Sunday, May 31, 2015

Steven Wilson in concert

On Friday I went in search of ingredients for my shredded beef tacos that I wanted to prepare for my showing of Savages at TSMC, one of the few Hollywood movies with a (reasonably) happy poly ending for a trio of lovers. This was a lot more involved than I expected it to be, mostly because I don't have a go-to Latino supermarket on my radar. So I started by getting beef short ribs and most of the fresh ingredients at the Korean supermarket, leaving dried ancho chilies and queso fresco as the major missing ingredients. I took a longshot and went to nearby Jack's, but struck out.

Then I took a bus up Eighth Avenue to Gristedes, where I knew I could get corn tortillas but no peppers or cheese. I went across the street to Westerley and found chipotle instead of ancho chilies, so I had something at least. I stopped at the Food Emporium on the way home to get shredded mozzarella in lieu of queso fresco. It kind of burns me how there are at least 10 different versions of feta on store shelves and hardly any other kind of crumbly cheese. So four grocery stores and a fifth variety store visited and I still couldn't get everything I needed, but I got enough to make it work. 

Unfortunately all this took so long that by the time I started cooking, it was going to be well into the event by the time the meat would be cooked (it takes three hours to braise short ribs in the oven). So when Michelle came over for the movie, we started the movie and then took a break to finish the cooking and eat dinner. She shredded the cooked meat while I prepared the sauce and we put them together with my homemade slaw, cheese and a squeeze of lime. Very tasty although a bit too spicy for Michelle! She gamely ate a couple of them before her tingling lips made her stop. If I'd found anchos instead of chipotles, this wouldn't have been a problem. Here's the recipe if you want to try it.

Shredded Beef Tacos (Carne Deshebrada)
Serves 6 to 8


1 1/2 cups beer
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 ounces (4 to 6) dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded, and torn into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons tomato paste
6 garlic cloves, lightly crushed and peeled
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large onion, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
3 pounds boneless beef short ribs, trimmed and cut into 2-inch cubes

1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 head green cabbage, cored and sliced thin (6 cups)
1 onion, sliced thin
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded, and minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
18 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed
4 ounces queso fresco, crumbled (1 cup)
Lime wedges


1. FOR THE BEEF: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Combine beer, vinegar, anchos, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaves, cumin, oregano, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, cloves, and cinnamon in Dutch oven. Arrange onion rounds in single layer on bottom of pot. Place beef on top of onion rounds in single layer. Cover and cook until meat is well browned and tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

2. FOR THE CABBAGE-CARROT SLAW: While beef cooks, whisk vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in large bowl until sugar is dissolved. Add cabbage, onion, carrot, jalapeño, and oregano and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours. Drain slaw and stir in cilantro right before serving.

3. Using slotted spoon, transfer beef to large bowl, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and set aside. Strain liquid through fine-mesh strainer into 2-cup liquid measuring cup (do not wash pot). Discard onion rounds and bay leaves. Transfer remaining solids to blender. Let strained liquid settle for 5 minutes, then skim any fat off surface. Add water as needed to equal 1 cup. Pour liquid in blender with reserved solids and blend until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer sauce to now-empty pot.

4. Using two forks, shred beef into bite-size pieces. Bring sauce to simmer over medium heat. Add shredded beef and stir to coat. Season with salt to taste. (Beef can be refrigerated for up to 2 days; gently reheat before serving.)

5. Spoon small amount of beef into each warm tortilla and serve, passing slaw, queso fresco, and lime wedges separately.

I woke up Saturday just in time to meet Liz for a play reading for Articulate at Bunga Din, a bar down on 14th Street. My friend Kelly wrote a play called "Lauren and Logan Are Gonna Be Fine," a self-described rom-com play set in New York. I first knew Kelly as one of the actresses in Joan and Kacey's play, "The Tragedy of Dandelion" that I saw twice last year. Marguerite read one of the roles of Kelly's new play, and I was happy to see Joan and Bruce there, just back from their tour of Prague where they performed their play "Kafka's Belinda" at the Prague Fringe Festival. Joan had invited me to a free preview last week and it was a very interesting play. Bruce co-wrote it, Joan directed, and Storm actually did the sound design.

In the evening Puck and I attended the Steven Wilson concert at Best Buy Theater, the second time I've seen him at this venue as a solo artist, and the fifth time I've seen him (including Porcupine Tree tours). 

Photo courtesy of the New York Times

The concert was unlike any rock concert I've ever been to. The last time I saw SW on the tour supporting his last album, "The Raven That Refused To Sing" I had to stake out a spot on the rail standing at the front of the mezzanine, continuously fending off encroachers from all sides. For my reward, I got a stellar view of the concert but I had to work for it.

So this time SW set up the concert much like a classical music concert, with full assigned seating and multi-channel sound. Which was great because our seats were in the center section at the rear of that self-same mezzanine on a step-up riser. When he took the stage, SW explained that he was getting up in years and recognized that many of his fans were too (he's one year older than me, biologically speaking) and might appreciate a show enjoyed from the comfort of their seats. However, he encouraged everyone to "rock out" as much as they wanted to, but from the comfort of their seats. He also took a cue from Diana Krall and asked everyone to refrain from taking photos or videos during the concert, which I really appreciated so I didn't have to see hundreds of glowing screens held up in my sightline as I do with every other concert. Clearly, SW is courting a different audience as a solo artist than the Porcupine Tree fanbase.

The concert setlist started out with several tracks from his new album, "Hand. Cannot. Erase." with video on a huge LED screen across the rear of the stage. I loved how SW let his personality and sense of humor come out much more than he does at PT concerts. He joked about how most of his music is about isolation, misery and pain, saying "I don't do happy. Happy makes me depressed."

He also had more time to talk about how songs came about. For example, he prefaced the song "Harmony Korine" from his debut solo album "Insurgentes" with a little musical history about growing up with 80s music and the small musical sub-genre known as shoegaze that influenced the song. It's fascinating to hear even just a little bit about the inspiration of musical genius, and SW is one of those rare unquestioned musical geniuses of the modern rock era.

I also loved the multi-channel sound effects, reminiscent of the DVD-Audio mixes that he is justifiably famous for in the industry, on tracks such as "Perfect Life," synced with the video content and the performance of the musicians. Then he surprised me by pulling out "How Is Your Life Today?" an old PT song from the 2000 album "Lightbulb Sun" that is a vocal solo with guitar and keyboards, in addition to solo acoustic performances of two of PT's biggest hits, "Lazarus" and "Trains."

For the encores the band performed behind a draped scrim on which was projected somewhat creepy images for "The Watchmaker." For the finale, he performed his biggest recent hit, "The Raven That Refused to Sing," with the short film directed by Jess Cope shown on the high-def screen.

What I love the most about SW's concert is how you can see his hand (no pun intended) everywhere in the performance. He clearly had a vision of precisely the kind of performance he wanted to put on and executed its many components, from recorded voices and sounds to video content to an immersive surround sound mix and audience participation, to perfection. He's one of the few musical performers that I've had the privilege of seeing in their prime, at the absolute top of their game in the genre that they occupy. It was, quite simply, the most stunning and brilliantly executed rock concert I've ever seen.