Dueling Pianos

Last night we had a mid-winter, get out of the house night on the town with family members. After dinner at the Tip Top, we Ubered down to the Big Bang Bar in the Arena District for a Dueling Pianos performance arranged by Sister Rocker. I wasn’t even aware of the place, but then the Arena District is full of surprises.

When Sister Rocker first suggested a trip to see Dueling Pianos, I initially thought it would be like Ferrante and Teicher, or perhaps cocktail lounge piano music. I could not have been more wrong! This was about as raucous as piano music (and a drum set) can get, with three guys rotating on stage in staggered one-hour shifts and pounding away at the keyboards of two grand pianos. They took “suggestions” (song requests unaccompanied by money) and “requests” (song requests submitted with moolah) — guess which ones were going to get played, and which would get crumpled up and tossed? — and they played everything from vintage Jerry Lee Lewis to country to ’80s MTV staples to last year’s hip hop hits. And there’s a lot of audience participation, both through singing along and through birthday and anniversary celebrants and bachelorette parties going up on stage to dance and perform.

It makes for a rollicking time and it’s obviously popular, because the place was packed — as crowded a venue as I’ve seen in years, in fact. If you reserve a table, as we did, expect to feel a bit like a sardine, because they really pack people in. It’s a young crowd, too; we were the oldest attendees by far. And the amount of alcohol consumed by the patrons — the better to lubricate the vocal cords and loosen up lascivious onstage dance moves, I guess — was colossal. This was a crowd that was ready to rock out and fight the mid-winter blahs with some liquid-fueled entertainment.

Dueling Pianos isn’t something I’d do every weekend, but it’s a nice entertainment option to have on a cold winter night.

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The Coming Big Bang

The universe began with the Big Bang billions of years ago, and now astronomers say we’ll be dealing with another big bang — in about four billion years or so.

The coming big bang will occur when our galaxy, the Milky Way, collides with and merges into Andromeda, a neighboring galaxy.  The two galaxies are being pulled together by their mutual gravities, and in fact are rushing toward each other at the breathtaking speed of 250,000 miles per hour.  At such astronomical (pun intended) speeds, it’s hard to believe that all Earth-dwellers aren’t experiencing a touch of cosmic motion sickness.

Of course, galaxies are mostly empty space, so whoever is left on Earth when the galactic convergence occurs isn’t likely to see suns and planets smashing into each other.  But the night sky will look different.  Orion and Taurus and Ursa Major will have lots of company.

Unimaginably Distant, Unimaginably Old

The space-based telescopes keep making amazing discoveries.  The latest is the Hubble space telescope’s identification of the most distant galaxy ever detected — a galaxy that is more than 13 billion light years distant from Earth.  That means that the light we are seeing now has traveled for 13 billion years to reach our space.  In fact, the light we are seeing from that galaxy emanates from stars that blazed only 600 million years after the Big Bang.  Those stars almost certainly exist no longer, having long ago gone supernova or turned into one of the other stellar objects that are created when stars die.  In that sense, the Hubble telescope is a real-life time machine that allows us to peer into the distant past.

The Hubble space telescope

Astronomers will study the new discovery with great interest, because it may help to provide answers to some very provocative questions.  What was the life cycle of early stars, whose intense heat produced the heavy element “star stuff” (to use Carl Sagan’s phrase) of which our universe is made?  How did the earliest galaxies form?  Why is light from such galaxies visible through the “fog” of hydrogen that should have resulted from the Big Bang?

We can expect more amazing discoveries along these lines as new ground-based and space-based telescopes using new technology come on line and begin to probe the heavens.

When The Universe Was Very Young

Scientists have detected gamma rays that they attribute to a massive stellar explosion 13.1 billion years ago — “only” about 660 million years after the “Big Bang.”  Their theory is that a huge star collapsed into a black hole and emitted gamma rays as a result.

This news is fascinating on two levels.  First, it is amazing that our technology has developed to the point where we can detect actions that occurred so extraordinarily long ago, when the universe was in its infancy.  Second, it is surprising that, only 660 million years after the Big Bang, a star could have coalesced out of the exploded remnants of the Big Bang, ignited into fiery life, and then collapsed into a black hole.  660 million years seems like a long time, but Wikipedia, for example, estimates that the age of our Sun is almost 4.6 billion years.  Obviously, it could blow at any minute!  I don’t want to think that tomorrow afternoon I might see a bright flash and then observe the sun’s photosphere hurtling my way at close to the speed of light.