Monday, August 25, 2008

Grandma's 60th Birthday Celebration - First Half

This Saturday, we started the celebration for Grandma P's 60th birthday with a gathering with my sister's family at Grandma's house. That was good news for us, since it meant Bella had plenty of time to run around like a maniac and get all of her energy out keeping up with her cousins Jenna and Megan.

In the first half of the afternoon, we hung around at Grandma's, and the girls played with bubble making stuff in the backyard, and then they helped my sister decorate the birthday cake for Grandma.

We then walked over to a park close to Grandma's house, and the girls again got plenty of energy out. Bella continued to amaze us once again, as she's somehow becoming an expert at climbing at only age 2. She kept up with her cousins as best she could, and she even was brave enough to go across one of those bouncy bridges, which normally scare her away.

We headed out to Red Lobster for my my mom's dinner after that, and Bella once again managed to eat her weight in mac and cheese. We had a thrilling ride home, since we ran out of diapers after Bella pooped there, so luckily that was at the end of dinner, so we got her in the car with no diaper on and sped over to Grandma's house, probably breaking the record for the time for that drive.
We hung out at Grandma' s for a little bit longer, and then took a quick pit stop to my favorite music store, Rolling Stone, before heading home. Bella had been in RS once about a year ago, but we haven't had a chance to take her back since then. To give you a quick explanation, it's pretty much all cd's in the store, and the ceiling has cd's and artwork and stuff hanging all over the place. So Bella walked in with us and LOVED it, she ran around looking at everything and being the loudest person in the store (even though it was almost 9:00).

While I was picking out cd's Michele walked with Bella to the back row of the store. Now keep in mind, when we talk to Bella about music, we talk about loads of bands (Terrible Twos, Death Cab for Cutie, Radiohead, Feist, Butch Walker, Weezer, etc.) . You may remember that Bella requested the Weezer song on the Rock Band game the last time we played it, so I guess she's becoming a fan. Michele picked up the new Weezer cd, which neither of us have shown her, and asked her if Bella knew who that was. On her first guess, Bella said "Weezer!" We have no idea how she did that, I don't know if she's already reading words or something, but we are just scared.

So it was a fun day all and all, and Bella mercifully slept like a rock that night. We'll be finishing the Grandma birthday celebration this Saturday on her actual birthday. Bella is ready to sing "Happy Birthday" another 4 or 5 times, along with 10 or 12 rounds of "Take Me Out To the Ball Game" as well.

Dan In Real Life

So I'm trying to catch up on movies I've missed in the past year (hey, you try raising a two year old, going to school, having an active concert life, holding down a job, oh yeah and having a wife and all that too!), and I just watched Dan In Real Life last night, starring Steve Carell from The Office.

I was giving this movie a chance, since I'm a big fan of Carell going back to his days on the Daily Show. He of course was great in the 40 Year Old Virgin, so this was his first foray into the more "romantic" side of the "romantic comedy" genre.

Unfortunately, I was not a big fan of this movie. I'm not sure what I disliked more, the god awful dance-workout scene, the cliche-ridden family football game, the prediction of what my life will be like in 13 years with one daughter begging to drive and the other starting to date boys... No, it was none of these things, not even the fact that the writers, directors and producers expected us to suspend our disbelief enough to make us believe that a woman like Juliette Binoche might actually date a giant douchebag like Dane Cook.

No, it was none of these things, I came to realize. It was actually the fact that I sat through 98 minutes of this movie, and not one single character in the movie threw a punch at Dane Cook. It's my belief that if you're going to put Dane Cook on a screen for more than, oh, 2 minutes, someone had better throw a punch at his face. Just on sheer principle. I don't care if he's playing the same scuzzbag character he always plays, or if he's playing the Dalai freaking Lama, someone had better throw a punch at his face.

Hollywood: Please take note of this, and please plan accordingly in all future productions. Thank you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Vacation Week Pt 4

For our last day of relaxing on our trip, we headed to the Jersey shore to Michele's Aunt Joanie's house, for Bella to spend some quality time with the Cooney relatives, and more time with Carolina and Augie.

Bella again missed her nap that day, so she was a bit of a crank at some points, but overall she had a lot of fun, and got to introduce the family to her favorite movie in the world, Ratatouille. Good times all around.

After spending the night at Joanie's, we packed everything up and headed towards home. We made a long long drive from New Jersey to Cleveland the first day, then headed straight home the day after that. Loads and loads of driving, but lots of fun overall.

And of course, I thought I'd end things off with another photo of the infamous Jersey Shore Crab.

Vacation Week Pt 3.1

More photos from the days at Sesame Place, including Bella having fun with her cousins Carolina and Augie

Monday, August 18, 2008

Vacation Week Pt 3

The real fun of our trip start off Wednesday, as we left Harrisburg and headed toward the Philadelphia area. We decided to make a stop over in Hershey, PA, to the Hershey World of Chocolate.

Now first off, my thinking was that since we'd be going on a Wednesday morning, we'd pretty much be the only people there. Not quite. We got there around 10:30 am, and the park was PACKED already. We were only staying in the World of Chocolate part, which was very close to the entrance, so we didn't have to deal with the majority of the people at least.

The World of Chocolate was great though, if you are a fan of any type of Hershey chocolate, and if you are not, we might as well ship you off to an island in the middle of nowhere and leave you there. We managed to get away with only picking up two cookies and a brownie, otherwise we could have ended up gaining about 50 pounds with everything we wanted to eat there.

We hopped back in the car and drove another hour and a half or so to our ultimated destination, Langhorne, PA, home of Sesame Place. As I think I've mentioned before, Sesame Place is a theme park that is all about, of course, Sesame Street. It's actually more like 50% water park, 30% kids ride park, and 20% shows and dinners and games and other stuff to spend way too much money on.

Bella took to the place immediately, she was first happy to see some of the characters like Zoe, the Count and Bert and Ernie there. After a lap around the park, and a quick stop for photos with Elmo that Bella loved, we headed to one of the toddler pool areas and stayed there for a while. At some point, Bella got WAY over the water phobia that had plagued her for a while, and she had a great time running around the pools for her size. She even dragged Michele and I around by the hand to look at the other pools nearby. She was in very high spirits, despite missing out on a nap that day.

We then went to the Dinner with Big Bird and Friends, where Big Bird, Elmo and a bunch of other of her favorite characters all walk around and greet the kids at your table and do all sorts of other stuff. This got to be a bit much for Bella unfortunately, she didn't want to be around the characters after a while and just wanted to go play in the pool more. Oh well. We watched the nightly parade, and headed back to the hotel for a good night's rest.

What was surprising to us was that Bella wanted to go in the hotel swimming pool as soon as we got back, and she had loads of fun "swimming" in there with us (obviously she's still learning, so she just clung to us the whole time). We were pretty happy about this, since she was really brave and wasn't scared the whole time we were in there.

We headed back over to Sesame Place the next morning for a breakfast with Cookie Monster and some of the other characters again. Bella was still afraid of the character costumes unfortunately, so she didn't have a great time there again, but at least we tried. We met up with Michele's brother Mark, his wife Jenn and Bella's cousins Carolina and Augie shortly after that. As soon as we met them in the park, Bella said that she wanted to go on the roller coaster which is right near the entrance of the park. She had been saying this the day before too, but we figured she would chicken out as soon as we got near the ride. Turned out that wasn't the case, she was ready to go on the ride all the way to the end, but sadly she wasn't big enough to go on the ride just yet. Guess we have to wait for next time for that.

Bella had lots of fun playing with Carolina in the pools the rest of the afternoon, and they went on a couple of the kid rides and dragged us with them, attempting to get any of the adults as sick as possible on all of the spinning rides they went on (and nearly succeeding with me in the balloon ride Bell and Carolina and I went on). Mark's family took off earlier in the afternoon, so that they could head over to New Jersey to stay with Michele's Aunt Joanie, and we stayed at Sesame Place for a few more hours of fun for Bella.

After a few more hours in the pool, we headed back to our hotel for a rest for a bit, before a last minute decision to head over to Jersey as well to visit with the family. Bella pretty much collapsed for a nap for a while though, I had to take a picture since she was so cute being so cold out of it.

Vacation Week Pt 2

We originally planned on making an 11 hour trek from Chicago to Harrisburg, PA, on Tuesday of last week, but luckily we came to our senses and decided to leave on Monday night instead and got a few hours' head start. We made it to the Toledo, OH, area before Bella started majorly crabbing. Can't blame the girl, it was a pretty long day for us all.

We made the 7 hour drive from Toledo to Harrisburg the next day as planned. Of course it ended up being a few hours longer than hoped for, since a few pit stops along the way were required, but it wasn't terrible. All I know now is that Pennsylvania is ONE FRACKING LONG STATE!! Holy god....

We got to Harrisburg at a pretty decent time and rested up in a hotel, and found a mall nearby and grabbed some dinner. For some reason, Bella had a tummy ache, and that worried us that it was a bad start to the trip, but she thankfully got over it during dinner and managed to eat a good chunk of the first of about 15 mac and cheese dishes she had during our trip.

We did do a little driving around downtown Harrisburg just to say that we saw it, but we were more concerned with resting up for the next day, since that was when the real fun was going to start.

Our Vacation Week Pt. 1

Alright, going to make up for lost time with a couple of quick blogs on our vacation week.

We started off last weekend by finally meeting up with our friends Josh and Maria, who we haven't seen in quite some time. We had some good old Lou Malnati's pizza, then headed over to the Party in the Park in the giant chain of parks a few blocks away from our house (where Bella and Mommy usually go while I'm in class).

Bella surprisingly wasn't too interested in the petting zoo or pony rides this time around, she actually had more fun running around like a maniac in the big open field, and that was good enough for her. We headed back to our house so Josh could try out Rock Band on my PS3, and Bella decided to join him on the drums for the Ramones' Blitzkrieg Bop. Here's a video:

The next day we even tried having Bella play the Guitar Hero guitar I have while I played the Rock Band guitar and had some fun with the results. Shortly after that, we headed off on our big trip, read on...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

She & Him at the Park West 8/5/08

My six day music binge (with a day of rest included yesterday) concluded tonight with a show by She & Him at the lovely Park West in Lincoln Park. For those who haven't heard of them yet, the band is touring band for the number one woman on my hollywood chick list right now, Zooey Deschanel. Most people know her as Buddy's love interest in the movie Elf, but I know her as the future Mrs. Pacyna, once polygamy is made legal in America, which I understand is one of the cornerstones of Obama's campaign, right? (Don't worry, Michele gets to marry Christian Bale, it's all arranged and taken care of).

The show was opened by the backup singer for She & Him, Becky Stark, who leads the band Lavender Diamond as her normal day job. Since I try not to rag on musicians when it does seem that they are actually making a legitimate effort on stage, I will sum up her performance thusly: She had a very nice voice, she looked very lovely in her dress, fishnets and mary jane shoes, and the rest of the band sounded great when they played behind her. That is all.

She & Him came back out for a normal set fairly early in the night, and it was immediately clear that this wasn't just yet another vanity project for another Hollywood star trying to succeed in the record business. Zooey really does have a fantastic voice, and you could tell from her live performance that they did not need to fix up her voice for the singing she did in Elf. She really has a strong voice, and I'm able to say this without saying how friggin' hot she is.

Sadly, cameras were not allowed in to the show, which was probably a wise move, since their entire set would have been one giant camera flash, but oh well. This photo I took with my phone camera is sadly as good as it will get.

S&H were at their best when it was down to only Zooey and the other main band member, M. Ward, not to knock the rest of the band, who were all solid performers. Zooey even displayed her ability to play the piano on a few songs, sometimes missing a note here and there, but otherwise playing capably. Ward took the focus off of his talented singing and songwriting (last seen at the Pitchfork festival a few weeks ago), and let Zooey shine. They of course played the majority of their debut album, with several covers thrown in for fun, including their album version of "Your Really Got a Hold on Me," and a Joni Mitchell song.

One thing that shocked me was how absolutely silent the crowd was during most of the set. I thought for sure that there would be major chit-chatting going on, since this was a celeb up there performing and everyone would just be there just to see her. But during the quiet numbers, you could hear only the sounds from the stage, minus an occasional clinking glass or two. How the 1,000 people at the Park West were silent more than the 115 at Angels & Kings for Butch Walker's set is beyond me.

The band wrapped up their main set with their near hit, "Why Don't You Let Me Stay Here," as the crowd clapped along enjoying every moment of it. After a quick encore, Zooey and Ward returned for an acoustic reading of the classic blues song "I Put a Spell On You," with Zooey doing truly impressive vocals on the song.

I can really say after watching their set that Zooey would definitely be able to carry out a career in music if she didn't already have the actress thing to lean back on. Granted, she wouldn't be selling out the Park West on her first show in Chicago, but given the time and the effort, she would definitely be able to cut it.

Oh yeah, in case I neglected to mention it in the review, Zooey is frigging hot. Wow.

Lollapalooza Weekend Part 4 - Sunday

I thankfully was able to get in a few hours of sleep Sunday night, even though I got home around 2:15 from the Double Door show. Mercifully, Bella again slept until 8:30 or so, so that was fantastic, but she again took off her diaper during the night, so this is a fun new trend we'll get to deal with.

I once again hopped on the train, and despite not needing to be there til 1:15, got there around noon once again. The forecast predicted that it was going to be a bit warmer than the day before, so the plan of the day was to see who I needed to see, then duck in the shade for as long as possible the rest of the day.

I figured I might as well start the day off right, so I went and picked up another Robinson's rib sandwich for lunch. No offense to the other vendors on site, but nothing else can compete with those sandwiches! I tried getting to Lolla early enough to catch the set by Chicago's great band Office, but sadly they were done by the time I managed to walk around all of the police barricades to get inside (as you may have read, things got a little crazy at the Rage Against the Machine show the night before as expected).

I then wandered over to one of the smaller stages to check out Wild Sweet Orange, a band I've never heard of before. They were good for a warm up for the day, pretty straightforward lighter rock, nothing too offensive or anything. I then headed to the south side of the grounds once again to brave it out in the early day sun to see one of my most anticipated sets of the weekend.

I got a great spot near the stage for one of the best new bands of the year, the Whigs. Their sound brings back memories of great 80's and 90's indie rock bands like The Replacements and Buffalo Tom, and their live energy definintely proved they are a band to watch in the next few years. Their drummer, Julian Dorio, was worth watching by himself. If Animal from the Muppet Show and Seth Green had a child, he would look like Julian, and would play the drums just as well. Lead singer Parker Gispert was a great performer as well, reminiscent of Ryan Adams when he isn't throwing hissy fits. The band braved playing a sweaty set directly into the blazing sun, closing with a solid version of Right Hand on My Heart, which you can download here for free.

After getting nasty sweaty during the Whigs set, I headed over to the smaller stage nearby to watch Nicole Atkins and the Sea, who were basically a last minute pick because a) their stage is nearly covered in shade, b), the description I read made her sound like a good contrast to everything else I had been seeing all weekend, and c) the photo of her was hot. What can I say, I am a man, I am weak. Thankfully, it turned out to be a really good choice. Atkins, a Jersey native like my loving wife (who I have to score brownie points with now), has a great voice and good stage presence, led her band through a good set of mid-tempo rockers that were a great soundtrack for a rest in the shade. I'd definitely see her play again live, so she was one of the few discoveries of the weekend for me.

After Atkins' set, there was a pretty big lull for a while with no one interesting for me to check out. Brian and I did check out Chromeo, a jokey dance band whose claim to fame is that they are the only successful Arab/Jew collaboration in history, but that joke is about as enjoyable as they got. The crowd was enjoying their goofy dance music, but I had enough after about 2 songs.

I headed back to the north end of the park again and checked out what I could along the way. I watched a few songs by Newton Falkner, who is being heralded for being a guitar master despite being barely in his 20's, but I didn't hear anything that pulled me in, even including his solo acoustic cover of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. Thankfully, there were plastic lawn chairs near his set, that was enough of a reason to have me stick around for a bit.

Brian and I met up again and found a spot on the north lawn to rest and listen to Iron & Wine. Thankfully, the sun was blocked a bit more by some merciful clouds by this point, so that was a saving grace. Iron & Wine are a band that are tailor made for an outdoor festival, since their ultra mellow mostly acoustic songs are the perfect soundtrack for a mean game of hackey sack, which there were more of than Obama shirts at the time. The band mainly stuck to songs from last year's great album The Shepherd's Dog, so that definitely helped. It all began to sound a bit repetitive after a while, so that was our cue to go grab yet another rib sandwich, and head back towards the south end to get ready for the big wrap up to the weekend.

We headed to the smaller Citi stage once again, and first watched the second half of the set by rapper/actor Saul Williams. He put on a great energetic and frenetic set, and the production of Trent Reznor was noticeable in the newer songs he played (most in attendance were hoping for an appearance by Trent as well during the set, but that never came to be). The only slip in the set came when he let some friend of his do a "rap" (it pretty much sounded like the guy screaming off key for about 2 minutes), but Williams made up for it with an impassioned speech to get the crowd to change the world and make it a better place themselves.

The sizeable crowd at the small stage got significantly more massive after Williams had finished, since another of the most anticipated sets of the weekend followed him. Next up was Girl Talk, basically just one guy, Greg Gillis, with a laptop, but whose live shows become much much more than that. His shows usually end up having the stage completely filled with audience members dancing along, while Gillis usually ends up stripping half of his clothes.

I was anxious to see how he'd pull off his mashup song compositions live, since I absolutely love his new album Feed the Animals, which I have discussed before. Despite the heavy security, the set turned into one of his usual shows, with the stage immediately being jam packed with dancers, while his assitants used guns shooting toilet paper all over the crowd and weilded giant balloons shaped like G and T. It was a lot of fun, he did throw some surprises in here and there (including mixing a rap over Weezer's Say It Ain't So), but I think it's something I'd really need to see in a smaller club to really get into it.

We had to bail on Girl Talk's set early though, since we wanted to be sure we caught the entire set by The National, taking place as the opened to Nine Inch Nails on the north end of the field. We figured we were making a sacrifice since we really wanted to see the National, but it turned out to be the best decision of the weekend.

I've written before that their album from last year, Boxer, was one of my favorites, and their performance at the Vic last year was my favorite of the year, so I should have had higher hopes for their set. For some reason, I thought their mostly downbeat music would be overwhelmed by everything else going on in the weekend, and that they would just be a filler til NIN hit the stage. The opposite turned out to be true.

The band mixed material from Boxer and the previous great album, Alligator. Frontman Matt Barringer again proved to be one of the great young lead singers in rock right now. His low baritone and tales of his drunken exploits remind me of a young Tom Waits, but instead of playing the piano tramp, he fronts a band in the vein of early U2 or Springsteen.

I expected the crowd to be indifferent toward them, but they immediately ate up their set and were even clapping along to songs like Start a War. The band only had 45 minutes to play, so they crammed the set with their best material, such as Ada and Squallor Victoria. When your band is capable of playing an amazing and powerful song like Abel (with Berringer screaming the chorus "My mind's not right/My mind's not right" as though his life depends on it) in the middle of your set, you know you have a great thing going.

After a fantastic version of The Apartment Song, Berringer took a moment to close out the set by dedicating the last song to "someone, someone who is definintely not John McCain." Considering that the band were selling shirts witih Obama's image on it with the song title Mr. November under it (with the proceeds going to Obama's election fund), you can guess who he meant. The band tore into the song, with Berringer screaming the chorus "I won't f-ck us over/I'm Mr. November/I'm Mr. November/I won't f-ck us over" while bravely stomping across the planters in front of the stage, nearly hurling himself into the ecstatic audience. It was truly a fantastic set, rivaling Broken Social Scene's incredible stage closing performance in 2006, and taking the title of the best performance of the weekend.

I would have been perfectly content to call it a weekend at that point, but directly on the other side of the field, Nine Inch Nails were ready to take over where the National had just finished. To me, this was like eating a meal at one of those Brazillian steakhouses like Fago de Chao, where they keep feeding you spectacular cuts of meat until you literally tell them to stop.

Despite cancelling their show in Minneapoils just the night before, NIN were in fierce form and immediately tore into new songs from their latest album, the Slip. Trent Reznor was the great showman as always, bringing an amazing light and video show with him to back up the band's powerful as ever performance. They sprinkled in some of the hits early in the set (including Closer very early on), and then took a break halfway through the set to perform some of the instrumental tracks from the Ghost cd's they released early in the year.

After that break, the band tore into my favorite track, Wish, and didn't let up from there. They had an LED curtain that came down in front of them during some parts of the show, and was particularly amazing during Only. The band had a grey static field behind them, and the LED screen also was a grey field as well, so you couldn't see them during the set, but when Trent walked and touched the screen, he was surrounded by a black hole in the field that followed where he touched. Hard to describe, but amazing to see.

It turns out that the reason for the Minneapolis cancellation was Trent's voice, which we only found out he was having problems with when he did a brief introduction just before Hurt in the encore. It didn't even matter, since the band put on another of the best sets of the weekend.

It was a really amazing weekend, worth every dollar I spent on the ticket. Brian posted some of his photos from the weekend here (Friday), here (Saturday) and here (Sunday), you should check them out since he's a much better photographer than I am. I bought my ticket for this year's event before any of the lineup was announced, and I will happily be doing that again next year as well.