Monday, October 17, 2005

The Final Chapter in the "Michael Penn at World Cafe Live" Trilogy

(Caution: this blog contains a Pia Zadora reference!)

It's been two weeks since my husband and I were treated to a wonderful performance by the incomparable Michael Penn at Philadelphia's World Cafe Live. So, it's about time I wrapped up my little concert trilogy.

May I present to you, gentle reader, a few observational odds and ends -- divided by subject in the hope that it will make this lengthy entry more readable.


Although World Cafe Live has been open for about a year now, this was our first concert there.

And, at least from my limited perspective, it was an ideal experience.

The control freak in me was very happy to be able to select the exact seats I wanted before purchasing them online. You have the option of printing the tickets out yourself or claiming them at the door. Either way, you avoid the typically exorbitant shipping fee.

The floor was set up with a series of long tables lined up vertically across the relatively small room. There is also a bar area behind the main floor, and balcony seating.

I think we got the best seats in the house -- front of the house, right in the middle.

And fifteen dollars a ticket! That is less than the surcharges when we saw Elvis Costello at the Tower this summer.

The floor seating brought back memories of a Pia Zadora (!) show I attended years ago at an Atlantic City casino (comp-ed by Pia herself, otherwise I would not have been there -- a totally surreal experience I really should blog about sometime -- if anyone remembers her at all at this point.)

But I digress...

We arrived about an hour before the scheduled show time. The entrance is off a small street and there was a certain "Are we going the right way?" apprehension -- the entrance doors look like soundstage doors (I suppose that is the point) and at first we weren't sure if this was a backstage entrance, or the proper way to go in.

Luckily it was, because (being the ever-practical lass) I was wearing stiletto heels and I might not have made it around the block.

I did have one practical coup though -- I was wearing a jacket, which turned out to be sorely needed in the well air-conditioned interior. Mr. Penn himself remarked something during the show about the cold air knocking his guitar out of tune.


We took advantage of the pre-show dinner service -- my husband ordered nachos (humongous, but he complained about skimpy cheeseage) and I had the spinach artichoke dip (in order to ensure a future embarrassing food-stuck-between-teeth moment.) The dip came with both pita and tortilla chips -- yummy -- and could have easily served two.

Each appetizer was priced under $10, but my wonderful spouse also ordered an over-priced bottle of wine -- because it feels unnatural to go to a concert without getting ripped off one way or another.

The only downside to the food service is that we were so pre-occupied with trying to finish eating before anyone sat across the table from us that we didn't spend as much time people-watching as usual.

But a general glance around showed the crowd to be the general WXPN 30-40ish well-dressed crowd.


After I finished eating, it was obvious that I was in need of some serious dental spinach-extrication. I headed off to the Ladies' Room.

Inside, I was surprised to find a woman standing in front of the mirror, singing and playing the guitar. I felt like I an intruder, although it was awfully nice to have my own personal soundtrack to, um, void to.

I assume she was warming up for the open-mic night that was going on in the smaller venue upstairs. I wanted to tell her she sounded great (post-stall!) but didn't want to interrupt. So I washed up quietly and quickly -- and she didn't miss a beat.


For my riveting review of the show, more photos and other minutia, I refer you to the first two installments of this series...


Compared to reviews of other stops on Michael Penn's tour, it seems that the Philly crowd was much more reserved than those in other cities (at least as far as yelling out/heckling were concerned.) The applause was enthusiastic, but no one was being an asshole.

Imagine that.


I would be remiss if I didn't embrace the superficial and mention that Mr. Penn looked quite fine up there on stage.

His dark hair was cropped close and I think it was more flattering than his previous tours' tousled curls look. He was wearing a heather-blue short-sleeve crew-neck knit top (sweater?) which showed off well-defined biceps (the inner fangirl noticed this, not me...)

The requisite jeans, not black of course.

is shoes were a really cool vintage-y black ankle boot with a neat curlicue detail.

Yeah, a kinda weird thing to make note of, but they were in my direct line of vision, as my seat was at the foot of the stage.


(O.K., not really a debacle, but it could have been if Mr. Penn wasn't a truly gracious fellow.)

After the show ended, we approached Spencer, the King of the Pennlist, to see if Michael was coming out to do a meet and greet. Spencer went backstage and shortly thereafter I looked over to see MP standing a few feet away from me.

First of all, it's momentarily disconcerting to see someone eye level after you've spent an hour gazing up at them as if on a pedestal (well, actually it was a stool.)

There's a real dichotomy between the part of me that realizes that this is just a guy, a normal (albeit talented) guy --and the part of me that has just been totally blown away by said guy's performance and who has spent oh-so-many hours in the company of said guy's music and who knows that she will probably turn into a functional mute when she tries to express any of this to said guy.

Not to mention the part of me that feels like a total geek dofus for asking for an autograph in the first place.

Yours truly, playing the fangirl, behind all that hair...

Anyway, Michael politely signed a photo of his April '05 performance at the now-defunct The Point as well as our two copies of his wonderful new CD, Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947.

He said something about it being too bad The Point closed...I managed to mumble something about loving the new CD, but also loving all of them...that was pretty much the full extent of our conversation. Woo-hoo.

Then we asked if we could get a photo of us with him -- so that meant first MP & me and then MP & my husband. Profound thanking on our parts, humble "Your welcome"s on his part.

And we left. At least we went left the room and went into the hallway, where I grabbed the digital camera from my husband to check out the photos.

Well, my photo with MP was fairly horrifying. I had at least three chins. Certainly not a photo I would want to ever show to another human...

Would I be able to Photoshop a realistic-looking new head (Catherine Zeta-Jones?) onto my body? Not likely. So I did the only sane thing an insane fan would do -- I went back to get another photo.

We stood around waiting for other folks to finish, which provided not only time to take a much-needed deep breath, but also observe how respectfully MP was treating the other fans.

And he turned out to be very cool about the re-do...although it was a bit ironic when I said (after the second photo was taken) something about it being harder for me to get a decent picture as I get older and he said (in a commiserating tone) "Yeah, I hate having my picture taken." Oops.

Which set me off into a babble (sometimes I think my nervous silence is preferable to my comfortable babble, but oh well) "Really? The photos on the web are great..." and thus something resembling a conversation ensued as a small group of us hung around for a few minutes and were able to talk like semi-normal humans with the guy.

I actually had enough brain cells functioning to ask about the instrument on the back of the MHJ cover -- I had never seen a piano with more than 3 pedals, so I wasn't sure if it was real or a digital manipulation.

Anyway, it's real, it's his piano, -- an antique Wing & Son upright grand -- it was built somewhere around 1910. He said it came from Dollywood (or at least an antique piano company located there...not totally clear on that point.) (Hopefully there will be no quiz.)

Described how one of the pedals dropped little balls onto the strings, which he used in the song "Walter Reed." I believe he described it as "the dulcimer sound" in Walter Reed.

NOT MP's piano, but another 5-pedal Wing & Son...pretty cool anyway...

2009 update: the link to picture above is broken...but I found the 1911 Wing & Son "Book of Complete Information about Pianos" viewable at Antique Piano shop . Here's the page with the Style 29 Concert Grand, which is probably very similar to Michael Penn's. According to the catalog, the Style 29 sold for $500 -- not sure if that price was for the 3-pedal version or the 5-pedal "Instrumental Accompaniment." Today, a restored one could easily cost in the $10,000 - $15,000 range. (Now, let's return to the past...back to the 2005 portion of this blog.)


It may be hard to imagine that there are any details omitted at this point...but there are -- like word-for-word dialogue, a description of MP's watch, oh and I wish I had written more about Buddy Judge (who we also approached briefly after the show just to say how much we enjoyed seeing him and what a great surprise it was to have him perform my favorite Grays' song!)

But I also need to give credit to my husband for supporting me in my geeky fandom (he's a fan too, but not as geeky) and for being very discreet as he occasionally looked down my blouse. (My dear, I figure you are the only one still reading at this point!)

Discretion has its rewards, I hear.


At October 17, 2005 9:39 PM, Blogger Merujo said...

Pia Zadora, eh? Five words for you: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

Buddy couldn't go on the whole tour, so we were Buddy-less here in DC. Plus the venue has a strict NO CAMERAS policy, so I sadly left my camera behind. (But if you've seen my pictures from The Point, you know I'm not exactly Photographer Extraordinaire, anyway.)

Thanks for all the great details on the show. I don't think it's possible for MP to do anything other than a pretty cool gig. I'm planning a trip to L.A. in January, and I hope, hope, hope he'll be playing Largo when I'm there...


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