Monday, 30 June 2008

Orlando

I remember a few years ago that everyone and their dog seemed to be going to Orlando on holiday - that seems to have passed and people have moved on. I never saw what the attraction was and having looked into the area a bit more before going down to a conference last week I still don't. Despite having nothing to rush back to NY for I couldn't find anything that interested me enough to hang around for the weekend.

Also, the weather was awful - I landed in bright sunshine but that was the last of that. Before I had even reached the hotel it was chucking it down and that didn't let up much for the next couple of days. Here's the (rather damp) view from my hotel room window:

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Churchill Cup

Bright sunshine, a great stadium, a pitch in fantastic condition, loads of beer on sale and three rugby matches in a row - days don't get much better for me.

Ireland 'A' 38 - 8 Argentina: this game was one way traffic in the first half with Ireland 21 - 0 up at the break and although the Argies were much more competitive in the second half (including a couple of large fights in the forwards) the result was never really in doubt.

Scotland 'A' 19 - 36 England Saxons: I was expecting this to be a bit one sided to be honest as the Scottish side is almost entirely made up of 2nd choice players from the Scottish pro teams with a couple of amateurs added in. However, they played damn well and after going 13 -6 down actually came back to briefly lead 19 - 16.

Alas a couple of soft tries towards the end (one of which was a blatant knock on by the English winger) meant that the score is rather flattering to England. For the Scots, Calum MacRae was on fire making breaks almost every time he got the ball and slicing through Allen and Smith in the English midfield.

USA 10 - 26 Canada: given the results in the pool stages I had expected Canada to win this quite easily but it was the Yanks who flew out of the gates and at half time deservedly led 10 - 0. However, it was a different story in the 2nd half where the Canadians took control scoring four tries to run out winners.

In total the attendance for the day was announced at just under 10,000 which was a bit lower than I expected but this worked fine as it meant that every beer run was very quick.

That's all for this week as I'm off to Orlando for a conference so I'll be back next Monday with some stories from there and the weekend ahead.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Need sleep

You may have noticed I've been trying to cut back a bit on the ridiculous nights out since arriving in NY but this last week has been a bit heavy: gigs on Tues and Wed; beers with Jones on Thurs; beers with Eamonn on Fri; Churchill Cup all day Sat then a bar in Chicago that night and finally a couple more beers with Jones last night. Early night tonight I think.

I'll give a full report from the Churchill Cup tomorrow but if you find yourself in Chicago I can strongly recommend the Japonais bar/lounge. Its a restaurant upstairs but downstairs is a v trendy bar with a large terrace next to the river. Just what half a dozen drunk rugby fans need after a day on the beers at the game - cracking scenery too...

Friday, 20 June 2008

Ouch

Its been a busy week for me with gigs on Tues and Wed and then beers last night - 1.30am I think I got in so I'm not exactly on sparkling form today.

Last night we predominantly spent on Rivington Street again. However, we started somewhere new - one block from where I live is the New York location of Coyote Ugly. First the beer, the draft was all awful (mostly light beers although also Stella but this was flat). We shifted to bottles after one pint but they were mostly light - thankfully they also had Becks.

Not sure how many patrons I expected to be there but when we wandered in at about 8pm there were probably only about 4 others. By the time we left (about an hour and a half later) there were probably about 15-20 drinkers. Its a slightly strange experience to be happily sitting at the bar having a conversation when suddenly the music volume doubles (typically Kid Rock, G'n'R type stuff) and a girl comes dancing down the bar. Can;t say I'm against it though. Probably not a bar to start the night in but as somewhere to head into at bout 1am when already half drunk.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

The Ting Tings

Yet another gig last night for me. Once again I took the short walk to the Bowery Ballroom, this time to see The Ting Tings.

Anni Rossi - If you've regularly read my concert posts you'll probably pick up that the support bands I see are generally always four blokes (1 on drums, 2 with guitars and and the last probably alternating between guitar and keyboard). There are of course exceptions: the guy who did poetry about Communism in China; and the girl band (never has that phrase been more accurate) Smoosh. Well this was definitely different as well, short description - someone gave Bjork a violin. That was it, a girl with a violin and occasionally a drum machine - and if you're going to be that different then you might as well cover an old "Ace of Bass" song while you're at it. No sure whether this goes in the curious, odd or just plain weird box.

The Ting Tings - GIG. OF. THE. YEAR. Wow, they were fantastic. Only two of them in the band - the Johnny Lee Miller lookalike on drums (and occasionally guitar) and the Debbie Harry lookalike bouncing around. Every song was great (even Traffic Light which I'm really not a fan of on the album). All the songs start out slowing and just build up to a great mix of drums , guitar and synth - it really is amazingly catchy stuff.

My only complaint - well their whole show lasted only 45 minutes (with the opening act only on for about 25 mins this was an early night for me). But that aside I'm getting to "New Young Pony Club" levels of obsession with this lot. Go get the album.

Not convinced, well I think I posted a link to one of their songs a couple of weeks back so here are a couple more links to sites with mp3s you can check out:
"Great DJ" - currently my favourite song
"Keep Your Head" - another of my favs from the album

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

The Futureheads

More music last night as I headed off to the Bowery Ballroom to catch The Futureheads - this is a band I probably wouldn't bother with in the UK as it would cost twice as much and involve a hell of a lot of travel over London. Here however, it cost $15 and the venue was 15 minutes walk from my flat.

This was another gig where it would have been easy to get caught out by start times as there was only one support band who came on at 9.15pm with The Futureheads appearing at about 10.20pm.

Chief - They looked like the pretty standard indie support band I have got used to seeing here but their opening song started out sounding like blues. In fact all their songs were relatively downtempo. It reminded me a bit of U2's Unforgetable Fire album although one song sounded exactly like "The Sea" by Morcheeba (the music that is not the vocals). It was actually rather enjoyable to be honest and a change from the norm.

The Futureheads - I'm slightly skeptical of a band whose biggest song was a cover version (fantastic though their version of Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love" was). Now onto their third album they generally have a couple of catchy songs on each album but nothing outstanding.

But to the show and they were actually better than I was expecting and have enough good material to put on an enjoyable show. They played well with the crowd who were probably more active than a normal NY audience generally is.

Right, a couple of Futureheads songs on mp3 can be found at this site:
"This Is Not The World" - one of the best from their new album
"Hounds of Love" - still their best track by a mile and if you don't own it go get it now

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Vampire Weekend…get the Buffy treatment

Every summer in Central Park there are a series of shows including concerts and on Saturday there was a free gig by an indie band called Vampire Weekend. The show was due to run from 4pm to 8pm with a couple of support bands so I figured showing up at about 3.15pm should be fine to get in.

WRONG. At that time the queue ran from about 69th Street down to about 62nd Street and was not looking like moving very much. At that point I decided that I really wasn’t that much of a fan and wandered off to watch another of the rugby matches from the previous day.

This as it turned out was the correct decision as within the hour the rain as absolutely hammering down along with some major thunder and lightning which went on for pretty much the rest of the night. Apparently the gig was almost called off but did go ahead with a few interruptions.

This website has a load of pictures from the gig and you can just about tell how wet it was.

Monday, 16 June 2008

The Fratellis

Friday, as you can tell from the preceding post was rather hectic. Having eventually escaped from work at about 8.30pm I jumped in a cab home to quickly change out of my suit and run to the gig. Luckily the venue was closer than ever to my flat (just 2 blocks North and 2 blocks West) so I made it dead on 9 o'clock which, based on my NY concert experience, is perfect time for the support band.

Not in this case as the support band had been on at 8pm and The Fratellis took the stage at 9.15pm (so basically UK concert timing).

The crowd was filled with Scottish expats with a number of kilts and football shirts in attendance - immediately when I walked in I bumped into a group of guys I knew from watching Scotland football matches here.

I think this is the third time I have seen The Fratellis (previously at Brixton Academy supporting Kasabian and at last years SummerSonic festival in Tokyo). Being honest they were ok but not brilliant - they do have some great live songs but some others just didn't hit the mark I thought.

Anyway, you'll find a couple of their songs on mp3 at this website (including "Chelsea Dagger").

Friday, 13 June 2008

Just before the end of the day

I've been in an arbitration all day so a really late post today - it overran until 8.30pm which I don't need on a Friday night and was ready to kill for a beer by that time...I'm now about 6 beers in and much more ready for the weekend.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Gum

There seem to be an infinite number of different flavours of chewing gum in this country - my personal favourite being Trident's Tropical Twist. However, I've come across a new phenomenon called Trident Splash which is normal gum but with some flavoured liquid in the middle - who the hell came up with that idea? It isn't bad being honest as I sit here chewing away on my Strawberry & Lime Splash.

Now the choice of gum flavours is in direct contrast to the chocolate bar flavours - hope you like peanut butter because that covers about 90% of the choice here. But this is a rant I'll explore on another day.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

To tip or not to tip

Here something that always bugs me in Yankland - the tipping culture. In Japan you tip no-one – not even taxi drivers who are very confused and will not accept that you don’t want the ¥20 change. On the other hand in the US you are expected to tip pretty much everyone – barmen, hairdressers, taxi drivers, hotel maids, etc. I guess the UK lands somewhere in the middle of this.

So who's got it right?
The one where it is expected that you tip every man and his dog; or the culture where people work without the expectation of a tip. Either way, there really isn’ any difference in the service as both countries take it very seriously (the UK falling way short in this area in comparison).

Incidentally, there isn’t a massive difference between the minimum wages in the two countries either – currently in the US it is $5.85 per hour and in Tokyo it is ¥5,465 per day (or about $6.21 per hour based on an 8 hour day). In the UK it is £5.52 - so almost double the US and Tokyo

There is one addendum to this in the US - the minimum wage for service staff (i.e. waiting staff, barmen) is just over $2 per hour as far as I can tell. It is assumed that the difference will be made up on tips. Therefore, tips are vital to these staff and therefore expected. Surely a better system would be to increase the minimum wage (and the product cost to cover this) and make the tipping part optional again?

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Humid?

Yes, it damn well is. The weather forecast has been predicting a thunderstorm every day since Friday and it still hasn't arrived. Now I was quite happy that Friday stayed clear as I was at the rugby but every day since then it has been getting worse and worse to be in.

Fri: 23ºC and 90% humidity
Sat: 34ºC and 94% humidity
Sun: 33ºC and 91% humidity
Mon: 35ºC and 79% humidity
Tues: 35ºC and 67% humidity

At least at the weekend I can wander about in shorts and t-shirt but today I had client meeting so was in the full suit and tie - not good. Now London can get pretty humid in the summer but it generally builds up over a few days until you know it is going to pour rain. Not here apparently, it just sticks around.

As an aside I looked up the hottest temperature on record in Scotland which was 33ºC in 2003...although I suppose I did (just) survive 41ºC in Tokyo last summer I suppose.

In any case, RAIN PLEASE.

Monday, 9 June 2008

USA 2nds v England Counties

Rugby. In Manhattan. A rare thing indeed so off I went on Friday night to see the game between the US 2nd squad (i.e. those not in the Churchill Cup) and England Counties (the English amateur team). The game took place at Baker Field which is part of the Columbia University sports complex at the most northern point of Manhattan. To get there I had to take the subway to 215th Street (to give you an idea how far up I went: I live on 9th St, work on 57th St and the top of Central Park is 110th St).

Actually it wasn't too bad to get to and was a cracking night for the game (which was lucky as it had been forecast to rain and there was no cover at the ground). I'd guess about 1,500 people were at the game which was free to get into.

The first half went by with England having the majority of possession and territory but only turning round 12-0 up at half time. In the 2nd half the Yanks had a lot more ball and territory but, infuriatingly, seemed completely incapable of holding onto the ball in the tackle.

England scored a couple of late tries and the final score was 27-3 to England which was probably slightly unfair on the Yanks and didn't completely reflect the game. Still, an enjoyable night with some rugby in the sun and a look at a different part of Manhattan.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Its been a while...

...but I have a severe hangover this morning. Got in from the bar at 4am so with only 4 hrs of sleep am now back at my desk (and keeping my head down). I ended up somewhere around 78th Street and 2nd Avenue I think but there is no way I could name you the bar.

I'm out tonight and tomorrow as well - rest on Sunday seems a long way away...

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Argentina no more

Well, it was always rather ambitious to be planning to head down to Buenos Aires for a weekend but having found flights that would work and seemingly having finally sourced a ticket for the game work has stuffed me up by moving deadlines to both the Friday and Monday (neither of which I can move later or complete early). So that plan is now all but dead.

On the plus side it saves me about $1,500 and means I can go to a couple of gigs in NY that weekend that I would otherwise have missed...not much of a counterweight I know.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

The Wombats

Back to the NY concert scene last night and a slightly further walk than usual to the Blender Theatre on 23rd Street. After four bands at last weeks gig there were only two tonight so I might try and manage more than a couple of comments on each:

Jukebox the Ghost - I'm still not quite sure if I really liked this lot or not. They were certainly excellent musicians and a lot of the songs were quite enjoyable but it is getting slightly to the pop end of the spectrum for me. I decided about half way through the set that I would pick up their album if it was $10 or less - it was so I'll have a bit more of a listen before I decide one way or another. One thing that kept popping into my head was the facial expressions and vocals of the keyboard player kept reminding me of the old band "Sparks"...

The Wombats
- I've been listening to this album for the last week and it has grown on me a bit after dismissing it when I first picked it up last year. Live they were actually damn good and also played the crowd well (which the first band did too actually). I was actually quite surprised by the crowd - firstly it was bigger than I had expected with I'd guess about 300 there and secondly as the crowd were like a UK crowd (bouncing all over the place).

You can probably see the bands Wombat mascot sitting on the speaker in the pic. Anyhow, they played for a good hour and 10 or so which was probably more than most bands over here.

I'm still not completely sold on the indie/pop stuff that both these bands play but here are a couple of Wombats songs that are posted elsewhere on the web:
"Moving to New York" - posted for the name but also one of their best
"Let's Dance to Joy Division" - the song that got them noticed

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Mets v Dodgers

Sunday night was my first visit to Shea Stadium - home of the NY Mets. I picked the Dodgers game as historically they were a NY team which played in Brooklyn until 1958 and the Mets are (to an extent) viewed as their replacements in NY when they were set up in 1964. Watching the first game of the series on Friday night (typically baseball teams will play each other in a series of three or four games at a time) the commentators mentioned that there still used to be a lot of Brooklyn Dodger caps seen at this game just a few years ago but now there were hardly any.

But enough of history - to the game. Actually not to the game, to the subway where I was stuck for about 15 minutes because some clown was wandering around on the tracks further up the line so I missed almost all the first inning where the Dodgers took a 1-0 lead. However, I did arrive just in time to see the Mets tie the game at 1-1 at the end of the first.

You'll see that my seat was down at pitch level for a change. The game rolled on and the Mets scored 5 unanswered runs in the third inning including two (two run) home runs with two outs (a lot of twos there...). At this point we were one third of the way through the game and that had taken an hour and a half...this was looking like a late finish.

However there was no more scoring and the game finished 6-1 for the Mets not too long after 11pm - late enough for a Sunday night. I mentioned yesterday that this was supposed to have been a day game with a 1pm start but had been changed for TV. It was easy to see how much this screwed peoples plans up as there were a lot of families with fairly young kids there early on who had shoved off by the 7th inning (having planned a family trip to the game they were left with a late starting game for TV - normal evening games in NY only start at 7pm).

Monday, 2 June 2008

Very tired

I'm knackered today - after gym sessions on Thursday and Friday last week I was in the bar all Saturday (see last weeks post as it was basically the same thing this week with the Super 14 rather than the Heineken Cup - we may have overstayed by 2 or 3 hours though this time).

Sunday I was recovering not too badly but then had a baseball game to go to. This should have been fine as the game was to have been a 1pm start but it was changed for TV so didn't start until 8pm. That meant I didn't get back to my flat until well past midnight and am not really awake yet today.

Back tomorrow with details of my first visit to Shea Stadium.