Sep 26, 2012

Relief from purple pain

After the bizarre Welcome 2Chicago concert on Monday night by The Symbol, or The Artist Formally Known As The Artist Formally Known As Prince, or Prince in short (maybe the way that he has been messing around with his own name was a sign o' the times; click here for GABROEN's take on the bizarreness), we had tickets for another show on Wednesday. With Monday night's experience still fresh in our minds, and too few hours passed to fully recuperate, we were a little weary of what to expect this time. But a heartening pasta prior to Wednesday's show at neighborhood gem The Pasta Palace did miracles in grounding our senses. 

Also, the signs for Wednesday were favorable. Rather than Monday's impersonal 20,000 seats stadium, Wednesday's show was in an intimate theater, the same one we saw a singing Dr. House last month (click here) and Italian rocker Zucchero last year. Also, Wednesday's show was by a newcomer to the music scene, 24 year old Michael Kiwanuka from London, awarded the 'best new voice from the UK' and BBC's 'Sound of 2012' winner. And boy, what a voice indeed. As comforting as Bill Withers singing "Lean on me", as laid back and soulful as Otis Redding in "Sitting on the dock of the bay". This guy is golden, and his live performance was as solid and heart-warming as Prince's was odd.

As pleasant of a surprise was the second opening act. After Malaysian girlish pretty singer-songwriter  Yuna opened the evening with some pretty songs, we were treated to The Bahamas. That's actually a solo act by Toronto-based singer-songwriter-guitarist Afie 'Bahamas' Jurvanen, whose disarming , captivating songs have already earned him a devoted fan base and critical acclaim. His performance went from intimate and subtle lyrics with two female backup singers, to raw and rocking guitar riffs, all in the same song. There was a lot of blues-like longing in his songs, taking an interesting twist by Afie's upbeat vocals and humor. We just had never heard of him, but we certainly are part of his fan base now.

In stark contrast to Monday night, we returned home feeling uplifted and happy, with 3 new vinyls. The only thing missing is a turntable, but that's in the works.......  

Sep 24, 2012

Purple Pain

His royal music majesty, or the artist formally known as the artist formally known as Prince, took up a three-day residence in Chicago's United Center for his 'Welcome 2Chicago' tour. As we happen to have a big big fan of his shows in GABROEN's household, at least back in the days when his name was just Prince, we decided to check him out on the first night.

Boy, did that turn out to be odd, very odd. I'll sum up the whole thing up bullet-wise, so the bizarreness becomes a little more pallatable:
1. He started an hour late, and threw out a short apology. But hey, this is an eccentric genius, and eccentric does not necessarily mean punctual. Meanwhile, we were having a good time.

2. The sound at the United Center was bad, and most of what we heard was a wall of sound.

3. The person in charge of the camerawork for the huge video-screens was either drunk, stoned, sleeping, or very new to the job. Beautiful footage of the microphone stand with Prince just out of view, nice takes on the three backup singers (showing the elbow of the left, the full torso of the middle and the shoulder of the right singer), and artistic out-of-focus or shaky shots.

4. We were not seeing Prince the singer, nor Prince the multi-instrument player (supposedly he plays all instruments on his songs himself); he let most of the singing to his back up vocalists or to the audience, and the playing to his band The New Power Generation. He mostly conducted his band while hopping around the stage in the shape of "his" glyph, that morphed symbol of Mars/masculinity and Venus/femininity that he used as his artist name for years. Very nice stage, by the way, and the light effects on the stage were pretty good. Also, it must be said that a Prince who is merely hopping is still way more energetic than most performers ever aspire to be. In his 50s, this guy definitely preserves well..........

5. Even though he got the audience to their feet all the time, singing along cheerfully whenever he asked them to (which was pretty often), he did not play a lot of his own songs either. In stead, he conducted his band to play covers of Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, Michael Jackson. I must admit, an excellent taste for choosing covers, but it didn't really match his repeated shouts "We have too many hits!" and "i can go on all night".

6. Even though the amount of purple confetti that was raining down on the stage during 'Purple Rain' was of almost epic proportions, the night's rendition of the song was far from that. He did actually pick up his guitar for that song, while shouting "do you want me to play this thing?", to start what is one of the most epic guitar solos in rock history, only to put it down within 30 seconds and never touch it again. There was also a fancy free-standing piano on stage, not touched once during the show except when he did a few dance moves on top of it. But there was a big role for the piano in the encore, so read on..........

7. The first encore started off weird, as Prince came back after a few minutes, without his band, and walked to the piano. Understandably, a much anticipated and much welcomed moment for the audience. But ever 30 seconds or so he turned around and left the stage claiming "They are not ready for me". Oh, we're so sorry, your royal highness. Not sure about what just happened, the audience was left confused but with the lights still off. And within a minute, out he came again, this time with his band, and again he walked back to his piano. The piano turned out to be a big music box, from which he played snippets of electronic versions of his songs, while his band stood silently. Weird. But it gets worse, way worse........

8. The first encore lasted a good half hour, so by now it's 11PM on a Monday night, and it looks like most of the people in the audience have to be at work early the next morning. However, the lights did not come on, a clear sign that a) there's more to come and b) it's not particularly safe to find your way in the dark to the exit in a steep stadium. Meanwhile, three guys with brooms and flash lights swept the glyph shaped stage clean, removing purple confetti and marks from Prince's high heeled white boots. So how long does that take? Well, you would be surprised. One of the three guys continued sweeping, in the dark, while the audience was getting very impatient, for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, half an hour! Dark or not dark, people started leaving, and at 11:35PM, the poor broom guy left as well. At 11:40 the lights came on. No kidding, the lights came on after the crowd had waited for 40 minutes!! So we left as well, disappointed and wondering what the hell just happened. But hold on to your seats, it's not over...........

9. We came home at 12:30, still wondering what the hell happened. Checking Twitter and Facebook, where a storm of rumbling fans had broken loose, we found out that at 11:50PM Prince and hos band came back out for a second encore of two songs, in a fully lighted, almost empty stadium. WEIRD. But it's still not over.......

10. The next morning, with the Social Media storm blowing full force, we found out that the Welcome 2Chicago Purple after-party at the House of Blues kicked off at 1AM, but without Prince. The New Power Generation played for a couple of hours, and the tickets to the event made no mention of Prince, so technically there was nothing wrong here. WEIRD. At 3:45AM, Prince did show up on stage, much to the delight of the people that had paid 75-100 dollars for this event. He got up to the microphone, to announce that unfortunately the House of Blues was under a police ordinance of closure at 4AM, so there was not enough time left for him to perform. And he left. Either this guy is purple vain, or he lost it, or his crew messed up big. Disgruntled customers could get a free ticket to next night's show at the Untied Center, last row. By the way, he apparently apologized the next show for the start up issues, and the second night was very good.

Bottom line: if you go see an eccentric, expect something eccentric. If you expect anything more, you might as well expect pain. Purple pain.

Sep 17, 2012

Baas in focus

1, 2, 3..... ACTION!
A piece the size of 'Baas' is not so easy to capture on camera. But we tried to get most, if not all, in focus. From head to chin he measures a full 26 inches, and 10 inches from ear to ear. And he has a lot of depth, relief and texture, as visible on the spooky picture below.

Detail of left cheek and eye, with marigold flower

Detail of his pretty huge cranium with chakras made out of rivolis 
The somewhat unnerving process of grouting, or being bold and confident in covering white beadwork that took you months to create in a black sticky muddy paste. But the result is worth it - as often, the bold and confident own half the world (that's a Dutch proverb................).

Spirit of Scotland

Spending 48 hours in Glasgow is very educational. Not only because of the reason for the trip (the European Conference on Immunology); 48 hours of Scotland weather quickly gets to your very bones. And 2 hours of wandering around the city that seems to be hunkering down against that very weather, its gray buildings covered in decades of even grayer dust and moister moss, its industrial era high times gone by, quickly gets you to the heart and soul of the Scottish spirit.

View from my hotel on the River Clyde, at one point the Steel River center of shipbuilding in the world

The spirit of Scotland even carries its very name. The soul comforting, heart warming, smoky, golden, even laidir (Scottish gaelic for 'brawny') spirit of Scotch. From the lowlands, the highlands, the islands.
In the short 48 hours I was there, I had the pleasure of attending the conference party complete with a whiskey tasting: a triple distilled from the lowlands, an aged from the highlands and a smoky sea salty from the islands.

The party was heating up even more with a performance by no less than the Red Hot Chili Pipers. Even hotter than the Peppers, these guys were allegedly not even wearing socks. In stead, these guys were wearing kilts. They were cranking out high paced rock tracks from the likes of AC/DC ('Thunder, nananana nana nana') and Queen ('We will we will rock you'), but not by singing or guitar playing. Instead, they rocked these songs out of bagpipes.

They rocked the roof of the Victorian arches under Glasgow's grey and mossy railway station, the appropriate backdrop for a party in this laidir city.

The spirit of Scotland braces you against the weather and embraces you with the Scottish friendliness. Aye.
Laidir meets hip in this once 4th largest city of Europe

GABROEN on behalf of Jeroen

Sep 16, 2012


The work is done, the skull completed, the art created, my energy drained. As posted yesterday (see In memoriam), the skull still needed to be grouted, and marigold flowers on his eyes. Yes, it's a he.
GABROEN spent Sunday grouting, an exciting but somewhat unnerving process. After spending months on weaving thousands of beads, you spend only minutes covering them in a muddy paste. But armed with sponge, toothbrush, used credit cards and pointy picks, you can bring the glamour back. It makes a huge difference. By filling up the spaces between the beads, it paradoxically adds depth.
May I present to you 'Baas', my beaded memorial to a person dear to me.

GABROEN on behalf of Gabriella

Sep 14, 2012

In memoriam

Remember the marigold flowers I was beading (see the earlier post Dia de los Muertos)? For a big project that I thought was going to become my first true art piece? Well, do I have some news for you..........

After buying a mask from West Africa on South Chicago's African Festival of the Arts last September, and working on it on and off for the last year, I have now finished the beadwork! It's loaded with symbolism, and it is in memory of someone dear to me who passed away. It is my interpretation of a calavera de azucar, or sugar skull, a Mexican tradition used to remember the dead. Traditions connected with the Day of the Dead include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting their grave with these as gifts.

The skulls are molded from a sugar paste, decorated with icing, glitter and foil, then placed on altars as decoration and eaten on the Day of the Dead. The sugar represents the sweetness of life, and the skull represents the sadness of death. The first initial of the deceased is carved out on the sugar skull's forehead, and the eye sockets are covered with marigold flowers, which scent is believed to attract the soul and draw them back. Marigolds are also a symbol of passion and creativity, attributes that are an apt description of the person I commemorate with this piece.


My skull is part dark, part light, symbolizing both the balance as well as the conflict between good and evil, yin and yang, life's sweetness and life's suffering. The dark section is made up of leather lilies, another flower symbolizing many things. Of these many meanings, I chose the lily for its symbol of the short-lived. The light sections contain circles made of lace-like beadwork, calling out memories of the old fashioned crocheted doilies from my childhood in Holland.
'Gehaakt kleedje' - Dutch for dowdy doily
These doilies were multi-purpose and all over: as coasters under potted pants, as little table decorations, on the headrest of sofas and chairs to protect the fabric from hair grease stains. You know, from "soul glo".

The soul glo-sofa from the movie 'Coming to America'
So the lacy circles symbolize my heritage, as well as our shared rebellion against Dutch dowdiness. Their circular shape also stands for continuation. Continuation of good things, of creativity, of continued rebellion against dowdiness. My skull is almost finished - after grouting the beadwork and placing the marigold flowers on the eyes, it is going to be an in memoriam. A long-lived one.

GABROEN on behalf of Gabriella

Sep 13, 2012

Mighty Mississippi and meager Johnny

So we finished our tour along the Mississippi River (see the previous post The mighty Mississippi) in Madison, Wisconsin's capitol surrounded by 5 lakes. It's a nice town with a good college vibe, and we ended up staying at the brand new Hotel RED right in the middle of the University of Wisconsin campus, next to Badgers Stadium. It's a contemporary hotel with an unusually non-restrictive pet policy, so exactly what GABROEN was looking for.

Believe it or not, but from the university campus and Hotel RED there is a cycle path to downtown about 1 mile east, and it is heavily trafficked by college students, families, elderly and athletes alike. Bikes are everywhere in Madison, not like Amsterdam, but still very unlike other American cities. GABROEN decided to take Ruba on the walk downtown in the beautiful afternoon, although the 1 mile and the heat seems to become too much for a dog as senior and sophisticated as Ms. Ruba.  

Labor Day weekend is also Taste of Madison festival weekend on the streets aligning the State Capitol, where local chefs showcase their capabilities, all paired up with locally brewed beers. Beer is big across all of Wisconsin, not only in Milwaukee (see the post Brewer City). Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately given the type of food served, animals are not allowed to enter the festival area. Instead we landed a patio spot on the main shopping street and entrance to the festival, so enjoyed the afternoon checking out the local people, beer (J) and liquid vegetable garden (G).

After a brisk walk back, pleasant lounging in the hotel lounge, and a good night sleep, we woke up to another beautiful day and a Madison basically closed down for Labor Day. So rather than driving around to find something to do, we got back into good old Johnny for the 2.5 hour drive back home. But good old Johnny had different thoughts; 5 minutes out of Madison a whole christmas tree of dashboard warning lights came on, including an ominous, blazing red BRAKE light. To cut a painstakingly long story short, nobody could be reached on Labor Day with even a little notion of the cause of this dashboard constellation or whether it was still safe to continue driving. And we were in for the long haul. Literally a 120 mile haul, Johnny on the flatbed of a tow-truck, and GABROEN cramped in the cabin with a sophisticated Mexican Hairless on our lap.  

And we were not only in for a long haul. We were also in for an even bigger adventure. Rather than joining the holiday traffic of all Chicagoans returning home from their second homes up north, we took the back roads. Not realizing that Wisconsin apparently still is busy spending economic stimulus money on roads and bridges. Extremely busy. All the road constructions even drove the GPS crazy. "Recalculating", "Make a U-turn", "I told you to go straight, please go straight". But the tow-truck driver was a no-nonsense guy, pumping up his adrenaline levels with three (!) cans of Monster energy drinks, while the car radio was blasting speed metal and his phone was ringing with a trash metal ring tone. We were on a roll, and some road block was not going to stop us. Slaloming his truck through road blocks, Ruba planting her nails in our legs to hold on for dear life, we got to see more of rural Wisconsin than we bargained for. 

But we made it home safely, and left Johnny at the local dealership. So what was wrong with him? Our sturdy, all-wheel drive, off-the-road knight in shiny black armor appeared to have been slain by some spider webs in his emission carbon filter. Yes, really.

Sep 10, 2012

The mighty Mississippi

GABROEN used the Labor Day weekend to explore some of the back country of their Northern Illinois home, and traveled the Great River Road along the Mississippi River. It ended up to be an all americana road trip through 4 states, with more adventure than we had bargained for - more about that in the next post. 

Our 2.5 day itinerary:
- Initially westbound through all of Illinois to Galena (Illinois),
- cross the Mississippi to Dubuque (Iowa), 
- then northbound along the western riverbank to La Crescent (Minnesota), 
- cross the river again to La Crosse (Wisconsin) to spend the night
- back south along the eastern riverbank to Prairie du Chien (Wisconsin), 
- cross back and forth to Lansing (Iowa) because we liked that part of the road so much
- eastbound along the Wisconsin River to Madison (Wisconsin) to spend the night
- back home to Highland Park

The word Mississippi itself comes from Messipi, the French rendering of the Anishinaabe/Algonquin native american name for the river, Misi-ziibi (Great River). It is definitely not a little creek, looking more like small lakes at many places. Even now, at historic low levels after the long summer heat and drought that has burned the cornfields that make up most of the Midwest. On the picture below from Minnesota, the distance to the other side in Wisconsin is about 4 km.

Many of the names of towns, counties, rivers, forests and even states have their origin in the language of the native american tribes that once roamed these areas, or the interpretation of these original names by French explorers. The French were the first Europeans to explore - and claim - the vast Louisiana Territory that spanned from Canada all the way south to the mound of the Mississippi in New Orleans. After selling it first to Spain, the French emperor Napoleon bought it back only to cut a deal several years later with the U.S. at a meager 40 cents per acre in today's money. Other than names, nothing of French influence is seen today in the upper Mississippi valley. In contrast, the towns and villages along the river are true americana that has past its heydays for a couple of decades. But the area is very beautiful, the people very friendly, the lifestyle very outdoorish and down-to-earth, or perhaps down-to-the-river is a more fitting term. This still is Huckleberry Finn territory.

This holiday weekend, people traditionally celebrate the last days of Summer, which means boating, fishing, canoeing or cruising with motorbikes along the mighty Mississippi. GABROEN is not yet ready to say goodbye to Summer, but if we must, this is not a bad place to do it. So long..............

Sep 4, 2012


With the country's oldest outdoor music venue in our backyard, GABROEN decided to go to Ravinia Park at least once this summer concert season. It has been the summer home of the Chicago Symphony for over 75 years, and last year we went there three times, for the Gypsy Kings (great show), for Tony Bennett's 85th birthday concert (endearing show) and for Carrie Underwood (very popular show for teenage Carrie wanna-bees, and there are many of them).

There is something odd about Ravinia. It's probably the only venue where most people cannot actually see the stage. There's a pretty big, outdoor roofed pavilion with 3,200 seats around the stage like an amphitheater. And then there is the lawn, where thousands and thousands cramp into a dense quilt pattern of blankets, lounge chairs, folding tables, picnic baskets, coolers, and even an occasional potable stereo brought from home to play some music during the show. Because the people with the lawn tickets do not necessarily come for the performance, they come for the massive communal picnic as if it were a midsummer rite. Not only is the stage invisible from the lawn, if you have a lawn ticket you cannot hear the music either, because of an outdated sound-system that is easily overpowered by the chatter of the picnic crowds and the flocks of locusts and cicadas that do their own performance in the park's trees.

So last year, with the pleasant experiences of lawn seats with stage-view in Atlanta's Chastain Park amphitheater still fresh in mind, and many locals explaining to us that the Ravinia lawn seats are the most popular, GABROEN booked lawn seats for each of the three shows. We strategically positioned ourselves right in front of the single videoscreen that was set up on the lawn for The Gypsy Kings as well as Tony Bennet, and although not perfect, it made it feel like a hip and relaxed drive-in movie theater. To our surprise, the video screen was nowhere to be seen at Carrie Underwood's show, and there we even saw people camped out on meager patches of grass behind the restrooms. Far out of reach for the speakers, in the dark between a brick wall and the park fence, it didn't make a lot of sense to us.

Anyway, the 2012 season continued the trend of not bringing out a video screen on the lawn, so GABROEN decided to get pavilion seats from now on. This year, just before the season comes to a close early September, we went to see a modern dance by MoMix, called 'Botanica'. This group of 10 dancers had a brilliant way of using costumes to introduce plants, flowers, bugs, wasps, critters, horses and even a Brontosaurus into the performance. We had a blast.