Sunday, July 22, 2012

Laissez les Bons Temps!

When I announced my eleventh hour decision to attend Tales of the Cocktail this week, I was met with a lot of questions. Besides the usual "What is that?" "Where are you staying?" and "So do you have to drink all day?" the one that puts the "frequent" in the AQ is "How do you prepare for a cocktail convention in New Orleans in July? What does that do to a body?"

It's been three years since I've been there (after I swore I'd make a point of visiting every six months or so. My circumstances kept changing, what can I say?). While I like to believe my overall Amanda-ness is pretty much in tact, I am also a changed person in many ways. On a physical level, I have lost nearly forty pounds since then, and my eating and drinking habits are more regimented. I will not be attending as many seminars. I will know more people (many of whom I met at Tales last time and have continued to be great friends and supporters.) I will have a clearer agenda instead of attempting to smoosh everything into a drunken, steamy package within a short amount of time. I may not be wiser, but I am at least older and a little more practical.

In 2009, New Orleans was not only hot, but it was experiencing a bonafide heatwave.

To imagine what the air feels like, remove the plastic coating off a large piece of dry cleaning (If you don't have this, a really big trash bag will do.) Turn on your shower using the hottest water setting and close the bathroom door for a few minutes. Now fully clothed, put the dry cleaning plastic over your head and stand in the bathroom (which, if you live in New York City, should absorb all this steamy air nicely since it has the approximate square footage of a gym locker.) For added authenticity, turn on a hair dryer full blast and blow that into the bag too, aiming slightly away from but at the same time close to your face.

An added bonus, especially if you're as heavy as I was back then, and sorry to be so explicit, but these conditions are prone to a distressing degree of chafing.

Now, have you ever been drunk during the daytime on a steamy summer's day, when you start to feel loopy and slightly undead, all thoughts moving as though trapped in a block of jello? You will feel this way for the duration. Last time I don't think I was completely sober again until around Thanksgiving. It may not be so extreme this time, but still.

Oh, and the cuisine is not exactly known for its gossamer delicacy or lack of sodium. You will gain an average of five water weight pounds a day. Tip: pack clothes made from stretchy material or billowy cotton and wide shoes.

Sounds like fun, right?

But it is. It's wonderful. Hundreds of bartenders, brand representatives, journalists, chefs, promoters and drinks enthusiasts from around the world are all in this with you, united in one of the greatest cities in the world that just happens to be a tad warm. Because they want to be. We are celebrating a remarkable industry with a theatrical past and exciting, delicious future. These are (mostly) people who produce smiles for a living, and (mostly) make each other smile in their downtime. This has been a huge year for me, how could I not be a part of this?

I'm arriving a bit late, but at least I will be there for a good portion of the shenanigans to come. Hopefully with some time to experience more of the city and hang out with local friends. Yeah, there will be some level of good for my body that will leave a bit undone (I actually have to eat more in the days leading up so my body doesn't go into total shock.) But it will be well worth it. To quote INXS, "I've missed the people; I've missed the fun." Can't wait to see you all on Thursday in New Orleans!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"Scream for me, New Jersey!!!!!"

What is going on this picture? There's big stage with pyrotechnics, a giant, costumed General Custer on stilts, a bunch of guys in skinny pants... and guitars. If you guessed Iron Maiden concert, ding! ding! ding! If you ever guessed I would be attending one, in Newark, New Jersey no less, you are quite the clairvoyant, my friend. 'Cos I never would have believed it, even a few months ago.

But I'm so glad I went.

I somehow found myself with a ticket after one of those late night, drunken "Holy shit! That sounds amazing!" ideas that most of the time never really (thankfully) come to fruition. (If they did, I would be the proud owner of an otter and a kiddy pool, a frustrated Duran Duran rock musical playwright and probably stranded somewhere in Chile trying to find my way home from Easter Island.) The idea of seeing Alice Cooper open up for Iron Maiden indeed sounded pretty amazing. Even the next day. After all, I heard Alice still puts on quite the theatrical show, something I've wanted to see since his Muppet Show appearance in the 70s. If you're gonna see a heavy metal act, at least pick one that didn't polarize all their fans by changing their sound, performing with only half their original members or shutting down a popular music sharing website. In other words, see band that straight up just performs a kick ass show. With fire and lots of rubber props.

And if you're gonna be in Newark, might as well take advantage of a traditional meal in the Ironbound. John's friend, Louise, had a great recommendation for Seabra Marisqueira, just a few minutes away from the PATH train. As longtime fans of Portuguese food, we've been used to city portions in relation to menu prices. But this is a family joint. And thus, everything is family sized. Fact: the Portuguese are not known for having small families. Here's John with mixed seafood and vegetables, with impressive inverted skewer presentation:

Traditional pork and clams with potatoes. Incidentally, all washed down with Adriano Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas '09.

But on with the show!

Alice Cooper was a ton of fun. Admittedly, the guy is looking a little long in the tooth, but he still sounds pretty good. Here he is in classic "No More Mr. Nice Guy" with live boa. (Incidentally, although our seats were pretty close, any closeup shots are grabs from the nearby video screen.)

He did the guillotine bit, which was awesome.

And to the delight of the crowd, appropriately appeared in a Devils jersey for his closing song, "School's Out." 

I have to say, Iron Maiden really brings it. Lead singer (and aviation businessman) Bruce Dickinson, now sporting more stylish shorn locks, is in terrific shape both physically and vocally.

One of the most fun aspects of seeing Iron Maiden live is their stage props. For this tour, they resurrected many of the vintage sets from previous outings. 

Performing the classic 1982 hit, "Number of the Beast." I can't imagine how hot it was onstage since even up in the tiers there was a menopausally noticeable temperature change. 

Bassist Steve Harris performing "Phantom of the Opera," from the 1980 self-titled album. Each record had its own giant backdrop, which would switch out between songs, cluing the audience in to what came next. 

Here's Bruce performing "Can I Play With Madness" from the 1988 album Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, complete with psychedelic crystal skeleton ball and giant glowing wizard.

From the same record, this prop can only be described as a giant rubber thing holding a giant moving rubber Belial in Basket Case-looking thing in its palm. On fire.

Adrian Smith on guitar.

Drummer Nicko McBrain.

Dueling guitar action. 

But of course, what makes it all worth it is an enthusiastic crowd. As these veterans clearly knew, the best way to handle one in Jersey is to work "New Jersey" into as many lyrics as loudly as possible. "Scream for me, New Jersey!!!!!" Here (and you can also almost hear as) the crowd responds.

I was proudly among them, albeit from a considerably higher vantage point. Enjoying every last blast. Special thanks to John's pal Howie for putting this all together, and one of the most entertaining rides back to Manhattan ever.