Thursday, 30 June 2005

I finally posted the first installment of notes from my trip to San Francisco. It made more sense to back-date the entries so they would match when I originally wrote the notes. I did most of the real writing at the time and have been working on the editing ever since.

I have some photos that I’ll put on line just as soon as I can finish sifting through them and doing touch-ups.

Tuesday, 14 June 2005

Lavay Smith looks like a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page. And when she sings…it’s as if Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Bessie Smith are all rolled up into one. Pure heaven! She is one of my favorite artists these days, if not the favorite.

Is it any wonder that, when I flew to San Francisco to visit my good friend Jules, there was only one thing on my “can’t miss” list? Hell, I picked the specific weekend entirely to see Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers play live.

The show was at a place called Biscuits & Blues. It was just a couple blocks from my hotel, although I’ll admit it wasn’t entirely by accident. I had stayed at The Savoy Hotel about 10 years prior and loved it. That it was so close to the club was an added bonus.

Biscuits & Blues offers a full dinner menu upstairs and nightly shows in the club downstairs with a limited menu selection. Wanting to make a night of it, our dinner reservations were at 2030 and I reserved tickets for the 2230 show. The plan was to have a leisurely dinner (review forthcoming) and be able to enjoy the show without distractions.

Holding little more than 100 people, the club is located in the basement. Lit primarily by candles, the low ceiling, exposed pipes and proximity of the tables and the stage give the space an intimate feel and just the slightest 1920’s speakeasy vibe. It turned out to be the perfect setting for the show that was to come.

Dinner had taken a little longer than expected, but we got lucky and were seated very near the front just as the band took the stage. The sight lines were fantastic with only one table and a small dance floor between us and the stage. As small as this place was, I don’t think there could have been a bad seat in the house.

There wasn’t an opening act so much as a two-song warm-up by The Red Hot Skillet Lickers; a sextet featuring piano, string bass, alto and tenor saxophone, trumpet and trombone. They were tight and played off each other rather well, starting with a Ray Charles tune and another up-beat number. Both songs showcased the band’s talents and got the joint jumpin’.

Then Lavay Smith took the stage and I could barely contain myself. Right then I knew it would live up to my expectations. As it happens, we were standing right next to her as we entered the club and I hadn’t even realized it.

For reasons I can’t begin to fathom, the couple in front of us left after Smith’s first song. The waitress asked if we’d like to move up front. Umm…HELL YEAH! I had flown over 1000 miles with only two things in mind: visit Jules and see this show. There was no way I would pass up a front-row seat.

My biggest worry was that Jules wouldn’t like the show. I know she likes Blues music, but what I’ve heard her talk about the most is Johnny Lang, while Lavay Smith is a bit different. As excited as I was to finally see Smith play live, I would have been totally bummed if Jules hated it. Luckily, my fears were unfounded and she had a good time.

Through the 90 minute set she did a couple songs from her forthcoming CD that “should be out in time for Christmas,” plus several songs from each of her first two releases.

I wish I could remember the whole set-list, but there’s just no chance. I do recall that she did most of my favorites, including “Blue Skies” and “Walk Right In” (from One Hour Mama) plus the torchy “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You?,” sassy “I Want A Little Boy” and the title track from Everybody’s Talkin’ ‘Bout Miss Thing!

Afterwards, Ms. Smith came out and signed autographs. There’s no doubt I came across as a gushing fan-boy, but we got a chance to talk for a couple minutes. She was gracious and signed both of my CDs. Lavay mentioned that they’d be coming to the Twin Cities in September and November. While I already knew about November shows in Rochester and Fairmont, Minneapolis wasn’t on the list as of when I left.

Ironically, after having made special effort to bring my camera, I was so enamored that I completely spaced it. How cool would it have been to score a couple pictures with Lavay, let alone pictures during the show? Boy, did I blow that one.

Still, I had started the evening with a huge grin and afterward…you practically had to scrape me off the ceiling. You can bet I’ll see her again when she comes to town. If the Minneapolis gigs are true, I’ll be there! If they don’t happen and it means a road trip to Rochester, I’ll happily do that.

I won’t forget pictures either.

Monday, 13 June 2005

I just returned from an extended weekend in San Francisco. I flew out Thursday, met up with my friend Jules, and we spent a relaxed weekend doing touristy type stuff. The return flight departed SFO at 0600 and arrived in Minneapolis at 1315, with a quick (30 minute) plane change in Denver.

The flight was uneventul, but the trip was not. I’ve got photos, a concert review, two restaurant reviews, and a sort of travelog that I hope to have ready in the next couple days.

Friday, 10 June 2005

When I first got to the airport, I was redirected from the eTicket line into the regular one, which was HUGE. It seems they were rebooking several flights due to weather delays. I was glad I got there the recommended two hours before my flight.

After an hour, I had only moved half-way through the line. Not good. As if traveling in itself wasn’t traumatizing enough, my flight was scheduled for 0918 and I still had to check my bag and get through security. When they announced the plane to Denver would be delayed an hour, it was a tiny bit better, but now I was worried about making the connection in Denver.

Thank goodness for that delay. I didn’t reach the front of the line until 0900, where another person sent me to the magic kiosk I could have used in the first place. As long as I got to San Francisco before the show, I’d live.

By the time I made it to my departure gate, it was 10 minutes before boarding. Not enough time to recharge the iPod, but not so long that I’d be bouncing off the walls. It could have been worse.

It would have been nice to get a couple pictures of the Twin Cities as we took off, but I didn’t want to risk a chat with an Air Marshal by playing fast and loose with the electronics ban during takeoff. Perhaps I’ll be more daring on the flight home.

After walking what seemed like a half-mile between gates in Denver, there was just enough time to grab a quick lunch find someplace to surreptitiously recharge batteries. I managed to get just enough juice into the iPod so it would last through the rest of the flight.

When Jules found me in baggage claim, I was still a little freaked out, but it was finally starting to sink in. I was 2000 miles from home, I was in San Francisco, and I had the whole weekend ahead of me. It was my first real vacation in who knows how long and I was actually there.

Jules had her car, since she lives in the area, so we drove to the hotel and got checked in. After a few minutes to get settled, we decided to head for dinner. Not wanting to think about it too much, we wandered to a place around the corner called “Thai Stick.” It was a small, family-run place, rather than one of the trendy tourist places. They were reasonably priced, the food was good and the service was very attentive.

After dinner we went for a walk and headed through Castro and the Tenderloin. Not the greatest areas of town, but it was still light out and there were two of us. The people watching was good, with only a few panhandlers bothering with us. Strangely, we got hassled more on the block in front of the hotel than we did through the entire rest of our walk.

The camera is still so new to me that, in spite of carrying it almost everywhere, I often don’t think to take pictures. There’s something about urban blight that piques my artistic eye.

Finally it was back to the hotel where we talked for a while and crashed at about midnight.

Today’s soundtrack was Roger Clyne: Americano, Carbon Leaf: Indian Summer, Cafe Tacuba: Avelancha de Exitos, Manu Chao: Proxima Estacion, Tears for Fears: Elemental, Lavay Smith: Everybody’s Talkin’ ’bout Miss Thing, Madeline Peyroux: Careless Love, The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Operatica: Shine, and three songs from Reverend Horton Heat: Lucky 7.

Sunday, 05 June 2005

It took some doing, but I’ve converted the FAQ page so it’s handled by Movable Type as well. In doing so, the layout has changed so it looks more like the rest of the site.

It will also allow for easier updates—and believe me, the FAQ needs it.

Friday, 03 June 2005

Generally mysteries and science fiction. Specific authors would be Caleb Carr, Robert Frost, Tony Hillerman, Ngaio Marsh, Neal Stephenson, Bruce Sterling and John Case.

Other than Stephenson and Sterling, I don’t care for most science fiction authors. So many of them get caught up in trying to write the next Neuromancer or the next Snow Crash that they forget to include a story. Tom Clancy bores me for the same reason.

When it comes to movies, my favorites are 12 Angry Men, Mediteraneo, The Professional, La Femme Nikita (not the TV show) and Fail Safe (1964) to name a few.

Overall, my taste in movies is somewhat eclectic, but it favors the classics, independent and foreign films over current Hollywood fare. In spite of that, I’m a sucker for Jackie Chan action movies, John Wayne Westerns and the Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns. Also, I can never pass up the 80’s teen-angst stuff like Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles.

Michael Armstrong
1996, Minneapolis, MN
Brooklyn Park, MN
5′ 11″
Dishwater blonde, long

Music is an important part of my life. I’ve nearly always got something playing, and I’m always on the lookout for new music. Everything is fair game, although I’m not much for country, opera or hard rock. Favorites include Laurie Anderson, Adrian Belew, Bjork, Kate Bush, Cocteau Twins, John Hiatt and King Crimson. Bob Marley was a god. Ani DiFranco is a goddess.

My latest music fascination seems to be 50’s styled rock-and-roll, especially the Duane Eddy/Dick Dale surf-rock sound. The Ventures and Los Straitjackets are at the top of that list for me right now.

I also have a penchant for swing covering the full range from classics like Goodman and Miller to newer bands such as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Brian Setzer. Jangly guitar pop such as Jellyfish or The Replacements will almost always make me happy.

I have a short recommendation list on my database site. Five artists, one title each.

I have many interests, perhaps too many since I never have time for them all. The most prevalent are model trains, sport/stunt kites, writing, painting, reading, matchbook collecting, Web design and database programming. I really wish I had more time (and talent) to paint. The computer drawing tablet gets used more for photo editing and CAD work than it does for painting. I recently took up Geocaching.