Category Archives: Places

I write on places: destinations, unique adventures, interesting spots, places you should go, places you should not go! Always searching…

Coming In Hot- HOTTUB at Beauty Bar- 3/15/12

HOTTUB @ Beauty Bar, Austin- March 15, 2012

By Amy Powell

HOTTUB has just arrived in Austin, Texas for their first of three performances at the 26th annual South by Southwest festival. Despite a chaotic day of cross-country travel- 6am flight out of California, 2-hour drive from Houston, one empty tank of gas, and more in-town traffic than Austin locals have seen all year- the five-piece disco rap band from Oakland, California arrives at Beauty Bar fierce with energy.

Backed by beat-making producer, Jason “Jaysonik” Stinnett, and keyboardist, Mark “Funky Fingers” Gregory, HOTTUB packs a 3-part vocal punch powered by Nicole “Coco Machete” Feliciano, Amber “Ambr33zy” Royal, and Jennifer “LoliPop” Ackerman. Tonight, the hyper dynamic MCs are dolled out in lace, jean, leather, and leopard print fashion, with gold bracelets, exotic eye makeup, and “baller” necklaces that push “bling” kink to punk-pop party levels.

With “10 Numbers” in her pocket, Feliciano leverages her way up, onto a front speaker, while Royal and Ackerman thrust themselves into the crowd to join fans for Feliciano’s rap. Just three songs into their set- Beauty Bar is on “Man Bitch” fire. HOTTUB brings hard-hitting disco funk beats and shout-out “Oakland in Jungle” lyrics to Austin music fans- the house has no option but to get down with ghetto-pop enthusiasm- Bay Area-style.

How can one band manage a band-in-crowd, beer soaked, mic-in-mouth, motor boat girl sandwich (x2), fans-on-stage dance party into one 30-minute set? The answer, HOTTUB is not just a band. HOTTUB is fast and clever, hard-hitting and concise, like-minded and glam, full-boobied and fabulous. HOTTUB is a “game changer.”

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Guella: 4/23/11

Guella – Live in Studio

It is ten minutes to six o’clock as I pull my car into the gated parking lot of Audio Box Studios in San Francisco. I see two members of the band, Guella, standing in the puddle-ridden parking lot. One member has a dog, who I formally meet minutes after his slobbery nose is sniffing my pant leg. I greet the two of four members as the final two arrive. The band quickly pull gear – guitars, pedal board, and a few neatly wrapped cables –  out of their trunks and we run inside as it starts to rain. Guella’s new drummer, Dan McGivern calls to Morrison, his curious Australian Shepard who is drinking water from one of the parking lot puddles.

The studio’s heavy metal door opens to a long white hallway of pad-locked doors, scuffed walls, plywood floors, and miscellaneous promotion posters tacked to the walls. Faint sounds of drum beats and MC lyrics echo down the lonely hallway – I am reminded of a scene from The Shining. Guella shares their studio with another band, which allows them to practice two nights a week. As the band – guitar/vocals, David Taus, keyboard/vocals, Taylor Garland, bass, Jeff Hunt, and drummer, Dan McGivern – set-up and tune their instruments, they talk about their recent happenings, and crack a couple beers to sip throughout practice.

“Ready? Let’s get a list down and warm up,” asserts ring leader Taus. He is talking into a live microphone and plucking his guitar lightly. The band quickly discusses what songs need work, pick three titles, and start “jamming.” Positioned in a close circle, they face each other so they can talk and watch each other play. As the warm-up continues, I examine the space. Colored Christmas lights hang from one end of the room to the other. Two white boards are mounted on opposite walls and are littered with set lists, notes, song names (36 original, 11 covers) and scribbled music chords. The room contains posters featuring Phish, Metallica, The Beatles, and Pantera (which is posted on the ceiling). Morrison is roaming slowly around amplifiers and chords. There is a fan in the corner, next to the second drum set, but tonight a heater is favored in the chilly, well-soundproofed room.

Guella stops their “jam” to work on the selected “need work” songs. They verbally go over each song as a project, discussing beginning notes, chorus, instrumental transitions, and breaks. Their rapport is light as they share jokes and laughs during debate. Now they play. Taus calls “chorus,” “verse,” and “instrumental,” to McGivern (Guella’s newest member by 2 months) to help him perfect one of the band’s hits, “Log Cabin.” On second run-through McGivern closes his eyes, listens, and samples different rhythms through each section of the song. He is getting it. “The ending still needs work,” states Taus, “Let’s run through one more time for good luck.”

Next song up is “The Corner,” featuring a Gospel tone with heavy organ and meaningful lyrics. Guella plays, stops, plays, and decides the guitar tone needs to be “simpler.” Garland suggests to Taus, “Just play notes. Strum with relaxed flow instead of tight with the beat.” First, the band runs through the entire song several times to get Taus comfortable with a “simpler” riff. Hesitant about the toned down melody, Taus takes solo time to finesse and fine tune his sound. Garland calls out song lyrics, “I’m not anywhere, if I’m not right where I am,” and Morrison is asleep next to Hunt’s feet. On the final run through, the band looks happy, and Taus is optimistic when the rest of the members are in favor of the guitar’s new melody.  They eagerly agree on the revised guitar riff and move on.

“Ben Beever” is the next and final practice song. The band runs through this jam piece (one of the newest in their repertoire) with ease. It starts as a full and powerful song, that tones down to a calm and melodic progression, to crescendo into a fierce Phish tribute. Garland gently delivers the lyrics, “Darkness gonna give way to light…we will come full circle before too long.” The band has perfected their technique for this song, but they need to find a vision. Each member makes their suggestion for improvement. Garland comments on what the song’s image should portray to the audience. Hunt and Taus discuss their visions of how the song is meant to sound to the audience and how they hope the audience will reciprocate to each variation. The discussion fazes out, and they are ready to move to the next part of practice.

Thirty five minutes left, it is time for a “scrimmage.” The band creates a set-list and one encore song to run through – “Jesus Oh My,” “Ghouls and Goblins,” “Gumbo,” “Fearlessly,” “Doom,” “Patience and Balance,” with “Log Cabin” as an encore. Throughout “scrimmage” the band is lose, well-oiled, and show-ready. Each song brings more improvisation and experimentation with technique, sound, and vocals. The 10×15 studio space is filled with a unified sound that groves, hiccups, and energizes. Morrison is now awake, standing at my feet. I look to the band, Guella is having fun.

As I thank and hug each band member good-bye – I am grateful for the opportunity – I look once more around the organized clutter that Guella calls “home.” As I walk back down the nondescript hallway, the beautiful lyrics repeat in my head, “Look at all the pretty things we built.” And I see, Guella has built a pretty music-making machine, with passion, friendship, and soul as their fuel.

Guella - Original Music from San Francisco - at Irelands 32 in Inner Richmond

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Marty Party: 11/18/10

Marty Party Hits Juke Joint

From San Francisco, take highway 101-north until you intersect highway 116-west. Follow signs to the small town of Sebastopol, turn left when you cross Petaluma Avenue, and find yourself at the Hop Monk Tavern, home to The Abbey (music venue), and Juke Joint (weekly party) on Thursdays.

On November 18, 2010, DJ Malarkey opens for San Francisco duo, PANTyRAiD. The Abbey, with an approximate 420-person capacity, is sold out. The small venue, needless to say, is packed. The line for the bar snakes through the dance floor, which is covered with panty-laced ladies. Seriously, no lady (except for me) is wearing pants. The fashion of the night is high-cut, laced panties and tights. The doorman explains, “Girls pay $25 (at the door) to dance in their underware…these DJs have a good thing going.”

Handcrafted Wood and Paper Stage featured at The Abbey

PANTyRAiD, Martin Folb (aka Marty Party) and Josh Mayer (aka Ooah), are in the process of setting up their equipment on a small table hidden behind an illuminated paper and wood stage.  The two move quickly. They pass cords and laptops back and forth until the table is prepared just right. Their set-up is dialed. The soundman gives a “thumbs up” and turns the house music higher while the duo disappear off stage for a pre-set cocktail.

I move outside to the tented patio area.  Each week, Juke Joint features 6 local artists who sell hand-made products (jewelry, leather making, art, etc.). The artists’ tables are tightly stationed together to make you feel as if you are in a bazaar. I look at beautiful leather vests, long feather earrings, and warm wool scarves. All are tempting, and all are out of my price range. From inside I hear, “You’re here, PANTyRAiD is here, let’s get it on!” Circles of people outside toss their cigarettes onto the gravel and dart toward The Abbey’s dance floor.  PANTyRAiD has begun.

PANTyRAiD starts with theatrical intention, creating a melodic wave that oozes from the speakers. The small crowd sways as they wait for that hard hype beat to hit. “This is gonna be it,” a friend next to me predicts as soon as the track “Crunkalicious” drops. Next, PANTyRAiD seduces the crowd with a sophisticated mash of anything that fits into a genre of everything. The duo is not afraid to mix popular club tracks with traditional creations. Or instrumental melodies with downright ghetto glitch. With hype bass.  The Sebastopol crowd loves what they hear. And the ladies love PANTyRAiD enough to take off their panties and dance in The Abbey’s close quarters with strangers and friends alike.

PANTyRAiD at The Abbey on November 18, 2010

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Lotus: 10/29/10

Lotus at The Independent

I am at The Independent on Friday, October 29, 2010 to see Mux Mule and Lotus. Having not been to this San Francisco venue since May 2010, I notice a difference worth mentioning.

First of all, The Independent is back with a chic facelift and sophisticated atmosphere. After completing a remodel in August 2010, Another Planet Entertainment opened The Independent’s doors with an outrageously innovative line-up giving music entrepreneurs a reason to see live music any day of the week. Check the full calendar here: http://www.theindependentsf.com

Lotus at The Independent

Second of all, Lotus, an old time resident of The Independent, performed a 2-set show with ire energy and brilliant synergy. There is not doubt in my mind why this show was “sold out.” Lotus, equipt with a 4-pannel LED display and new merchandise to make your Geiko Geko jealous, kept a calm composure while their dancing fans took the dance floor with raging costumes and smoothly rolled blunts. Check upcoming tour dates here: lotusvibes.com/index.php/tour

Clothesline of Upcoming Show Promotion Women's Bathroom

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Spin City Coffee: San Francisco

A Blue Gem in Noe Valley

Tucked away on a quiet street in San Francisco’s Noe Valley, surrounded by apartment complexes and condominiums, adjacent to a realty office and architecture firm stands Spin City Launderette and Coffee. “This is not the first time a coffee shop has occupied Spin City Launderette, but this is the first time that it features Blue Bottle Coffee,” boasts co-owner and barista Maricar Lagura. Spin City Coffee opened on Saturday, July 10 at 7:00 am. Since it’s opening, coffee has been flowing out of the petite retail space in notable fashion. This new Blue Bottle Coffee location is the neighborhood buzz.

Spin City Coffee located in Spin City Lauderette, Noe Valley

Equipped with a convenient walk-up window, freshly baked goodies from Black Jet Bakery, and any type of milk (goat milk included), Spin City Coffee has it going on. I sip the daily special, an Armo Gayo blend from Ethiopia, and watch the steady stream of coffee-drinking locals (with mugs in hand) line up for coffee. It is evident that Spin City Coffee does not solely serve reliably strong coffee with a smile. The co-owner Maricar Lagura gives her customers a friend and a place to come home to. “The reason I come back to this spot is Maricar. I’ve always gone out of my way for Blue Bottle Coffee; it’s too good! But now I have a friend in the neighborhood who makes a delicious Blue Bottle cup,” states Steve Luppino of Noe Valley.

Fresh Apple Crisp Cinnamon Buns made by Black Jet Bakery

New to the coffee business, Maricar has a motivated attitude and a kind heart. She supports the Blue Bottle vision and respects each and every one of her customers. Maricar confirms, “The Blue Bottle experience is not impersonal, it has integrity, it has meaning, and it is a damn good product. I continue Blue Bottle’s goal of helping better the world at a local level; I am here to help better the neighborhood one cup and one conversation at a time.”

The Blue Bottle Coffee Company was founded in Oakland, CA and has made a commitment to coffee drinkers to “only sell coffee less than 48 hours out of the roaster.” The coffee is brewed with a slow-drip process, made from organic, pesticide-free, shade-grown beans, and simply delicious. Find out more about The Blue Bottle Coffee Company at: http://www.bluebottlecoffee.net/about/who-we-are/

Co-owner and barista, Maricar Lagura, brews a single drip cup.

Visit Spin City Coffee Monday-Friday, 7:00 am – 5:00 pm (closed Wednesdays), Saturday & Sunday, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm at 1299 Sanchez Street, San Francisco, CA 94114.  You will be happy you found this shining Blue Gem.

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Hotels: China

Five Stars, No Class

After 12 days in China, I have stayed in 4 cities and checked into 4 separate hotels. My journey started with the Loong Palace Hotel & Resort (local 5 star) in Beijing, then onto the Su Yuan Hotel (local 5 star) in Suzhou, to the Honglou Hotel (local 4 star) in Hangzhou, and ended at the Ya Fan Long Men Hotel (local 4 star) in Shanghai. After I left the Ya Fan Long Men Hotel in Shanghai (fourth and final Chinese hotel where I would rest my head in for some time) I could not decide whether to write an article from the perspective of a baffled and disgruntled customer, or a light-hearted traveler. I will share my Chinese hotel experiences with you now. Perhaps you will have insight.

**In each hotel the magnetic key card did not work when I got to my room after check-in. I promptly returned to the front desk to have a new card issued. Each time, I was told that the card had not been activated upon check-in. The front desk staff then activated my card and when I returned to my room I found that the key card worked. Coincidence or conspiracy?

**On the bed stand of each hotel was a battery-powered clock. In two of the hotels the clock had stopped. Knock-off Duracell batteries are unreliable, duh!

**While at Honglou Hotel (Hangzhou) I found a written notice posted on the bathroom mirror that read, “Air conditioning did not work. Hope it works soon. –Management.”

**The shower drain was semi-clogged in each hotel. This made me stay true to my 3-minute “save water” shower rule (reluctantly created while on this trip). Nothing is better than a long, hot shower!

**At the Ya Fan Long Men Hotel (Shanghai) the showerhead was unadjustable and was aimed directly between the lip of the shower’s floor basin and the shower’s glass door. The shower door would not close properly which left a 2-inch gap between the top of the lip and the bottom of the door. After a shower, more water had found it’s way onto the floor than down the shower drain. So this would explain why a drain was installed in the bathroom floor next to the toilet.

**Each hotel provided a hair dryer. Naturally, because we were in Asia, the hotel was built with Asia / Japan / Australia electric sockets. Two of the hotels provided guests with hair dryers with Type A (North American) electrical plug. I hoped that an American traveler had occupied the room before me and had accidentally left their hair dryer. Unfortunately, I learned this was not the case when a second hair dryer (with a North American plug) was brought to my room by a smiling bell boy.

**Each hotel provided a complimentary breakfast held from 6am – 9:30am. When 9:30am arrived during my stay at the Ya Fan Long Men Hotel (Shanghai), the dining room lights and air conditioning were turned off. It did not take long before I got the hint that they wanted me to leave.

**During breakfast at the Loong Palace Hotel & Resort (Beijing), a server stopped at my table to see if my food was “satisfactory” and if I needed anything. I asked for a refill of coffee and a napkin. I did not see the server for about fifteen minutes until the server came to my table again to ask me if my food was “satisfactory” and if I needed anything. I did enjoy the movie “Groundhog Day” but not when I am hungry and have a bus to catch.

**The hotel’s front desk staff (at all hotels) would consistently answer the phone, “Hello!” Immediately after I said two words they would reply, “Sorry, I do not speak English, please hold on.” Did someone say miscommunication!?

Looking back on my experience, this is a comical chain of hotel experiences that gave character to my trip. My opinion: If travelers are not light-hearted and flexible, they miss out on the joy of travel.

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Narita International Airport: Narita, Japan

A Righteous Stop-Over in Narita

I step off the Boeing 767 that brought me from San Francisco International Airport to my stop-over in Japan, and immediately a bead of sweat drips down my back.  A humid blast of air hits me as I enter the Narita International Airport (NRT) terminal.  I am on my way to Beijing, China.  I have four hours before my connecting flight departs, and after an eleven hour flight, all I want to do is stretch my legs.  I begin to walk.

Delta Boeing 767 in NRT

The airport terminal is simple in style and beige in color.  There are no travelers to be seen other than my flight companions.  Airport security men walk calmly through the terminal in pairs.  Two of them nod in my direction as they walk past me.  I nod back and turn my focus to the long corridor before me.  The walls are brightly illuminated by accent lighting, and the hallway is lit with blinding florescent lights.  There are minimal advertisements posted on the walls joined by small (hard to read) airport signs intended to direct travelers.  There are several lobby-style areas along the corridor.  Each contains different shops, restaurants, and lounge areas.

Duty-free shops feature vibrantly lit advertisements from Chanel, Clinique, Dior, and Dolce & Gabbana.  Boutique shops feature American models and actresses to sell their vintage and modern wares.  Small kiosks sell technology, devices, and accessories.  Souvenir shops sell several types of Japanese sake (220Y – 1200Y), marinated and sealed sardines (600Y), and dried seaweed (1000Y).  And lounges offer internet connection, couches, alcohol service for paying customers, and private smoking sections (smoking is not allowed anywhere in the main terminal).  I walk on.

The terminal corridor bends quickly, and I hear commotion ahead.  A group of people (American, European, Asian) wait patiently in a huddled line to order a meal from the American-based McDonalds.  As I get closer, I smell grilled beef.  Customers trot happily away from the pick-up window with greasy “McDonalds Good” bags and tiny soda cups in hand.  The menu is the same as it is at home, except for a breaded shrimp sandwich (with fries). I admit, the beef smells good, but I walk on.

McDonalds in NRT

Next I find a Dayrooms & Showers facility.  I am in ecstatic shock.  I love showers. I enter the Star Trek style door (“place hand here to open”) and am greeted by two ladies dressed in beautiful silk robes.  The facility offers many services to travelers that include spa treatment, massage, couples shower room (up to a 3 hour reservation) and laundry cleaning.  For $6 US dollars I reserve a thirty minute single-person shower room that includes towels, soap, shampoo, lotion, and a hair dryer.  The shower room is small (even for one person) but I am in heaven and I am refreshed.

Dayrooms & Showers Facility in NRT

After a shower, I am ready for some nosh and authentic Japanese sake.  A door down from the Dayrooms & Showers facility I find Tatsu, an upscale Japanese restaurant with a convenient take-away window.  I order tempura prawns and vegetables, and a bottle of their very own Tatsu filtered sake to enjoy in the lobby’s lounge just across the corridor.

Lounge Area in NRT

I sit here now, sipping cold sake and dipping large tempura prawns in a sweet soy dressing.  The lounge area I am in sits in front of a panel of large windows so I can watch plane after plane blast down the tarmac into the skyline.  My plane will board in twenty minutes.  I lie back, close my eyes, and wonder if I will find another airport with beauty and services as righteous as this.

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