And a quick test post here…

…just checking out the new Publicize: Facebook feature which hopefully means a lot less lag time when it comes to uploading my blog entries over there. Crossed fingers!

Meanwhile, a couple of restaurant reviews

Because why not?

So two new spots have opened up in Costa Mesa recently have already garnered a lot of attention — and well deserved too, it turns out. Various photos and comments via Flickr and Twitter prompted a few demands for more information so here we go…

Right near where I live, Valhalla Table is a sausage/beer spot that is essentially a riff on places like the wonderful Wurstküche up in LA. As Edwin Goei’s OC Weekly review points out, the secret to the place lies with the owners and main chefs, two sisters from Indonesia who clearly know their market. I hadn’t read the review when I first visited a couple of weeks back but I knew that was the chefs’ background and so I figured that the dishes to try would be those reflecting that cuisine. Bulls-eye — as Edwin’s review, backed up by his own family knowledge of Indonesian cuisine, confirmed and this photo of my meal shows:

Valhalla Table

So what you’re seeing there is the wild boar Balinese sausage, with sambal balado topping — Wikipedia has a sambal entry if you’d like to learn more — and the resultant rich, fiery taste is a treat and a half. Meantime, the dipping sauce for the fries was their mango curry mayo blend, a perfectly sweet but not sugary counterbalance to both the fries and the sandwich. The beer selection is pretty good for a small spot — that was one of the porters I had there — while the owners, who first opened a bakery over in Irvine, also make their own desserts; their double chocolate cookies rival the Avanti Cafe’s killer chocolate truffle cookies, and that isn’t light praise on my part. I’ve since brought other folks over to the spot and they’ve all left raving about its excellence so I figured word of mouth is going to sell this spot pretty darned quickly, and the staff are all friendly and helpful folks. And hey, it’s one block over from where I live, I can’t beat that!

Meantime, a spot down near Triangle Square that hosted the Italian/Argentine spot Pasta Connection was recently transferred to a new owner/chef. Pasta Connection is still around — they moved up the road a bit — but its replacement, Il Dolce, is also an Italian/Argentine cuisine location, and it is already knocking things totally out of the park. Il Dolce has also benefited from an Edwin Goei writeup as well as one in the LA Times, and I’ve noticed threads and discussions on Chowhound and other spots around the net. As I had the day off on Thursday I figured going down for a lazy early afternoon lunch would be the way to go — and was that ever the right decision, the place is simply stellar.

For an initial appetizer I went for a beef empanada — always a good standby if you’re trying Argentinian cuisine — and gotta say that might be the best one I’ve ever had in a restaurant setting:

Il Dolce empanada and sauce

Looked great, the side sauce was excellent and the empanada itself just tasted wonderful, the classic combination of a flaky but firm crust and the blend of meat, eggs, spices and more inside. I would have had more but in combination with a good greens salad, I didn’t want to ruin my appetite for the main dish itself, one of their pizzas. I went for the pizza patata:

Pizza patata

This wasn’t as good as it looks, folks — it was BETTER. Let me put it this way, even the rosemary was stellar, and the blend of that, the potatoes, the pancetta, the mozzarella, filling but not overstuffed…I was completely in heaven. Add in a Quilmes beer and I took my sweet time eating this one up, because I didn’t want to rush any of it. No room for dessert but next time out, that’s definitely part of the plan.

So yeah, check ‘em out.

Spaghetti with kale and miso

So I wanted to use the leftover wheat spaghetti from the tomato/kale/tofu recipe the other week, plus I had some new kale to use. A little scrounging turned up a variety of other recipes but this one was the winner. The addition of miso as the de facto sauce was a great touch, and the overall feeling was hearty and understandably very flavorful without being heavy.

Not Just the Ticket — #25, Morrissey, November 1, 1991

Morrissey, Pauley Pavilion

Then current album: Kill Uncle

Opening act: The Planet Rockers

Back of ticket ad: free popcorn should I have deigned to go to AMC Theatres to watch…what would I have watched, actually. Fall 1991, a dim and distant place in many ways.

And, yes, I did add a ‘NOT!’ after Morrissey’s name there after the show. Mike Myers, inflicting a scar that never actually healed.

Thing was, of course, I did actually see him. But it wasn’t all that long of a show, which remains one of the most notorious ones I’ve attended.

I am, in retrospect, kinda glad I didn’t get into the Smiths and Morrissey in high school, given how disconnected I feel from that time. I’m sure I would have appreciated them greatly — then again, would I have done? I knew of them, the first ever song of theirs I heard was “Bigmouth Strikes Again” thanks to a friend in 11th grade English, remembered thinking both the singing and the lyrics were pretty weird, while my sis owning the Pretty in Pink soundtrack helped me get very familiar with “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” — and she ended up with a copy of Louder Than Bombs for Christmas 1987. (And remember, my sis is younger than me; she would have been halfway through eighth grade.) I only bought my own copy of that in spring of 1989 so I like to think of my first ‘real’ Smiths song experience being the start of “Is It Really So Strange” — and that start is actually pretty locked into my memory for some reason, listening in my dorm room right before the start of spring break. From there I got it, more or less, and slowly but surely built up my collection of Smiths and Morrissey solo releases over the next few years, a poster or two as well.

I never could be said to be a hyperfan, for all that — collecting every pressing or knowing every cover image or literary reference or so forth — and I’ve known some obsessives then and now, and still do. Morrissey is if nothing else someone who knows how to sell himself just so, a button pusher when given the opportunity, somebody who pulls off the push/pull impact of privacy and fame more readily than most; little surprise he’s been able to cultivate audience after audience, that with his American relocation he eventually commanded a Latino following in SoCal that baffled many who could only imagine him as someone who sang bedsit anthems to nobody when one of his greatest gifts remains knowing how to capture a feeling, a situation, a desire in a way that translates, that transcends. I could rattle off most everything he’s written and performed without having to think about it and for all that his insular muse writes off entire sonic approaches — hell, societies — as not worth it, something I find baffling given my own reference points, that same muse is what’s driven him all this time with the collaborators he’s had.

1991 was in many ways his year when it came to Southern California. He’d already played out here a couple of times with the Smiths, so it wasn’t unknown territory or anything, but when the (in retrospect perfect) delay between his last turn and his first full solo go-round wrapped up earlier in the year with an appearance at the Forum, it was a sold-out frenzy by all accounts. Not that I was there, and not that I was surrounded by people who were or wanted to be — Steve M. was the guy who introduced me to the Warlock Pinchers’ extremely rude “Morrissey Rides a Cockhorse,” while around the same time I am pretty sure I first heard long time Squirrels member Joey Kline’s debut album Pomp and Circuspants, beginning with a note-perfect parody of Viva Hate called “Mrs. Smith” that I still adore. Steve and Kris C. and plenty of others vented away about him while we listened to all sorts of things and went to all sorts of shows, not a constant theme but it fit in with a general sense of ‘argh, new idols please’ at work during that time. (And as someone who had kicked U2 to the curb a couple of years back and was about to be utterly horrified at their return with Achtung Baby, I could sympathize.)

But as I mentioned, I knew obsessives, one of whom was the younger sister of my roommate Jen. (And logically I’m completely blanking on her name so I’m going to apologize in advance. [EDIT: Kelly! That was her name, thanking Xana down in comments.]) Jen’s family lived in north San Diego County so I had a chance to meet them on the way home during the previous holiday season; her sis was very friendly, pretty smart and intense, quite attractive and loved the Smiths and Morrissey. A lot. A LOT. I seem to remember lyrics written all over her bedroom wall — not written on paper put up on the wall, written ON the wall — and general bemusement at her antics by her mom and stepdad. There was also the story about how a friend of hers apparently did a very good Morrissey himself while singing with his band — not in a parodic way, he was a total hyperfan too — and how a tape had gotten to the man himself and he’d apparently expressed interest in hearing more.

So when Morrissey first toured that year, he started in San Diego and I’ve no doubt Jen’s sis was there going happily nuts — this return tour also featured a San Diego stop but the LA one was perfect for me in many ways — like some of the previous shows I’ve mentioned, it was right on campus at UCLA, only in this case at Pauley Pavilion. No surprise there; given the size of his last stop through it was unlikely Ackerman Grand Ballroom would be anywhere near big enough, and by the time I got tickets, we were tucked away to side of the stage and a little behind it — not completely behind it, which would have been pretty pointless, but it was a slightly odd over the shoulder angle, if at a distance in the upper level of seats. Still, it was a show, I had tickets and Jen’s sis came up from San Diego for it. Couldn’t complain, and didn’t!

We walked over from the apartment easily enough — I don’t remember much about getting in and finding our seats but no question that the place was as packed out as the stage set-up allowed for. It might not have been the same overwhelming levels of obsession as Depeche Mode was but this was a crowd fully, completely into the headliner in a way I’d rarely sensed up until then. We settled in and chatted but her focus was much more on the show than anything else, even though he hadn’t appeared on stage yet and wouldn’t for some time. Which all made perfect sense.

The Phantom Rockers did their rockabilly thing and left and that’s about all I can say — I think it was good, I just don’t remember much about it, and again, three guys mostly facing away from us makes for a slightly uninvolving show to watch and get into. Next thing I can remember is Morrissey on stage and…not quite chaos, but definitely an appreciation for how I was up in the seats and not down in front. Being able to see a swathe of the faces pressing up against the stage, arms extended, all the cheering and shouting and more besides, it wasn’t quite a view from the performer’s eye but it was still pretty impressive and unsettling at the same time.

Getting used to things like the odd dance/lope/flail/strut that defines how he moves (or at least moved) at the time was its own experience — it’s all slightly muddy in my memory there, it wasn’t like he ever pretended to be a choreographer, though I wonder how often he practices anyway. And the set, full of familiar songs from the two albums and huge run of singles he had put out in the UK under his own name, was good enough as I remember it. But I remember more a statement he made in between songs that ended something like: “You don’t have to stay in your seats if you don’t want to!” There were cheers and I probably thought something about how he wanted people up out of their seats and dancing or whatever, understandable enough.

Then a minute or two later I looked in bewilderment at the stream of people charging down the aisle next to where we were sitting. But there’s nowhere to go…?

He definitely did not say that the crowd should charge the stage, and I heard that being alleged a few times. The danger of being crushed at a concert is no joke — happened before, could all too easily happen again — so the fact that things were eventually shut down wasn’t surprising. Seeing the intense crowd get more and more packed in was a little uneasy but the band and the man kept performing, and I’ve told the story a few times since: stage invasions are part and parcel for Morrissey appearances, people running up and giving him a hug, but seeing upwards of five or so people on stage grabbing him at the same time from various limbs — and seeing him continue to sing through it all — is something I’ve never seen since. He knows how to deal with it all, I guess.

But it couldn’t last that night. After a warning that the show was at risk of being shut down, he introduced a new song, “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful,” then about half a year away from release, and about halfway through the song it all got too much. The crush up front was too strong, too many people were on stage, and I don’t recall him leaving so much as being bundled off by a combination of security and fans and who knows who else. The band left and there was a limbo of about thirty minutes as some unknown guy spoke into a microphone about how everyone would need to step back or else Morrissey wouldn’t return, fans waited to see what would happen, cheers and shouts and more all mingling together. We just sat and waited and wondered and talked.

Eventually the announcement came that he wasn’t coming back, the show was cancelled, and the booing and complaints began. I took it as a sign that it would be best to get out and leave whatever mess was to come to itself (which, if you read this concert report, was best avoided), so we decamped and walked back to the apartment being surprised about it all. But I don’t remember feeling disappointed or bummed that seeing Morrissey had turned into a wash like that — maybe a little, but it wasn’t some wrenching thing, and while Jen’s sis obviously wasn’t completely happy either I don’t remember her having a fit over it. If the show had never happened at all I suppose we would have felt differently; I think I was laughing about it all by the time we got back to the apartment.

There were reports and apologies and more the following day and KROQ eventually broadcast a tape of a show from earlier in the tour by way of a make-up gift or the like to the audience. A Santa Monica show went off without a hitch a couple of days later, so maybe it was just all about one inopportune turn of phrase in the end. Wouldn’t see him again in concert for another six years, but that would be at a UC campus and that would be a legendary show as well. I’ll yet get to that.

A nice late February sunrise…

…as captured yesterday. (At home today due to a schedule change.) As I mutter from time to time, being up early sometimes has its advantages!

Not Just the Ticket — audience question #5

This does not count if we’re talking about a show you played, since I know there are musicians out there reading this and all — instead, this is as an audience member:

What is the smallest show you have ever attended, in terms of an actual paying audience? We’re not talking bedroom rehearsals or hanging with friends jamming in a garage or studio — an actual show with paid admission, somewhere.

In my case, probably a Yak Brigade show in 1996 or so in LA. Maybe…five? And that’s no slam on Yak Brigade, that’s probably more or less what we expected anyway, seeing as I came up from OC with the band.

Not Just the Ticket — #24, Nirvana headlining Rock for Choice, October 25, 1991

Nirvana, Hollywood Palace

Then-current album: Nevermind

Opening acts: Sister Double Happiness, L7, Hole

Back of ticket ad: …I think the irony of a Domino’s Pizza ad on the back of a Rock for Choice ticket had to have spoken for itself at the time.

And what to say. What to say.

Maybe I can start with this — I think it was good, appropriate, that the only time I saw Nirvana was for a benefit show, and for an issue that I felt strongly about (and still do). The question of fame and the charity impulse is one that I’ve wrestled with on an observational level for some time — I posted in detail about an example on here some time back — and given the various help-Haiti singles out there now, the question seems newly relevant in terms of music. I can’t but think that if this was ‘just’ a show my memories of it would be different, or at least colored differently.

The thrill of drawing some sort of line in the sand had its own appeal, of course. It’s part of the sense of attending a show like this, ‘showing your support.’ I had sported my “KEEP ABORTION LEGAL” button on my blue satchel that inevitably used for class (and would for many years to come, button always present on it), part of my unspoken-but-clear method of keeping my sentiments hopefully obvious and plainly spoken. At the same time, would I have come to the show to start with if Nirvana weren’t headlining?

The answer I think would have been a clear yes thanks to the band who organized the show and general campaign to start with, L7. As mentioned in my post on their show with the Butthole Surfers earlier that year, the paths of L7 and myself — as well as Nirvana and Hole, for that matter — had already crossed in a very indirect sense. L7 were massive favorites for a number of friends as well as me so when the show was announced, that was interest enough; the fact that Nirvana were headlining, well, that made it a no-brainer.

I had already heard them, about a year beforehand — I had missed any attention around their first album, it must have been in at KLA but either my being home that summer or my general interests being elsewhere meant it was mostly a blank spot. It wasn’t that Seattle (or Sub Pop) weren’t starting to fire off something in my brain as a ‘oh yeah, them’ factor — Soundgarden and Mother Love Bone and probably Mudhoney were all kicking around in my head by the end of 1989. But Nirvana, not a jot, until the “Sliver” single came out — I remember a review on the station copy talking about how great the band and song were, and I enjoyed it, though I think the whole sad-sack vibe of the song was…not comical, but made it feel more like a novelty single than I might have guessed. It was a sweetly sad story from childhood that captured the all-or-nothing feeling of such a situation very well, sounded good, that was about that.

In fact I’m not even sure I immediately connected that song or band with the song that everyone started telling me about breathlessly in early September 1991. I remember getting a few phone calls: “Have you HEARD this yet?” Honestly, I hadn’t. Nevermind wasn’t something I was anticipating, seeing Nirvana on tour wasn’t something I was planning. But I did finally get around to a listen, then eventually got the album, and yeah, there was something there.

Which sounds dismissive; it isn’t. I sure did love the album, played it a lot, knew every song, remembered going “Wait, what?” when “Endless Nameless” kicked in after the album had supposedly ended — seriously, I got up from where I was listening and went over to the stereo, I was that baffled. I don’t think I was sensing my world changing or the world changing or anything like that, not with that surprise track or with the album as a whole — but, damn, it sounded good, sounded great. Loud and catchy, and I liked the way that the lead guy just went ahead and, to quote my friend Kris C., “just dyed his hair girly colors.” I think I made some joke about how they were a glam band in the end.

So the Palace once more — pretty sure it was Steve M., Kris C. and Jason B. I went with, or some combination of folks like that. A week previously it had been Pigface with their industrial/rock/whatever and then us confronting the KROQ dance crowd; now it was…well, I guess as much the first clear signal of Alternative Nation as anything else, though Lollapalooza had already kicked that off earlier in the year. Not that I remember anything much about the crowd other than the fact it was as excited as all hell.

I think we came in there when Hole were already on stage or had just taken it — I had heard something about them a bit, Pretty on the Inside had come out but I didn’t know if I had heard anything off it yet, probably had read a Melody Maker story by Everett True or two at least. I remember approaching the stage from the side of the bar where the ever convenient water fountain was found; Kris at least was with me and I think both of were terribly amused to hear the one song — name totally escaping me — which was essentially “Dark Entries” by Bauhaus. To the point where I think we just started singing the words to that instead. But Courtney Love was pretty damned fierce and loud on stage, couldn’t knock that at all. The rest of the band — drawing a complete and total blank. But they were there.

The emcees of the evening were an unusual combination — Alex Winter, taking a break from Bill-and-Ted-dom, and Kim Gordon. Well meaning enough though I can’t say I remember any deathless words; still, doubtless they underscored the whole point of the evening as benefit. I think there were the occasional cries of ‘get the band on’ or the like — or just random cheering or noise — and that probably helped underscore my own continual qualms about benefit shows in practice. They would return throughout the evening in between sets, but it was all a blur.

L7 were L7 and they rocked. That was the whole point, of course — word was already out that a new album would be due early next year, though I don’t know if it had been confirmed that Butch Vig was the producer at that stage (hell of a score, though, given Nevermind, and the label was more than happy to play that up in the end). One thing they did do, which I remember making more than a little fun of Kris about, was their rewritten cover of “Used to Love Her” — turned into “Used to Love Him,” of course. Kris, you see, was one of the world’s biggest Guns’n’Roses fans, though I think her patience with them was starting to collapse (thanks to “Don’t Cry,” I believe). I think she only jabbed me in the ribs once or twice.

I do remember I had to have gone into the lobby for a bit after L7’s set because whenever I came back Sister Double Happiness were on stage…boring everybody. This still takes the cake as one of the biggest ‘who are you and why are you here?’ missteps I’ve ever seen at a concert lineup — which is a little unfair, given that Gary Floyd’s role as the frontman for the mighty Texas punk band the Dicks had long since given him a definite immortality. (Heck, the Butthole Surfers named one of their best songs after him.) But Sister Double Happiness had never been anything but well-meaning blues stodge to my ears and that’s exactly what we got, and I remember the crowd pretty much just standing there and politely applauding between songs, and that was about it.

I think our bunch were all rolling our eyes, checking out watches and pretty much figuring out where to stand for the headliners, which explains how I was able to sneak up to the front in my usual nook position wedged between the speakers and the end of the stage front. Kris would have been with, and I definitely remember one of the staffers at the Westwood Village Penny Lane record store there as well — great place, one of the couple of stores I haunted regularly during my UCLA years.

And then — and I don’t remember anything momentous about their announcement by the MCs or the like — Nirvana.

Ten years after the fact, I included a brief description of the show in my first NaNoWriMo effort:

He didn’t remember much about the show. He had tried to get up close to the stage, risking the tight crushing and oppressive heat and sweat of the pit, the inevitable bruises, just to see his apparent new heroes. Cobain just looked down the whole time, singing into the mike but otherwise not doing much; still everything was good enough…

Which is about right. Krist Novoselic did all the talking that evening, and as fits the reputation of a guy who has since gone on to make a name for himself as a local and national political activist, he took the mike at various points to discuss why the band were here playing this particular show, the importance of the issue and so forth — not between every song, I think, but often enough. Sometimes it was just a few words, sometimes more — at one point he passed the mike to someone up in the front, but I think whoever it was just shouted the band’s name semi-drunkenly. Dave Grohl just hid out behind his drums and played the hell out of them as he so likes to do.

Kurt Cobain just stood there. He played, he sang, but otherwise, like I said, he looked down or away pretty much the whole time. I don’t recall him saying a word to the audience at all.

He definitely didn’t want to be there. Simple as that.

Retrospection puts too much emphasis on things sometimes. Nevermind wasn’t a chart-topper yet, Kurt Cobain wasn’t fully shaped in the public eye as a media-shaped caricature, much less a departed one. His passing was still two and a half years away. Who knows exactly what was going on in his head at that moment but I don’t think it was anywhere near the state he eventually found himself in.

But he had clearly already hit a limit. Friends who had seen the band on earlier tours confirm that he was, or could be, far more animated then, enjoying club dates, chatting with the audience. It was already too big for him even at that stage that I saw him at, he was too tired, too uneasy, who knows. It was a good enough show and I have no regrets at all, and yet I do. It would have been nice to have a ‘happy’ show in my head for contrast, or just to know that he was performing without feeling any sort of pressure, however self-induced.

I never saw them again — there were opportunities on return visits to the area then and again, one last time with the In Utero tour playing at the Forum. My friend Eric R. who went said something that I’ve always enjoyed — “Most everyone who was there were these young girls out with one of their parents, and it was the kids who were the fans.” I enjoy it because I think Cobain might have liked that audience, entertaining a bunch of kids with a loud rock, if it were a different setting, something smaller, more carefree. Why shouldn’t music work that way, when it does, so very often?

I used to be angry with him for his suicide, then I pitied him, and now?

What to say.

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