Two They Might Be Giants Shows, Twenty Years Apart

I went downtown to see They Might Be Giants this week.  The show was at a venue called The Beacham, which is a large and venerable concert space right on Orange Avenue.

TMBG did a rollicking two-set show, where they served as their own opening act.  They made jokes about Clippy the paperclip and Phil Collins, and kept their audience thoroughly entertained while doing a combination of their classic hits and their new stuff.

While I was listening to “Whistling In The Dark,” I was thinking about the last time I saw this band- twenty years ago, at another show in Orlando.  They Might Be Giants played at the Embassy Music Hall in 1998.

When I lived in Orlando twenty years ago, the Embassy Music Hall was part of my regular rotation of clubs to go dancing; they had a Wednesday night (as far as I can recall) with lots of 80s and new wave music. I have loads of great memories of dancing there with friends.

The Embassy was a nondescript looking place, situated on the side of a big shopping plaza off Lee Road.  It was kind of nondescript, even when it was open.  This picture is long after the Embassy closed, but it didn’t look much different than this:

The Embassy had a regular rotation of amazing concerts.  While I was looking up details about the club for this post, I found information about shows by Love and Rockets, KMFDM, Green Day, Primus, The Damned, Collective Soul, The Lemonheads, Snoop Dogg, Marilyn Manson, Anthrax, and Iron Maiden, all from the late 1990s.  I got to see TMBG there in ’98, and I also saw Project Pitchfork and Front 242 there.   The Embassy Music Hall was awesome.

Sometime in 1999, Embassy shut its doors and was re-imagined as a sort of after-hours raver club called Cyberzone.  Cyberzone had problems right away, including multiple drug arrests and the deaths of two people.  I never went during the Cyberzone era, and the club closed in early 2001.

I hadn’t heard much about the place in a really long time, so while I was getting ready to see They Might Be Giants for the first time in two decades, I checked in on the old place with some Google Map action.

It’s a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Grocery now.

Yup, that sounds about right*.

*There’s a song on TMBG’s 1992 album Flood called “Minimum Wage.”  It uses a whip-crack to hilarious effect.   Seems about right.

What happened to your favorite places from years ago?

Bob’s Burgers Live, and the Los Angeles Intro.

Up until the middle of this month, I’d never set foot in Los Angeles, not counting layovers.   When I found out a few months back that Bob’s Burgers was doing a live show, I could not resist.  I bought tickets right away.  The first night sold out and they added a second night, but we didn’t need to go twice even though I’m sure it was just as awesome on the second night.

The show was on Saturday evening.  We flew in Thursday night and out Monday morning, so that gave us a full three days to explore sunny California.  We covered Hollywood, Long Beach, and various points in between.  I took 810 photographs in three days, and distilled them down to 121 for the blog.   102 of the photos were from the Walk of Fame, but those stars are really all kind of the same, so I’m only going to post one of ’em.  There were 118 photos at Madame Tussaud’s, because that place is just fun, but that’ll be one whole post with about seventeen selected pictures.   Nobody needs to see every photo I take.

I’m not going to put all 121 of the finally chosen photos in one post though, that’s just nuts.  I’ll break it up a bit.  This is the first of many California posts.  I’m gonna start with the show that initiated our trip to California, Bob’s Burgers Live at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.

The Orpheum is a lovely old theater 2000 seat theater.  It was originally opened February 15, 1926, and was reuilt in 1989.  It has a “Mighty Wurlitzer” pipe organ installed, one of the last three pipe organs in Southern California venues.  I wish I’d heard it while we were there. I bet that thing sounds cool.  I also just learned that Taylor Swift filmed her video for “Mean” at the Orpheum.  Neat!

We were there for Bob’s Burgers, and that’s what we saw!  Each of the primary cast members is a comedian on their own, so the first half of the show was a series of comedy routines from the cast members.  The second half of the show was where it got really good though-  they did music from the show, along with Matt Berninger and the National. (Bonus!  Now I’ve seen the National in concert!)

All of the primary cast members were present for this gig.  The next picture is Eugene Mirman (Gene), Kristen Schaal (Louise), and Dan Mintz (Tina) singing “The Fart Song!”

Eugene did Gene’s masterpiece, “The Snake Song.”  I’m so happy they did this one.  In the left part of the photo, you can see the giant puppet snake that wound its way through the theater during this song.

Here’s the short version of The Snake Song, for your enjoyment:

On this next photo, sisters Louise (Kristen Schaal) and Tina (Dan Mintz) sang “Bad Girls.”  I love the keyboardist from the National to their left.  He was having a great time for the entire night.

Near the end of the show, there was a giant puppet Tina and a giant puppet for “Electric Love.”  Alas, no Kevin Kline or Megan Mulally were present to do their parts.  That would have been quite nifty!

This was the finale, though, with the entire cast on stage.  From left to right:  H. Jon Benjamin (Bob Belcher) in the yellow and blue shirt to the left, Larry Murphy (Teddy) in the suit, Dan Mintz (Tina), Eugene Mirman (Gene), Kristen Schaal (Louise), John Roberts (Linda Belcher) in the white t-shirt, and Matt Berninger from the National in the red suit.  Not visible in the photo, but sitting in with the National, was Loren Bouchard, the creator of the show.

The merchandise line at this show was run by a bunch of people who severely underestimated demand for their wares, and it took a long time to get out of the theater.  By the time we left, I had a new t-shirt or two, and Amelie had some official Louise ears.   Success!

Who’s your favorite Bob’s Burgers character?

Dance Me to the End of Love*

Damn it, 2016, knock it off already.  You’ve already taken Alan Rickman, Prince, Abe Vigoda, George Gaynes, Jerry Doyle, Gene Wilder, and David Bowie.  And now I see in the news that you’ve also taken Leonard Cohen from us?  This will not stand!

Leonard Cohen was beloved by many of my friends. I loved him too.   Leonard has been actively writing and performing music for almost sixty years.  Almost everyone knows his work, even if they don’t realize it- he wrote “Hallelujah,” one of the most covered songs ever sung.  Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, and countless others have done  hundreds of versions of this song, but the original is still the best.  Leonard Cohen originally wrote around 80 verses for the song, and different artists sometimes choose different verses, which means that almost every version is just a little bit different.

My first exposure to Leonard Cohen was in 1990, when I was seventeen years old.  A group of us (including Jade Walker and our good friend Chris Pine, who is now deceased) went to see the Christian Slater movie, “Pump Up The Volume.”  During the movie, Christian Slater’s character spun up “Everybody Knows” and “If It Be Your Will.”  I was transfixed, and I’ve been listening to Leonard Cohen (and the ridiculous number of covers of his work) ever since.  Those first two songs are still among my favorite songs of all time.

A recent Rolling Stone article mentions that when he finished his “Grand Tour” in New Zealand on December 21st, 2013, he had been touring for five years and played 387 shows. He came out of that tour with serious physical problems.  Leonard Cohen had multiple fractures of the spine, and severe mobility problems.   His final album, “You Want It Darker,” was recorded from a makeshift studio in his house.  His son set up a Neumann microphone on the dining room table, and set the living room up with recording gear, a laptop running Protools, and a set of speakers.    Much of that album was recorded with Leonard in an orthopedic medical chair.  “You Want It Darker” was released on October 21st,  just a few weeks before Leonard left us.

leonard_cohen-rollingstone-nov-17-2016(Editor’s note:  I accidentally acquired a subscription to the Rolling Stone a few months ago.  I’m still not entirely sure how this happened, but every once in a while the magazine is really entertaining.  If you’re interested in reading this fascinating look at the production of Leonard Cohen’s final album, I scanned the page from the November 17, 2016 Rolling Stone.  Here you go.  Click the thumbnail on the right to embiggen.  )

Leonard was 82 when he died, which means he was about 79 at the end of his final tour.  Six months before the Grand Tour ended, I was lucky enough to see him at the SAP Arena in Mannheim, Germany.  I was thrilled to finally be able to see him live, and I had no idea that he was on the last tour of his career.  Even then, in late June of 2013, he was spry and witty and a master of his craft.

Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I can show you what it was like to see him perform Hallelujah live in Mannheim, Germany, about three and a half years ago.

I’m tired of 2016 taking my musical idols from us.  Someone keep an eye on Cyndi Lauper, Martin Gore, Andy Bell, and Vince Clarke, ok?

*If you’re not familiar, “Dance Me to the End of Love” is one of Leonard Cohen’s songs.  There’s a live version on the 2009 Live in London recording you can get from Amazon and iTunes.

What’s your favorite Leonard Cohen song?

Editor’s Note:  I’m attempting to blog every day in November with CheerPeppers.  I don’t expect to succeed because life be crazy, but any blogging in excess of my previous post-free month is a win, right?

All For Love

I was clicking around today, when I learned that Bell Biv Devoe has released “Run,” their first new song in fifteen years.  I watched the video, and then I fell down the Wiki-hole.  It started with an idle curiosity about just how old Ricky Bell, Michael Bivens, and Ronnie DeVoe are.    I also thought that Bobby Brown was dead, for some reason, but I was mistaken about that.

Thirteen year old me.

For me, those names, along with Ralph Tresvant, are still forever-linked with New Edition, the band they all shared throughout most of the 1980s.    I used to have their first singles (Cool It Now, Mr. Telephone Man) on 45 rpm vinyl, the cassette singles of my youth.    In late 1985, thirteen year old me played the hell out of my All For Love cassette.  I still occasionally hum their song about staying in school.

There’s a verse in one of the songs, where the band members are listed off: “Ronnie, Bobbie, Ricky and Mike,” says Ralph Tresvant, and “Hey Ralph!” says one of the others.  I’m not actually sure who has the line, but that little back-and-forth has been stuck in my head on and off for thirty years.

Fast forward to April of 1986.  I was in the eighth grade, and my father had secured tickets to the two of us to see the “All For Love” tour in the West Palm Beach auditorium!   This was my first ever concert, although I’ve seen at least 128 other musical acts since then.  I didn’t know it at the time, but Bobby Brown had just left the group, so he wasn’t part of the 1986 tour.

Dad was a very good sport to take me, because this entire event was way outside of his comfort zone.   The general admission system wasn’t very well organized for this show, and getting into a seat involved a fair amount of pushing through a crush of people.  I was a small kid at that point in my life, so it was extra crazy for me.

I still have the ticket stub for this show.  I still have almost all of my ticket stubs.  This one is kind of amazing because it was printed by a ticketing company that no longer exists (Bass Ticket Outlets), for a concert venue that no longer exists (the West Palm Beach Auditorium).

What was your first concert?  What was your favorite?

A Carefree Life.

On Dixie Highway, less than a mile and a half from downtown West Palm Beach, Florida, there is an abandoned movie theater.  It’s called the Carefree Theatre, and it was a major part of my life during the 1990s.

The Carefree  started in 1936 as the Carefree Center and Bowlaway.   The building housed a soda fountain and a ten lane bowling alley with “pin boys” who would set the  pins and roll balls back to the bowlers.  Automatic pin setters were installed later at great expense.

Carefree-Theatre-in-the-50s

The movie theater portion began construction in 1946, and opened in 1947.  The two front rows of seats were removed to allow the addition of a curved stage in front of the screen, reducing the number of seats from 800 to 772.  There were offices and dressing rooms upstairs, and retail space along the northern wall.  An outdoor rollerskating rink was tried on the roof, but the idea was dismissed after one season.  One of the smaller shop fronts was a barber shop for years.  It had been converted to a tiny art gallery when I worked there in the 1990s.  I’m still getting to that.

Owner of the Carefree Theatre Jon Stoll. Staff photo by Allen Eyestone

In 1984, a man named Jon Stoll bought the center.  He already had a functioning concert promotion business, a company called Fantasma Productions.   He set up Fantasma in the offices on the south side of the building.   The old derelict bowling alley became the Comedy Corner, one of South Florida’s premiere comedy clubs.  People like Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher played there.  Dan Whitney (known to most people as Larry the Cable Guy) did opening act work there in his early days in comedy.  A restaurant opened in the northwest corner of the building, with a bar that was made from the old bowling lane wood.

1984 photo of Carefree Theater in WPB photo by Loren Hosack

In 1984, the Carefree was the largest single-screen movie theater in the state of Florida.  The theater started to run art and foreign films in 1990, and concerts routinely graced the stage.    A regular Saturday night showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show started up, and ran continuously for fifteen years.

I was in college when I first visited the Carefree Theater.  The year was 1991, and I went with a group of people to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show.   I was friends with people who were friends with other people who were in the shadow cast of Rocky Horror, and it wasn’t long before I wound up in the cast myself.  I mostly played Brad, but I spent time in many of the other parts.  There may or may not be photos of me playing Dr. Frank N. Further out in the wild.

In 1993, my job as a cashier for a county pool ran past my limited cap of hours.  It was October, so I needed a job to get me through until January came to reset the cap.  I got a job at the Carefree as a projectionist and assistant manager, and I worked that job alongside my county job.

I stopped playing in Rocky Horror in 1997, just before I went back to school at the University of Central Florida to complete my degree, but I still worked at the Carefree sometimes when I was back in town for the weekend.   Here’s a few of the things I most remember about my time at the Carefree:

  • Running many, many well known movies, including Amelie, Shakespeare In Love, and the Engish Patient.  We also did a run of Anime films on Friday nights that included Princess Mononoke and The Lensman.   The Jewish Film Festival would rent our space for their movies on a yearly basis.  So would the local Bollywood community,  which marks the first time I’d ever projected a movie so long that it had an intermission.

  • Accidentally starting a very, very large LARP (live action role-playing for those that aren’t familiar) of Vampire: The Masquerade.   The idea started as a lark, and quickly grew to an enormous crowd of people.  We got permission from the powers that be to actually open the theater for the game, as long as the concession stand had someone on standby to sell popcorn and drinks to the LARPers.

  • Wearing many, many fun Halloween costumes.  My best-ever costume was during Halloween 1997, when I dressed as Jareth, David Bowie’s character from the movie Labyrinth.
    Me as Jareth

  • Meeting Weird Al Yankovic, BB King, Howard Jones, Lisa Loeb, and so many more before or after their shows.  I bumped into Ben Folds in the bathroom, and had an entire conversation with him without knowing that he was the lead singer in that new band that was playing that night.   There were so many amazing concerts at this place that I couldn’t even list them all.  Tori Amos played the Carefree when her latest release was Little Earthquakes.

  • Seeing comedy live from people like Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Hicks, Richard Jeni, Carrot Top, Tommy Chong, and Patton Oswalt.  Patton Oswalt and Dana Gould played the Comedy Corner on the same night, and when their show was done they came over to see the last half of Rocky Horror.  Dana Gould writes for the Simpsons now, and Patton Oswalt is in absolutely everything else.  I sat in Patton Oswalt’s lap during the floor show part of the movie, and he was a really good sport about it.  Michael Winslow, the sound effects guy from the Police Academy movies did a few shows there, and I got to meet him offstage in the afternoon.  It turns out he makes those sounds all the time.

  • One night while closing up, I went around the back of the building to trip a power breaker, and I fell into an open manhole.  There had been construction recently, and someone left the cover open.   It was also dark, and I wasn’t expecting to lose six feet of height in half a second.   I got six or seven stitches in my shin from that little adventure.   My injuries are frequently cartoonish in nature, and this is a perfect example of that.

  • Joy, one of my then-coworkers, told me that at one point, some of the staff from the comedy club next door were playing with a Ouija board in the wait-station behind the bar. There was a history of odd events and vaguely supernatural spookiness in the building, and they discovered from their Ouija dabbling that there was an entity named “Steven” who was stuck in the building and couldn’t leave.  Joy’s deadpan response still makes me laugh: “Yeah, but he’s still alive.”

I finally turned in my keys in 2001.  In 2004, South Florida had a whole bunch of bad hurricanes hit us in a row, causing roof damage.  In December of 2005, during the Jewish Film Festival, part of the roof collapsed.  There were 600 people in the Carefree Theatre, but the collapse was over an empty storefront.  The building was evacuated, but nobody was injured.  In March of 2006, the damaged part of the building was demolished.

030306 MET Carefree Staff Photo by Lannis Waters/ The Palm Beach Post 0019825A [ WITH STORY BY TBA??] ---WEST PALM BEACH--- Workers with Southeast Contracting Services tear down and haul off debris from the damaged portion of the Carefree Theatre building Friday. The Carefree Theatre was deemed unsafe by city inspectors after a roof collapsed on the south side of the building in December. 3/3/06. ..... NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION OUTSIDE COX PAPERS OUT PALM BEACH, BROWARD, MARTIN, ST. LUCIE, INDIAN RIVER AND OKEECHOBEE COUNTIES IN FLORIDA. ORLANDO OUT. NO SALES. TV OUT. TABLOIDS OUT. MAGAZINES OUT. WIDE WORLD OUT. INTERNET USE OUT. ORG XMIT: MER0603031518146801 ORG XMIT: MER0703191752118553

In 2008, Jon Stoll died of a stroke.  The theater has been empty ever since.  Here’s what it looks like now, on any night that has epic stormclouds:

The Carefree Theater on South Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach Friday morning, October 30, 2015. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

So many relationships formed while I was working there.  Several marriages still hold from those days.  Several funerals, too.    And many, many friendships.  A hefty chunk of my Facebook friend-list is people who I met during my years working there.   One good friend, John Rundell, has been saying for years that he wants us to buy the abandoned theater to reopen it in some way.

It turns out we missed our window of opportunity, though.  Lori Stoll,  Jon’s widow, sold the entire complex to a developer and film producer named Charles Cohen.  He’s planning on razing the building to the ground and rebuilding it with a six-screen stadium-style movie theater, with apartments above the theater.

He still plans on showing art house and foreign films, though.  Maybe it will still seem like the place I remember.

South Florida friends, do you have any fond memories of the Carefree Theatre?