Saturday, February 19, 2011

(Don't) sing me a song piano man...leave it to those with talent: a few suggestions for good live music in Portland

While patronizing a local establishment in the Old Port, I recently experienced a rather pathetic yet sadly common pick-up attempt. It was about ten minutes until closing and I had gone over to the bar to order a drink. I had hoped to quickly grab my beer and then resume my evening on the dance floor. On this particular evening, I had met up with some coworkers from a very new job and was trying to get back to the group before last call so they could all marvel at how cool I am outside of work. However, I was unable to return to the dance floor to impress these coworkers with my awkward un-rhythmic jolting because as I turned to walk away from the bar, I was blocked by a very intoxicated and lonely looking man in a suit and tie. I’d seen this man drunkenly eyeing me from a few feet away and even heard him mumble something incoherently while I’d ordered my drink; his speech was so slurred that he wound up sounding more like the prospector Gabby Johnson from Blazing Saddles than the white-collar young person he appeared to be.
At first, I couldn’t be certain he was speaking to me as he certainly wasn’t speaking any human language I’ve been made aware of. However, as he stepped in front of me, head bobbing in a drunken trance, I knew what was coming and whole-heartedly dreaded it. Just as I suspected he might, he opened his gaping drinking hole, gave me a full body scan from his crossed eyes, and somehow (kind of) spoke: “Dojoo like live music?” Despite the intellectual witticism of this opening statement, I felt my eyes going for the roll. I stopped myself from completely dismissing and embarrassing this fellow merely out of the truly pitiable nature of the come-on. Amazingly, as drunk as he was, he seemed to realized the blunder he’d just made. He tried to recover by hitting himself on the head with his palm and essentially shouting à la Napoleon Dynamite: “That was stupid! I’m so bad at this!” I actually felt bad for him and was about to agree with him while politely dismissing myself, when he carried on by asking me what I do for a living. As I was about to respond with another phrase for "goodbye," he blurted: “I work at such-and-such office, but I’m really a musician…”
 I immediately felt my gag reflex preparing for launch.
The rest of this man’s awkward attempt to talk with me was sad and boring. He didn’t listen to anything I had to say, although what I was trying to say was goodbye. He just continued to go on and on about how his guitar and his music were his “true loves.” The worst part of this annoying encounter is that it was not the first time a “musician” has tried to impress me (or anyone) with a very lame come-on about their musical interests. Even more, not only have they crashed and burned with their self-promotional conversation topics, these guys (and sometimes girls) tend to ignore everything you say, only waiting for another chance to tell you about how talented they are.
At this very same bar a year or so earlier, I was settling up my tab at the end of the evening, when the night’s musical act thought it’d be a good idea to approach me by stating that he “couldn’t help but notice” I was dancing along. There were only about six of us dancing, so he immediately impressed me with his keen observation skills. Instead of being the mean, sarcastic person I sometimes want to be, I smiled nicely enough and grabbed my jacket. As I was trying to make my exit, he tried again: “So, do you like original music?” I might add that this guy was doing pretty terribly rendered Billy Joel covers throughout most of the night. I responded (perhaps rather freshly) that anyone who liked music probably liked original music, as all music was once original. Instead of being stung by my sarcasm, he completely ignored my disinterest and proceeded to tell me about his “other gig” doing “originals” and “that kind of thing." To top it all off, not only did he fail to notice my boyfriend standing right behind me the entire time, he also concluded this painfully boring “conversation” by asking me for my e-mail address so he could “get in touch," as well as alert me of any upcoming shows he might be playing.
I guess my point in writing about these unfortunate run-ins with would-be musicians is that this is a fairly common occurrence in Portland, and probably every other city where instruments are freely sold. I for one would like to see an end to it. I love music. And live music is even better. But not if you’re a moron that can barely play guitar. There’s too much good music to settle for mediocre ego-maniacs whose idea of a good conversation starter is something as brilliant as “do you like original songs?”  Rather, I would like to steer us all towards some of my favorite places in Portland where you can enjoy some good live music and I'd also like to mention some of the great acts coming to play here in the near future. Hopefully, these venues and shows will let you avoid the previously written about run-ins (although I’m not making any solid promises).
1)The State-Thank goodness this wonderful and historic venue is back in action. It was a dark time for the Portland music scene (and certainly for me) without it. It definitely brings in some musical acts that aren’t normally inclined to play at the Civic Center. No Kenny Chesney stadium blow-outs at this more intimidate theater (though I must admit, I’ve been known to belt out lyrics to “Keg in the Closet” on more than one occasion). This place has a knack for attracting some world-renowned talent. I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know, but The State’s got some pretty sweet shows coming up this spring that are worth checking out. Plus, most of the tickets are very reasonably priced. Here’s just a sampling of the great stuff they’ve got lined up:
Soul Live comes to Portland Saturday, March 19. Tickets are only 20 bucks.  I’ve seen this funk/jazz trio before, and they kick butt. So, scoot on over to the State and embrace your funky side.
Sara Bareilles is performing Friday, April 1. Tickets are $22 in advance and $25 at the door You may remember her from her 2007 pop hit “Love Song.” While I definitely sang along to the radio every time it came on, that particular song doesn’t really do Miss Bareilles justice; it sounds more like a Kelly Clarkson chart climber. However, Sara Bareilles is actually a really talented vocalist and musician—she plays four instruments in addition to singing. Plus, while I’ve never seen it first hand, I’ve heard she gives a great live performance. Skeptical of her talents? Check out this really nice stripped-down cover of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”                                               
Iron & Wine will be performing Monday, April 18. Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam is really talented, a bit of an oddball, and he kind of looks like Zach Galifianakis, so what’s not to like? Tickets are $23 in advance and $25 at the door (if it doesn’t sell out).
The Avett Brothers come to Portland Thursday, June 2! I am unbelievably excited about this one. I first heard of these guys a few years ago when I was researching the bands at Bonnaroo to make sure I didn’t miss any shows I’d kick myself about later. Well, I did end up missing The Avett Brothers because I slept through it. And ever since my friend Pete later got me into them, I absolutely have been kicking myself. But now it seems life has given me a second chance as they’ll be gracing Portland with their folk-rock-bluegrass-pop-honky tonk fusion of loveliness. I will say though, while I usually recommend pretty cheap entertainment, the tickets for this show are a wee bit more expensive than the rest of the acts I’ve been suggesting: they’re about 40 bucks. And if you’re a broke college student, or just plain broke, quit your whining and skip a weekend in the Old Port so you will have enough money to go see this amazing band. You won’t regret it. It beats another drunken night at Gritty’s anytime. Anyway, if people can shell out hundreds of dollars to see Miley Cyrus wear a blond wig and badly sing crappy songs, then you can spend $40 on The Avett Brothers.
2) The Empire­-Because I just freaked out over national (and international) musical acts, I want to make sure I also promote the local talent we’ve got here in Portland. The Empire Dine and Dance is usually a pretty fun place to go to dance and listen to some local musicians. They often have pretty decent acts. If you’re a bluegrass fan, definitely check out The Stowaways (no cover), playing every Monday night 8:30 to 11:30. Also, the drinks are reasonably priced and it can be a really fun atmosphere. The downstairs and upstairs almost seem like two different bars which is kind of fun in itself—upstairs is more dance-happy, while downstairs offers a more relaxed astmophere to sit and chat with friends while you sip on drinks. Plus, they’ve got open mic night every Sunday, which can sometimes be a good way to scope out local talent or even show off your own chops. Although, at such an inclusive event, you’re almost guaranteed to encounter some of the aforementioned talentless airheads with delusions of grandeur—proceed with caution!
3) Blue on Congress Street is absolutely one of the most intimate venues in Portland to relax and listen to music. It’s got a cozy and neighborly feel to it, and the close quarters makes the audience very much a part of the experience.  They’ve got both local and national talent streaming in. Every Wednesday is Irish Night, which is a cool way to check out something a little different. There is never a cover at Blue (though about once a month they have a ticketed show), but don’t be a stingy jerk. Musicians need money in order to keep entertaining you, so throw some love their way and toss a few bucks in the basket. Blue is a great place for everyone. They’ve got a really nice beer and wine list and if you’re not a big drinker they’ve got more than just alcohol to offer: as I’ve stated before in a previous post, they’ve got a wide array of teas and yummy coffees to choose from. Plus, the food is good and cheap so enjoy a nice home-style meal while being entertained.
This is a very small list of musical happenings in this city.  I am by no means cool enough to know all the good live music spots and goings-ons in Portland. So, if you have suggestions, comments, or ideas that could contribute to this post, by all means let me know. Furthermore, there are many places where you can see very talented local musicians which I've excluded only because I didn't want this post to go on for the rest of my life, and you probably don't want that either. As far as what I have suggested, I can’t guarantee that the musicians won’t ever be self-involved morons, but at least they might be talented ones. Until next time…

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Funny Girl

DISCLAIMER: If you are a Dane Cook fan, maybe you shouldn't read this.

A few years ago, a male acquaintance of mine said to me, “Ali, you’re so funny.” As I felt my ego swelling, I smiled and thanked him just in time for him to follow up his compliment with this gem:  “And for a girl, that’s pretty rare.” If there were crickets in Maine in January, I think I would’ve been able to hear them chirping.
The depressing thing about these off-putting comments is that they are not uncommon. I’ve heard similar arguments against women all of my life, and I’m sure you have, too. Just by Googling “female comedians,” you can find really intelligent hits like these: “7 Hottest Female Comedians (Who Are Actually Funny),” “10 Female Comedians Who Are Almost As Funny As Dane Cook,” and “Women should not do stand up comedy.”
First off, I’m not sure what being hot has to do with comedy. I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember anyone laughing at Chris Farley because of his rugged jaw line.
Second, the one referring to 10 female comedians being “almost as funny as Dane Cook” must be a joke in itself. In fact, I laughed harder reading that title than at anything I’ve ever seen Dane Cook do. He’s the most overrated comedian I can think of. The fact that he gets paid to tell unfunny stories and perspire in front of thousands of people actually upsets me. He’s an idiot. Apparently, not even his own family likes him; his brother stole millions of dollars from him, probably as payback for all the years of terrible jokes and exaggerated body language. I can think of 10 garden slugs funnier than Dane Cook, let alone 10 women. The only funny thing that man has ever done is his monologue describing women as “brain ninjas,” and that’s only because there’s humor in truth. To be a brain ninja, in Dane Cook’s case at least, women would have to be smarter than Dane Cook. Based on his comedy routines, I can confidently say almost all of the women I know (and most of the men I know, as well) qualify in this category. As revenge for all the times in college I had to watch that jerk shout unfunny anecdotes on YouTube, I can only hope Dane Cook encounters as many brain ninjas in his life as women in this world that are funnier than him.
Lastly, the brilliantly titled “Women should not do stand up comedy” floored me with its unparalleled wisdom. Duxtape comments on the thread: “I turned on some Comedy Central Presents, and there was this girl named ‘Iliza Schlesinger’, so I put it on out of randomness. She is horrible. She's hot and has a nice ass, so I left it on just to gawk at her in her tight jeans.” Furthermore, I was also impressed with the immense amount of research that appears to have gone into many of this website’s comments. HAWTakayama writes: “Just about 100% of female comedians are horrible because they haven’t evolved to have the creatively-insane thoughts males do.” This insightful quip is followed by JSTORM’s life-changing attitude: “To be a funny standup comic you need insight into those little oddities that we encounter once in a while on this strange journey of ours that we call life. Such humorous and often poignant idiosyncrasies are not found in the kitchen.” Thank you for your thoughts, JSTORM, but first of all, “standup” is not a word. And secondly, with an attitude like this and a username like “JSTORM,” I have a hard time believing you’ve ever successfully brought a woman back to your mom’s basement, or wherever it is that you live, so I almost forgive you for being so out of touch with the opposite sex.   
There is a point to all this ranting; women are funny. Need proof? Well, then you’re an idiot, but here’s a small list of just a few of Hollywood’s funny ladies: Lily Tomlin, Lucille Ball, Joan Rivers, Cheryl Hines, Mo’Nique, Sarah Silverman, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ellen DeGeneres, Leslie Mann,  Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Maya Rudolph, Wanda Sykes, Rachel Dratch, Jane Lynch, Kristin Wiig, Allison Janney, Mindy Kaling.  Obviously not all women are make-you-laugh-‘til-you-cry hilarious, but if you think that all men are then you’re a bigger ass than Dane Cook. I know more funny women than unfunny women. The only reason I don’t shrivel up into a ball and stay that way until I die after reading or hearing ignorant comments like the ones we just saw, is because I do have a sense of humor.
So, if you also have a sense of humor and are tired of seeing funny ladies finish last, then check out Kerri Louise February 24-26 at the Comedy Connection at 16 Custom House Wharf in the Old Port. Kerri, a former finalist on NBC’s Last Comic Standing with Jay Mohr, makes a lot of jokes about her life as a mother and wife and is pretty entertaining to listen to, though our friend JSTORM may tell her to get back to the kitchen. If you go to the Thursday night show, it’s only half-price—that’s $8.75. You can buy your tickets at
Until next time, appreciate the funny women in your life. Maybe actually let them know you think they’re funny…just please don’t end that compliment with “for a girl.”

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hump Day

(For all those smart-asses out there, I’m aware that this entry is being posted on a Saturday, and not a Wednesday. So keep your wisecracks to yourself. It’s been a busy week. Just keep these ideas in mind for any future Wednesdays.)
It’s Wednesday night and you’ve had a long day at work. Actually, you’ve had a long week and it’s only Wednesday. You’ve spent the past two nights on your couch too tired to do much but spill Lucky Charms on that unwashed pair of sweatpants while shamefully hypnotized by one of the forty seven CSI or NCIS programs. Suddenly, you have an overwhelming fear that one more session of LL Cool J and Chris O’Donnell (Remember him? That’s Robin from George Clooney’s biggest cinematic mistake, Batman and Robin) solving another seemingly unsolvable case in just under fifty minutes might actually kill you. You’re suffering from what I like to call The Hump Day Itch. You have an unexplainable urge to do something even though it’s not the weekend. The only problem is you spent a buttload of money over the actual weekend in the Old Port and you don’t get paid again until Friday. Your Hump Day Itch just became your Hump Day Blues: you’re too poor to satisfy your Wednesday night desire for activity. So, do you just resign to the couch and the unwashed sweats for another round of watching the actor formerly known as Robin in a spin-off of a spin-off? Thanks to this entry, no, you do not. Instead, here are some suggestions for cheap and entertaining ways to pass your Wednesday evening and get out of your pathetic rut of terrible television and junk food gluttony:
1)      Grab some friends and go bowling! On Tuesday and Wednesday nights from 9pm until close, Yankee Lanes has an open bowling special of $1.99 a game. The alley has got a bar and grill attached so if you and your friends are looking to kick back a few to improve your game, then you’re out of luck. Alcohol actually makes you worse at bowling. But, they do have some pretty sweet drink specials.   
2)      Nothing says Wednesday night like wings. Head on over to Samuel’s on Forest Ave for 50 cent wings. I am not the first to describe Samuel’s as one of Portland’s best kept secrets. I guess this means it’s no longer a secret. It doesn’t really matter either way though because the wings are great and the beer is cheap. Plus, the atmosphere is unpretentious and old school. By unpretentious, I mean no flannel-donning hipsters; look around and you’ll see beer-bellied blue collar guys and their mulleted wives. It’s awesome. Plus, they’ve got wood paneling, tube televisions (that’s right, no flat screen TVs in this sports bar), and all the blue cheese and celery you could want.
3)      Get your Irish on. Wednesday night is Irish night at Brian Boru’s from 8pm-11pm. Maybe you’re thinking, “wait a minute, isn’t every night at this Irish pub, in fact, Irish night?” Well, sort of. But on Wednesdays they’ve got $4.00 Irish Beers, including Guinness, Harp, Smithwicks, Kilkenny, Galway Bay Red and Galway Bay Pale Ale. You can also do the Irish Beer Flight, for only $6.99—that’s a 5 oz tasting glass of each of the Irish beers, plus you get to keep the glasses. Maybe ask that girl out from work you like (or not--things could get awkward quick in the workplace when you don’t ask her out a second time) or go with a group of friends. Either way, it’s a guaranteed good time for all you Irish beer aficionados. Since it’s over at 11 you’ve got a good excuse to head home at a reasonable hour, allowing you to get to work on time Thursday morning, if that’s what you intend to do.
4)      Be a guitar hero. A real one, not the video game version (although I did recently beat Metallica’s “Wherever I May Roam” on Hard, so you tell me who the real guitar hero is). For all your would-be and aspiring musicians out there, head on over to the Dogfish Bar and Grille on Free Street for their Wednesday open mic night. I know, I know. I’ve already written about this establishment before so why do I keep plugging them? Well, because they’re amazing. They’ve got excellent food (see my first entry) and they support local musicians and artists. So, if you’ve been harboring secret indie-rock star fantasies while singing in the shower, head on down to Free Street. Bring your guitar, your keyboard, your vocal stylings, or your whatever, and show this town what you’ve got. If you totally crash and burn, you can always go back to Buru’s and catch the tail end of that Irish beer special to drown your sorrows. If drinking's not your thing, bowl away those blues!

Alright, so now that I’ve shown you the cure to your Hump Day Itch (sorry that this phrase sounds suspiciously like something you might be embarrassed to visit your doctor about) and your Hump Day Blues by telling you about a couple of the things to do in Portland on Wednesday nights that you can actually afford to do, it’s time for you to get off the couch! Not only will watching Chris O’Donnell do pretty much anything definitely not lead you anywhere but down the road to a deep depression, it’s also unnecessary. With a surplus of things to do on Wednesday nights, who needs NCIS?