We left NYC and the quaint Rockwood Music Hall for the home of Rocky and my beloved Phillies. People kept asking us, “What are you going to do in Philly?” I would reply, “Cheese-steak and the Liberty Bell.” I was really only naming the two most iconic things to do in the city with such a short amount of time. I didn’t really have a plan or idea of how to do that, but how funny things turned out. As Gaby manned the navigator position, and with Sebastian at the wheel (“Calm, collected, German.” Steve Zissou speaking on Claus) we made it over the bridge and into the city without a hitch. Dropping the equipment off at the Electric Factory and heading out to grab lunch, we asked where we could get some food. We were pointed in the direction of 6th and South and off we went.
Arriving at a quaint avenue of three-story red-bricks with shopfronts and people mulling about, we parked the car to look for food. Low and behold we found a diner that had a mountain of cheese-steak meat ready to go with a decent little line of patrons. Couldn’t be that bad, right? Jim’s Steaks on South St. served up a healthy portion of heart stopping hoagie filled bovine delicious goodness for a tribe of people in one sandwich. Most people wolfed it down. Maybe one didn’t… I ain’t saying who! Either way you slice it, I walked waddled out happy.
Uncomfortably contented, Sebastian and I cruised around while the girls did what girls do: shopped. As light faded we got on our way, but not before stopping, as luck would have it, at Independence Hall. My god, we were so close to the Liberty Bell! After asking a few people we eventually found the cracked piece of forged iron all aglow. There she was, resting in a glass bosom of protection. And in a moment of pure honesty with a disappointing contrast against our hopes, Sebastian remarked, “I thought it was bigger than that.” Me too Sebastian. Me too. That being said, we still accomplished my goals for Philly, and I wouldn’t put all this extraneous information in if it weren’t for a bit of useless trivia. The reason why the Liberty Bell cracked? They rung it so hard in honor of George Washington’s birthday, it split the bell. Only to be replaced by the Centennial Bell at our nation’s 100 year anniversary. There, your Jeopardy preparedness for the day is accomplished.
Returning to the site, The Electric Factory is an altogether different setting versus the the previous night in NY. The club name conjures up all sorts of images, and I was caught off guard by the marque figure on the outside of the building: Benjamin Franklin. It couldn’t have been any more obvious! Inside was a gritty hall with standing room only down on the main section of the floor. The stage was massive and more or less straddled the width of the building. With it’s dark black walls and dark black floor, the building exuded a rough and guttural vibe. The skeleton of the rigging and braces could be seen above, dusted and nasty from a long time exposed. I walk the back stage halls and musical history was all around. Poster bills of The Killers, Primus, and Sonic Youth were just a few that lined the hallway.
Dinner time. I can smell the food. I enter the room and Ani and crew are sitting at the table, eating quietly. I sit as far away as possible. It’s kind of funny. I feel like I am in grade school, just trying to survive and not get beat by the older kids. Going with the old mantra, “Just look down and eat your food. Just look down and eat your food.” I find my place in fear of making an ass of myself in some way, shape, or form.
The History Channel is playing on the TV. At once I am interested and uncomfortable by what’s on: The Color of War. The footage consists of old never before seen color footage of WWII, augmented by interviews with the actual men who were there. The room is eerily quiet and humble. The black and blue checker board vinyl floor is marked and stained from many a steel toe Doc Martin boot. The silver trays with steamed salmon and sauteed veggies slowly give of wisps of vapor and aroma. The voice of the narrator is deep and gruff, containing hints of hubris or arrogance; Like the outcome of the war was victory all along. Saipan, Guadalcanal, and Okinawa are some of the places being featured. There are images of dead bodies- Native Islanders, Japanese, and American. They are burned and distorted. One of the veterans is being interviewed. He talks of those days. His pain of the memories is easily witnessed in his facial expressions and can be heard through longer than normal pauses. “I see no glory in it at all. Going off to war. Seeing your brothers die from a shell,” he laments. Pausing for a moment and looking up into the camera, he says, “War is horrible.” A simple “thank you” echoes softly across the room. It’s Ani. So loud and outspoken on stage, this time she fills the empty room with a soft and simple phrase that carries just enough volume to make it resonate. Shortly thereafter I leave the room, and I think about what a day it’s been.
Shaking off the cobwebs, I head back to see how everyone is holding up. Leslie and Gaby are going over a few chords, with some last minute decisions being made to the song list. Then it’s out to welcome the crowd. I am already down in the pit, up front and stage left. I share the space with a few other photographers, but I don’t really care. Out come the band, and a large crowd greets them with whistles and hoots. One yells, “You guys are so cute!” That they are.
The stage is big, the lights and fog are killer, and the sound is great. I take as many photos as I can with the three songs I am allotted, and sit back to watch the rest. “My god, my friends are rock stars,” I think to myself. I can only laugh. They feed off the energy of the crowd and play a great set. They give their thanks and exit the stage. I race back to meet them coming down and congratulate them on another great performance.
Next Stop: The Big Apple
See you down the road.
Once again Gaby marched through gorgeous chorus lines, and made me feel like my mother was singing a lullaby to me on a warm spring evening. The band also had an extra addition this evening; Mark Palmer from The Hipstones joined in on piano to accompany and already lovely resonance. As the show progressed the crowd grew, and everyone murmured at how lovely the music was. I couldn’t agree more.
As today was a rest day for the actual Ani tour, things were nice and quiet for a change. Tomorrow it all starts up again, as they’ll play at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia. More of a club atmosphere, the crowd will be standing and up close and personal, so I am sure the vibe and energy will be amplified a bit. Should be good times.
See you down the road.
Next stop, Stamford? Indeed, as that was my meeting place to catch a ride to the venue for the night’s show. Leslie, Sebastian, and Gaby showed up in the rental van with FL plates (really, as if you needed any more reason for drivers in NY to hate you!), and it was great to see some old friends. Well over two years has passed since I have seen Gaby and Sebastian. Listening to their stories, it was great to hear where everyone has been and is headed as we drove through rural Connecticut. The conversation subsided, and we all seemed to gaze out the window and look around. Everywhere you turned, there seemed to be a picture perfect little house built in the colonial style with just the right amount of fallen leaves sprinkled ever so carefully across a sprawling yard. But it was also spooky at the same time. It must have been all those puritan graveyards. You know the ones with the creepy statues of flying harpies to bring you to the River Stix (wait, I seem to be getting my mythology confused). Anyway, I digress… it was a surreal place. Lots of money, perfectly trimmed houses, and creepy graveyards. What more could you ask for… the Headless Horseman?
As their 30 minutes of play time expired, the crowd hooted and hollered with clapping hands. They walked off stage stoked and vibrant. It was a good show. What a rush it must be; to be a rock star. Personally, I know what the feeling is like from my many rousing karaoke sessions in late night Japan, but I don’t want to speak for everyone. Just know this: It’s damn good.
Out to mingle with the crowd and sell albums, Gaby headed to the lobby to sign CD’s and meet her fans. It was a real treat to hang around and listen to compliments and see the smiles that they bring to everyone. And that is the baseline of any artist, whether you paint or photograph or sing; you want to make people happy. I can tell you that many a happy soul left tonight.
Greetings from the Big Apple. Funny that in all my time growing up on the east coast, I have never been here before. From first impressions I think the city lives up to everything it is said to be. Riding in on the train and listening to snippets of conversations, I was loving the deeply accented chatter from most everyone. The overall love of the brown leather gangster/wise guy jacket was just another piece of the puzzle that fit perfectly. As my train progressed along its route, graffiti and lone box cars dotted the way. Crawling away from JFK, I glimpsed a few neighborhoods. Old brick and mortars and wood sided houses; all clumped together like sardines in a can. No different than the average space of a California home it seemed, but there was something different about it as well. The houses had more history behind them. They seemed used and worn. Maybe they were more home than house. I felt like I could walk up and ask if Mrs. Sullivan was home and I would get, “Nah, she doesn’t live here. She’s two doors down.” That’s the kind of neighborhood that I love. Where every house has a story to tell.
On approach to the city, the skyline appeared. I love the buildings here. There are just so many of them, they are all built with such differing architectural style, and they are all packed in close together. There’s a palpable energy that you can feel here, and I got a little jazzed myself.
Off the train and on to meet my cousin for a day in the city, I walked a few circles at the Hoboken Station before Bev came to pick me up. Thanks Bev! Leaving the bags at her house, we took off for the city. Our first stop was to check out The Highline, and elevated park that was once a train route. Peppered with low maintenance plants, a cool array of granite, and super loungey chairs made from recycled wood, I found myself breathing deeply and finally relaxing since entering the city. Back on the city streets, we hopped over to check out Richard Serra and his Blind Spot work at the Gagoisan Gallery. Walking through these enormously shaped plates, the scale of shaping them hits you. The steel is probably 2 inches thick, and shipped over from afar. They are left exposed on deck and allowed to rust, giving them a nice pock marked, rust red appearance. Our next goal was to catch a cab. I searched in vain for the Cash Cab, and we jumped in another yellow vehicle of terror and mayhem. My god they drive like nuts out here! I was thankful that my line of sight was partially impaired from sitting behind the driver. I think I would have lost it had I been able to see.
Exiting white knuckled and happy to be alive, we took the express elevator up to Top of the Rock, where you can really have some stunning views of the city. Spying central park west, the upper east side, and all points beyond, it was a truly gorgeous thing to do. Once again on solid ground, we huffed our way to a little wine bar and for a little rest, cheese, an a much needed glass of wine. I said hello and goodbye to Times Square, and off we went to catch the bus back to Hoboken. With a meal in my stomach, a shower, and a soft bed, I was done for. My head started to bob, and the redeye started to take hold. Next thing I know it’s morning! Man, it’s been a while since I slept that well!
So today my mission is to find my way to CT and meet up with the band. Tonight is the first show I will be covering. I can’t wait to see them in action and record the events. I hope you’ll join me in following my adventure over the next few days.
See you down the road.