Wednesday, June 27, 2007

3 Firsts: Pies 'n Thighs->Warsaw->Wilco

After a quick post-work visit to a friend and having a small sample of a very tasty blueberry, I made my way to Hipsterville. I'd never been to this part of Williamsburg before, and the conditions were right to enjoy a nice walk through the neighborhood. Following weeks of unusually cool weather, the heat felt nice, especially the warmth of the bright orange setting sun baking my skin as I descended 5th St. toward the East River.

I found Pies & Thighs, and the reviews were correct in that it was easy to miss. Heading into the sweltering, dingy former beer closet that was a haven for freeloading flies, I surveyed the menu and ordered the pulled pork sandwich with the spicy mac 'n cheese and a mint limeade. (I had considered the cheesy grits, but the guy at the counter strongly suggested I'd be a bloody fool to pass up on the mac.) There was no one else there at 7:00, so I took my seat outside in the courtyard surrounded by beautiful barbed wire.

Shortly thereafter, my food arrived. The mint limeade was essentially a virgin Mojito, which was both a blessing and a curse because it had great flavor but made me long for Demon Rum. At first glance, the spicy mac 'n cheese looked pretty weak. "All they did was pour some Tabasco on it," I thought. One bite and I realized that was only the half of it. The macaroni was nestled in a mild and creamy roux that was well accented by piquant little spices, and the Tabasco was there for added kick. Speaking of kick, this dish had it and then some. First, I tasted the mild, cheesy blend, and then the spices began to slowly kick in before the Tabasco worked its magic. The whole dish really progressed in three steps: mellow, a spicy finish, and then a significantly spicier kick in the balls. Getting kicked in the ‘nads never felt so good.

The pulled pork was Carolina style and heavily soaked in vinegar, which bothers some people but not me. It was also flecked with crushed red pepper, adding yet another layer of heat to the plate. As I alternated between the spicy mac and bits of the peppery pulled pork, beads of sweat began to cascade down my scalp. The pork sat on a plain white bun and the top half had a spread of some creamy and tart coleslaw and two of those neon green pickles, the kind that make Jews cringe but somehow work wonders in barbecue and Southern cuisine. Just as the reviews had advertised, after letting the pork sit on the bun for several minutes, the bun became soaked with precious pork juice and nearly dissolved. Oh, the magic of pork juice!

Mark, Jim, and Curtis arrived and dug into their food. I tried the potato salad, which was some of the better potato salad I’ve ever tasted with a lot of fresh dill, but it wasn’t good enough that I’d advise choosing it over the mac. The pinto beans had some hunks of pork and bacon in there, but I would have preferred more smokiness. The little bit of fried chicken I tried was pretty good, although it was not in the same league as the incredible stuff I’ve tasted at Fiorella’s in New Orleans. I had wanted to try either the revered Key Lime or Peanut Butter Pie for dessert, but they were all out of each, so I opted for the Chocolate Chess Pie, which was silky, smooth, and deliciously creamy. Naturally, Curtis brought a cooler full of Hoegaardens, and we drank them outside in plastic cups. Since the Rock Star Bar that is connected to Pies ‘n Thighs lets you get your beer in a go cup, we probably weren’t supposed to bring our own, but no one cared because we were the only ones there for a while. The location under the Williamsburg Bridge was so desolate that we wouldn’t see a single car or person pass by for several minutes at a time.

We then made our way to the Warsaw and surprisingly found nearby parking with relative ease. The search on the way in consisted of one Polish security guard shining a flashlight and asking people to remove stuff from random pockets. He really wasn’t very thorough, and as long as you pulled something out of your pocket, he didn’t seem to care what else was in there. Inside, there was just about zero visible security presence, which was appropriate because for the most part, this crowd was way too cool to be worried about breaking the law.

This was my first visit to the Warsaw, and I really dug the space, a small, fairly drab ballroom (I think it holds 600) with a stage that reminded me of an elementary school multipurpose room because of its plain, beige curtains, rudimentary lighting, and American flag off to the side. The lonely macramé owl who hung on the back curtain only added to this elementary school effect. The Warsaw definitely had a spartan Old World feel, and almost everyone working there had a thick Polish dialect. As an added bonus, draft beers were only $4, the cheapest in-concert beers I’ve ever seen, beers that practically begged you to drink them. They weren’t bad either, especially the I.P.A. from the Somethingorother Brewery. There was a presumably Polish beer on tap, as well.

On this night of firsts, I would be losing my Wilco cherry. To make the situation even more unique, I was almost entirely unfamiliar with Wilco’s music, a statement that is somewhat remarkable considering the fact that nearly everyone I know is ankles-over-ears lusting after this band. I know and love Mermaid Avenue, but that album is more about Billy Bragg and Woodie Guthrie’s lyrics than Wilco. For some reason, once the crazed hype began around the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, I shied away from them and somehow managed to stay away. Sure, friends had played a couple of songs here and there, and I had liked everything I had heard, but I never really sat and intensely listened to any of their work. My ignorance was partly the result of my mistrust of everything considered “indie rock,” a faux genre of music that is neither indie nor rocking. Heading into this concert, I was pretty sure that I would only recognize one song: “Handshake Drugs.” I thought these circumstances would put me in a very unique position to appreciate the show because my judgment would not be clouded by the dreaded double-pronged spectre of familiarity and bias.

Right from the start, I was very impressed. The band was incredibly tight and rocked hard-— real hard. The three guitars scorched, and Nels Cline was truly ripping. Without having any real familiarity with their music, I thought I heard some segue-ways between songs, although these could have been different movements of one song. In either case, the crowd applauded all of these smooth transitions. Speaking of the crowd, I really, really loved them. I was shocked at how silent the room got. I mean, it was quiet-- not just quiet for New York (which doesn’t get quiet for anyone), but it was quiet for Nordkapp, Norway. If people weren’t silent, they were singing along—with fairly credible pitch! It was so refreshing to be amongst fellow music snobs who were focused on the art being crafted on stage, but it also felt a little odd, as if I were the only real “non-fan” in attendance, sneaking amongst the hardcore groupies.

“Handshake Drugs” was great in every way that I expected it to be, and I surprisingly recognized “I am Trying to Break Your Heart” and “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” which were both excellent. By the time the second encore began, I had retreated to the air conditioned bar because I was getting a little wobbly in the heat. Then I saw these lovely Polish ladies selling pierogies. Did I need to eat pierogies on top on all of the fattening pork and mac and pie and beer I’d already ingested? No, I didn’t, but fuck you, I’ll eat whatever I damn well please. I entered this evening with every intention of undoing all the good I’ve done in my recent trips to the gym, and nothing would stand between me and my goal. By the way, I’ve lived in Pittsburgh, a notorious pierogie haven, but these were the best damn pierogies I’ve ever tasted. That being said, anything slathered in butter tastes good after six beers.

I really enjoyed the tremendous passion Wilco brought to the stage. In my mind, their performance was somewhat like a well-rehearsed play: I got the sense that they weren’t truly improvising, yet they were so committed to their music that it sounded as if they were creating this music for the first time. They seemed to get a kick out of playing a small venue in Brooklyn for a predominantly local crowd, and they really gave it their all.

No doubt about it-- I am now a fan. I will probably get their albums and assimilate into the mainstream. It’s an awful fate, but I have little choice. Even the pretentious must eventually cave in when faced with sheer musical talent.

I hate you, Wilco. I compromised my principles for you, and now you’re making me into a whore.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Price Is Right - The Final Chapter

I am home from work and wearing my bathrobe, perfect viewing conditions for the final TPIR. (Note: the show will be re-broadcast this evening from 8-9 E.S.T.)

11:00 AM - The crowd is going apeshit. The audience is going berserk. My favorite guy is Francisco who is wearing a Grateful Dead Bear tie-dye and looks like he is tripping his balls off.

11:03 - Denise, an extremely excitable woman who looks like she is about to burst has the honor of playing the first game, Lucky Seven, for A NEW CAR! It's a corvette. YES! She won the fucking car on the last number. Oh, this is gonna be a great day.

11:07 - Bob recognizes Philip from the line outside. Philip has been waiting five days and now he's on contestant's row. Katrina Walter just got called to come on down and she's crying. A Barker's Beauty is showing off an expensive necklace, but I can't bring myself to look up that high. I'm bidding on the silicone.

11:09 - Bob says, "You can expect this audience to explode when Rich says...You're playing PLINKO!" FUCK YEAH! Plinko never comes this early. Oh, a wonderful day is upon us.

11:11 - She's got 5 chips...$ close and a zero...another $500...another zero...$500...What a friggin disappointment. I don't know if I can go on with this. This was the moment I was really looking forward to today, and now I'm crushed. I feel very sorry for Katrina, who was wearing the Plinko Princess t-shirt but never got to play. She could have done a better job.

11:16 - Francisco, the tripping Deadhead, is up to play The Range Game for a new Ski Boat. It's a tough game. I don't like his chances. He's gonna be distracted by the colors.

11:17 - Everyone is screaming at him to stop it, and...HE DOES IT JUST IN TIME! He won the boat. This guy is jumping around like a monkey. Fantastic.

11:20 - Promotional consideration has been paid for by Beano. Beano, making your farts silent and scent-free for years.

11:21 - It's a young crop of wheel spinners here. Kristen gets 85 cents on two spins. I like her odds.

11:22 - Francisco is totally distracted by the spinning wheel. He doesn't get enough on two spins, and he's totally disoriented, walking in circles before being escorted off stage. I'll miss him.

11:23 - Denise gets 85 cents, and we have a playoff, folks!


11:25 - No dice on the bonus spin, but I am still floating on Cloud 9.

11:26 - Dean Lindstrom, a big dude, gets called from the back and then takes a massive faceplant in the aisle. He recovers to run down to Contestant's Row and announce, "I"m a big guy!"

Yeah, we noticed.

11:27 - Dean has the best bid, and we learn he's Canadian. Bob talks about how TPIR has always been popular in Canada. Dean's up for a new car, playing Double Prices. Bob is teasing us by not revealing the price and asking questions. Oh, Bob, stop fiddling aboot and get on with it.

11:28 - DEAN WINS THE CAR! Incredible. This is an amazing day so far.

11:29 - My roommate reminds me that the Palestinian government was dissolved yesterday. I remind her that TPIR played Plinko today. I need to take a break to make a foie gras and truffle sandwich with a side of caviar.

11:31 - Melva, who has an enormously long pony-tail, wins the bidding on the motorcycle. She is a crying spaz who is trying to molest Bob. She cannot stop shrieking. If I kick my television will she shut up?

11:34 - Melva craps out on the Grocery Game, which kinda surprised me because I didn't think she'd stop shrieking long enough to formulate a single word. After she loses, she thanks Bob and says, "This has been my lifelong dream to be on your show."

Aim high, Melva. Aim high.

11:37 - Rich calls down a guy named Elijah. Now if he ran in with long white hair, holding a cup of Manischewitz, I'd shit myself. Instead, he's just an overenthusiastic frat-boy. I wonder if he'll win the bidding on a pair of Dave Matthews tickets?

11:38 - Philip is the winner, and he's playing for...A NEW CAR! CBS is gonna be bankrupt by the end of this show.

11:39 - Any Number is the game. It's a car vs. board games vs. the piggy bank. Philip is doing well with only one number left in the price of the car...

11:40 - Philip guesses 3...and it's wrong. Wah-wah-wah-waaaaaahhhh. He won the shitty piggy bank. This sucks.

11:43 - Showcase Showdown time-- for the last time ever with Bob's steady hand. Philip gets 55 cents, and wisely decides to press his luck, hitting 25 cents for 80 cents total.

11:44 - Melva nearly dies in two spins of the wheel. Both times she nearly hits her head on the spinning wheel. She only hits 70 cents and escapes unscathed. Dean, the big guy with the propensity for falling down, gives the wheel one massive fucking spin. Bob suggests we take a commercial break as we wait. He takes a second massive spin and says hi to some folks in B.C. (I hope he thanked his grower.) Bob suggests he had time to say hi to everyone he knows. At times like these, I always wanted to see the wheel come flying off its axis, crashing into the audience and mowing down some Californians.

Unfortunately, that does not happen. Philip is the winner.

11:45 - Ah, a pet medicine commercial from Betty White. Love those Golden Girls.

11:49 - The Final Showcase with Bob

Showcase #1 is based on a "Saint" theme, including a Saint Martin vacation, and St. Patrick's Day vacation to Ireland, and "your friends will think you're a saint if you take the kids to soccer practice in a new Lincoln Navigator!" It's a giant showcase, and Denise, who notes she has already won a car, shockingly passes to Philip, who bids $61,000.

11:51 - Showcase #2 is all about waiting in the dentist's office WTF, right? The one Barker's Beauty remembers she left her new Electric Grill on. The second silicone wonder remembers she's supposed to be on a Mediterranean cruise. The third hottie remembers she has a coupon for a car wash for...her new Cadillac Convertible! This would be a nice pair of cars for Denise, who has already won a Corvette. She bids $84,823. I think that bid is higher than I ever was while watching this show in college.

Commercial Break. Tension mounts...

11:55 - Actual retail price for Denise's showcase is 90-something. Philip is under by 7 grand or so. Denise wins by about 2 grand. Denise wins more than $140,000 in prizes! Incredible. Enjoy paying those taxes, Denise!

11:56 - Bob gives the final sign-off. It's not quite as emotionally cathartic as I had expected. He's straightforward and thanks everyone for welcoming him into their homes for the last 50 years. (Thank you, Bob. I don't think I'll ever call in sick from work again. What would I do?) He closes like he always does, advising us to help control the pet population and have our pets spayed and neutered.

And with that, I hear a stray in my backyard. If you'll excuse me, I need to go cutoff that cat's balls.