Monday, October 13, 2014

Whiplash

Hey! Hope all is well, wherever you are. Simon's in Texas for a week, which is a bummer for both of us. But the best news of the past week is about him. Yesterday was his Improv 101 class graduation show!


He's been taking the class on Sunday afternoons since August, and his class had their graduation show on Sunday morning. Since it is a large class, they were split into two teams to do the show. The team calling themselves "Astigmatism" went on first. 


About twenty minutes later, Simon's team "Party at Reagan's House" followed. 


Because it's an intro class, most of their scenes are just two people. 


Though you could probably tell it was a class show, due to a bit of hesitation between scenes, the shows were both funny & Simon was (as I expected) a highlight. 


Though he said afterward that his nerves hit him onstage, I could not tell at all from the audience. 


I am so happy that he decided to take this class - he has enjoyed it, and is already planning to take 201 next year. 


The last couple of weeks have been eventful. Last Friday morning, we drove up to San Francisco. We wanted to visit April & Tony, and then go to a Conor Oberst concert at The Fillmore on Saturday night. We had no troubles getting away from Los Angeles, and didn't hit any traffic, so we arrived in SF around 3:30pm. 


We were supposed to meet April at her office for a tour around 5pm, so we decided to stop and get a beer around the corner at The Beer Hall to kill some time.


They had the newest Game of Thrones beer, Vahlar Morghulis, on tap, so we each had one of those. We tried it back in July at Comic Con and absolutely loved it, so I am glad it is now available for purchase. Definitely try it out if you see it on tap near you!

After our beers, we walked over to April's workplace and met up with her for a tour. Her workplace is different from any other working environment I have ever seen. It's an open floor plan with few walls, they serve employee meals, and they have beer on tap. So basically, you never have to leave work. Not sure if that is good or bad, but April absolutely loves it. After our tour, we headed back to April & Tony's apartment to catch up and relax for a bit. Once Tony was available, we walked around the neighborhood looking for a place to get dinner. 


It took a bit of work, but we eventually found a Mexican food place that had a short wait, and we all had tacos. Then we headed back to the apartment. 


Climbing the hill back to their apartment always makes me feel terrible, but I think I seriously almost died this time. It is a very steep hill. 

The next day, we walked to get some breakfast


and then walked down to the wharf to check out the Musée Mécanique, a free museum filled with old, working video games. 


They had stuff from the 20's and 30's alongside Tekken 3 and air hockey. 


We got five dollars worth of quarters and went crazy. 


After we had our fill of games, we walked down the Embarcadero to Pier 23, a bar with a beer garden along the water. 


We had a few beers, trying our best to stay out of the unusually hot San Francisco sun. After a couple hours, we got an Uber back to Tony & April's apartment to pick up our stuff and head over to Hotel Tomo in Japantown. Since we were going to a concert late that night and had to leave early the next morning, we decided to stay at a hotel near the venue. 


It was a really cute anime-themed hotel, with a nice view and comfortable bed. We'd definitely stay there again. 


After we checked in and dropped off our stuff, we all walked a few blocks to Fat Angel, an intriguing gastropub that April found on Yelp.


We didn't know it walking in, but it was the perfect place for the four of us to spend a few hours hanging out, drinking beer and eating food. They had a delicious cheese plate, 


and an eclectic draft and bottled beer list.


We only get to see April and Tony a few times a year, max, so it's always awesome to have a chance to catch up. The four of us had a lovely evening, and a few hours later, we said our goodbyes and parted ways. April and Tony headed home, while Simon and I went back to the hotel for a couple hours before the show. Since the headliner wasn't going on until 11pm and we are old, we decided to rest up beforehand.

Around 10pm, we walked a few blocks to the unassuming entrance of The Fillmore. You would not know it was there without the ticket takers hanging outside the front door. Once we were in, we walked up a set of stairs that opened to the back of the venue, and we caught the end of the second opening act. Finally, around quarter after 11, Conor Oberst and his band took the stage. 


Since he is my favorite artist, we have seen him a bunch of times over the years, and this was the first of three concerts we'd see of his in four days. Though we had some crowd issues, and it wasn't over until the early hours of Sunday, it was a good show. I am also really happy we got a chance to check out a historic San Francisco music institution.

We only got to grab a few hours of sleep before waking up early to hit the road back to LA. Simon had his last improv class that afternoon, so we had to be back by 3pm. We made it with over an hour to spare, and he went to class while I relaxed on the couch for a bit. Then, I went to pick him up from class to head to our second Conor show, a John Prine/Conor Oberst double-billed concert at the Greek Theater. 


Conor went on after 11pm in San Francisco, but his start time at the Greek was 7pm, as he was co-headling the date with John Prine. So he started right on time and played for an hour and a half. Most were songs we'd heard the night before, but he played some different ones as well. 


John Prine was next up, and though we didn't know many of his songs, he was a good match for Conor's style. 

Monday night, we walked over to LACMA to see a movie I've been hearing about since January called Whiplash. It opened at the Sundance Film Festival and people absolutely loved it, so I was very excited to finally get the chance to see it. 


All I can say is... wow. It was amazing. Simon and I were both floored by how good it was. I'm not going to get into detail about the plot, because I think you are better off going in with limited knowledge, but it's about a young jazz drummer and his teacher.

There was a Q&A afterward with most of the cast, including Miles Teller & J.K. Simmons, as well as the young writer/director Damien Chazelle. I am confident we heard some future award winners talking about their parts in this film that night.


It won't be in wide release for a few weeks at the earliest, but if you love music or movies, I insist that you find a theater to see this film. It was so very good. I  am honestly thinking about seeing it again.

Tuesday night, I met Simon downtown to get some dinner at Yard House in LA Live.


After dinner, we walked to the Grammy Museum for a third and final Conor Oberst show. I had my reasons for getting tickets to each show. For this one, it's because the Grammy museum has a tiny, 200 seat venue where artists give performances that the museum tapes and keeps in its archives. I knew I'd never be able to see him in a similarly sized venue again, and tickets were only $20, so I jumped on them. Definitely worth it.


As with many excellent things in LA, photography was forbidden, but I snapped this before the show.


The theater was very cozy, and we were in the fourth row from the front. For the next thirty to forty minutes, Conor was interviewed by a guy from the museum, and then the band played a ten song set after the interview. Despite his extensive back catalogue, most of the material was from his newest album. Though he did play our wedding song, which was really nice! I'm really excited that I found out about this venue, and not just because it was so intimate for one of my favorite artists. Other bands play there all the time, and now I know to look out for other bands that we like playing the small space. 

After a few very full days in a row, we spent Wednesday and Thursday night at home. Friday, we went to a new-to-us movie theater, the Sundance Sunset, to see The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her/Him. The films, starring Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy, are stories about a failing marriage where one movie is told from the perspective of her character, and the other is from the perspective of his. A combined version was released last month, but I was interested in seeing the originals, and we live in the perfect city for limited release things like that. And since Jessica Chastain and her co-star Jess Weixler were doing a Q&A after the Friday showing, we decided to go to that one.


The movies were interesting, if not groundbreaking, and the Q&A was great. You can usually tell when an actor is doing promo for something because they are forced to versus when they are excited to, and Chastain was obviously genuinely eager to talk about the movie, which she also produced. She spent a lot of time talking about how important it is to have better roles for women in films, and she is in a position to make that happen, which is excellent.

Saturday, Simon did some schoolwork and later than evening, we went to ASSSSCAT. Kumail Nanjiani, a comedian/actor who Simon & I both like, was the guest monologist.


The cast of improvisers was solid, and the show was ridiculously funny. 


Which brings us to yesterday. We had Simon's improv show in the morning, and then my favorite UCB show Hot Sauce later that night on the very same stage. 


And if you think improv is a big part of our lives now... UCB is about to open a new location just a couple miles away from the current one. They'll be keeping the original location open, so there will be approximately double the amount of shows there are now. Which will be crazy. We are anxiously awaiting the schedule for the new venue!

That's all for now, folks. I have some things planned for the next week while Simon is in Texas, and then a couple days after he gets back, I am coming home for a bit! I am also trying to plan a combined NYC/Reading Christmastime trip... we'll see how that goes. Love you guys, and I will see you soon! 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Devil's Haircut

So it's October already. Wow. I realize that noting the fast passage of time is not a novel concept, but I find it hard to believe how fast this year is going. We've got a lot to fit in the rest of the year, too. In October alone, we are driving up to San Francisco, Simon has to travel for work, I am visiting home for a few days, and we are heading to Texas for a wedding. 

Back in the good old days of September, we went to see Beck play a show at the Orpheum Theater in downtown LA. I've been a Beck fan since I was ten or eleven, well over half of my life thus far, and had never seen him play live. So I was very psyched for this concert.


The Orpheum is a beautiful, old theater that has been renovated since its heyday. It is used to host theater, movie screenings, and concerts, but this was our first visit to the theater. It took us a while to find street parking, but getting into the theater and finding our seats took no time at all. However, our balcony seating was beyond cramped. The seats themselves are actually fairly wide, but there is zero leg room - my knees were touching the back of the seat in front of me, and I am 5'4". Simon had to keep his legs bowed, and I do not know what taller people did with their pesky limbs. If we ever come to this venue again, I am getting seats in the mezzanine or better. 


The show began 45 minutes after the advertised start time, but it was absolutely worth the wait. Beck and his large backing band played a bunch of songs off of his newest record, Morning Phase. Then, starting with "Devil's Haircut" and ending with "Where It's At", they shifted over to playing nearly every popular Beck song from the past 20 years. 


Beck is well into his 40's, but he sounded and moved like a younger man. I knew almost every song they played, while Simon knew a good chunk. We both enjoyed the show more than we were expecting to, as we heard nearly every song we wanted to hear and he sounded great. If you are a fan, I would highly recommend seeing his live show. 

A couple nights later, we went to see Toledo Rep at UCB. A big group of experienced improvisers came onstage as Toledo Rep, a traveling repertory theater group, and performed a couple of improvised plays. 


After grabbing dinner at Sushi Stop next door, we returned to the theater to see Erin & MeLissa for the second time. If you are my sisters, or anyone else who like musical/comedy stuff, you should listen to them. They are super funny, and just released an album in August.


A couple nights later, we were back at UCB for Playhouse Masterpieces with Neil Campbell and Paul Rust, guest starring Mary Holland and Joe Wengert


The concept behind this show is performing "adaptations" (aka semi-improvised versions) of existing plays. They had a set, props, and (onstage) costume changes, but the dialogue was improvised. We both really liked this show, and will probably be back for future editions.

On Friday night, we got dinner at Village Pizzeria, and tried a new ice cream place in Larchmont Village called Salt & Straw. They are based in Portland, Oregon, but just opened an LA branch last month.



They had a wide variety of flavors, and the ones we chose were excellent. I'd return to this place anytime. 


Afterward, since we didn't have anything else planned, we went to UCB to get in the standby line for Bangarang. We got in with no problems, but since we were sitting in the front row on stage, I did not take any pictures. 

Saturday night, we went to Largo for comedian Paul F. Tompkins' monthly variety show, Varietopia


PFT, Andy RichterCameron Esposito and musical guests Honey Honey were all good, though Simon was not a huge fan of the country-leaning music. 

On Sunday night, we decided to head over to The Grove to catch a movie. 


This is Where I Leave You had an excellent cast, including one of my favorite comedians, so I was interested in seeing the movie. I had read the book, and it was not my favorite, but I did think it would make for a better film than book.


The movie was actually better than I expected it to be. Neither of us were bowled over by it - you can certainly wait for the DVD - but it was enjoyable.

This week, Simon has been busy with work stuff, so we haven't gotten out at all. But tonight, we are going to the movies, and tomorrow we are headed up to San Francisco for most of the weekend. I'll report back on all of that in a bit. Have a good weekend, everybody! 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

And We're A Million Miles Away

Afternoon!


Simon's at improv class, so it's a good time for me to update. It has finally cooled off enough to open all the windows, which is a pleasant change from last week's stifling heat. Last Sunday, it was so hot that a plastic cup from breakfast sitting in my car's cupholder looked like this


just a few hours later. That night, we went to Hot Sauce at UCB,


which was excellent as usual. Also a tad warm, since UCB is not the best ventilated theater in the world.

Monday was uneventful, but on Tuesday, we drove back to Westwood to see another play at Geffen Playhouse.


Though we did not enjoy the last play we saw there, I had read really good things about the NYC production of Choir Boy, the 2014/2015 season opening play. Once the Geffen offered up half-priced tickets for preview week, we decided to chance it and check out the show.


We both ended up loving this play. The script was incredibly well-written, the subject matter current & relevant, and the actors were engaging and convincing. Although it was a play, there was singing throughout, and the melodies were gorgeous. I'd very highly recommend this play if it ever makes its way close to you. 

Wednesday evening, we headed to Hollywood Forever Cemetery.


We've seen concerts on the lawn there in the past, but this time, we were there to see a show in the cemetary's Masonic Lodge. Karen O, the dynamic lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, released an album called Crush Songs and set up a handful of very small concerts to tour the album. I was lucky enough to snap up tickets to one of the LA dates a few weeks ago, so the two of us and about 200 other people showed up to see her play the tiny venue on Wednesday night.

We weren't allowed to take pictures, so I am using some from the internet to illustrate our evening. This is what the venue looks like inside, but there were a lot more chairs for our show.


We sat on the upholstered bench running along the left wall of the venue, just over halfway back, and had a perfect view of the stage. Here's the one photo I managed to snap before I realized the security guards were on a singular (and incredibly ineffective) mission to stop photos from being taken even before the show started.


I don't think that there's a bad seat in the house. In true LA fashion, the show both let in & started late, but there was no opener. Karen O, accompanied by a couple of musicians, swept up the right aisle to the stage & began playing songs from her new album.

Though we didn't know most of the songs, as they are fairly new, she sounded (and looked) amazing.


She played through all of her new material, and then encored with "Moon Song" off of the Her soundtrack, which I was psyched about.


Here's a review of the show, if you are interested. All of her solo stuff is a lot different from the YYY's, much more mellow, so the small venue was really a perfect way to see the album performed. I am so glad that went! Simon likes the YYY's but wasn't as jazzed about this material; however, he agreed that she sounded great. I really appreciate that he's willing to try new things when it comes to music, theater and film.

We spent Thursday night in,


but decided to go catch Soundtrack/Your F'ed up Family at UCB on Friday night. This is a weekly pairing of shows that we've been to a couple times before and enjoyed, and this time was no exception.


Saturday, we made breakfast, bummed around the apartment, and then went to read at the park for a few hours.


It was a gorgeous day for outdoor reading. Right now, I'm working on Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I will need to work a smidgen faster to reach my goal of 52 books for the year, since this is only #21.

Last night, we had to make a decision regarding our evening plans. I had bought tickets for the Extreme Gaming Championship at UCB weeks ago, but then last week I won a pair of tickets to a live read put on by The Black List, a website that rates scripts that have not yet been turned into films. Simon and I talked it over a bit, and decided to check out the live read, since we went to EGC last month.

We arrived early at the Montalban Theatre to find an enormous line. Knowing that the theater isn't that big, I worried that we wouldn't get in, but my fears were totally unfounded. We sat down at the end of  the third row about twenty minutes later, with a program in hand for The Seekers of Perpetual Love.


Like the live reads we have been to at LACMA, several established actors sat onstage and read their parts from a script. Unlike the live reads at LACMA, the script does not have a movie attached to it yet. So we hoped that they'd picked a script that would be easy to follow, since few people in the audience would be familiar with the story or characters. 



Thankfully, The Black List chose their script wisely. The show started a little late, but they got right into the read, and it was funny and very easy to follow. The parts were all well-cast, and the narrative flowed smoothly. The theater itself was a great size and layout for the live read, with a shallow, wide footprint and a balcony, making everyone fairly close to the stage. They let you bring drinks into the theater, and no one cared if you took pictures. For all of those reasons, it was actually a huge improvement over LACMA for the live read experience.

Afterward, we bought a signed poster to add to our growing collection


and grabbed a late dinner at The Melt down the street. Since it was such a good experience, I have no doubt we'll be returning in the future for another Black List read.

Once Simon gets back from class, we'll be eating dinner & going downtown for a concert. Hope you all had an excellent weekend - I have no complaints about ours. Talk to you soon!