June 12th. Many things have happened on that date in history. In 1099 Crusade leaders visited the Mount of Olives where they met a hermit who urged them to assault Jerusalem. The 12th of 1923 saw Harry Houdini escape from a straight jacket while suspended upside down 40ft in the air. “Cleopatra” starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison, and Richard Burton premiered at the Rivoli Theatre in New York City in 1963. In 1987 Ronald Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. June 12th is the birthday of Anne Frank, George H.W. Bush as well as actors Jason Mewes, Timothy Busfield, Eamonn Walker, and Jim Nabors. And most recently, the person who is President of the United States, on paper anyway, added to his long list of embarrassing comments and stated he would accept information from a foreign power on his political opponents and not involve the FBI. And lost in all that information is my birthday, June 12, 1973 which is at the root of my trip to the Big Apple. After a pretty rough beginning to my year which saw both the end of a relationship followed by surgery requiring my head to be cut open, I made it a point to be very selfish and do something just for me on my birthday.
I found out months ago that one of my favorite guitar players, Paul Gilbert, was not only playing at the Iridium Jazz Club in NY, but also playing on my birthday. As such, I not only got a ticket for the show but splurged for the meet and greet before the show which not only entailed the usual swag bag and photo op but also a guitar lesson from the man himself. But first, let’s get the bad news out of the way.
I made my reservation to spend the night at the Manhattan Hotel at Times Square. In short, DO NOT stay there. The price was reasonable for New York and the rooms shown on the website appeared very modern, bright, and clean. I can only assume most of the photos were of their higher end suites and rooms for my room appeared nothing like them. The hallway leading to the room was dark and dank. There was obvious dirt on the hall furniture, pealing wall paper, and stained ceiling tiles galore. While my room seemed clean, the furniture was old, scratched, and dented. The bathroom was beyond dated with many chipped tiles and the overall lighting of the room was again dark making for an uncomfortable space. Fortunately I wasn’t going to be spending much time in my room. The only positives I can say is that the staff was courteous and I did not wind up with bed bugs (thank goodness). I did my due diligence in making all this known to the hotel manager. OK, enough of my complaining, it’s time to head out.
First off, for anyone who has never been to New York, do not be surprised at the prices. One might look at the cost of things and feel they are overpriced and compared to other cities and towns, yeah, they are. But it’s across the board. No one place is getting the better of you than the other. It is what it is in New York. I started my evening grabbing a couple of drinks and light snack at the SuperNova Bar inside the Novotel Hotel. It’s a decent enough bar with an outside area that has a great views, specifically of Times Square. So far, a good start to the evening. Afterwards, I made my way to the Iridium for the meet and greet.
This is only the second time I’ve gone for a meet and greet and I have to say this one exceeded my expectations. First off, there was only three of us total which made for a very personal and intimate experience. Paul himself was so completely laid back, down to earth, and friendly. I never once got the feeling that he was phoning it in. He genuinely seemed to enjoy spending time with his fans. It started off with a guitar lesson where he first went over some alternative playing techniques which was followed by a couple music theory lessons. You can easily see how much he loves playing guitar, talking about it, and passing on what he knows. The lesson was followed by the usual photo op. Then we got sit through their sound check which was basically a short 4 song set being played just for us. The experience ended with the usual swag bag of a T-shirt, guitar picks, CDs, and autographs. Meet and greets are always a bit pricey but compared to the last one I did, this was less expensive and definitely had more bang for the buck. Well done by Paul, his band, and his crew all around.
Once the meet and greet was done, it was time for the show. I paid the extra $10 bucks for reserved seating and combined with being there for the meet and greet, this got me a great seat right up front. Similar to a comedy club, the Iridium has a two item minimum which can be any combo of food and drink. However, while again it’s on the pricey side, where it differs from a comedy club is that the food is much better quality if not somewhat basic. The show itself was awesome. I had seen Paul before and this show was so much more. I’ve been a fan of his since the late 80’s and liking his stuff with Racer X and less so with Mr. Big. I have to say, over the years he has not only gotten better but his playing has matured so much. While he retains his technical chops and ability to shred, he has now coupled that with so much more soulfulness and fluidity. His new material from his new album “Behold Electric Guitar” is simultaneously a departure for him yet still quintessentially Paul Gilbert in his technique. In addition to his new material, he performed a couple of cover songs that he made is uniquely his own. One was a genius mash up of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and one of his older songs, “Scarified”. The other was a little tribute to Ronnie James Dio and Ritchie Blackmore with the song “Still I’m Sad”. Please check out the embedded videos to see what I mean. Playing as part of four piece with keyboards rounding out the bass and drums made for a fun, groovy set. Not just a great guitar player, Paul tells very funny and entertaining stories setting up his songs as the set goes along. The only down side is that it made the 2 hours quickly pass by. If you are a guitar player, a fan of guitar players, or just a fan of good music, you owe it to yourself to check out Paul Gilbert (Disclaimer: Paul Gilbert nor his associates has paid me one red cent to write these kind words. Ahem, ahem, cough, cough.)
My night unofficially ended by checking out a couple of high end roof top bars, specifically the St. Cloud Roof Top Bar and 230 Fifth Rooftop. The former is atop The Knickerbocker Hotel having both an indoor and outdoor bar that also has a great view of Times Square. The latter is farther away with a large indoor section and an outdoor bar the next floor up. Both very different in their decor and equally nice. That said, they were both dead with the St. Cloud closing early. So, while the city may never sleep, it seems most of the people actually do.
Despite a couple of not so great things, I had a great time and very much enjoyed the quick jaunt up to Manhattan. The only thing I would do different in the future is pick a night with more people out and about and do a much better job in choosing a hotel.