24 September 2019

Jane Eyre-scondido!

So anyone who knows Charlene knows how much she loves Jane Eyre.  It's her favorite book, and she has channeled that passion over the years into the creation of numerous fan websites, including her latest venture, The Eyre Guide.  She's also made it a point to introduce me to the classic novel, as she bought me a personal copy of the book during a trip to the Bronte Parsonage just after we met.  Like a good boyfriend, I quickly read through all 400+ pages so that we could discuss it at length, and we followed that up by watching each of the movie adaptations.  I would even go on to incorporate Jane Eyre into my wedding proposal, as I used the exact same words that Mr. Rochester stated when he professed his love for his would-be bride.  It goes without saying, the HoneyNerds are connected to this book.

As luck would have it, Charlene became aware of a live stage production of Jane Eyre being performed in Escondido, a sleepy little town just north of San Diego.  We'd had some experience visiting Escondido - Charlene's father owns a time-share just outside the town - so we knew the two-hour drive would be bearable for a mid-week visit to see this unique production.  But how was it unique?  Well, we'd be seeing the classic work staged in a very intimate tea room, complete with table-side service of food and drinks.

I have yet to enjoy the experience of "dinner theater", though I'm not sure this particular show fit that mold, but either way it would be a fun night out.  My sincere thanks go to the Grand Tea Room and the 413 Project for staging this production in a very clever way, using the cozy confines to connect with the audience.  Wifi-enabled lighting helped to change the setting from indoors to outdoors as the story demanded, while also providing great ambience.  The cast was solid, most notably Hunter Thiers as the titular heroine and Kelly Saunders as her rival Blanche Ingram - the chemistry between Thiers and Robin Thompson's Mr. Rochester was also simmering with just the right amount of romantic trepidation and smoldering intensity.  The whole production should be proud of their work!

Oh, but did I mention the food?  Yes, we were greeted with a full plate of salad and sandwiches after taking our seats, along with a delicious pot of Creme Brulee tea for our pleasure.  When the intermission arrived, our drinks were refilled and we were given a selection of desserts that included a macaron and a cookie shaped like Charlotte Bronte herself.  Far be it for me to pass up the perfect photo opportunity of taking a bite out of the beloved literary legend - though Charlene seemed none too pleased by my delight...

It's always nice to share in Charlene's greatest passion, and this night was perfect - it was a wonderful evening that I'll always remember!  BRONTE 4 LIFE!

Postscript: Charlene is talking about her experience at the show on her blog - The Eyre Guide.  Check out her thoughts here!

17 September 2019

Rachel Bloom's Largo Residency

One half of the Honeynerds is a huge Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fan, and I was so excited when I found out that Rachel Bloom would be doing a monthly show at the Largo in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future.  I've gone to the first two shows now and it's been a blast!

The Largo is an interesting theater in L.A.  It's intimate, with its own bar within the courtyard area, and a legacy of showcasing a variety of quirky shows - both comic and musical. And I was excited to see what Rachel would do with her show, as it seems a catch-all type thing for her to talk about absolutely anything.  After all, her show has the questionably informative "Hi I'm Rachel and This is My Show" as the title.  With the loose description, I thought I would see something pretty un-structured, but I'm happy to say there seems to have been a lot of thought and effort put into each show so far.

The First Show

The inaugural show was devoted to a glimpse into the creative side of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.  After a solo welcome and mini monologue, Rachel introduced the people who helped her create the show and craft the songs - Aline Brosh McKenna, Adam Schlesinger, and Jack Dolgen.  They talked about the theme songs they had written for Crazy-Ex and in a truly delightful turn of events, Rachel decided to rehash the agonies they went through while trying to find the Season 4 theme song.  There seems to have been real tensions and issues that came from that session, and Rachel had printed out copies of emails to give to her guests to remind them of what had occurred (not necessarily to read to the audience).  They also played some of the failed attempts at the theme, and there were a few that I really loved and would have enjoyed as the theme song.  The whole night seemed about the trials and tribulations of the creative process and it made for an interesting hour and a half.

Afterwards, my friend and I were lucky enough to get a quick picture with Rachel, who stopped to say hi to the group of people waiting to see her, and we told Rachel we already bought tickets to her next show in August - which was called "Theater Kid Redemption Night."  And Rachel seemed excited about what she had planned for it, and it lived up to her enthusiasm.

Unfortunately the lighting was pretty harsh!

The Second Show

This night, Rachel gathered a group of her friends to talk about their horror stories growing up as a theater kid, and finding ways to redeem those terrible experiences.  The show began with a video of teenage Rachel Bloom in a production of "Oliver!" as Nancy - with a revealing décolletage, a red wig, and an iffy English accent.  And halfway through the number, actual Rachel Bloom came out - showing off some cleavage, wearing a red wig and singing in an overemphasized English accent.  It was hilarious!  And it was not the first time that night, that someone would perform to a video of their younger selves doing a song.  Which is such a strange, existential thing.  It was fascinating to watch though.  

There were so many guests on this show, that I'm afraid I can't name them all, but these are the ones I remember - Danny Jolles, Scott Michael Foster, Vincent Rodriguez III, David Hull, Kat Burns, Erick Lopez, Rebekka Johnson, Kimmy Gatewood, John Milhiser,  Ilana Peña, Dan Gregor, and several people Rachel went to school with, which was such an interesting and fantastic idea.  Especially since they went (comedically) into some issues they had at school.  In one song Rachel sang about how she was president of the Drama Club even though she wasn't very qualified, and she performed the song with the guy who also ran for that position and would have been much better at it.  Towards the end of the night, she came out with her fellow Doo-Wop girls and they glared/sang over the actual girl who got the role of Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors which they had all auditioned for.

The show was all about theater and high school drama, with plenty of singing and dancing.  And it was wonderful.  I even got to participate (somewhat) when Erick Lopez asked if I would be the "judge" for his performance and I was able to give him a better score than what he received in high school.  

This night, the show felt much more of a variety show with all the stories, and different kinds of performances and I absolutely loved it.  I was hoping Rachel would announce the theme of her next show but she wasn't able to, so I'm not sure what is in store, but I highly recommend checking it out if you are in the area and are a fan of musicals, comedy, and Rachel Bloom!

10 September 2019

West Adams Block Party featuring...Big Daddy Kane!

We had no major plans over Labor Day weekend, so we stopped by this block party in our neighborhood, as it seemed like the perfect opportunity to hang out for a couple of hours with some good food and good music.  In fact, there was a particular reason that Mike wanted to attend, so Charlene went along for the ride...

I will go to street fairs from time to time, mostly if there is a special performing act I want to see or if I just want to spend time with family, but I'm not necessarily a huge fan.  It's usually the same sights, the same entertainment, and the same food.  I usually prefer walking around a mall to looking at booths and waiting for food truck grub, but this was a unique event that caught our attention and we arrived in the early evening.

The West Adams Block Party was presented by Delicious Vinyl, a landmark record label whose founders went on to open a "hip hop pizza shop" known as Delicious Pizza.  The restaurant was the host of the party, so I figured the one major thing that I had to do was try some of this pizza!  But of course, there was a long line at the shop, which was enough of a deterrent for me.  We ended up getting some garlic noodles at the Bleu Truck and I was not at all disappointed - their food was delicious.  The outside of the truck advertised that they had participated in an episode of "Guy's Grocery Games", which was another reason I was drawn to eat here.  But I'll save the HoneyNerd's mutual love for Guy Fieri's cooking game show for another post.

The block party itself was minimal - a handful of booths, a few stages with different artists, and a sprinkling of food trucks.  Unfortunately, the stores along the street had closed (I didn't realize they wouldn't be open after 6) but the vibe of the block party was fun - people were dancing and seemed to enjoy the musical performances, and it wasn't too crowded to make walking around a hassle.  Despite my indifference to block parties, I had a good time, with some good food and great company.

The year was 1989.  After fully immersing myself in the "hair metal" scene for a few years prior, I found myself drawn toward the world of rap music.  After all, this was the "Golden Age of Hip Hop", and there were plenty of artists to follow - from the hardcore street knowledge of N.W.A to the fun antics of Kid 'n Play, I pretty much liked them all - but there was one that stood out the most.  Though he was a mere 21 years old, Big Daddy Kane had already made a name for himself and was quickly rising up the ranks in the music world.  My timing was impeccable, as I learned of his existence just as he was hitting his apex.

Kane was an enigma: he was both a ladies' man that could seduce with his "smooth" persona AND he was a furious battle rapper that could put other MC's in their place with his dynamic wordplay.  He hardly ever cursed and he didn't typically objectify women - he was just straight cool and he knew it.  The year that I discovered him saw the release of his second album It's a Big Daddy Thing, which was propelled up the charts on the strength of two contrasting singles: the captivating slow jam "Smooth Operator" (which reached #1 on the Rap charts) and the up-tempo dance hit "I Get the Job Done".  The music videos for each single were in constant rotation on Yo! MTV Raps, and I loved them both!

As the years went on, I distanced myself from rap music and started listening to alternative rock amidst the "grunge" scene, but Big Daddy Kane continued on with varied levels of success and I never stopped listening to him.  I was fortunate enough to see him twice - once at the House of Blues with The Roots, and once at another street festival where he performed with a funk band.  The man can still rock a party, so I knew I had to go see him and convince Charlene to join me.

Kane took the stage just as the sun was setting and delivered a solid 25 minutes of glorious hip hop, enlisting the crowd to sing along at multiple opportunities.  Though most of his songs were truncated in order to fit as many as possible into his short set, he still managed to hype up the audience while touching on virtually all of his early string of hits - the aforementioned "Smooth Operator" was a highlight, while "Warm It Up, Kane" and "Raw" showcased his signature lyrical domination.  He would close with the crowd-pleasing "Ain't No Half Steppin'" before departing into the night, leaving the fans in awe.  It may not have been a long performance, but it packed a real punch and was a perfect way to wrap up the night!

05 September 2019

These Hallowed Grounds: The Fixx live at the Troubadour

Situated at the border between Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, the famous Troubadour nightclub has hosted a multitude of artists representing various genres for over sixty years, establishing itself as an iconic location in the heart of the music industry.  During a career that spans nearly four decades, The Fixx have entertained audiences with a dynamic blend of new wave and art rock, carving out a small but effective niche in the crowded music scene.  It only seemed fitting that the band would grace the historic stage, and I was lucky to be there!

I had seen The Fixx live on two previous occasions: in 2008, as the supporting act on the “Rockin’ the Colonies” tour with The Alarm and The English Beat; and again in 2013, as one of several artists included on a Jack-FM package show.  In both instances, the band was limited to less than ten songs or so, playing to a crowd that may or may not have feigned interest.  It was a real shame for me, as I had grown up listening to them and became an even bigger fan after picking up their terrific Ultimate Collection greatest hits album just before that first concert.

The Fixx has toured consistently over the years, so I was always hopeful of seeing them headline at a smaller venue - thankfully, I caught wind of their Troubadour show just in time to buy a ticket!   They were in the midst of a brief “End of Summer Tour”, and after reading the setlists from the first shows, I knew I had to be there to see them play some of their deeper cuts.   Their set also included six songs from an album I’d never heard - 1988’s Calm Animals - so I made sure to familiarize myself with those tracks by the day of the show.

"These Hallowed Grounds"

As the lights dropped at the legendary club, the band ambled to the stage amidst the roar of the appreciative sold-out crowd, and immediately launched into the title track from Calm Animals.  They followed with one of my favorite songs - “Lost Planes”, their very first single from 1981 - a track whose appearance on the setlist was one of my main reasons for attending the show altogether.  Lead singer Cy Curnin humbly addressed the audience by saying, “It’s great to be here...on these hallowed grounds”, as the band continued on with their impressive performance.

Now into their 60’s, the band still looked absolutely energetic.  In addition to Curnin’s powerful voice, the thick bass lines from Dan K. Brown laid a foundation for guitarist Jamie West-Oram to deliver blazing guitar riffs instantly recognizable by the adoring fans.  The Fixx is a TIGHT unit of talented musicians, clearly displaying the chemistry of having played together for so long. They deserved their spot on this stage, and owned it with full authority.

"Who are we, if we are not ourselves?"

Questions such as this - posed by Cy Curnin to the audience, in reference to their 1984 hit song “Are We Ourselves?” - have always been at the core of The Fixx’s music.  From their modest beginnings in London, the band has been recognized for crafting intelligent hook-laden songs with acute lyrical observations.  The staccato delivery of both the words and music helped them to stand out in the new wave scene, and gain a level of respect that has followed them over the course of their career.  They push boundaries, provoke thought, and make the listener question what is around them.

I was particularly drawn to this lyric from 1988’s “Driven Out”: “I’m cooking with microwaves / To warm up food that’s not seen the soil”.  It’s simple on the surface, yet it makes one wonder about their place in the grand scheme of this planet.  In fact, I found myself internally reflecting as they performed the song itself, which I don’t often do at concerts - as their set continued, I couldn’t help but ponder my organic surroundings during “I’m Life”, or question the futility of war while singing along to “Stand or Fall”.   This band was making me think in the middle of a show, and it was tremendous!

"Is the choir ready?"

As mentioned, I found myself singing along quite often during the show, which was seemingly encouraged by the band as Cy was constantly turning his microphone to the audience to amplify the crowd noise.  By the time they broke into their biggest hit, “One Thing Leads to Another”, the fans had formed a duet with the singer throughout the chorus, much to his delight.  The trend would follow during “Deeper and Deeper”, as Cy continually asked “Where do we go?”, so we could all answer, “DEEPER!”

For the final song of the main set, the gracious lead singer addressed the energetic fans: “Is the choir ready?”, which was met with thunderous applause.  This led straight into “Red Skies”, one of the band’s earliest hits, which formed a perfect call-and-response moment for everyone in the room.  The studio recording of the song features echoing during the chorus, which gave the fans the chance to be the echo themselves, returning Cy’s phrases back to him in immediate fashion.   It was easily the highlight of the night, and one of my favorite moments ever from a concert.

"Can you feel the love in the room?"

As the band returned to the stage for the encore, it was obvious that they were both satisfied and overwhelmed by the devotion of their followers.  Cy would go on to play keyboards while singing the ballad, “I Will”, before taking one last moment to speak passionately to the audience as they prepared their last song of the night.  He quietly looked around every inch of the venue, then humbly asked “Can you feel the love in the room?” - an emotion which was clearly present and willfully displayed throughout the evening.  They closed with the thoughtful “Secret Separation”, then exited into the night as quickly as they had arrived.

While not nearly as popular as some of the bigger bands of the 1980’s, The Fixx found their place and made their mark with a handful of Top 40 hits and significant record sales.  More than 35 years later, they’re still delighting audiences around the globe, whether headlining intimate venues or slotting into “package” tours with several of their peers from the past.   I cannot stress how much fun I had at this show, so it goes without saying that I would recommend anyone to take advantage of seeing them live if given the chance - you’ll be glad you did!

The Fixx Setlist Troubadour, West Hollywood, CA, USA 2019, 2019 U.S. Tour

03 September 2019

A Welcome and An Introduction

Welcome to our little corner of the web!  We decided to start this blog because we wanted a place to share our experiences - the places and events we go to, as well as the things in pop culture that we love to enthuse about.  There will be posts from us individually, and we will also write posts together, in which each of our viewpoints will be distinguished by our names highlighted in our favorite colors. :)

I imagine this blog to be an overall place to talk about the things that are important to us.  A couple of years ago, I had my own blog where I talked about various topics.  At first, it was a place for book reviews, but I gradually introduced one-off posts about things that interested me or about a cool event that I attended.  Eventually, I branched off from focusing on book reviews and instead transformed the blog into an expression of my tastes, as I started ongoing discussion posts about subjects such as musicals, Star Trek and the history of reading.  I enjoyed sharing what I loved about my favorite things, and now with this blog venture, I look forward to talking about these things with my favorite person.

In the dozen years before I met Charlene, I not only traveled throughout the US and Canada on sports-related adventures, but I also visited most of the live music venues and repertory movie theaters across Los Angeles.  I witnessed some amazing concerts and screenings, often with special guests in attendance.  During that time, many of my friends and co-workers suggested that I start a blog to recap all of the fun stuff I've done in this city, and that's why I was keen to launch HoneyNerds - in addition to present-day outings with my wonderful wife, I will also use this site to take a nostalgic look back at some of the most entertaining nights I've experienced in my adopted hometown.

Keeping a blog can be a lot of work, but we hope to maintain our little space for some time.  Probably mostly for our amusement, but we're hoping that if anyone stumbles across HoneyNerds, they'll find something interesting to read - whether it's a trip we've taken to Portland, Oregon (our upcoming quick getaway vacation) or our reviews of the TV series Doctor Who, which we are now beginning to watch.  HoneyNerds is simply a space for a couple of nerds (yes, that's us) who enjoy spending time together and also enjoy talking about it.