Ready, AIM,...

I signed up for all those instant messaging services a long time ago and never used any of them. It didn't seem to offer that much more than e-mail, and it all felt a bit of a waste of time, especially since most people I'd IM were in the same office as me.
But now that the holidays are approaching and more people are on vacation, and as I realize that I've lost touch with some of my college buds, I'm going to get back in the game. Don't call it a comeback.
My AOL IM username is eugenewei. Ping me late evenings and you have a good chance of catching me during these dreary winter months.

Yoshimi does battle

One of the cool things about Seattle's symphony hall, Benaroya, is that they occasionally allow rock acts to perform there. Such was the case tonight as Beck and The Flaming Lips paid a visit.
I'm a big fan of both, but I didn't have tickets to this concert which sold out long ago. But how often do you get to hear two groups you love in an acoustically pristine symphony hall? I headed out to scalp myself a pass. I don't know any Flaming Lips fans so I decided to play lone fun-man for a night.
Seattle has been coated with a Hound-of-the-Baskervilles-worthy fog for several days now. Outside Benaroya, a group of scruffy, malnourished Seattle alterna-folks created their own fog of cigarette smoke, standing around looking as if they were hoping someone would hand them a ticket, a veggie burger, or sandwich bag full of weed. I weaved in and out of this group, looking to make that special kind of furtive eye contact that you make when you're meeting someone for the first time in a strange bar and you don't know what they actually look like and you're working off a description ("I'm blond, about five foot four, and I'll be wearing a red sweater"). It's the same kind of eye contact you make when you're looking to scalp tickets.
Tickets were $35 face value, and my first offer was from a particularly malodorous heroin addict in a blue Adidas jumpsuit with a seat in row W, orchestra level. He asked $125. I offered $40. He asked for $100. I offered $40. $80? $40. $75? $40. $80? Uh, you're going the wrong direction bud. $60? I'll think about it.
Some other guy came along, asking if I'd pay $80. Where are the seats, I asked. He pointed at the guy in blue Adidas jumpsuit.
That guy has the seat.
Gee, thanks, who are you, the Ticketmaster of the sidewalk, a NASDAQ market maker?
Another guy came along, asking $85 for a seat in the third tier, nearly the back row. Just about the farthest seat in the auditorium. Man, I thought, there's some irrational exuberance in the scalper's market today. I assessed my competition for these two tickets I'd been offered and realized that these slackers were probably unemployed and wouldn't be able to pay top dollar. If I wanted these seats would be here when the concert started and I could name my price.
By now I had been standing outside in 45 degree weather for about 20 minutes, and in my light jacket I was getting cold. I went inside to stand by the Will Call window, looking to pick off on a more affluent breed of alternative music goer, the kind that thinks, "Wow, Beck is playing at the symphony hall, that should be a nice safe way to sport my alternative stripes." Often these are the folks who buy one too many tickets and who are novices at scalping so they'll take whatever they can get because they're desperate to sell.
Bingo, some guy had an extra. I picked it up for face value. Box seats on the second level, stage right.
The only bummer about scalping tickets at the last minute for this concert is that I didn't have time to get there early to try and volunteer to be one of the stage animals for the Flaming Lips set. I've never seen the Flaming Lips, but I've heard about their stage menagerie. They grab people out of line or out of the crowd before the concert, and those folks dress up in these furry animal suits and dance around during the performance.
This time was no different. The Lips started their set by tossing about 25 beach-ball-sized balloons colored lime green and light pink into the crowd who responded by batting them around. The animals showed up on stage, Wayne Cory and the gang showed up and started cranking away, creating the overwhelming sonic landscapes which make their albums such great demo CDs.
The band members played and danced gamely while balloons from the audience flew on stage and bounced off their heads and equipment. They must be used to it. Their set bordered on performance art given all the colors and eye candy. All the band members, with the exception of Wayne, were dressed up as pink rabbits or some other types of animals. When they played one track from their latest masterpiece Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots a scene from the Japanese movie Battle Royale projected in the background (it's the scene where the girls are in the lighthouse and gun each other to death). Wayne picked out two audience members who were celebrating birthdays that night, covered his face with fake blood, and led the audience in a round of Happy Birthday for the two lucky fans. For another song, Wayne sang while wearing a fog machine around his neck so that he was basically hidden from view. You get the picture--it was wacky stuff.
Wayne is half front man for the Lips (who are from Oklahoma City!?) and half cheerleader. Everytime he felt the crowd settling down he'd hold out his arms in front of him and to the sides and wave them up and down, palms up, as if trying to get us all to stand up. The orchestra crowd would respond with a loud cheer every time.
Beck came on for his solo set after a long stage overhaul and started with a few tracks from Sea Change before cranking up the action with the Lips joining as backup band. He did a healthy mix of old classics (Devil's Haircut, Loser), funky Midnite Vultures tracks, and the new and mellow from Sea Change. He did a Flaming Lips cover, a Velvet Underground cover duet with Wayne, and yes, he did all that weird robotic dancing everyone was waiting for. It was all quite a contrast from Sigur Ros who I saw earlier in the week. They didn't speak a single word to the audience that night.
Beck is proof that anyone can be cool if they're good enough at what they do. If you saw him just out somewhere, from a distance, you'd think he was, well, a loser, and he plays off of that in his lyrics.
There's something really satisfying about spending your evening at an event that you had to scalp tickets for on the day of. It's even better than buying tickets far in advance. It feels like a stolen moment, one with the cachet of spontaneity.