Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Mr. Punch Grown Up

I'm always on the lookout for the dark, sinister and slightly quirky here in LA, and I certainly found it (and more) in the multimedia performance of The Comical Tragedy OR Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch. Once I saw the unique YouTube advertisement for the show (see end of post), I set on getting my hands first on the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. This isn't your ordinary comic book. Filled with both photographs, sketches and photographs of sketches, the story follows the memories of a young boy at his grandfather's arcade. Throughout his time at the arcade, the boy visits the Punch and Judy (puppet) Show, which, at first, I thought was a fantastic element created by Gaiman, but only to find out it actually existed in England during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Enthralled by the richness of the imagery in the graphic novel, but still a bit confused by the story, I made my way to the Bootleg Theater, where the stage alone reflected the whimsical and bleak nature of the seaside arcade with intricate writings on the floor, flashing carnival lights and tattered curtains. The play - no, the performance - began unassumingly enough, but this "hyper-theater" of the Rogue Artists Ensemble truly brought the graphic novel to life. Actors wore half-masks and full-body masks to reflect the art style in the book, while two screens played in the background featuring film animations of the graphic novel and doubling as shadow screens hinting at the vagueness of childhood memories. The fantastic sound effects set the eerie mood and brought you right to the seaside, and of course, there were puppets doing… well, outrageous things. Plus, like the Punch and Judy Shows of old, there was audience participation bringing a sense of intimacy to the whole production.

The show was mixed with light humor and painful topics. There were humans imitating puppets and puppets imitating humans that one would sometimes forget - they're just made of sticks, paper and cloth. In the end, I came out with an immense appreciation for this multimedia approach to theater, a better understanding of the graphic novel, and a childlike fascination with puppets! Catch this sick, twisted, but totally fun show on weekends through August 31st!

For more info check out ExperienceLA’s listing of The Comical Tragedy OR Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch. See below for a YouTube trailer from Rogue Artists Ensemble:

-Tiina Vuorenmaa, ExperienceLA Staff

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Glowing in the Aftermath

So I have officially spent the past two nights or so googling all about the Slow Loris and the Pacific Trash Vortex. Thanks Google for fueling the fire in my neurotic ways. My newfound obsession with the Slow Loris is due to my own curiosity (they're SO fascinating... but endangered, sadly), but the interest in the Trash Vortex, a collection of trash about the size of Texas swirling about in the Pacific, was sparked by Saturday's Glow 2008 at the Santa Monica Beach and Pier.

It was the most crowded I've ever seen that area (it felt like half of LA was there at the same time), and that was an exhilarating, though borderline claustrophobic, sight to see... Initially, we just walked around enjoying the lively vibe and glowing colors. It wasn't until we came across a random floating object pulsating in the darkness of the waters, followed by unanimously asking "what the heck is that??", that we finally took the time to really read about the installations in the context that they were meant to be experienced.

I can't speak for the rest of the Glow crowd, but I'm happy to say that I now have additional memories to tuck away in my whimsical brain... from listening intently into an isolated telephone on the beach, as a poet sitting in a boat off in the distant sea guided me through a world of stars and dreams, to collectively screaming with the crowd around me as we gazed up at the large-scale outdoor waterscreen projection emitting colorful patterns in reaction to our collaborative voices, to thoughtfully discussing the floating object's commentary on the Pacific Trash Vortex days later.

In embracing and reflecting on its surroundings and the interaction of the festival-goers, these installations subtly hit upon deeply fundamental ideas: we are just as much a contributor to and participant in the environment around us, and how the environment evolves is correlated with how we choose to interact with our surroundings. While we are the stewards of this Earth, we're also highly indebted. Somehow, I feel the need to listen to Coldplay's "Yellow" as I think back on these memories, remembering myself walking along the coast while being inspired by the radiating lights...
Our experience with Primal Source by Usman Haque

-Sarah Koo, ExperienceLA Marketing Assistant

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Glowing from Dusk to Dawn

Paris Nuit Blanche (White Night) is an annual celebration of the city of light's art and culture, where multiple galleries, museums, and other venues stay open all night for free. Visitors roam around the city checking out special light installations, performances, and the like.

Santa Monica is bringing its own adaptation to the beach and pier for the first time this weekend... Glow 2008 will take place this Saturday from 7pm to 7am, coinciding with the Grunion Run at 10:30pm.

Glow will fill the hours between dusk to dawn with compelling, enchanting and effervescent sights and sounds situated in spaces and times that expand possibilities for where, how and when the public experiences contemporary art.

With the historic Santa Monica Pier and adjacent world-famous Santa Monica Beach as their space, artists were commissioned to create unique and inviting works of art that welcome the public to be both audience and actor for twelve celebratory hours. Inspired by the wildly successful Nuit Blanche in Paris, Glow takes its spirit from the fabled grunion that live in local waters and come ashore several times a year to spawn in the sand creating a momentary sensation of iridescence.

Check it out if you can!

-ExperienceLA Staff

Viva La Vida - Coldplay at the Inglewood Forum

Coldplay's first tour in three years had an aura that reflected a little of my newbie experience (it was my first Coldplay concert!). Filled with little joking side notes of "we only practiced this this afternoon" and to "go get a hot dog", there was that jitteriness of beginnings, but it was cloaked in the weight of experience and familiarity. I might not have known all the lyrics, but the sound of Coldplay resonates easily in my ears and in my head ("Those who are dead, are not dead, they're just living in my head..."?).

I'm not sure what enticed me most about my experience at the Coldplay concert on July 14th. Perhaps a little bit (and a lot) of the following: hearing the acoustic cover of my favorite song "Yellow" in the "cheap seats"(nowhere near me and my friends); hearing my other favorite song "Fix You" live; and seeing Chris Martin's crazy, dorky dance moves on the stage. The way that man runs from one side of the stage up to the other with an energy akin to a five-year-old after birthday cake must make his kids pretty happy.

The above is nothing to be said about the great set design and multimedia experience of the concert. At first you sit and wonder what exactly that ball hanging over the floor seats is for. The answer? Part colored lights and part screen! Then some time in the set, five more come out from nowhere. None of the above distract from Coldplay's music however. It was so good that my friend leaned over to ask, "When did those other colored lights show up?" And that's not to speak of the huge screen behind the band that shifts as they go through their play list and the stream of papered butterflies that reflect their closing number (yes, we did go to the floor to pick some up for souvenirs).

My friends and I originally held claim to tickets for Coldplay's original LA kick-off date on July 15th at the Forum in Inglewood, but the doors of fate decided to open for us to get better seats when an unexpected show opened up for the day before. But wherever we would have found ourselves seated on the 14th or the 15th, Coldplay is a band that presents an enjoyable, energetic show, expressing the title of their latest album well - Viva La Vida indeed.

-Charity Tran, Web Coordinator

Friday, July 11, 2008

Ukuleles Rule LA!

I love ukuleles! It's a little four-string instrument that seems to carry with it fashionable eclecticism in any era. I've never heard anyone call it "dorky". I've only ever heard it called "cool". Granted, I may be a little bias - I do own three of them...

...So it's probably no surprise that I made my way over to the spectacular 2nd Annual Southern California Ukulele Showcase, part of the free 1st and Central Outdoor Summer Concerts at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM).

This second annual event at JANM was hosted by hilarious emcees Ali Lexa and King Kukulele (of the Friki Tikis). I, unfortunately, missed their opening number, but the crowd told me it was a great set. And what a crowd it was for this July afternoon/evening summer concert - most of the chairs were filled, so there were people sitting on the concrete slabs and stairs in front of the beautiful museum, and even leaning against the brick wall at the back. To add to the summer feel of the event, there were children dancing to the music as they lingered about their families (some of them getting interviewed between sets by King Kukulele himself).

"Moana" (featuring Charles Kiaha and Ilima Lei Russell) brought the sounds of traditional Hawaii to the event. Charles Kiaha played a ukulele made right in East LA (worth a thousand dollars). The video below features a traditional number with Charles Kiaha on this ukulele.

Musical prodigies Brittni Paiva and Abe Lagrimas Jr. had individual solo sets at the event. While each had their own individual sound, their playing reflected their incredible musical ability and aptitude. It's hard to express into words exactly what that means, so hopefully the following videos will help you feel like you were there. Brittni Paiva plays Carlos Santana's "Europa" and Abe Lagrimas Jr. covers the Beatles' "Blackbird".

In between the prodigies were The Moonlighters from New York. This band, with a 1920s and 1930s sound, is a fun group that brought an almost speakeasy band and vaudevillian feel to a Southern California summer outdoors evening...with their own modern twist, of course. The video below features "Dirt Road Life" from their fourth CD ("Surrender"):

The evening closed with the beautiful voice of Paula Fuga. It was certainly a case of last, but not least. Perhaps best known for her collaborative work with Jack Johnson, there is nothing I can say that encompasses the thrilling experience of hearing Paula Fuga's voice in the summer night air.

Throughout the event, the museum stayed open for patrons to check out the exhibitions between sets. Afterwards, my friend Thea and I grabbed a late dinner at one of the great restaurants that line Little Tokyo's 1st Street.

The 2nd Annual Southern California Ukulele Showcase is only one of many in 1st/Central concerts available this summer at JANM. To find out more events, visit the JANM page at ExperienceLA.com.

-Charity Tran, ExperienceLA Web Coordinator

Monday, July 07, 2008

Anime Expo 2008 - Recap!

Cat ears? Glowsticks? Naruto characters walking around? The entire cast of One Piece brought to life? Darth Vader playing DDR? Tetris with little shoes and legs? And so much anime I don't even know....

It was another year at Anime Expo - same script, similar cast, different venues. Anime Expo seemed to settle into its new Downtown LA home like it was a second-skin cosplay outfit. It's a convention that's not so much about the space it occupies, but the people that occupy it - in all their cosplay glory of cat-ears, furry tails, brightly colored wigs, creatively designed costumes and intricately crafted "weaponry". But whether you're an Otaku (Japanese term for the most passionate about anime and manga) or just there to check things out (me!) it's truly an enjoyable experience. I even donned on some cat ears to make it all the worthwhile (courtesy of my friend Julius).

The highlights of my Anime Expo experience (aside from buying two anime series and a manga ^__^) included the everso creative AMVs (Anime Music Videos)...which also inaugurated my first-time ever in Downtown's Nokia Theatre. Action/Adventure, Drama, and Anime TV Pro categories were great for its use of music and movie editing techniques, but the best category by far was Comedy. Featuring such songs as Stephen Lynch's "She Gotta Smile"/"Big Fat Friend" and Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend", it's probably pretty easy to envision the comedic chaos that might ensue with these songs related to anime.

The other great event at AX was something that is perhaps only loosely related to anime/manga, but has plenty of color - the Art of Glowsticking workshop (see video above). Presented by Glowsticking.com (GSC), the event packed the entire room and as the event underwent the tutorial portion, the room began to look like a miniture rave - glowing sticks of light moving in the darkness as the faint sound of dance music played in the background. While it might seem like a far-fetch connection between glowsticking and anime, I'd like to think that there's more in common than meets the eye. In talking to the members of GSC and how they presented their community as being open and welcoming, about how it's about spreading the love/art/experience of glowsticking, I couldn't help but relect that that was the sense of community presented at AX, itself.

It doesn't matter how much anime you watch or don't watch; it doesn't matter if you're there to cosplay or to roam around in jeans and a funny t-shirt - AX is a few days to just be...whatever that might mean to you.

-Charity Tran, ExperienceLA.com Web Coordinator

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Catching Up With Stagecoach 2008 and Up Close Performance Pictures

With the 2008 summer outdoor festival season in full swing, and Carrie Underwood coming to the Nokia in Downtown LA and Dwight Yoakim coming to the Greek Theater in Griffith Park, lets look back on Stagecoach 2008 held during the first weekend in May in Indio, California at the Empire Polo Grounds.

Last year, after contributing to the local Coachella Valley economy by staying in a nice hotel, we decided to join the RV set (for the first time in our life) and camp at the Stagecoach Music Festival. With what appeared to be a significant expansion of RV camping opportunities, there were definitely growing pains for the organizers and the City of Indio. The City of Indio did absolutely nothing to help the enormous number of RVs coming in off the freeway, and thus what should have been a 15 minute drive was a 2 hour marathon. There were no traffic control officers, law enforcement, or even special lane creations as we arrived on Friday afternoon. Once on the Empire Polo Grounds, the organizers in looking back can also learn how to more rapidly get people parked. Due to overselling the main camping area, we ended up in the family campground, which turned out to be a nice quiet experience, albeit a long walk to the festival entrance. Although one day, we did take a pedicab ride to the entrance. Pedicabs work on tips only, so they don't get classified as a taxi, and the franchise went to a group from Arizona. Also great about the campgrounds were the deluxe showers brought in and the WiFi hotspot and phone recharging stations.

Each day we would set up our folding chairs at the Mane Tundra Stage upon arrival and wander the grounds and move between the 3 stages, and even the new children's tent. As compared to last year, there was one less stage, but they elevated the children stage into a more prominent position. By putting the Palomino and Mustang stages at the other end of the Polo Field, it cut down on sound bleed from the Mane Stage. The following is a chronology of the musical performances that I partook in over the 3 days. More on each as I move thru my photo essay.

Friday, May 2 (all at the Mane Stage): Shelby Lynne, Trisha Yearwood, John Fogerty, and the Eagles

Saturday May 3 (all 3 stages) Jypsi, Hayes Carll, Ryan Bingham, Riders in the Sky, Greencards, Taylor Swift, Dwight Yokim, The Judds, and Rascal Flatts

Sunday, May 4 (all 3 stages) Wylie & the Wild West, Krista Smith, Ian Tyson, Trace Adkins, Gretchen Wilson, Big & Rich, Carrie Underwood, and Tim McGraw
As I look back at the schedule, I realize that we spent too much time watching the big draws and not enough time at the smaller stages. Also, there seemed to be a reduction of alt-country performers as compared to last year. During the afternoon, the Palomino and Mustang stages were able to attract significant crowds in their shaded tents, but at night, the old-timers who really needed to be heard, had a hard time attracting an audience. Not an old timer, but who has been around since the punk days of LA, was Dwight Yoakim who played to an overflowing tent, while Dierks Bently played on the Mane Stage. Dwight's playing of the Bakersfield sound in recognition of Buck Owen could easily have been placed on the Mane Stage. And in the crowd, were Gram Parson tshirts and signs.

But there were issues having to open on the Mane Stage with the sun shining brightly, even with quite pleasant temperatures through the entire weekend. Shelby Lynne, late on Friday afternoon, playing to vast rows of empty reserved seats, was quite upset and vowed never to come back. However, Jypsi, a young family band reminiscent of Nickel Creek, i.e the Sara and Sean Watkins, were a real discovery of AEG/Golden Voice that loved the opportunity in playing on the big stage early on Saturday afternoon and were recently featured by Randy Lewis in the LA Times. Nickel Creek had played Stagecoach and Coachella in 2007.

Throughout the weekend, it was interesting to watch how the promoters were handling the crowds around the Mane Stage. When the Eagles closed Friday night, you aleady knew that Stagecoach Year 2 was going to be much bigger than the first year. The opening night crowd looked to be double of what we saw when Kenny Chesney closed Stagecoach in 2007. But the crowds became enormous on Saturday night around the Mane Stage, maybe 50,000 and the fire lanes became obliterated, so that it was almost impossible to navigate out of the area to the food, beer, and restrooms. And if you did get out of the area, good luck trying to find your seat during the performance. With the enormous crowds, these things needed to be addressed.

Thus, the next day, the California Department for Fire Control responsibility put down fire lanes that would last the entire day, and additional staffing to maintain them. Sunday late afternoon and into the evening was a much more pleasant experience, even with a crowd that might have been at 60,000. The organizers did not bring up the house lights between the two final acts on Saturday and Sunday, keeping people in their seats.

When Trish Yearwood played on Friday, she joked with the crowd that no one ever asks about Garth. But for those who want to know, Trish said, "Garth's back home doing the laundry." Maybe next year, AEG/Golden Voice will getGarth will play Stagecoach. Garth did all those shows earlier this year for charity at the Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles. Following Trish on Friday was John Fogerty, who brought us all back to the days of Credence Clearwater Revival and Woodstock, with the realization that CCR at Woodstock was not featured in the film.

Closing Friday night were the Eagles, a band that also brought back memories of the mid-1970's, and hearing their Hotel California album as I made my way overland around the world in 1977 - 1979. Their new album, New Road Out of Eden, showcased at the opening of the Nokia Theater last Fall, recreates the sound of what we so loved about them, i.e. Country Rock. While watching them perform, I also remembered attending a political fundraiser at Don Henley's house in the Hollywood Hills back in 1986 and getting a personal tour of his house. The Eagles were one of several bands over the weekend that also evoked memories of Gram Parsons of the Flying Burrito Brothers who had a major influence on this genre of music along with providing songs that others would make famous.

The Mustang stage was the place to find singing cowboys and bluegrass. Two of the crowd pleasing singing cowboys that I caught were Riders in the Sky on Saturday and Wylie & the Wild West on Sunday. Riders closed out their set with "Happy Trails" and played a number of the old Gene Autry standards and even did the theme song from Rawhide. They even did rap cowboy music which they coined "Crap" and did their unique form of be-bopping. Wylie Gustafson, who is made some spare change, providing the Yahoo sound for the brand, joked about making enough money from the licensing rights to pay for a few quarter horses. Everyone had a good time listening to these acts, and as expected, the crowd was a litle older for these performers.

As for bluegrass, one of the other major finds for the festival in addition to Jypsi, were the Greencards who were primarily from Australia. Bluegrass from Australia reminded me of my other alt-country favorite, who got her start singing American Roots music but was from the Outback of Australis, i.e Kasey Chambers, someone else that might be worthy of getting a future Stagecoach invite.
The Greencards with 3 CDs out, told the crowd that they were big fans of Patti Griffen. Borders provided a store location at the festival and you could buy everything that was available by CD, many of which, can be hard to find at most outlets. I did pick up 2 of the Greencard CD's later that week at Amoeba. But then there was Jpysi with their content only for sale as downloads online, although it looks like a CD will be released later this year.
With the Eagles might highlight performance for Friday, my highlight performance on Saturday night on Saturday was Taylor Swift who went on to win several major awards over the next several weeks after Stagecoach. It was a year ago that my daughter introduced me to the music of Taylor Swift with her "Tim McGraw" chart topper, and it was quite evident with the teens pushed up front, that she is on her way to really big things. Taylor's on stage muscial entourage is huge considering this has been her first year on the road promoting her album, all of this during her senior year of high school. There was even a sign from the crowd, "Take me to the Prom." Later that evening, promised reunion of The Judds occured. Naomi's advice to Taylor Swift was "Get a good lawyer and save your money." What made this special was the mother daughter interaction of Naomi and Wynona. Closing Saturday night was Rascal Flatts.

Where people were lining up to buy their personal hand held misters on Saturday, Sunday was much cooler, but the Mane Stage featured the a line-up that kept people entertained from late afternoon with Trace Adkins, followed by Gretchen Wilson which included a duet from John Rich(who is looking for the next Miranda Lambert, Stagecoach 2007, now a judge on Nashville Star). Big & Rich then opened their own act with 3 songs by Cowboy Troy with them finally taking the stage to great applause. The evening cotinued to build, reaching a crescendo with Carrie Underwood, and Tim McGraw bringing the house down. I've watched Carrie Underwood on stage accepting many awards, but it appeared that she was not yet in her element interacting with a crowd of what felt like 60,000.

One of the food highlights of Stagecoach is the Barbeque Competition, this year expanded to include chicken. For $10 you got five 2 oz taste from among 30 or so vendors who had come from all over the US to compete for various cash prizes in their category. We tasted some great brisket, tri-tip, pulled chicken, and thighs. Best to check out the barbeque competition earlier in the afternoon, as the more popular ones sell out early. The picture below is of an extinct CasaQue smoke oven made from space age ceramic which is treated with loving care by its owner.
So next year we will be back and look forward to a wide spectrum of country music performers and will close with thess photos of Taylor Swift and her adoring fans.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Fourth of July, Discounts, and Babies at the LA Zoo

To kick off the Los Angeles Zoo's summer activities, the Zoo is cutting admission prices for the July 4th weekend. From Friday, July 4th to Sunday, July 6th, 2008 everyone can slash $4 off the price of Zoo admission! In addition to the discount, guests will also be able to buy a delicious BBQ meal, get free samples of Nestle Juicy Juice and enjoy the music of a local surf band. Take advantage of this special holiday deal to visit all of the Zoo's adorable babies!

The Zoo has also had a flurry of spring births. One of the most notable was the birth of two male peninsular pronghorns on March 25, 2008. These fawns are the first of their kind ever born at a Zoo.

Happy 4th of July weekend everyone!!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Anime Expo in Downtown LA!

From July 3rd-6th anime will take over Downtown LA with the annual Anime Expo, the nation's largest anime and manga convention. The convention, with previous years in Anaheim and Long Beach, celebrates the popularization and education of anime (Japanese animation) and manga (Japanese comics). Fans in regular dress and cosplay (short for "costume play" related to the performance and playacting as a character) alike will take over the Los Angeles Convention Center and the Nokia Theatre. Over 8,000 attendees are pre-registered for the event, with much more expected for this 4th of July Holiday weekend.

The holiday weekend of events includes many guests of honors in the industry including director Masahiro Ando, voice actor David Hayter, director Masamitsu Hidaka (Pokemon), J-Pop duo Jyukai, animator Hiromi Kato, voice actor Toshihko Seki, new Japanese "It-Girl" Shokotan, and character designer Takada Akemi. There will also be major seated events with Anime's answer to American Idol ("AX Idol") including both singing and voice acting, and the AMV's (Anime Music Videos).

ExperienceLA.com will be checking out this year's events. So stay tuned for more of our coverage of this year's Anime Expo at its 2008 home in Downtown LA!

-Charity Tran, ExperienceLA.com Web Coordinator