Chris Rock’s “Total Blackout”

Last night Kish and I went to see Chris Rock with Mr. and Mrs. Jersey Cavalier.  Rock is on his new, “Total Blackout” tour, and Columbus is one of the first stops.  In fact, he’s got another show here tonight.

chris-rock_12-06-2016-827x620Rock was flat-out hilarious, but if you’re going to the show, let me offer a word to the wise.  Don’t take your cell phone!  Presumably because Rock doesn’t want any pictures taken during the show, or annoying rings from the audience, or recordings of any part of the show, all cell phones are taken and placed into Yondr pouches that are then locked.  People get to keep their bagged and locked phones with them, but they can’t use them until they walk to the unlocking station at the end of the show.  The Virginia Cavalier graciously walked all of our phones back to our office, which is nearby, so we didn’t have to hassle with the locking and unlocking, which expedited our departure from the theater.

This phone-locking process caused two interesting effects.  First, the area outside the Palace Theater was an absolute scrum before the show.  Security did nothing to put people into orderly lines, so you basically had a mob of impatient people who didn’t know why it was taking so long to get into the show, pushing and jostling and hoping the show didn’t start before they got to their seats.  It was a totally unnecessary melee that could have been avoided by some decent planning and security — which presumably will come later on the tour.  For now, my suggestion is to get to the show early.

Second, after the first two warm-up acts, there was a 20-minute intermission before Rock came on.  Imagine — in the modern world, a 20-minute intermission in which people can’t use their cell phones to check emails and text messages, post a selfie to Facebook, and otherwise pass the time!  When the intermission started, people seemed confused by the absence of their cell phone security blankets and unsure of what to do.  Ultimately, they ended up actually talking to each other, or intently watching the backdrop slide show of covers of vintage comedy albums.  The lack of cell phones sure made that 20-minute intermission seem a hell of a lot longer, but by the time it was over everybody was definitely primed for the show.

Comedy Central Night Of Too Many Stars - ShowAs for Rock, he was brilliant.  The topics he addressed were wide-ranging, encompassing racism, the police, guns, his own celebrity status, the Trump era, religion, his daughter’s freshman orientation, the need for bullies, his divorce, men and women, and of course sex — with a lot of other subjects touched in between.  He’s got a knack for looking at the world in a different way and then capturing his observations in hysterical one-liners.  He’s got to be one of the best stand-up comedians to ever grace the stage, period.

A few other points about Rock.  First, he’s the consummate professional.  Those of us, like Kish and me, who sat in the cheap seats in the back of the theatre appreciated his carefully modulated volume and clear delivery, designed to reach every corner of the venue.  He paces back and forth, so everybody can get a good look, and gave the people in the front row high-fives both before and after the show.  How many big stars will do that?

Second, although Rock uses more profanity than any other comedian I’ve seen live — in the barrage of MFs and f-words, you quickly start to not even notice the “shits” — in his performance the obscenities somehow seem less profane.  They’re just part of the act, helping to set up the one-liners, providing segues from one topic to another, and preserving Rock’s urban street cred.  And, in a way, the profanity masks the fact that some of what Rock has to say isn’t in line with the current PC worldview.  He’s the detached observer, skewering both the silly justifications of the pro-gun lobby and the bland reassurance offered by school administered with equal flair.  His willingness to tilt against all sides is one of the things that makes his shows so interesting.

I’ve been to a number of stand-up shows, and the show last night was the funniest I’ve ever seen.  It’s a must-see if you live near one of the towns on the tour.

Columbus Jazz Orchestra

Last night Kish and I completed our Christmas cultural gift exchange by attending a performance of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra.  Entitled Ella Fitzgerald & The great Ladies of Swing, the show featured the CJO in full throat and two superb guest artists:  Marva Hicks and Nicki Parrott.  

It’s the first time I’ve seen the CJO in a long time, and the show demonstrated what I’ve stupidly been missing.  This is a tight group with a big sound and lots of talent to display, and when they get a chance to play classic tunes from the American songbook with two brilliant female vocalists (and, in Parrott’s case, a fine double bass musician, besides), you’re going to get a great show.

The program was top-notch from stem to stern, but I particularly liked Parrott’s rendition of Fever and I Will Wait for You and Hicks’ version of Stormy Weather, and Kish and I always relish Blue Skies, which was played on our wedding day.  I also enjoyed CJO artistic director Byron Stripling’s  tasty trumpet fills and deft vocal efforts to channel his inner Louis Armstrong– but the high point for me was Hicks’ powerful and heartfelt performance on My Man’s Gone Now, from Porgy and Bess, which was a knockout punch if there ever was one.

The CJO is another artistic asset in a city that is full of them.  If you’re in the mood for some great lives music, you can still catch this show tonight and tomorrow.

Crossword Morning

It’s another grey winter day in Columbus.  I woke up early and started puttering around the house.  I picked up the German Village Gazette, our local weekly newspaper, saw it included the New York Times Magazine crossword, and thought: this is a perfect day to tackle a crossword puzzle.

I used to do crosswords from time to time — often on planes, if the people who sat in the seat before me hadn’t already marked up the in-flight magazine in the seat pocket — but it’s been years since I’ve dusted off the mental thesaurus and given it a go.  In the Webner clan, however, crosswords are a long and storied tradition.  Dad was a big crossword fan, always doing them with a back felt-tipped pen, and Aunt Corinne is an ace.  She would particularly like this one, because the unifying theme is grammar, and that’s her bread and butter.

If you haven’t done a crossword in a while, getting the knack again takes some time, but I got a few words and acronyms at the bottom of the puzzle, and it started to come easier.  Once I figured out the puns for the theme — i.e., “Santa’s nieces and nephews” = “relative clauses” — it came easier, and an enjoyable hour later I was done, and set my pen down with satisfaction.

The experts say crosswords and other mental puzzles help to keep the brain synapses sharp, and I think it’s true.  There’s a strong pun element to crosswords, of course, but the clues also often make you think of the world and the words in a different, slightly off-kilter way.  A three-letter word for “Bull’s urging”?  Red, perhaps?  Nope!  It’s a Wall Street “bull” that we’re supposed to think of, and the correct answer is “buy.”

Sometimes, thinking of things in a different way is a useful exercise.

Mission:  Seraglio

Last night I got one of my Christmas presents when Kish and I attended Opera Columbus’ Mission:  Seraglio.  Opera tickets were one of my stocking stuffers.

The timing was excellent for another reason.  Mission:  Seraglio is a reimagining of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, and yesterday just happened to be Mozart’s birthday.  The wily Wolfie, were he still among us, would have been 261 yesterday.

Opera Columbus’ production features all of the same beautiful music, but the setting and dialogue of the opera are transformed into a ’60s James Bond caper with a dashing spy, an archvillain apparently bent on world domination of a sort, and “Bond women” galore.  The modifications turn Seraglio into an outright comic romp, from the point at the outset when a tiny doll figure parachutes through the Southern Theatre, to the suggestive rearrangement of topiary plants by a sex-obsessed gardener, to a clever use of the lyric translation display, to the finale where one of the characters is securely wrapped in a straitjacket and hauled away.  The sets are great and the new dialogue is clever and occasionally laugh out loud funny.  And, while the characters clearly enjoyed their light-hearted trip down James Bond Lane, they also did justice to the lovely, often passionate songs that Mozart created.  I think he would have approved.

Mission:  Seraglio shows that opera is a vibrant, flexible art form where there is still lots of room for creativity, even for a work that was written more than 230 years ago.  It’s another job well done by Opera Columbus, and you can still see it at the Southern this weekend.

End Of The Circus, Start Of The Circus

The Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus has announced that it will make its last performance in 2017.  Home to acrobats, trapeze artists, clowns, high wire acts, men fired from cannons, ringmasters, jugglers, elephants, bareback daredevils, and lion tamers, the self-described “Greatest Show on Earth” has been thrilling Americans for 146 years.

11036258_903260603028849_2049055517179799220_nIt’s another American institution clanking to an end.  Once, people in America were excited when the circus train rolled into town, with a circus parade down Main Street to let everyone know that it was time to come out to some nearby lot, sit under the Big Top, smell the sawdust, eat some peanuts, and watch the spectacle.  But tastes change, and the organizers of the circus have cited those changing tastes, reflected in declining attendance, as one of the reasons for the end of the circus.  Other reasons include high operating costs and the impact of a long dispute with animal rights advocates about using animals in the circus — a fight that ended with the decision in 2015 to cease using elephants in the show, which itself caused a significant drop in attendance.

I remember going to the circus when I was young.  I wasn’t one of those kids who dreamed about running away to the circus and romanticized the itinerant life of circus performers, but I did enjoy the show, and so did UJ and my grandparents.  I remember the bustle of the place, and the constant activity in the three rings, and the awesome sight of the people way up on the flying trapeze so far overhead.  I also remember the distinctive smell — a wild, heady combination of animals, dust, and human sweat, all charged with a kind of electricity running through the crowd when one of the more hazardous acts was being performed.  Now, though, kids apparently don’t have the same attention span; they won’t sit still for the hours needed to watch the full run of the circus show and end up fiddling with their cell phones and texting their friends.

It’s ironic, too, that the real circus is announcing its end just as the Trump Administration is getting ready to take office.  Based on what we’ve seen in the run-up to Inauguration Day, from both the new President and his Administration, its protesters, and its diehard opponents, American politics is going to be a wild, death-defying ride, full of surprises and unexpected actions at every turn.  Who knows?  Maybe these days we can only deal with one circus at a time.

My Grilling Walkabout

I’ve been thinking about buying a grill for a while now.  I got some much-appreciated suggestions from friends, but it has been a busy summer and I just hadn’t been able to pull the trigger.  A few weekends ago, though, Kish and I went to Lowes resolved to buy.

Of course, when we got there the grill choices were mildly overwhelming.  There were dozens of different devices, each gleaming with its own seductive, burnished metal, “come cook on me” glow.  The grills seemed to come in two sizes:  huge, and huger.  Most of the grills had two side tables, sliding trays, and enough grill space to cook for the 101st Airborne Division.  And the gas grills had an impressive array of knobs and dials that would have been comfortable in NASA’s Mission Control.

IMG_2630We nosed around, and I entertained visions of standing behind one of the big units, grilling fork and spatula in hand, drinking beer from a bottle still speckled with ice and preparing some impressive grilled item like skewered shrimp.

But then I looked deep within and realized that I simply wasn’t going to use the grill that much, or for anything too special.  I like to cook steaks, chicken breasts, burgers, and brats — and that’s about it.  There are only two of us at home now, and I just don’t need something with a football-field sized grilling area.  And our back yard is cozy, without any good place to store a metal device the size of an aircraft carrier.  So, after taking a few swings through the big grill display area, we gravitated back to the shelves, where the simple and small charcoal grills were to be found.

Ultimately, we settled on an Aussie Walkabout — a simple, square, light grill that cost all of $49.99, will be easily tucked into a small spot on our patio, and can be quickly folded up and stored in the basement when winter comes.  It’s not going to produce any wild grilling dreams, but it will work for us.  And I liked the name, too.  “Walkabout” refers to the walking journey of personal discovery undertaken by Australian aborigines.  I felt like I had undertaken my own little foray into grilling self-discovery.