Drive All Night

A few Sundays back, I caught The Swell Season at the Hollywood Bowl. That was the fourth time I'd heard them live, and they only get better. Glen Hansard is as charismatic a front man as there is in the music business right now.

Earlier this year, The Swell Season played a benefit show at The Largo at the Coronet for an Ed Norton charity. I lucked into a pair of tix, and it ranks among the top 5 concerts I've ever attended. Small venue, long set, plenty of breathing room between songs for Glen Hansard to charm as the Irish raconteur we all wish we could share drinks with at the pub.

The goosebump moment was their cover of The Boss's "Drive All Night." No recordings of it have been issued, but here's a YouTube video of one of their live performances of the Springsteen track.

Ludo's Ham Soup

I ate at the fourth incarnation of Chef Ludo Lefebvre's pop-up restaurant LudoBites (named like software simply as LudoBites 4.0) exactly four times (no one on Yelp checked in more, and by my last visit Ludo was greeting me with raised eyebrows and a "You again Eugène?!").

The web has given pop-ups a bad name, but Chef Ludo just might salvage the word. Food trucks were all the rage in the last two years in LA, but I'll take pop-up restaurants over a food truck any day of the week if it's of the same caliber as the LudoBites experience: no corkage fee, a rotating menu of original dishes, and the feeling of taking in something temporary, never to be recreated. The four meals I had there with four different groups of people were among the most fun culinary outings I've had, not just in LA, but anywhere.

Ludo may come off as a whiny snob on Top Chef Masters, but the few times I've met him he's never been anything less than friendly and amusing. I'll never forget my last visit, when he stopped by our table to chat, spotted something out the restaurant's glass door entrance, and then turned as pale as a ghost sprinted back into the kitchen with a brief "I must go!" Jonathan Gold strolled into the restaurant ten seconds later and all was clear. When Jonathan Gold comes for his fried chicken, all else recedes.

One of the highlights of the LudoBites 4.0 menu was his foie gras croque monsieur, the foie gras sandwiched between two pieces of bread dyed black with squid ink. But my personal favorite was Chef Ludo's ham soup (recipe), one of the all-time great soups of my lifetime (and I am something of a soup junkie). All you need to know about the recipe is that it begins thus:

11 tablespoons (scant 1 1/2 sticks) butter, divided

Only in this day and age, only here

I heard Chef Ludo Lefebvre was going to be at Akasha tonight via his Twitter account. I booked a reservation via OpenTable. At dinner, I saw Jonathan Gold, who I recognized from a food fair a year or so ago where he was a celebrity guest. After our meal, we met Chef Ludo, who we recognized from his stint on Top Chef and who I'd seen working in a food truck at a street food truck festival from a month or so ago. We chatted with him about the marathon he ran yesterday, which I'd heard about via, yes, his Twitter account.

Celebrity chefs, celebrity food critics. It's a story that only makes sense in this moment, this place.

Worst commutes in America

The Hollywood freeway (the 101 from 134 to the 110) in Los Angeles ranks first in this list.

Anthony Downs, author of Stuck in Traffic has identified four reasons for America’s congestion problem, also applicable to most European and Asian economies: first, most of us work during the same hours of the day; second, the country’s economic success has allowed households to buy multiple cars; third, there are more people now than when most roadways were conceived; fourth, more cars means more accidents which means more delays.

If we take these four issues at face value, then some creative solutions suggest themselves if we really consider traffic to be a problem of significant economic impact:

  • Time shift certain jobs, perhaps by offering financial incentives to companies which do so. The LA highways are pleasant to 4 in the morning. What if we incentivized more graveyard shifts for jobs that don't require high degrees of collaboration with other people who are awake?

  • A more obvious one, which some cities like London and Singapore already enforce, is highway tolls that vary by time of day. Try to even out the traffic patterns.

  • Financial penalties for multiple cars, a bit like they have with the one child policy in China (yeah, that's right Jay Leno, we're going to get our bite).

I leave out telecommuting as that is already an accepted model in many industries, though one could argue it's still underleveraged for certain positions (contained tasks that don't require much coordination or the type of on-the-fly adjustments that face-to-face interactions are so useful for) given improvements in technology. There's probably also still somewhat of a stigma attached to telecommuting that ends up hurting those who do it more than others, if only because the "out of sight, out of mind" ethos still dominates modern corporate value systems.

The traffic problem is a thorny one. On the one hand, increased public transportation seems like something only the government or public institutions can pull off. But the likelihood of some civic solution in a place like LA seems so unlikely that one is tempted to turn towards the free markets and the business world for some economic imperative to make it happen. The truth is probably that some private and public cooperation is necessary to make this work on any large scale, as with commercial flight, and that is daunting.

Food: the new rock n' roll

Jonathan Gold writes that right under our noses (mouths?), food became the new rock n' roll:

While nobody was paying attention, food quietly assumed the place in youth culture that used to be occupied by rock 'n' roll -- individual, fierce and intensely political, communal yet congenial to aesthetic extremes: embracing veganism or learning to butcher a cow; eating tofu or head cheese, bean sprouts or pigs' ears. I could happily go the rest of my life without hearing about another celebrity potato farmer or rock-star butcher, about 15-year-old cheddar or 150-year-old Madeira. And I am not alone.

Perhaps that explains the food truck fever in LA, which has grown into an epidemic. There are so many food trucks with Twitter feeds that online aggregation sites for tracking their locations have evolved into attempts to aggregate physically in space. Whereas once the food trucks would bring your meal to you, now we're being roped into chasing our food? Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

For something unique, which Chef Roy's Korean tacos for Kogi were, a trek to seek out a food truck can be a culinary adventure. Kogi shot to fame from amidst the more workman-like pool of Mexican taco trucks which had been roaming LA for years before, but Kogi's rags-to-riches story (featured in NPR, The Wall Street Journal, and the NYTimes) and its use of Twitter to summon crowds like the PIed Piper (if you tweet it, they will come), seemed to launch a rush for curbside real estate. When I stepped out of work one afternoon to try out a grilled cheese truck that happened to stop down the street from our office, I ended up on the evening news on CBS. Construction workers who've been eating from taco trucks for years would have been appalled.

There are now trucks serving food that is both expensive and undistinguished ($9 cheesesteak?!), passing along none of the overhead savings from operating out of the back of a truck.

If a truck pulls up nearby your office and offers an alternative to the usual several lunch spots you're confined to, that's one thing, but if you hop in your car and drive out to a mobile food truck and pay premium prices to eat normal or even mediocre food out of a paper tray while standing on a street corner, you're getting robbed, both literally and figuratively.

The food truck bubble, as with others before it, will burst, taking down many a meal on wheels. If it isn't landlocked restaurants lobbying local officials to crack down on their mobile competition, it will be just plain fatigue. After all, this is a town where you can pay about $5 and get a really solid burger, fries, and drink, not to mention a table to sit at and enjoy the LA sun. Yes, In-N-Out is the Springsteen of this new rock n' roll.


Mira and I saw Dudamel conducting the LA Philharmonic in Verdi's Requiem last Thursday night. After the show, as we were walking out, two women approached and one of them asked if she could interview us. She was from the Christian Science Monitor.

I suspect we were picked out for being the only two people in the crowd who didn't appear old enough to collect social security checks. Apparently Verdi's Requiem just doesn't bring out the kids like it used to.

We ended up quoted at the end of this short online piece. Well, "quoted" should be qualified. Those weren't exactly our words, despite her use of a tape recorder. It's more like she took some of our thoughts and summarized them, then bracketed them with quotation marks.

A few bars into the opening of Verdi's Requiem, one of the more haunting openings in the canon, someone's cell phone went off. After it rang twice, Dudamel dropped his arms and brought the piece to a halt, and the crowd of septuagenarians let out a bile-filled hiss. I tried to see who it was but never identified the person.

Having my cell phone go off in the midst of a quiet performance--a play, a classical music performance, a book reading, to name a few--is one of my greatest fears. Even after I've turned off my phone I check it at least three or four times during a show. Someone just lived out my greatest fear that night.


To those who wonder if the Madden Football video game teaches one anything about real life coaching, exhibit A is the New England Patriots. Their offense resembles the way I play offense in Madden. Spread the field with a lot of wideouts, put my QB in the shotgun, and put the defense under constant attack all over the field, perhaps tossing in a no-huddle for added duress. Look for Moss deep in single coverage, then check down to Watson on a deep in or hit Welker dragging shallow across the middle. The Colts and Cardinals are well-suited to that style of offense in Madden, also.


Eric and I planned to meet Bill Simmons last night at his LA book signing. We were up in Burbank beforehand for work and had to fight the usual horrific LA traffic to get to ESPN Zone across from Staples Center. The signing started at 5pm, and we got on the 101 at about 6:30. The same way a great quarterback has an internal clock that lets him know when he has to either commit to a pass or dump the ball or risk taking a sack, I had a sense we were pushing it, that he might be gone before we arrived.

As we approached Staples Center, we ran into another microclusterf*** of automobiles. It turns out there was a Clippers game at Staples Center and a So You Think You Can Dance concert that night at Nokia Live next door (in fairness to the Clippers, they probably didn't account for most of that traffic; I blame SYTYCD). As cheap about parking as Eric and I were, we weren't about to mess around with nearby lots to save a few dollars. We paid the $25 king's ransom to park under Nokia Live, then sprinted through the crowds of SYTYCD fans lined up outside Nokia Live to reach ESPN Zone.

Our hustle paid off. We walked in as Simmons was packing up his stuff. We introduced ourselves and he graciously signed our books. We told him we worked at Hulu and he said he was a big fan, that he had used the site to watch Miami Vice and White Shadow (which, being huge fans of his ESPN column, we knew).

We presented him with a Hulu hoodie and thanked him for mentioning Hulu in his column from time to time. He said it would've been the coolest gift he received that night if not for the fact that a porn actress had come in earlier, bought a few copies of his books, and dropped off some DVDs from her, uh, oeuvre. Yep, that's a tough comp.

If you're an NBA fan, Simmons' new book The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy is a must read (it made it to the top of the NYTimes Non-Fiction bestseller list, reflecting his massive fan base). His knowledge of NBA history is impressive (when he says he's one of the last few true NBA fans, he's not kidding), and his ranking of the top 96 players in NBA history is very fair despite his Celtics' loyalties.

In many ways, Simmons is one of the original bloggers, a guy who wrote about what he knew for AOL long before millions of bloggers were doing the same. He's not afraid to write about pop culture and television and sports and all the things he cares about, the same way Chuck Klosterman writes about music and sports and topics he cares about or the way economists like Tyler Cowen and Steven Levitt write columns and books about all sorts of topics that economics touch on.

I was so flustered and out-of-breath when I arrived that I forgot to pre-sign my book for him. He'd made a policy of just signing his name after some of his other book signings ran long, but I'm sure he would have signed his name below any made-up salutation.

"To Eugene, my reader with the greatest length and upside."

"May this 736 page behemoth of a book last you over 300 post-Mexican meal seatings on the toilet."

Dudamel's Inaugural Concert

Thursday night I attended 28 year old Gustavo Dudamel's inaugural concert as music director of the LA Philharmonic. I saw him conduct the orchestra many times last season, so the novelty this night wasn't seeing him in action as much as it was experiencing the city's reaction to his coronation.

That's what it felt like: a coronation. The block of Grand Ave. in front of Walt Disney Concert Hall was closed off for a post-concert gala. Magenta spotlights lit up the brushed metal skin of the concert hall, and a carpet of matching hue ran from the sidewalk up to the entrance. Shouts from the photographer's den rang out each time a movie star strolled past, Hollywood having gained, for this night at least, a newfound appreciation for classical music. In my brief stroll up to the entrance, I saw Rachel Griffiths, Andy Garcia, and Jason Schwartzman. Even those people I didn't recognize were dressed to the nines this night; I felt almost bourgeois in my suit.

My seats this night were in the orchestra viewing area, behind the orchestra, directly below the organ, facing the conductor's podium. It felt like sitting behind home plate at a baseball game. I was concerned the music would sound odd given my seat location, but the acoustic qualities of that hall are so magnificent that the music sounded fine, if spatially reversed.

The first piece was the world premiere of Charles Adams' "City Noir." It is a jazz-infused symphony which the program noted would be the first in a triptych of pieces inspired by the California experience. I never played many jazzy classical pieces growing up, so these types of pieces are more opaque to me. As with many Adams' pieces, I found moments to be evocative and mysterious, with echoes of familiar sounds, but the overall emotional construction was challenging to grasp.

At intermission, complimentary flutes of champagne were set out on tables on each floor. If the interior of the space were more ornate, the gowns on the women a bit puffier, the men's tuxedo shirts a bit more ruffled, we could have been in 18th century Vienna, so excited the crowd seemed to be for classical music.

If Simon Cowell were to offer Dudamel any advice this night, I suspect he would have lauded the song selection. After intermission Dudamel selected Mahler's First Symphony. It's one of my favorites, a piece that showcases so many sections of an orchestra and builds to a rousing finale that is standing ovation ready.

More importantly, Dudamel clearly loves it, conducting from memory. Many times throughout the piece, he broke out in smiles of pure joy. The piece plays to one of his strengths, his ability to draw from his players a torrent of intensity and power. Were there rough patches to give ammunition to the inevitable naysayers? Sure. A bass solo was hit one note flat, the first violin section may not be as precise as one would like, and perhaps the horn section from Chicago which I listened to in my youth is stronger.

But I have yet to attend a Dudamel concert that wasn't exciting. Part of it is his style on the podium, the sheer variety of his broad gestures, as if willing the desired emotion from each phrase of the piece. I could hear his sharp intakes of breath whenever he launched the orchestra into a crescendo.

So moved was the audience that they broke out in applause between the first and second movements. As Dudamel led the orchestra towards the finale of the piece, I got goosebumps, and when he hit the final note, the crowd leapt to its feet in an outpouring of ecstasy I've never seen at a classical performance. About the third time he emerged to acknowledge the cheers, magenta and silver confetti rained down from the ceiling.

Will Dudamel save classical music? It's a silly question but often asked of him. Soccer has a better chance of becoming a major part of the U.S. sports landscape. I didn't see any significant shift in the demographics of the audience this night, nor would I expect to see any such shift in the years to come. It will take more than a conductor to restore classical music to a central role in the cultural landscape for the youth of tomorrow.

But perhaps classical music can continue to survive and thrive at the periphery, sustained by a core base of passionate fans. So much of culture has fractured that all that may be needed is enough of a fan base to fill the hall to 75% some 4 nights a week for seven or eight months a year. If TV shows like Friday Night Lights and Mad Men and The Wire could survive with their somewhat scant (by TV industry standards) but dedicated audiences, why not classical music?

Energizing the base may not be a sufficient strategy if you're the Republican Party, say, and require a majority to return to position of relevance among the next generation, but for this classical music fan, converting the heathen is orthogonal to my enjoyment (and given that just about every Dudamel show this season has sold out already, might be counter to it!). Dudamel is an electric new presence in the classical world, and that's plenty fine for me.

A waking dream

I had a musician friend visiting me all weekend, and while researching music shows, I stumbled across a unique concert: Bon Iver was going to play a sunrise show at the Hollywood Cemetery Sunday morning at around 5:50am. The doors would open at midnight on Saturday, and various events were scheduled through the night.

As with any hot show, tickets were underpriced at $25 each and sold out quickly. I paid a pretty sum more than that for a pair of tickets from a scalper on Craiglist. We met up at a Chevron gas station near The Getty and exchanged cash for tickets like a drug deal.

I don't remember how I first heard of Bon Iver, probably through an MP3 blog, but his first single "Skinny Love" haunted me. Every story about the album's creation focused on the back story: Justin Vernon retreated alone to a remote hunting cabin in Wisconsin for several months to record most of the tracks. I've never heard what drove him to the woods and what feelings he wanted to put into song, but one listen of the album reveals multitudes.

Soon after the album's release, I saw Bon Iver perform live at a tiny bar in LA called The Echo. The bar held maybe a hundred people at most, all crowded around the stage. I could barely see through the crowd to Vernon, who was seated on stage. That my few glimpses seemed to reveal a bearded mountain man reinforced the back story of the album's genesis. Unlike the hipsters crowding the bar, all of whom had paid exorbitant prices to dress like homeless people, Vernon looked like the real thing.

Any other day, I'd arrive at a show like this Hollywood Cemetery gig filled with excitement. But this day, I walked several blocks to the entrance in a stupor. Saturday morning I ran 19 miles, my longest run yet in training for this year's NY Marathon. The run broke me, not physically but mentally. It's not that I can't do the distance, but it's the frustration of not being able to run much faster despite all the miles logged. On a bike, the more I ride, the faster I go. On foot, the more I run, the longer I can suffer at the same pace, until felled by injury, of which there have been many.

After one of my numerous surgeries for my leg, I don't recall which one (maybe to have part of my meniscus removed), a physician said to me, "Some people just aren't built to run." He said "some people" but it was clear he was being more specific than that. I plodded along for 19 miles Saturday morning, but even when I willed myself to accelerate, when I tried to increase my stride or cadence or some variation thereof, nothing happened.

After a late dinner and show at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, we didn't get changed and out to the Cemetery until after two in the morning. The drive over through a rare and dense Los Angeles fog seemed like a journey through an impending apocalyptic wasteland. On the I-10 headed East, I saw a car on the other side of the highway stalled on the median, it's hood popped open, the engine spewing out flames several feet high. Near the cemetery, angry drivers leaned on their horns and gunned their engines to pass each other, apparently in a hurry to run the next red light. We passed a Korean club in K-town where young males milled about outside looking like they were organizing for trouble. The world felt aggressive, angry.

My legs protested even just an 8 block walk to the entrance of the cemetery. The patch of lawn where the concert was taking place was already full of blankets and people when we arrived in the absolute dark. Bottle Rocket screened on the white wall of a building. I love that movie. The quiet conversations of groups of people throughout the grounds mixed with the occasional draft of pot from the guy laid out next to us who puffed on his pipe without shame. Through the fog I could see the shadowy outlines of a few palm trees leaning over in the sky.

As soon as I laid out my sleeping bag and pillow on a blanket, they were covered with a cool dew. I tried to sleep, but I couldn't find a comfortable position no matter which way I rolled. After Bottle Rocket, the first set of music picked by Bon Iver played at a moderate volume (The LA Times has all the setlists from the night). Then, at some point, a screening of highlights from Planet Earth started playing. I don't know when that began as I was fading in and out of consciousness. I'd sit up from time to time and see colorful birds performing elaborate mating dances, frogs hurtling through the air in slow motion, their arms and legs splayed out in all directions for balance, and then I'd pass out again.

After that screening, a shorter second list of songs selected by Bon Iver played over the speakers. The second to last song was Sade's "By Your Side". My sister used that song for her first dance at her wedding. That was a long time ago. The song made me feel old and sentimental.

After the last song of the list, there was a period of silence where all I could hear were the conversations nearby me. A group of people spoke with excitement about evading security guards around the cemetery, near misses punctuated by ducking behind tombstones and crypts while flashlight beams swept overhead.

And then the chanting began, Buddhist monks chanting in that hypnotic, repetitious pattern. This was the designated alarm clock for the day. I wondered how Bon Iver was able to enlist Buddhist monks. Did they listen to his music, too? Are monks allowed to have iPods? It was dark and I did not see where they were, though I saw a group of lanterns hanging in the distance.

And then lights came on towards the far corner of the lawn, revealing a stage set up for the show, and then the members of Bon Iver walked on stage to the cheers of those who'd stayed up all night and those still rubbing the sleep out of their eyes.

The first time I saw Bon Iver back at The Echo, Vernon said little. But at the Hollywood Forever show, he spoke early and often, exhibiting a humble humor that went down easy for a crowd half awake. Hearing Vernon's normal speaking voice, one would never imagine the falsetto he uses throughout For Emma, Forever Ago.

If Arcade Fire sounds anthemic, then Bon Iver sounds sacred. As the sky turned from black to slate to sickly orange to pale morning blue, Bon Iver filled the damp morning air with gorgeous versions of every song they knew while the crowd sat on their blankets in a hushed reverence. Vernon seemed just as amazed as any of us that this was happening.

"This is the weirdest thing we've done. Ever." At one point Vernon tried to tune a guitar. "It's covered with dew."

It's as close as I may ever come to feeling the presence of something holy on a Sunday morning. At one point, someone let out a crazy yell of joy.

Vernon paused. "Was that a dead person?"

A few songs from the end, Vernon said, "I know it's standard for bands to pretend to walk off the stage and then come back and play more songs, but we're a young band, we don't have that many songs. So if it's okay with you, we're just going to stay on stage and play every song we know."

He apologized once more before the last song. "This is the last song. It's the only song left that we know how to play. I'm feeling inadequate." Then they launched into "Wolves". During the second half, at Vernon's request, we joined in to sing, again and again, "What might have been lost."

When the final note cut out, we all stood and applauded. Bon Iver had won our hearts. Then we shuffled out of the cemetery carrying our sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows. The morning sun, diffused through a thick cloud cover, dropped a soft white light from overhead.

Over the past year, I've soured on a lot of the shortcomings of the concert-going experience, but a night like this redeems my hope for what a live music performance can be. With every event of the night curated by Bon Iver, from the location to the movies to the music, this was more of an experience than a performance. Simply gorgeous, one of the most memorable shows of my life.


Google Reader asked some notable folks what their top picks were for Google Reader. Good idea, but I find it a bit offputting that so many folks chose their own website as one of their short list? Their sites are already listed and linked under their names, are we to believe they really spend time reading their own writing in Google Reader?


This past weekend, I was driving home on the 405 and saw a massive, odd-looking cloud standing alone in a clear blue sky, like a single head of cauliflower poking its head up through a bed of smog. Then I realized it was smoke from the fires in the San Gabriel mountains. It looked like a scene from 24, as if someone had dropped a nuclear bomb on LA. Here's one tightly-cropped time-lapse video of the smoke from the fires.

To truly appreciate how terrifying it looks, watch this wider-framed time-lapse which will give you a sense of the magnitude of this latest SoCal conflagration.


Hitchcock is a storyboarding app for the iPhone that can use photos. You're limited to the fixed focal length lens of the iPhone, but I could see it being a handy tool on set. We were shooting our Alec Baldwin Super Bowl commercial earlier this year in NYC, and the director Peter Berg grabbed my iPhone at one point and used the camera to help us visualize a shot he envisioned. He mentioned offhand that he wouldn't mind having a simple tool on the iPhone for quick previz.

It's $19.99, but there are more specialty tools coming to the iPhone that aren't intended for mass audiences, and those can justify higher prices.

Incidentally, I wish the iPhone app store had a way to put apps on a wishlist, or save them for later view. I often see apps that I think I might want to buy later, and I never have a way to remember them. Like this one cool app I saw last week, what did it do again, it was something about...oh, forget it.


A BMW concept diesel-hybrid. As with all concept cars, it looks absurdly futuristic, but it's heartening to see higher end manufacturers committing to the sustainability movement. Design can lift up the mundane and make it desirable, and having manufacturers like BMW or Tesla pushing the high end of this market can only help.


On Japanese simplicity.

In just over 30 years Hello Kitty has become a multibillion-dollar model of resourceful minimalism within the global juggernaut of Japanese pop culture. From Tokyo to Tehran, her expressionless, barely sketched visage adorns key chains, backpacks, toiletries and even a Hello Kitty-themed airline jet. Late last year an entire maternity hospital with Hello Kitty imagery adorning bedspreads and birth certificates opened to great fanfare in Taiwan.

But why is she mouthless? Because when you look at Hello Kitty, or “Kitty-chan,

M83 and the LA Phil

Last night I attended a sold-out concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall uniting M83 with the LA Philharmonic. Being a subscriber this season paid off as I ended up sitting dead center in the third row, Anthony Gonzalez's U-shaped bank of Macbook Pros and synthesizers directly in front of me. The program looked promising...

  1. The music of M83 (solo)

  2. Arvo Pärt - Fratres

  3. Debussy - La Mer

  4. M83 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic

...but though I love M83 and the LA Phil and the music of Pärt and La Mer, and though I think the acoustics at that venue are near perfect, as with your favorite foods it's not clear that the whole will equal, let alone surpass, the mix of the parts.

A valid concern, it seems, as the collaborative piece that concluded the concert was the least appealing of the program. Sean O'Laughlin, who arranged similar collaborations between the LA Phil and rock acts like Belle and Sebastian and The Decemberists, opted for a sort of earnest and straightforward melodrama that lacked the type of unique slow build of peculiar sonic landscapes that makes M83's music so appealing to us introverts. The collaborative arrangement featured a choir of women garbed in white, like nurses, a drum set, and overwhelming strings that left me unclear what Gonzalez was doing with his gear, so drowned out was his input.

As an event, though, it was an overwhelming success. I haven't seen the hall so full all year, the usual crowd of aged patrons replaced by a sea of what looked like hipsters dressed for prom. In this recession, an event that can bring in a younger audience and expose them to some classical pieces that are musical neighbors to a rock act they know is an event worth learning from. Having to read body language, always a dangerous task, I'd say half the orchestra bought into it and half had to strain to keep their eyes from rolling, but I find events like this more appealing than so-called crossover discs, with classical musicians playing with, say, Bobby McFerrin.

M83's solo set made good use of the acoustics of the space (aided by some aggressive lighting design), and I'm partial to Fratres and La Mer. It was a well-designed program. M83's work has always occupied prime real estate on my iPod, perhaps because it feels like an anthem of an introvert. Letting someone know you listen to M83 is like saying, "I may be quiet, but I contain multitudes."

Yuja Wang, and my return to vinyl

Last Thursday I heard 21 year old Chinese piano prodigy Yuja Wang play Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto with the LA Philharmonic conducted by Charles Dutoit.

I'd never heard this piece, nor had I heard much about Wang. She emerged from the wings in a fire engine red strapless dress, but the outfit was the flashiest part of her performance. She's all business on the piano, and she was as impressive a pianist as I've heard in a long time. From my seats along the first violin side of the concert hall, I could only see her back, but it was clear her fingers were flying all over the keyboard from one end to another, and her long, slender, but toned arms pulled a huge sound from the belly of the instrument. Technical mastery, a command of musical phrasing, she showcased it all, and the crowd gave her a standing ovation.

The program concluded with Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherezade, one of the first classical pieces I remember my father playing for me when I was young, one of the first orchestral pieces to imprint itself in my memory. I can't think of many pieces more evocative, of another time, another land, and a timeless mythological tale. In so many movie scores I hear the musical lineage of Scheherazade and picture thick, crimson curtains sliding open to reveal a Technicolor panorama unfolding on screen.

As a side note, I've bought a turntable and am going back to vinyl. Cue obvious mid-life crisis/aging jokes, but for music I really love, CDs don't offer quite the sound I want (don't even start in on MP3s), and the selection in the SACD market is poor to nonexistent. I loved playing my dad's LPs when I was a kid, I love the big album cover art, and I love that crackle when the needle drops onto the vinyl: it generates a timeless Pavlovian anticipation.

Let me know if you have any recommendations as to good stores to buy vinyl, either online or in the LA area.

Janelle Monae at Dakota Lounge

Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, a few of us self-declared LA refugees went to check out the opening party for Dakota Lounge, formerly Temple Bar, in Santa Monica. I wanted to catch Janelle Monae who I'd seen perform at the Viper Room previously.

Though we had to stand outside in line for a bit, we managed to get inside before her set began. Despite our late entry, we managed to walk right up to the front of the stage for her set.

Janelle Monae

Just as in her set at the Viper Room, Janelle was a dynamo on stage. At one point, I looked down at my camera to adjust the settings, and WHAP! Something hit me in the face. It was her white sportcoat, which she'd flung into the crowd.

Janelle Monae

Afterwards, we were at the bar grabbing a drink when she walked out. Someone saw us looking her way and asked if we'd like to chat with her. Turns out he was her manager.

I showered her with effusive praise. She thanked me and said, "Keep me in your prayers."

I had her manager snap a photo of us with her.

Meeting Janelle Monae


I went to the re-opening celebration concert for the Hollywood Palladium tonight. Jay-Z performed with an assist from DJ AM and a special guest cameo by T.I.

Between songs, mid-concert, Jay-Z stopped to talk politics. He's clearly an Obama supporter, and he offered his "homeboy" some advice (paraphrased from memory):

"I shouldn't talk about this...but f*** it, I'm an American citizen. Free speech and all that. If I were to give my boy some advice on how to deal with homegirl -- you know, 'you betcha' -- I'd tell him..."

And he jumped straight into "99 Problems":

"If you're havin' girl problems i feel bad for you son

I got 99 problems but a bitch ain't one"

Taco truck, where art thou? Also, some Hulu updates

We launched a bunch of new features to Hulu at around midnight, debugged for a while, and then just before 3am the late night crew here hopped into cars and rushed over to hit our late night go-to spot, the taco truck near Vons in West Los Angeles. Taco trucks do a poor job of branding. They have no names, only locations, and they are all referred to just by the generic name of their classification: taco truck.

That truck typically operates from 10pm to 3am, but on this night, it was not there. You know the economy is bad when even the taco trucks are impacted.

So we went to Izzy's Deli in Santa Monica and celebrated our labors until 4 in the morning.

Some of the new things you'll find on Hulu:

There are other subtle changes, some of which you may notice as you browse around the site.

Two other cool Hulu news bits: the latest issue of Wired magazine has an article on us, and Tina Fey mentioned Hulu when accepting the Emmy for 30 Rock as best comedy series on Sunday night. It's probably the closest I'll ever come to having Tina Fey say my name. Good enough.

We're also still working hard on adding and replenishing our content library. Here's the season three premiere of Heroes.

Okay, I will go collapse now.

Bob Dylan

I saw Bob Dylan at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium tonight. I've never heard Dylan live before. He's more mythical to me than real, seen mostly in black and white photos, documentaries, and movies, played by a variety of actors.

I'm a lifelong developing Dylan fan. My first real exposure to Dylan came in high school as one of my friends was a huge Dylan fan and would play Dylan in the tape deck of his car all the time. Recently I found a good deal on Amazon for a used copy of the Bob Dylan SACD box set, and I've been working my way through it, one disc at a time. His sound transports me back in time and across America like a musical road trip in a convertible with its top down, with the wind tousling my hair.

I will remember tonight, but not for the venue. The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium is fugly, and the acoustics of the cement-floored space are awful and muddy. The speakers were balanced to lean to the left, and it sounded like Dylan was singing from a space floating about 20 feet over the left third of the stage when he was in fact standing about two thirds of the way to the right of the stage most of the evening.

It's a credit to Dylan's songwriting that despite the terrible acoustics (which made his already incomprehensible lyrics sound like the language used in Apocalypto), my toes were tapping the whole time. Given the state of my Achilles, that's no small feat. I nearly fell over from exhaustion a few times--for some reason, tearing your Achilles reduces your endurance for standing--but managed to stay upright to the bitter end, through the second song of his encore.

As a fan of speech, I admire Dylan for his sui generis command of the rhythms of English language. He really is the poet laureate of American music.

NOTE: You can download "Dreamin' of You", a previously unreleased track from Tell Tale Signs, from

The woman who should sing the next Bond song

Last night at the Viper Room (famous as the venue outside which River Phoenix died), I heard the woman who should sing the next Bond theme song, and her name is Janelle Monáe.

Janelle Monae

Her set was short, just 5 songs, but it was one of the most energy-packed, blow-your-mind 5 song sets I've heard since, well, ever. I've heard her songs online via MySpace, and I was impressed, but seeing her live is an experience unto itself and not to be missed. She's like a live bolt of electricity on stage, and frankly I'm not sure she could keep maintain it for a 15 song set without just passing out and getting carried off in an ambulance.

The Viper Room's concert hall is tiny, and that was part of the experience. Being able to see her animated expressions, being able to see her dancing like her life depended on it. I'm sure I'll never experience her music that way again. For her last song, she crowd-surfed, and I nearly ruptured my other Achilles trying to help guide her across as she passed over my head.

She has an interesting style (that hair!) and sound, both futuristic yet classical. That's why she'd make a great choice for the next Bond theme song. She can bring some of the Shirley Bassey funk and marry it to a more modern, hip-hop sound. With her interest in science fiction--she references androids in her album cover and some of her songs--she might even be able to write lyrics that incorporate "Quantum of Solace" in an organic way.

Her music is hard to describe. She went from the propulsive drive of "Many Moons" to the hushed emotion of "Smile". My favorite track is "Sincerely Jane". There's funk, hip hop, soul, pop, and bits of other musical goodness in there.

After the concert, we all stared at each other wide-eyed, and then I ran over to the merchandise table to buy her CD, because all I could think was "this girl's going to blow up" and "I need to buy stock in her."

You can buy her CD Metropolis: The Chase Suite or mp3's from Amazon. Here's the rest of her appearance schedule for 2008; those of you in SF, Portland, Seattle, Arlington, NYC, or Chicago should get your tickets now.


Los Angeles gets its fair share of crap, and I'm as guilty as anyone. Elsewhere, people complain about the weather. Here, people complain about the traffic, the strip malls, and, well, the traffic.

But today I want to focus on one of LA's treasures. Betina asked me in the afternoon if I wanted to go with her and Justing to Largo, a movie-theater-converted-to-music-hall in Hollywood, to hear Fiona Apple. I haven't heard her sing live since a concert at the Paramount back in Seattle many years ago, but I've always enjoyed her voice, that deep and smoky megaphone.

Largo is a cozy little theater tucked on the not-so-cozy mega street of La Cienega, a long stone's throw from the Beverly Center shopping mall. Such are the geographical realities of LA.

It turns out the headliner this night was the Watkins family, consisting of sister-brother duo Sara and Sean Watkins, of Nickel Creek fame (Nickel Creek's self-titled Alison-Krauss-produced debut album is a great place to start if you want to grok them; of the 267 customer reviews on Amazon it has 213 5-star ratings).

But during their long show, they were accompanied by one guest musician after another. Dan Wilson, former leader of Semisonic and recent Grammy nominee, came out for a few tunes. Then Fiona Apple strolled out, with that introverted, nervous body language, until she opens her mouth and that powerhouse of a voice takes over the room. She is our nation's little waif, our little Edith Piaf.

Then Fiona left and Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket fan took his place. I haven't seen Phillips since a concert at Stanford back when I was an undergrad. I'm glad he still looks reasonably young, or I would have felt even older than normal.

And then Dan Wilson came back, and who did he bring on stage for a duet than John C. Reilly, of, well, Talladega Nights fame. Reilly, besides being one of the few people I know who carries his middle initial almost like an honorific, can actually hit his notes.

Great music all night long in the larger but still intimate of two performance spaces at the Largo, and yet there were empty seats in what was an arthouse movie theater sized hall, with tickets only costing $25 each. How that place does not sell out every night is a great mystery to me.

Just the previous night, I was out with some coworkers, and we were comparing LA to Seattle and NYC, and we discussed how one problem with LA seemed to be the lack of a public place you felt you could call your own. Largo feels like such a spot, and I could see myself becoming a regular.

In contrast, I went with some coworkers to The Forum in Inglewood on Monday night to see Coldplay, and that venue is one of the fugliest buildings I've been in. It's like an oversized high school gym, and picturing the Lakers playing there after seeing them at Staples Center is difficult to fathom. Since Coldplay's debut, I've liked each successive album less, and their last album had me swearing them off, but their newest album caught my ear's interest again.

The show was good, but not great. They did not bring a full musical outfit, so on string sections of songs like "Viva La Vida" they just piped in the missing backing instruments which is always disappointing. I also didn't love all the arrangements. But Chris Martin seems like one of the nicer guys in rock, and they have a long list of big anthems to call upon.

The handicapped parking at the Forum filled up, so I had to walk what felt like two miles from the stadium back to the car in the parking lot. I felt like Jude Law in Cold Mountain. When I got home and took off my walking boot, I found a big bloody spot on the back of my sock, recalling Curt Schilling's famous bloody sock. I'm going to frame it as a memento of my heroic effort on that night.

She & Him

I caught She & Him at the Vista Theatre on Monday night. She & Him are actress Zooey Deschanel and indie music star M. Ward, touring in support of their first album together, Volume One.

Their music is simple and has a nostalgic charm. Zooey is not going to compare to Matt on musical talent--if real-life guitar skills transferred to the videogame world he'd be dominating people on Guitar Hero--but she has a strong, clear voice and that same sweetness that she's showcased on screen. They both have a relaxed, confident stage presence that draws the crowd over to their side.

On the "do they sound better on CD/MP3 or do they sound better live" question, based on this concert it's the latter. M. Ward die-hards may feel a bit short-changed that he doesn't sing as much in this collaboration, but I'm not familiar enough with the oeuvre of M. Ward to know what I missed. Live, their sound is bigger and richer than on CD.


If you can attract fans from Karen O to Eva Mendes, and you can get a hot dog named after you at Pink's, and you can call Frank Gehry "Pancho," then, well, I'd say you've made it.

This past Sunday, I caught Dudamel's last concert with the LA Philharmonic until Nov. 24, next season. Again, it was a sold out show and we had to wait in a long standby line for tickets to free up via returns. The program consisted of Debussy's Afternoon of a Faun, Leila Josefowicz playing Bartok's Second Violin Concerto (with the encore being a piece by "our friend Esa-Pekka" as Josefowicz announced to the delight of the crowd), and finally, Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe which, at its best moments, is my favorite of Ravel's work.

There were only two odd moments. One was awkward, when a French horn player dropped his mute during a quiet moment in the Ravel. As it clattered to a stop, the guilty party hung his head sheepishly.

The second strange moment was the intrusion of a horn from the rear of the concert hall, also in the middle of the Ravel. Was it coming from outside? Through a speaker? Was it supposed to be part of the performance? If someone knows, let me know. Many in the audience looked towards the back of the auditorium, but I never figured out what it was.