned to one of the two sections. Fortunately, my yellow wristband meant I was designated for the balcony and I was happy, but some people were looking to switch.

And still others were just looking for any ticket at all.

Photo by Chris Victorio, OC Weekly

This approach is a tad more dignified than this guy offering to give a ticket holder a little action from one of his porn starlets.

After we picked up the tickets and got bedazzled with wristbands, back in line we went. Once the sun went down, it started to get really cold. I wish I had Mr. Insom around for warmth, but he was in a bar next door watching the football game.

He spent the last 10 minutes of the game in line with me constantly hitting refresh on his ESPN app and complaining bitterly it being a tied game. Whatever dude. lol

When the doors finally opened at 7pm I went straight up the balcony and got a great seat... Second row, right side, one away from the center aisle. Perfection.

I could have been in this mass of people, but instead I had plenty of room and a great sight line.

Photo by Chris Victorio, OC Weekly

At around 8:30pm, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood walk on the stage with acoustic guitars and without any sort of preamble, begin plucking the first strands of "Faust Arp" off the recent In Rainbows.

For the second song, "Fake Plastic Trees", Thom takes the stage front and center and strums the familiar riff. His vocals are so earnest, so I don't know if it's the 4 hours of sleep I had the night before, the fact that I've been at the Music Box for six hours waiting for this moment, the copious amounts of pot smoke swirling around, the alcohol I've drunk, or the awesomeness of the song, but tears are just running down my face. I can't believe I'm here, I can't believe I'm watching this, I can't believe how good it sounds. I literally get chills when the electric guitars and distortion blaze in halfway through.

With the exception of the band instruments the stage was bare, as was in keeping with the nature of event. No splashy backdrop, and the band used the standard light rig. The stripped down set allowed the music to take center stage and the small venue was an intimate setting. At times, an electric hush would fall over the crowd as we all stood transfixed by the music.

The band was loose and comfortable - Thom invited the audience to sing along in case he forgot the words and when they had a false start on a song, he quipped that "it's for charity". Later on, a woman yelled, "I love you!" to which he responded in a decidedly British fashion, "I love you too, dear."

Photo by Chris Victorio, OC Weekly

Check out a slide show from someone who's allowed to take a DSLR camera inside at OC Weekly
Here's another slide show of 43 images that has some great shots.

There was little mention of Haiti, actually. Oxfam International had a booth in the lobby of the theater, but no mention was made by Radiohead themselves. The representatives at the booth mentioned that all of the money would go to “Water and sanitation. That’s what’s needed most.”

I could see some other musicians doing a long spiel about the devastation, how important it is to get involved, why they decided to do a performance, etc., but Thom only offered a heartfelt Thank You after a few songs at the beginning of the show. When O'Brien handed Thom a paper with the totals from the night which were $572,754, with a guy named Peter spending the most money for his pair of tickets - $2,000 each, he dropped an F-bomb. (i.e., he said an astonished "Fuck me!", 10 years - lol)

One of my fellow line buddies mentioned that he was stunned that the ticket prices reached the amount that they did. Uh really, Thom? Do you have any idea what your ticket prices go for on the scalp market? lol

All in all, my concert experience was amazing. Although you'll hear a lot of people singing along in the youtube videos, thankfully, I hardly heard anything from the front of the balcony. And during some of the quiet songs, like "Exit Music for Film", the crowd would ssssh! the woooooo! people. Gotta love a concert that employs collective shushing.

Photo by Chris Victorio, OC Weekly

This is what my crappy iphone pictures looked like at the Hollywood Bowl:

This is what my crappy iphone pictures looked like last night. Still crappy, but at least you can make out actual human figures.

I am so glad I wasn't among the throng of people on the floor. I just knew that I would have been smashed against the back of some behemoth. Look at them packed in down there. Yikes.

Apparently there were plenty of celebs in attendance (Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, Flea, Sookie and the Vampire, Drew Barrymore, Daniel Craig, Aziz Ansari) but I didn't see anyone. They might have been in a VIP box in the back of the balcony, but it looks like ol' Charlize is with the people - I see her everywhere!

Photo by Chris Victorio, OC Weekly

There were at least three rows in the center balcony set aside for special people that apparently didn't have to wait 5 hours in line like us plebeians.

For a group that was in middle of studio recording, they exercised a flawless, high energy concert that went far back in their catalog. At one point sitting in front of the piano, Yorke remarked that playing these songs was a like "memory exercise". lol Jonny was furiously thrashing his guitar and Colin was leaping in the air.

The rhythm section was so finely tuned. Drummer Phil Selway and Colin Greenwood (bass) stayed in constant communication throughout the show and provided the perfect backbone for the richly layered sound on "Weird Fishes".

Try to ignore the non-Thom singing.

Loved Thom's performance on "Nude". His movements really captured the ethereal nature of the song.

Again, try to ignore the singing from the videographer. I know it's hard. Ugh.

Thom sat down at an upright piano for the first set of encores, and began with a solo of Everything in its Right Place. Hauntingly beautiful

When he was finished, a fan yelled "Thank you!" to which Thom replied, "Thank you for spending ludicrous amounts of money."

Youtube video of the only new song that they performed: "Lotus Flower"

Much to the dismay of Mr. Insom ("What? No 'Creep'?") the concert ended with "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" off The Bends. I admit that I thought it was an odd choice to close out a concert, but I liked how the last line song ("Immerse your soul in love") sums up the entire purpose of the evening.

I'm still glowing. Not even walking into my office at work this morning to find it overrun with ants has put a damper on my smile. I had the best 2 hours of my life yesterday. :)

Set list:

01 Faust Arp
02 Fake Plastic Trees
03 Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
04 The National Anthem
05 Nude
06 Karma Police
07 Kid A
08 Morning Bell
09 How To Disappear Completely
10 A Wolf at the Door
11 The Bends
12 Reckoner
13 Lucky
14 Bodysnatchers
15 Dollars & Cents
16 Airbag - Yorke asked the crowd Just or Airbag? They went with Airbag
17 Exit Music

Encore #1

18 Everything In Its Right Place (Thom)
19 You And Whose Army?
20 Pyramid Song
21 All I Need

Encore #2:

22 Lotus Flower (Thom)
23 Paranoid Android
24 Street Spirit (fade out)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Caring con Christmas Community Cervice

One of my ongoing community service activities here in Los Angeles is Reading to Kids. It has a pretty low time committment. Each month on a Saturday, Reading to Kids sponsors reading clubs at elementary schools in downtown Los Angeles. They select and bring the books and arts and craft supplies. Volunteers read the books to the kids and help them do a thematic arts and crafts. Last month we read a book about what animals do when it's winter and our craft project was making a snowman. Easy peasy. I like it because I get to hang out with kids for a few hours, and then go home without them. It's a win-win.

Anyway, at the last Reading to Kids session, the group leaders made an annoucement about another community service opportunity - Operation Santa, sponsored by the Pasadena Jaycees. Teams of three people - an elf, a Mrs. Claus, and a Santa travel to Pasadena-area homes on Christmas Eve and hand out toys. I thought it sounded like fun, so I signed up with some of my other Reading to Kids buddies.

The first task on December 23 was to sort the bags and boxes of donated toys. People would bring various barrels full of unwrapped toys and dump them in a large heap in the center of the hall. We little helper elves would grab said toys and put them on various tables according to their category.

There was a table for cars and assorted vehicles and a table of "non-car boy toys aged 7-11" for kids that wanted things that go zoom or boom.

Another stack consisted of board games, educational toys, and books. I kept my eyes on the Candylands. Those might come in handy in the future.

There was a table for the few Barbies and all her many illegitmate sisters like Bonnie, the Snow Queen, and Connie. Hopefully, they don't look at the packaging too closely. Another table for baby type dolls rounded out the more "girly" toys.

Other categories were arts and crafts, toys for infants, inflatable balls of all types, and toys for teens (which basically consisted of DVDs, keyboards, cell phone charms). By the time we were done sorting all the toys, we had huge towering piles.

One young volunteer (at my urging - heh) buried herself in a mountain of stuffed animals.

There were some pretty good toys - someone showed me an Edward action figure - hopefully one of the Twihard volunteers didn't pocket it. There were a bunch of Build a Bears in their cute little boxes.

Step number 2 was to begin assigning toys to specific routes. We got a random route that had a number (mine was 41) and we had to gather a certain number of boy toys aged 7-11, a certain number of infant toys, a certain number of girl toys, etc. I suppose this intermediate step was to prevent volunteers from going wild trying to grab the real Barbies for their specific route. That didn't stop me from trying to grab as many Barbies as I could for route 41, even if I knew my actual route would be different. I am a competitive toy snatching witch.

The resulting bags by age/sex were stuck on chairs to await step 3.

Step 3 is where things got really fun. Volunteers were assigned routes consisting of 18-23 houses and handwritten kid letters addressed to Santa. We were to read the letters and create a bag of toys for each house by selecting from the bagged route toys created in Step 2.

Since I had participated in the previous steps, I knew where all the good toys were and I was kicking ass and taking names as we gathered toys for our respective families.

One kid wanted something Dora related. I pulled out a Dora the Explorer card game.

Another kid wanted a bracelet. I dug in the bag and found a sparkly necklace.

One girl was into scrapbooking. I found her a stamp set.

One boy wanted a remote controlled car. Hmm. We didn't have anything available with batteries. I just gave him a regular car. Oh well - can't win them all.

A girl said she was interested in dinosaurs. I traded a stuffed pig for a stuffed lizard from nearby volunteers and grabbed a dinosaur book off a table when no one was looking.

One teenager wanted a video of High School Musical. Dang. Nothing HSM related in the whole place. But then I remembered the Step Up 2 DVDs I had squirreled away for route 41 in the morning.

My assigned route was 40, right next to the toys that I bagged for 41. The people from 41 never showed, so I decided to do some "exchanges" when the need arose. I got a Step Up 2: The Streets DVD and left a Thomas the Train DVD in its place. Remember, I am a competitive toy snatching witch.

I proceeded to exchange liberally from route 41 for the rest of the day. Soccer balls for four square balls, arts and craft sets for rubix cubes, baby dolls for Barbies.

The boys were pretty easy - they typically wanted some sort of sports item. Pretty much each bag we packed had some sort of football, basketball, or soccer ball in it.

We bagged each bag for each house and labeled them with the address, the order number, and attached the kid's letter.

I volunteered with a good friend, but we couldn't come up with a Santa, so we had to get one that was assigned to us. Here he is.

Next time I want my own Santa. It's hard spending 8 hours with someone that you just met.

When we were finished sorting and bagging toys, we brought them to my Honda Accord. It was going to be a tight fit, but we managed. I sequentially organized the toys (houses 1-8 were in the back seat, houses 9-21 were in the truck) so we would be ready to go for the big night.

After we had packed the toys and did a trial drive of the route, I gave thought to my Helper Elf costume. We were instructed to wear street clothes, as they didn't have costumes for us. We'll see about that.

I made a stop at Mood with the intentions of making some sort of scarf or something. First things first, I have a sewing machine. I don't have a needle or thread. I don't know how to sew. If something needs sewing in our house, Mr. Insom busts open a suture kit and some clamps and uses a curved needle and synthetic thread to do the necessary repairs.

This important fact, however, didn't stop me. When I arrived at Mood, the choices were dizzingly numerous and varied.

I talked with a salesperson that conviced me that I could make my own elf costume out of felt and a household stapler. I was to take a shirt and use it as a pattern and draw a chalk outline, then I was to staple the two corresponding pieces together and turn it inside out. Voila - an elf costume!

It didn't go quite as smoothly. Another case of insomniac woefully overestimating her abilities. The resulting product was too embarassing to even document. I threw the "garment" on the floor and doggy Insomniac proceeded to use it as a dog bed.

Time for Plan B -> Buy elf outfit.

As the evening fell upon Christmas Eve, all the volunteers gathered together to go over last minute plans. The Mrs. Clauses listened intently to how Santa was the star of the show and their role was to make sure he didn't spend to long at each house - "we got to check on the reindeer, Santa!"

The Santas practiced their Ho ho hos.

One final group photo before we headed out...

It was a good time.

All the kids were so happy to see us - there were a lot of "Santa!" shrieks - and parents were very appreciative as well. We took lots of photos with family members and handed out mini candy canes. We brought along extra toys as well, so when we met other children along the way, we'd hand them a present of their own. One little boy wearing too little clothing for the chilliness of the night saw us as we were heading to another house and he shyly smiled and said "Hi, Santa". Since I was the Helper Elf, I carried a crapload of the extra toys in a sack on my back and I asked him, "what's your favorite sport?" and when he replied basketball, I pulled out a basketball out of my sack and handed it to him. His eyes opened wide in surprise and said, "thanks, Santa!"

I got to see the teen girl that I stole, er, "exchanged" the Step Up 2 video for and she exclaimed, "I love this movie!"

We finished at around 8:45pm and headed back to the hall to return extra toys. I grabbed some cookies and began the trek home where I would perform a reprise of my Helper Elf act later that evening with Operation Cardboard Christmas.

A great way to spend the holiday. :)