Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Blake Shelton Concert

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I bought these tickets MONTHS ago! I was so excited to see Blake Shelton, Brett Eldridge, Carly Pearce, AND Trace Adkins all in one night!

Her "What would Dolly do" T-shirt from Free People is so cute, but it's no longer for sale. Sad!
Carly Pearce opened the show, and since I had seen her just a couple of months ago, I already knew how good she was. While she didn't sing "I Need a Ride Home," which I love, she still sang some great songs:

If My Name Was Whiskey

Every Little Thing

Hide the Wine

Brett Eldredge was next, and his "Drunk on Your Love" song is MY JAM! Every time it comes on the radio I crank it up!

Unfortunately the live version was not so good. He was actually the weakest link in the bunch. I'm glad I could say I saw him in the concert, but I wouldn't pay to see him live again. But here's a taste of some of his other music:

Wanna Be That Song

The Long Way

Somethin' I'm Good At

Lose My Mind
Mean to Me
Beat of the Music
Don't Ya

Brett did this funny thing where he brought his dog Edgar on stage. Edgar was wearing headphones because of all the loud sounds, and he balanced a treat on his nose before eating it. This was kind of random, but such fun!

I thought this was a cool set for his song, "Ol' Red."

Then Blake Shelton came on stage, so I was worried that Trace Adkins wasn't performing that night, since he wasn't the head-liner. But we'll get to that later...

Blake sang SO MANY songs, all of them huge hits of course. He sang a bunch of the cheesy songs that I don't love:

Doin' What She Likes

Honey Bee

I'll Name the Dogs

Some Beach

And then ones that I like better:

Ol' Red

Came Here to Forget

Neon Light

Sure Be Cool if You Did

Mine Would Be You

THEN Trace Adkins came on stage, and the crowd went wild! This was the oldest crowd I've ever seen for a country music concert, so all of them definitely knew who he was and love his music! He was amazing and I loved each and every song he performed! (Although he didn't sing "I'm Tryin'" or "Songs About Me," which are some of my favorites from him.)

Honky Tonk Badonkadonk (Another one of "my" songs; you know why if you've seen my butt!)

Ladies Love Country Boys

You're Gonna Miss This

Blake and Trace did a "song off" contest. Blake sang "Who Are You When I'm Not Lookin'," but Trace won, hands down!
 And while he didn't play some of his older songs like "(This Ain't) No Thinkin' Thing" and "Then They Do," he did a "song off" with Blake and sang "Every Light in the House," which brought the HOUSE down:

 Then Blake and Trace sang "Hillbilly Bone" together:

There was a lot of fun banter between Blake and Trace, but it was all a bit unnecessary. It's obviously scripted or at least practiced ahead of time, since you know they do this each night. It was funny, but at this point we had been at the concert for nearly 3.5 hours, and I knew I had to drive to Pittsburgh the next morning, so I kept thinking, "I'm payin' you to sing, not crack jokes!" But I guess you get what you ask for: I think Blake tried to sing EVERY one of his songs. I get that you don't want to leave anything out, but when you're performing with THREE other people, you don't have the luxury to play every song (just like Faith Hill and Tim McGraw couldn't play all of their hits when I saw them in October). I go to concerts all the time, and I love country music, but four hours is just way too long... Here are the songs Blake sang in his second half:

Austin (His oldest and greatest hit. Honestly, if he had ended the show right there, no one would have been disappointed.)

I liked the cathedral-looking windows for his song, "God Gave Me You."
 God Gave Me You (I had never watched the music video before writing this blog, and it starts off with Miranda Lambert, Blake's ex-wife. Awkward...)

Boys 'Round Here

A Guy with the Girl

Blake also did a duet with Carly Pearce for his song "Lonely Tonight" :

Drink on It

WHEW! You can see how long that concert was just by reading this blog post! Definitely worth the money, and quite the experience, but I certainly was exhausted afterward!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Dropkick Murphys at The Anthem

I have been to the Wharf's new concert venue The Anthem before (read that blog post here), and I was excited to go back. We first had dinner at Mi Vida, which is an amazing new Mexican restaurant down there (definitely make a reservation before you go!). Then we wandered around a bit; it was fun seeing all of the new businesses in that area and walking on the pier to look out onto the water. Then it was time for the concert!

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Bim Skala Bim was the first opener. I had never heard of the band before, but they've been around since the 1990's. There style is definitely classic ska.* Their trombone player is amazing! He was the best part of their show. The group members are getting a little older, and you could see the main singer slowing down as the group went through their set. I bet those guys were very excited to be playing in such a big, new venue at this point in their careers!

You can listen to two of their full albums on YouTube (here and here). 

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Agnostic Front was next, and they were punk rock rather than ska. The guys are a little scary (as you can see from the photo above), but they actually were the ones to help get Dropkick Murphys on the map. So now the latter band is returning the favor with this tour!

Here are some of their songs:

For My Family (I liked that the group dedicated this one to our troops.)

Never Walk Alone

Old New York

Blitzkrieg Bop (I loved that they ended their set with an homage to the Ramones!)

The main act was Dropkick Murphys. I knew their music was rock-and-roll that was inspired by the Irish (hence the name of the band); I'm pretty sure my ex from college was into them, but I had never really heard any of their stuff before. I really liked their music! We left a bit early because we didn't want to be anywhere near the venue once 6,000 people were leaving to go home! But what I heard was really good.

Here's a taste of some of their songs:

I'm Shipping up to Boston

Going out of Style

Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya

Blood (The music video played in the background as the band performed this song.)

*I was originally supposed to go to this concert with a friend who loves ska, but we have sadly had a falling out. Since the first band was clearly ska, I was very nostalgic for this friend, and I was surprised how hard the music hit me because of that! I ended up going with someone else, and I actually saw that guy's ex-wife in the crowd while we were there! I didn't say anything because I thought an interaction between the two would be awkward, but it was awkward enough that I saw her. Good thing I saw her instead of him! That would have really killed the night out...

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Jim Gaffigan at the MGM at National Harbor

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I have seen Jim Gaffigan multiple times in D.C., so I was looking forward to seeing him at a different venue. The MGM at National Harbor opened just over a year ago, and I had never been, so I figured this was the perfect opportunity to check it out.

First of all, the place is a MAD HOUSE. The garage was super-full and hectic, and since the lights that indicate free parking spots don't actually work, I was driving around in circles for a while before I found an open spot. And because of the crowds, even though we got there for dinner at 4:30, we still had to wait 25 minutes for a table at Tap Sports Bar (the service was horrible; don't bother).

Once we were done with dinner, we made our way through the casino to The Theater (very clever name, by the way...). But once we were close, there was a huge line, and as we got to the front, all of a sudden the line had to go to a different spot even though we had already been waiting. We had to go up escalators just to go down was so convoluted, and the staff did not know how to handle the crowds. This isn't their first rodeo: they need to get their s**t together.

When we eventually made it to our seats, we were certainly ready for the show. It started pretty much on time, which is always nice!

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The opener was Ted Alexandro. While I had never heard of him before, he said he has been doing comedy for 25 years. And he was pretty good! He joked a lot about getting older, and how is wife is significantly younger than he is. He did a great joke where he compared his struggle with E.D. to Shaq playing with the Celtics: he's older, he has to work harder than in years previously, people should remember the better years... I would definitely see him perform again the next time he comes to DC!

Check out Alexandro's YouTube channel for videos of his stand-up routines and more.

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Then it was time for Jim Gaffigan to come on stage. He was very funny as usual. He opened up with some jokes about the local area, which I appreciated, since you know he doesn't do those same jokes every night. He joked about DC asking for Baltimore's permission to call the harbor in Oxon Hill the "National Harbor," and discussed why DC needs three airports: National to go with the National Harbor, BWI for people who come down from Philadelphia, and Dulles for people who hate themselves (so true).

He joked a lot about his family, from taking his kids skiing to dealing with his in-laws, and even turned his wife's brain tumor scare into a funny scenario. And of course he had to do food jokes, mainly about France's obsession with cheese (well, and his own love of dairy products). He claimed to have run the New York City Marathon, and then proceeded to tell us why he would never do that and ponders why anyone would want to run 26.2 miles (or watch it for that matter). He jumped on Alexandro's bandwagon about getting old and told several colonoscopy jokes (which I probably wouldn't have gotten except for the fact that my dad is an older man, so it was more relevant haha).

He ended the show with an encore of his Hot Pocket routine (see below). SO GOOD!

Think this sounds funny? I found one of Gaffigan's recent full stand-up shows on Youtube; watch it for a real taste of his comedy!

P.S.: To top off the evening, I played the slot machines in the casino for a few minutes after the show. I won $10. Not a bad night!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Billy Ocean Concert

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I grew up listening to Billy Ocean, probably because my mom had a CD of his greatest hits. I saw that he was coming to the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, so I texted my mom immediately and bought tickets.

While I'm not a huge fan of the venue (there is a food and beverage minimum, and the customer service is usually horrible), I figured I'd take a chance to see Mr. Wongo. While the service was still slow, our waiter was very nice and attentive. And since we had eaten dinner beforehand at home, we indulged and split a bottle of prosecco and two yummy desserts.

But besides the tasty treats, the music was great! There were a couple of songs I had never heard, but he also played the songs that everyone was waiting for. The crowd loved him! Here are the songs he performed that night:


When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going

Love Zone

There'll Be Sad Songs (to Make You Cry)

The Colour of Love

Mystery Lady

Stay the Night

Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car

  Caribbean Queen (definitely the crowd favorite!)

I think "I Sleep Much Better" was the only song he didn't perform that I would have liked to hear:

I thought it was a great concert! But I do hope Mr. Ocean decides to cut his hair. Gray dreadlocks should just not be a thing. He's a good looking man: he shouldn't hide behind that long, old hair!

I couldn't decide whether his weird braid-ponytail looked like rabbit ears or horns...

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Recipe: Almond Joy Cookies

This past weekend, I had a few friends over to make hamentashen for Purim. We made the traditional prune ones, but we also tried making pumpkin pie ones (essentially using pumpkin pie filling as the cookie filling). To make that we used sweetened condensed milk, but only a little bit, so I had almost an entire can left. So the clear thing to do next was look up a recipe that called for sweetened condensed milk!

I found this coconut cookie recipe on the Mom on Timeout website (well, Google brought me there). There are only four ingredients, so it's really easy!

  • 1 14 oz bag sweetened coconut flakes
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ⅔ cup chopped lightly salted almonds
  • 1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk (regular or fat-free works)
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper* and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl combine coconut, chocolate chips, almonds, and sweetened condensed milk.
  4. Stir until combined.
  5. Scoop out dough with a cookie scoop onto prepared baking sheet.
  6. Moisten the tips of your fingers with water and shape into discs. Pat the tops flat.
  7. Bake cookies for 12 to 14 minutes or until tips of coconut are just starting to turn golden brown.
  8. Let cool on baking sheet.
  9. Store cookies in an airtight container.
I mixed it up by using half chocolate chips and half white chocolate chips. I also made my cookies more rounded rather than flattened, but I'm not sure that really matters.

*There is a note at the bottom of the web page that specifically says you MUST use parchment paper and not wax paper. Heed this advice! I used wax paper and the cookies glued themselves to it. I ended up just squishing the bits that weren't stuck back into their original mixture form, just slightly more toasted then before. I figure I can put the bits into pancakes or waffles, maybe banana bread... Nothing wrong with double-baked coconut!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Brian Ganz Plays Chopin

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I have seen the pianist Brian Ganz perform several times (including last February), and he is my favorite! Not only is he a talented musician, but he just has so much fun while he plays. He's a happy, smiley guy, which I love! Starting in 2011 (before I even knew who he was), he created a partnership with the Strathmore to play all of Chopin's music. He's still going strong, and now that I've seen him a few times, I'm familiar with words like polonaise and mazurka (i.e. Polish dances, since Chopin was from Poland). Another fun fact I learned: a "canon" in music is when the "voices" (different musical instruments or in this case, separate hands on the piano) play the same music but start at different times. I didn't know that! Makes me think of the song "Row row row your boat." But I digress!

Ganz called this particular program "Hidden Gems and All-Time Favorites." The pieces he played were a mix of famous Chopin compositions and lesser-known ones. Ganz dedicated the performance to his father, who was in the audience that night. His father lives in England and does not get the chance to see most of the performances. Ganz also mentioned his Italian great-grandmother, who would have enjoyed the music, too.

Here's what he played that evening:

Tarantella, Op. 43

Bolero, Op. 19

Polonase in A major, Op. 40, No. 1

2 Bourrées, Op. Posth.

No. 1 in G Major

No. 2 in A Major

Prelude in A Major, Op. 28, No. 7 (Watch Ganz' face as he plays: he just loves this music!)

Canon in F minor (unfinished) (Because this piece is unfinished, it ended abruptly, and Ganz just let the silence hang in the air for a prolonged time to emphasize the lack of closure.)

Mazurka in C-sharp minor, Op. 63, No. 3

Fugue in A minor, Op. Posth.

Mazurka in C-sharp minor, Op. 50, No. 3

Souvenir de Paganini, Op. Posth.

Etude in A minor, Op. 25, No. 11 ("Winter Wind")

THEN we had an intermission. Phew!

Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. Posth.

Waltz in D-flat Major, Op. 64, No. 1 ("Minute")

Largo in E-flat Major, Op. Posth.

Prelude in C minor, Op. 28, No. 20

Trois Nouvelles Études (This translates as "Three New Studies." Chopin was also a teacher, and he would create these studies for students to practice. These three are interesting because for each one, the right hand and left hand are playing different rhythms.)

Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-sharp minor, Op. 66

Ganz grouped the following two Polonaises together and called them "Chopin: The Gardener." The first was written when Chopin was a young man in love for the first time, and the second is when Chopin was a grown, mature man.

Polonaise in F minor, Op. 71, No. 3

Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53 ("Heroic")

So much beautiful music! Ganz announced that his next Chopin showcase at the Strathmore will be on Saturday, February 2, 2019. So mark your calendars now!

Monday, February 5, 2018

American Ballet Theatre at the Kennedy Center

Last week I bought tickets to see the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) company perform at the Kennedy Center. I actually thought I had purchased tickets to see their "Whipped Cream" performance, but instead I saw variations of multiple, different pieces. I was a little confused at first, but then I settled in. Here's what I saw:

1. Serenade after Plato's Symposium

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The set was simply a screen on the ceiling that read "symposium" in Greek. All of the dancers except one were male, which is pretty surprising in ballet (well, except for Trockadero); we usually think about ballerinas in tutus. The men were wearing outfits inspired by Greek togas, although the costumes actually looked runway ready for a men's fashion show. The extra fabric for the "toga" effect had the appearance of skirts when the dancers spun, and I'll admit it was a bit disconcerting to see men dance gracefully on their own, as opposed to mirroring a female companion (i.e. what you usually see in ballet). There was a bit of homo-eroticism going on (typical when you have multiple male dancers), with the men holding hands, reaching out for each other, lifting each other up, etc. (They even played patty-cake with each other.) These movements were repeated throughout the piece, with each man mimicking what the last dancer did. So I didn't feel too bad about falling asleep: everything melded together and was more of the same, just over and over again.

When the men weren't dancing with each other, their solo performances made it seem like the dancers were on drugs: they swung their arms around erratically, swatted away invisible flies, flicked non-existent water from their hands, and the like.  Most of the dancers looked really young, and since most of them were not listed in the program, I am under the impression that they were students or part of a junior company.

The one female dancer (Hee Seo) played such a minor role that I'm not sure what her purpose was. Since this piece was inspired by the Greeks, I thought maybe she was a muse for these philosophers. She was also wearing blue as opposed to the neutrals the men had on, so that also gave the impression that she was other-worldly. The men did not seem to interact with her too much, but she didn't have much time on stage, either.

I thought the piece was interesting, just different than what I was expecting. Some of the men were very impressive, especially Jeffrey Cirio and Joo Won Ahn. This was just the first part of the night, so there was a lot more dance to come!

2. Other Dances (very original name, clearly)

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This is a pas de deux (although I could only find photos of the female dancer) set to music written by Chopin (Emily Wong played the piano on stage during the piece.). I actually recognized the word "mazurka" from seeing Brian Ganz play Chopin at a concert previously. This was a fun, romantic dance. Each of the dancers (Herman Cornejo and Sarah Lane) seemed to be putting on a performance not for the audience but for each other in a coy, flirtatious way. He tried to impress her with difficult moves and at one point messed up (or pretended to) and cutely played it off. She wandered the stage wistfully, as if daydreaming about her lover. All in all I thought the music was a little too staccato for dance, but I enjoyed the romance of it all (including the costumes).

3. I Feel the Earth Move (This piece had three parts.): Before this one started, the stage hands removed all of the curtains, screens, and other set pieces. You could see the stage with all its bare bones, and many rows of lights were revealed, both on the sides of the stage and above on the ceiling. This made the piece almost feel more like a concert than a ballet performance (including the lights that blind you as they shine right into your face). The rag & bone costumes also gave the piece a more casual feel, and sent a clear message that this was modern dance, not classical ballet. This is a new piece, and premiered just last fall in New York.

3a. First Movement: "Tremor"

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The music for this one was like the familiar song, "I Feel the Earth Move," but there was no background music, just a woman speaking the lyrics. So that was very weird. Blaine Hoven danced for several minutes on his own, and his muscular legs really show you that dancers are real athletes. Cassandra Trenary joined him on stage later. This part had some of the quintessential movements of modern dance, like rolling on the floor and odd, flailing arm movements. So not exactly my cup of tea.

3b. Second Movement: "A Vision"

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These women reminded me of synchronized swimmers or the Rockettes, moving in time with one another. Their costumes also gave the impression of aerobics instructors, and the dance itself did look like what a gym instructor might make up for group workout choreography. They were the same weird modern dance moves, but because they were performed as a group, the moves seemed more purposeful and coordinated. And again, most of the dancers looked very young, to the point that I felt like I should have paid less, since I was seeing mostly apprentices.

3c. Third Movement: "The Work Begins"

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This part felt like a music video to me, with the men and women dancing to a very striking, fast-paced Phillip Glass song called "Changing Opinion." While the dancing was similar to the first two parts, I think I liked this one best because of the music.

4. Thirteen Diversions (Although I could not tell the difference between the 13 parts.)

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I was especially excited to see this piece because the choreography is by Christopher Wheeldon, my favorite choreographer; he has choreographed pieces like This Bitter Earth (which I LOVE), After the Rain, and Fool's Paradise. These previous pieces all have a romantic, sensual atmosphere, which I think this piece lacked. But I loved the beautiful costumes (designed by Bob Crowley), and I would wear those as actual dresses (well, without the skirt being so sheer). The dancing was quite graceful, especially compared to the other pieces I saw that night, so I was pleased with that.

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I was very excited to see Misty Copeland perform, though! I was actually surprised to see her in a group piece like this: I just assumed that at her level and fame, she only would play the biggest solo acts, like The Firebird and such. Of course I couldn't help but watch her while she was on stage, and I had to make myself watch the other dancers instead of just looking at her. And while I wasn't surprised that she received a standing ovation or that the conductor came on stage with her, I kind of felt bad for the other dancers. I didn't feel like Copeland danced so much better than the others, but only she received overt recognition like that.

In the end I was happy to have seen Copeland dance a piece by Wheeldon. Ballet bucket list item - CHECK!