Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Max Weinberg Comes to Town!

I used to write love letters to Conan O'Brien. Okay, to be honest, most of them were in my head. But I do remember actually writing down at least one. It was written in a hotel somewhere, on hotel stationary, and it was never sent. But still, I wrote it. I suggested he have me as a guest on his show. My talent, or contribution to the show, would be me reciting a scene from West Side Story in which I'd play four characters. It's the scene where Maria wants Anita to make the neckline of her dress lower. I had it memorized and had different voice for all the characters and everything. I wrote Conan a letter encouraging him to invite me on, as well as professing my love for him in that letter. I'm a teensy bit glad I never sent it.

Anyhow, I really did think I was in love with Conan. His wit, cleverness, and intelligence balanced so well with his painfully awkward and nerdy personality. Weird hair, skinny wiener legs, and god, oh so white...? For some reason, I thought he was my perfect man. You'll probably be happy to know that my taste in men has changed a lot since then. Not to hate on Conan or anything...but I digress. Back to Conan.Yes, this guy.

I'd watch his show religiously, regardless of homework or my job or my social life. I was enthralled by Conan and Andy and their hilarious skits and nerdlinger conversations. I loved that there were often times when nobody would laugh but the two of them. I didn't really care who the guests were; I mostly watched the show for Conan and Andy. And honestly, for years and years, I never appreciated the man who really made the show come alive. The quiet, sort of creepy guy sitting behind the drums that Conan and Andy made fun of and made out to be a total perv. That's right, I'm talking about Max Weinberg. Max Weinberg is one of the most amazing drummers ever. Duh. Not only does he lead an incredibly tight band on Conan's show, he rocks so hard with Bruce Springsteen! I saw Bruce in March of 2008 and was amazed and humbled by Max's playing. How does he make so much sound and so much rock come out of those drums when he barely moves his torso? For real, I don't understand. He sits so upright, almost rigid, and barely changes his facial expression. But the sound that comes out of his drums is insane.

Thanks to the lovely local website dane101, I won free tickets to see Max Weinberg on his latest musical endeavor: Max Weinberg's Big Band. Creative! God, who even cares what they're called?! They could be called "Piece of Poo" and I'd still go see them and love every minute. Anyhow, dane101 often posts opportunities to win free tickets to fantastic shows, and I just happened to win these tickets about 8 hours before the show last night. Fantastic!

The show was at The Majestic, which is the same venue in which I've danced and sweated to DJ Rekha, Dan Deacon, Peaches, and, ahem, a Guns n Roses cover band. And damn, they really classed the place up for this event. It's a good thing, too, since it seemed like about 90% of the audience was above 50, and would prefer a classier (read: cleaner, nicer, less beer spilled on the floor) venue. Nice work, the Majestic. We also had a great view from the balcony, right above the band.

Max's band is made up of 15 musicians including himself; four trumpet players, five saxophone players, three tromboners (ya heard me), a pianist, a bass player, and a drummer. Named Max Weinberg. They sat in a typical big band style, all behind podium music stands, and whenever somebody would solo, they'd stand up to do so. At the end of the solo, everybody claps. Now you know and won't be embarrassed when you see your next big band. Yeah, you're welcome. The band was amazing; so tight and so in tune with each other, but without being uptight. I really feel like Max actually let loose a bit more than he has when I've seen him on television or at the Bruce concert. It was definitely unexpected, and definitely exciting to watch. Look at those sticks!
Max was way more personable and comfortable than I thought he would be, and than I'd seen him on the show. I mean, don't get me wrong, he was still a straight up nerd, but he didn't seem quite as uptight and weird. He was friendly, joking with the crowd and professing his passion for Frank Lloyd Wright and Madison in general. At one point, while he was speaking into the microphone, his voice cracked a bit and he made a joke about how he was becoming a man and going to get Bar Mitzvah'ed next week. Oh Max! You slay me!
He kept the talking to a minimum, though, and played for a solid hour and a half with a pretty diverse repertoire of songs like you would have heard Count Basie play. He also did quite a few cop show theme songs, for some reason...One of my favorite songs that he did was the beautifully lazy and luxurious sounding "Only the Lonely," made famous by Frank Sinatra:

It was so cool to watch the band watch each other. I've thought about this before, specifically in watching Emanuel Ax play with an orchestra and seemingly getting lost in them during his own performance. The members of Max's band watched each other solo and clapped for each other when they could. There were a lot of smiles and laughing between the impeccable playing, which made me smile and laugh as well. It was a really great way to see this band, and I really appreciated the intimacy of the venue. I feel really lucky to have seen him and his band in this capacity.

Check out Max's drum solos at the end of the show. My battery was dying, so each video only lasts about 30 seconds, but you'll get the idea:

Max Weinberg! See him if you can. It's totally worth it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dates. No, I Mean the Food Kind.

As a kid, I was a very picky eater. My mother would cook amazing Iraqi food, delicious salmon dishes, and flavorful, creative recipes of all kinds, and I'd eat fishsticks. On my birthdays when I got to choose where we went out to dinner, I'd choose Chili's or Applebees. For real, I would. Gross, eh? I think my father is still regretful about those meals, even 15 - 20 years later. Whoops a daisy!

I was always extremely resistant to Arabic food, or what I perceived to be Arabic food. My mother would make kibbeh, or "rice and gravy," which was basically white rice and red tomato gravy with meat and/or vegetables, and I'd pout and whine about it like a little baby. I was not a bratty kid, but this was one place where I really did it up. In addition to the beautiful cooking on which I missed out, there were lovely individual items that I hated on as well. My father always had a love for figs and dates, and believe it or not, I wouldn't even try either until well into my teenage years. What a fool I was...I cannot believe I missed out for all those years.

Now when I see dates, I feel like I'm home. My father speaks about the date palms in Baghdad and how they grew everywhere, and the fruit trees in the backyard of his parents' house, and my heart swells with love and pride and sadness, all at once. To be able to reach up and pick a fig out of a tree as you sit in your backyard reading...can you even imagine? It makes me want to cry a little bit. And so, I am incredibly thankful for my father's persistence (as well as my mother's patience) with my eating habits over the years, and happy that I now, finally, have so much love for dates and figs. See here for further evidence.

I was going to go grocery shopping tonight, but then it started raining really hard and the tornado sirens went off, so I stayed home. Somewhat short on food, I searched my fridge to find some satisfying Dinner Two ingredients (Dinner One was Special K Red Berries and almond milk when I got home from work at 5:15. Classy). I spotted the giant plastic container of dates my father had given me the last time I was at home, the bag of walnuts I bought at the Co-op the other day, and a container of Greek yogurt. It was totally a "HEY GIRL" moment. Meaning, I got real excited.

When Christopher visited me last fall, he seemed to make masterpieces out of practically nothing, at least in terms of food. I remember this dessert he made, poached pears with dates, honey, and cream.

I mean for real, it came out of nowhere. And it was amazing. So, I decided that Dinner Two would be date-based tonight. Please note, I used FANCY dates. That's right, I only eat fancy things.
Dates look like small, fat turds. Or giant raisins. Or both. Whatever gets you excited.
Now, for the extremely technical description of how to remove the pits and put in the walnuts:

1. Wash your hands real good.
2. Dig your fingers into the dates, making a lengthwise opening.
3. Pull out that damn pit.
4. Stuff a walnut back in there.
5. Wash your hands real good again. Probably clean underneath your fingernails for date guts.

Beautiful! Now, here's where my parents would usually leave it and put the dates on a nice plate to serve to guests. But I was in the mood for more ingredients, so I got out the Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is really good; it's creamy and thick and not sweet. Plus it's full of protein, but I'm more concerned with the deliciousness. Although my father would probably criticize this part, I went ahead with it anyhow. He's a purist, you see, and he has extremely strong opinions on the treatment of fruits. A direct quote from him: When you want to mock lovely fruits, you put chocolate on dates or cheese on figs. This is an insult. Yeah. He is adamant about this. Sorry, Dad.
I drizzled a bit of honey on top of the dates, although it was totally unnecessary because they are incredibly sweet already. But it was a nice touch. It was like there were two different sweetnesses, but they blended together really gently and smoothly.
Dip the honey-covered dates and walnuts into the Greek yogurt, and you got yourself a snack! Yow! Thanks, rain and parents and food that was in the fridge! You made it a good night!