Sunday, January 24, 2010

Miracle fruit!

Last night, a big group of mathies and significant others gathered at Chris' apartment for a "miracle fruit tasting party" of sorts. We each brought an item or two that was particularly bitter or vinegary or sour or hot, and after eating this berry, said items are supposed to taste sweet. The spread on the table once everyone arrived was part impressive and part disgusting (see below for a list of most of them). Chris had ordered these berries over the internet and amounted to $3 a pop, with shipping, but as luck would have it, Asa recently gave me a dozen or so seeds for this very plant. I'm hoping to get to Home Depot or something next weekend and get some supplies and start that project.
Anyway, we all popped a berry in our mouths, swirled it around for 2 minutes or so, biting through the skin and spreading the juice all around, and finally spitting out the inedible seed. Then, the eating/drinking commenced. Here are some of my impressions of individual items:

* Kumquat: This one was interesting for me because I had never eaten one before this evening, so I had one immediately before eating the miracle fruit and then again shortly thereafter. The difference was quite noticeable; beforehand, it tasted kinda sour and citrusy, and afterwards all of that was gone, to be replaced by a faint tingly sugariness. It was quite the transformation.
* Grapefruit, Grapefruit juice and tequila: The juice also showed a strong change from before to after. Mixing it with tequila was interesting, because the smell was horrible, but the taste was sweet and pleasant. The grapefruit itself was similar to the juice but the effects were less dramatic, as I'm sure they put a fair amount of sugar in the juice already.
* Salt & vinegar potato chips: These changed slightly for me; I could still feel a vinegary aftertaste, but the initial bite and chew were somewhat sweet. I also used these as a litmus test later on to determine whether the effects had worn off.
* Persimmon: Another fruit that was wholly new to me, but I didn't get a chance to taste it before "popping my berry", so to speak. It was great! Soft and juicy, like a mango, hint of sweetness. It makes me want to try it again, but I'm afraid of ruining my perception of it as a sweet fruit...
* Lime: I chewed a whole wedge of lime, after peeling it from the skin. There wasn't much to it; I could sense a bit of sugar in the juice, but I think it was just too much lime for me to handle so I couldn't get a good perception of the flavors.
* Wasabi peas: This was a strange change. These ended up tasting like nothing, juts crunchy green things. Others claimed that the wasabi heat was intensified for them. I wonder how this all works...
* Granny smith apples and green hot sauce: This was a stupid combination. I had a slice of the apple and it was pretty good; not much of a flavor change, but enough to remove some of the bitter aftertaste. I hadn't tried any of the "hot" food items yet, so I thought I'd toss some hot sauce on an apple because, well, how else was I going to eat hot sauce? This turned out to be awful. I highly recommend never doing it.
* Raw ginger: Another anti-recommendation. Even just a tiny shaving of ginger turned my mouth into a hotbed of activity, with everything tingling and burning. I had to swig a big mouthful of tequila/grapefruit juice to make it stop.
* Beer: Okay, this was the part I was most questionable about. I tried a sip of someone's Magic Hat Lucky Kat IPA, and it did taste somewhat sugary, but I couldn't tell if it was the bitter hop flavors being transformed into a sweetness, or whether it was the natural sugars from fermentation becoming intensified. I stopped at one sip, as well, afraid of ruining my undying love for IPAs. The other beer I tried was Guinness with lemon sorbet. Yes, that's right. It turned out to be rather pleasant; the Guinness itself wasn't changed that much, but after letting the slightly citric lemon sorbet melt a little bit in the beer, the combination was a perfect mix. I wish I had a better description than, "It tasted like sweet Guinness", but that's exactly what it did taste like. Just trust me.
* Pickles: Okay, this might have been the most noticeable change. I brought a big jar of Kosher dills, a typically strong garlicky/briny style of pickle. These became entirely sweet, with not a hint of vinegar or garlic to them! I was pretty shocked. Some people just said, "Aren't there sweet pickles already?" Well yes, but to have the entirety of flavor replaced by sweetness was pretty stunning; I'd say it went through the biggest transformation of all of the food items. I also brought some gherkins, but those are already a little sweet, but they also had all of their vinegariness removed and sweetness heightened a bit.

Okay, that's all I can remember.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Concert/Comedy review: Meeting of Important People, Gab Bonesso @ Bricolage Theatre

Meeting of Important People, Gab Bonesso
Friday January 22, Bricolage Theatre (downtown)
with Lisa

This event was apparently part of a larger amalgam of events in the theatre/arts district of downtown Pittsburgh. I found out about this show a few weeks before on the MOIP Myspace page, and then learned on Wednesday about the downtown Gallery Crawl into which this show fit. (I'm not going to let a preposition be where my sentence ends at, dickwad.) I'm sure it would have been fun to see some of the other art events, based on the crowds and sights we saw while speed-walking down the sidewalk to get to the show since our 71C bus had been running a bit late. However, it just didn't work out, especially considering my afternoon was all thrown off after the apparent bomb scare in Wean Hall earlier that day. As it was, Lisa and I arrived downtown around 8:45 and found the Bricolage Theatre at Liberty Ave. & 9th Ave., paid our $10 at the door to get some snazzy wristbands that say “Drinking Age Verified” despite the fact that nobody so much as asked for an ID (it's nice being old, huh?), and stood around in a nice-looking brick walled room with carpeting, comfy chairs and sofas (that were full, alas!) and random paintings/sculptures scattered around the walls. We bought a couple beers from a tall bearded man who appeared later in the night to introduce Gab, revealing himself to be the artistic director of the theatre. A few minutes after 9, the band walked onto the tiny stage in the front right corner of the room and plugged in their guitars. They looked fairly comfortable up there and many times throughout the set I caught the three of them looking at one another and smiling, bobbing their heads and really getting into the groove of their own songs. I liked that. They played about 7 songs, including a solid rendition of The Animals' “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (prefaced by the singer announcing “This might be our most subversive song of the evening”) and at least one other cover song that I couldn't quite place, and they concluded with the rousing, upbeat “Dead Man”. All in all, it was a great set of catchy guitar pop, and I wish that the crowd was more respectful so that they (and we) could have fully enjoyed it. Many people chatted through the whole set and, in particular, there was a group of two guys and a girl standing in front of us who were really loud (they'll be mentioned again later...). Also, around 9:25 they said they would play two more songs since they had time, and some lady in the back said, way too loudly too, that she wished they would “Get out of the way, I wanna see the comedian.” It was clearly a comment to a friend that just got projected to the rest of the crowd, but come on people! Can you really be so disrespectful that you don't even realize when you're being disrespectful? Sheesh... But anyway, I am so excited to see them again next Friday at the Brillobox.

Next up was the comedy portion of the show. We were all led into the theatre area on the other side of the curtain behind the makeshift music stage. I decided that if someone has to sit front and center, it might as well be me, so I plopped down right there. But people kept filing in and eventually they set up another row of chairs in front of us, on the ground level below the bleacher platform. After some waiting time, the aforementioned beer-peddler/art-manager walked out to introduce the opening act, somebody named John McIntire. He told a few particularly lame “topical” jokes along the lines of “Hey, guys, have you seen this headline? What's up with that?” I was glad it ended shortly when he introduced the “Cat Power Tribute band” which turned out to be Gab Bonesso in a wig and her friend on guitar. She proceeded to do a pretty good impression of her singing style, but it was short-lived, as she launched into a maniacal freakout, talking to herself loudly about her own fear of people and hitting herself. After a minute she ripped off her shoes and socks and “stabbed” herself between the toes with “heroin” and collapsed, only to be dragged offstage by her legs by the guitar player. It was incredibly surprising and subsequently hilarious.
This was followed, unfortunately, by the opening act again! He did an excruciatingly long set that felt like an hour but was probably only 20 minutes. Every joke was of the form “This event/quote/person is ridiculous. Am I right?” They weren't particularly insightful observations, nor were they interesting takes on the obvious, oft-discussed headlines. I kept rooting for him in my head, “Say something funny!”, but it just didn't happen. At one point, the group of two guys and a girl that had been so chatty during the MOIP set were being chatty again and John called them out on it, saying that he had a big muscly friend in the house (who is an Iraq war vet, he took care to point out, for some reason) who would beat them up. One of the guys responded, “Is he funny?” At that moment, a few people groaned or “Oooh”ed but I kinda chuckled. I thought it was a good opportunity for John to redeem himself, as shooting down nasty hecklers can be. But he couldn't even do that! He just kinda looked down at his notes, repeated how big and muscly and veteran-y his friend is, and launched into another lame joke. Ugh. I was very happy when he concluded his set and introduced Gab.

The final portion of the show was a whirlwind of insane (literally) comedy. I was laughing or smiling the whole time, well except for those short times when I was grimacing and thinking “Is this real or a a joke?” and then I was soon rewarded with the answer: a joke (kind of). For example, Gab made a number of abortion jokes, perhaps because (as she pointed out once or twice) the building we were in is situated next to a Planned Parenthood center. One such joke was about how she got an abortion in college but to make inner peace with herself, she decided to name the unborn baby. She decided on “Saturn Brontosaurus” mostly to ensure that it would be okay whether the baby turned out to be a boy or a girl. It sounds stupid, but in the live act, when she introduces the story and seems to be honestly relating a troubled time from years ago and then morphs it into a twisted one-liner, it works so much better. And this is the larger trend that I noticed in a lot of her material; it has a wholly endearing and earnest quality to it, like she's actually just relating her life to the audience and all of its crazy moments, trends and situations, but she manages to present these observations in a completely humorous way. She can discuss her manic-depression and apparent obsession with drugs, the fact that she's 30 and lives with her mom (who's also her manager), her switch from lesbianism to heterosexuality, the fact that she's dating a man 22 years older than her now, etc. I also found out that her style is impossible to replicate. I tried explaining one of the jokes to some friends later that night, and I just got blank stares, even though that particular joke killed during the show. I just couldn't present it in the same way, and it depends on that so much, apparently.

“Wait a minute, a man 22 years older than her? Wait, did she just make a joke about receiving her watch from her boyfriend and hating it so much that she pretended the instructions were in Japanese and had to go online to figure out how to set it? Wait a minute, the opener made that same joke earlier. OH MY GOD, THEY ARE DATING!” That was my thought process sometime during the middle of her set. Yes, it is totally true, and it is baffling. I can't judge so I won't really say much, but I'm just really confused about what she sees in him.

Anyway, it was a great burst of manic comedy. Who else can talk about her best friend, a blowup Great White shark named Phinneas, and his “bitches”, two blowup clownfish, only to stomp on one and burst it, yelling “Stop being so fucking coy!”, and make it hilarious. I hope that Gab continues doing great standup and gains some popularity. She's way funnier than a lot of the standups I see on Comedy Central's “young talent” or “showcase” shows these days.

Okay, to conclude I'll share my favorite joke from the evening. Gab explained that, at her mom/manager's encouragement, she had hired a "comedy coach" to help her act, and that coach told her she needed to learn to "project" and she wanted to share her progress with the audience. She took a few deep breaths stepped confidently to the microphone and stared at some woman in the front row, and said ". . . Look at you, you're pathetic. What are you, late 20s, early 30s? Bet you live with your parents, still. And look at that haircut!" etc. etc. I overheard Gab say something to a friend in the audience before the show about taping the set to be put online and I hope that happens, mostly so that others can share the hilarity, but also so you can hear me cracking up at that joke. Okay bye.

Meeting of Important People - Brittney Lane Don't Care music video
Gab's "Ghost Car" bit, the joke I failed to explain properly to my friends later on
Gab live @ Club Cafe

Concert review: Bear in Heaven, Freelance Whales, Mariage Blanc @ Brillobox

Bear in Heaven, Freelance Whales, Mariage Blanc
Saturday January 16, Brillobox
with Lisa, Robert, Jessie

This was a really good show, overall. Each of the three bands was enjoyable, energetic, and happy to be performing music for the Pittsburgh crowd. As always, the Brillobox crowd was way too fucking chatty, and I remember being momentarily impressed when Freelance Whales managed to lull everyone into a relative silence towards the end of one of their songs.
Specifically, I was very impressed with the drummer for Bear in Heaven; he was proficient, played fast notes with no apparent effort, and played very loudly. But most significantly, he performed with a lucid, loose, flowing, organic manner that made it seem like the music was flowing out of him and not like he was a human metronome (which he was). Also, the constant lineup changes during the Freelance Whales set would perhaps be overwhelming or annoying to some (like Jessie, as she pointed out during the car ride home) but I was thoroughly impressed by it. Plus, the bass player (well, primary one, at that) was carried onstage via a piggyback ride from the guitar player. Who doesn't love that? It seemed like they were incredibly excited to be onstage playing music the whole time, and that energy got fed right to the crowd. Their songs included 5 part harmonies and bowed guitars, which is awesome. Mariage Blanc was fun and melodic. I feel like they weren't entirely confident onstage, but that comes with time. All of their riffs and melodies were catchy and fun sounding, and everyone seemed to be quite skilled at their instruments.
Oh, I think we're deaf now, too.

I think I'm going to try to always post links to youtube videos of bands playing live so that you can get a better idea of what I saw. Enjoy.

Bear in Heaven live
Freelance Whales live
Couldn't find video of Mariage Blanc, but here's their first album available for free download.


Greetings readers. I'm not entirely sure what I'm doing here. I'm intending this "blog" to be a place to dump some thoughts and observations about my life. I first thought of starting this page to be a place to put reviews of concerts and comedy shows I attend, and I will certainly do that consistently, but I want to leave the option open for jotting down other random musings. Okay bye.