Say Goodnight

Feed me milk and honey lay me down

 

19th December 2010

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The original plan for today was to get up very early and make our way across town to Haight-Ashbury the hippie enclave that encapsulated the whole sixties flower power movement. We were going to find a pub that showed English Premier League football and watch the United v Chelsea game; then celebrate our glorious victory by putting flowers in our hair and hang out on hippy hill in the Golden Gate Park. We hadn't accounted for the weather though, both here with the persistent threat of rain but especially at home.

I spoke to my father yesterday and he told me that most premier league games had been cancelled because of snow. Apparently the whole country was at a standstill in the grip of a severe deep freeze. Even Heathrow had shut down. It's a bit of a recurring theme for our trips, the same happened whilst we were in Cuba!

With our plans scuppered we decided to stay in bed until gone 10am. Which is always quite a luxury on holiday.

The only thing left we had still planned today was to make our way to the Fillmore Auditorium to watch the Black Crowes tonight! I was so excited about it that I couldn't really think about what to do between then and now.

First on our newly thought up things to do list was to find somewhere for breakfast. I had read about a crepery and cafe called Honey Honey with a great reputation. It was on the corner of Taylor & Post which wasn't far from our hotel.

It was so popular people were queuing out the door. We joined at the back and patiently waited our turn, which is so unlike us. It probably took over five minutes to reach the counter. Most of that time was spent trying to spot a vacant table. It was absolutely heaving and I suppose Sunday Brunch is their busiest time of the week.

We almost accepted the fact that we may have to eat our breakfast standing up when one came free and Julie darted over to claim it. It was quite a relief.

Distracted by our hunt for a table we hadn't really paid much attention to their extensive menu which covered the length of one wall neatly hand written on chalkboards.

When I stepped up to the counter to order we went for the familiar, French toast for Julie and my new found favourite eggs Florentine for me.

I have to say that mine wasn't as nice as Pat's Cafe yesterday. It was a little heavy on the chilli powder sprinkled over the top rather than a subtle dusting of paprika. The spice overpowered the subtle flavours of the spinach and hollandaise sauce. The French toast however had Julie purring.

They had free wi-fi available which if we had known we would have brought out iPad with us. Instead we sprawled out our guide books on the table and tried to agree on where to go today. A guy on a table opposite us tried to give us some advice on where to go but we threw up our suspicion barriers and told him that we were just planning to wander around aimlessly. I'm sure he was only trying to be friendly but there was something odd about him.

We moved on without a plan, letting gravity pull us down to Union Square where we decided to go inside Macy's. It was six days before Christmas and we imagined being blown away by lavish Xmas decorations but it wasn't to be. It was a poor effort and we were quite disappointed.

With the exception of the kids department on the top floor the store decor was very low key. We saw more tinsel and festive baubles in Buddhist Thailand.

We expected something along the lines of Galleries Lafayette in Paris where just walking around the shop was an experience.

We walked around the kids toys and then the kids clothes but Julie noticed I was losing the will to live so we left.

And not a moment too soon. Weak, dizzy and beginning to blotch all over I made it back on the streets and the fresh San Francisco air.

From Union Square we headed up Grant Avenue towards the traditional and ornate Dragons' Gate announcing the entrance into Chinatown. There's been a Chinese community in San Francisco since the 1840s and it has grown to be the largest outside of Asia. We were anticipating big things.

The main street was lined with restaurants, grocery stores and herbal medicine shops. It was like walking through a portal straight to Peking. It wasn't that exciting though.

I don't know what I was expecting really? Everybody Kung Fu fighting?! At least the red lanterns hovering above our heads raised the "Chinatown" atmosphere a little but the rest of it looked quite dreary. In the cold light of day it didn't impress much.

The amount of people we saw coughing up phlegm and gobbing on pavement didn't help either.

We had planned on eating oriental tonight but we were now reconsidering.

I'd gone right off the idea of an egg drop soup for some reason.

Continuing up Grant Avenue we reached California Street and the Old St. Mary's Cathedral.

The 19th century red brick cathedral looked out of place in the middle of Chinatown especially with a concrete high rise behind it.

On the tower just below the clock face were the words "Son, observe the time and fly from evil" a quote from the Bible (Ecclesiasticus 4:23) and a message for the men who would visit this area at night for the pleasure of its many brothels. That was in the 1850s of course and not these days. Although I'm sure if you looked hard enough you'd probably find one down some dark alley.

A little further up we too flew away from here, a little bored of little China.

We headed down to Columbus Avenue. I knew that we were close to a San Francisco institution, the City Lights Bookstore, a shop popularised by Jack Keourac and a focal point for the Beat movement of the early 1960s.

I would have liked to have found it but we never did. Our mistake I think was to turn right drawn towards the very unique and incredibly tall Trans America building rather than left towards nothing in particular.

It was Julie's turn to lose the will to live now as she was tiring of ceasely pounding the streets. Not wanting to bring down the mood I promised that we could catch the next passing bus as we turned onto Kearny Street.

It didn't take Julie long to notice that it was a one way street with the traffic heading in the wrong direction. She wasn't impressed especially when she caught me struggling to hide a smile.

"At least it's not hilly" I offered as a little something as we marched back towards Union Square.

There wasn't much to see down Kearny Street. It was at the edge of Chinatown and as such even less exciting. It got a little more intriguing as we crossed Sacramento Street into the Downtown area where the buildings rose suddenly creating a canyon of concrete and glass.

Amidst the skyscrapers we stopped for coffee at Bread and Cocoa, an attractive looking cafe.

It had everything going for it.

Beautiful designer style, cool friendly staff and a great location on the corner of Sutter Street.

Sadly the insipid dish water they tried to pass off as coffee didn't match the hype. Perhaps we should have gone for their Hot Chocolate signature drink instead.

Moving on and we were back in Union Square browsing the windows of Tiffany's & Co, Saks on Fifth Avenue and Macy's. There was certainly more effort made on dressing the windows with festive cheer than inside the store.

We were shocked when we came across one of Macy's displays where cute little kittens were being exploited.

They were clearly fed, watered and unfazed by the crowd of faces pressed against the window staring at them but that just wouldn't be tolerated back home.

Onwards we marched, wandering aimlessly around the shopping district ending up inside the Westfield Centre.

I'm not a big fan of shopping centres but this one impressed architecturally at least with a spectacular atrium spiralling up the nine floors of retail outlets.

It even had curved escalators which was a really whacky sensation.

We went in search of a proper toy shop hoping to find something unique for the grand children. We found one called GumBox but they just had the usual "Made in Taiwan" stuff, nothing different to what we could have bought at home.

Even the upmarket Bloomingdale's was lacking inspiration in the toy department.

Although Julie did take a shine to a snow globe but I went all taste police on her. "You're not buying that .... are you???" I said, not really giving her much choice.

We left empty handed.

"Where now?" we asked ourselves. Oh how the day was dragging. Both of us felt tired of being constantly on our feet. It was now about 2pm so we still had another four hours of this wandering around aimlessly to do before we could make our way over to the Fillmore to the pre-show party.

There was only one thing for it. Find a bar!

We left the shopping centre, crossed Market Street and followed the cable cars up Powell Street. Then, not far from the corner with Geary Street, we came across the Gold Dust Lounge.

From the outside it looked like a small old time cinema with it's name in lights above the door. Inside it was a great little traditional pub.

Enhancing the great atmosphere was a feisty red haired barmaid who not only sounded Irish with her broad accent but also looked Irish with her impish features and "don't fuck me with me" face. And lets not forget the wit and charm of the Irish.

We took the weight off our feet and sat on stools at the end of the bar supping our ice cold beer/wine.

"Oh, we should have done this earlier" I said. It felt so good.

People came and went, mostly weary tourist like us in need of sanctuary. We would have stayed here all afternoon if it wasn't for the fact we were starving and there wasn't enough potato crisps in the whole bar to satisfy our hunger.

With our Time Out guide in our hands we walked a couple of blocks past our The Clift hotel to find an Indian/Pakistani restaurant on O'Farrell Street called the Lahore Karahi.

Our first impressions on finding it wasn't great. The exterior looked very basic and unappealing. It didn't even smell inviting.

"C'mon, let's not judge a book by its cover" said Julie "you never know, it might be lovely inside."

It wasn't. It was messy and chaotic. All the tables (but one) were covered in piles of dirty dishes. We began to turn around ready to walk straight back out again but we had a change of heart.

We decided to give it a chance based purely on the fact that whilst the tables were filthy at least the bowls were empty.

We sat in the corner at the only clean table and ordered our supper. We always go mad when it comes to Indian food, always preferring the idea of a Thali, a selection of different dishes to get an assortment of flavours.

Julie ordered tandoori chicken whilst I added dal makhani, moong dal, saag aloo, palak paneer and two rotis (or chapatis) to the order. We even got some complimentary pakoras thrown in.

The open kitchen kept us entertained whilst we waited for our food. We watched the chef and owner Zulfiqar “Guddu” Haider make the bread fresh, skewer the chicken and place it in the tandoor oven, and heat up the four separate dishes in their individual karahi or large cast iron pots.

When it all arrived and was laid out on the table in front of us it looked like we had ordered for a family of six. It was quite obscene. Anyway, we tucked in.

Since visiting India I've gone all native when it comes to eating Indian food. I now eat with my hands whenever possible, scooping up the dal with my bread. Working our way through it was slow progress but very rewarding. All the dishes were delicious.

We very nearly cleared our plates, throwing in the towel with only half a bowl of moong dal left. I knew that if I had eaten only a spoonful more I would have split my stomach which wouldn't have been pleasant.

We left the Lahore Karahi and returned down Geary Street back to our hotel.

Along the way we passed a very beautiful building. It was almost palatial with ornate and intricate designs around the windows and arches.

Perhaps it may have been a mosque or temple in its previous life. It certainly would have made a fantastic location for an Indian or Moroccan restaurant. Sadly and bizarrely it was now nothing more than a car park.

It's strange how I got more excited over this than anything we saw in Chinatown!

Back at the hotel we returned to our room where we quickly showered and got changed for the evening. We had no time for a proper siesta, the time had already arrived for us to make our way across town to the Fillmore.

Back out on the streets we walked up to the nearest bus stop. It was getting dark now and on each street corner there was a persistent beggar with an outstretched arm and a polystyrene cup to collect your quarters. They were quite annoying.

It seemed to unnerve Julie. When we caught the no.38 bus up Geary St. and paid $2 each for the trip she felt a bit uneasy with the behaviour of a particular passenger.

He was already sat on he back seat when we got on. After a while he got up, walked down the bus and asked this woman to get out of her seat because he wanted to sit there. She looked shocked but did as he asked. There were plenty of empty seats.

I'm sure he was just a harmless weirdo as he sat there muttering to himself but Julie didn't want to stay on the bus a moment longer than she had to. She was worried he could crack and pull out a knife or a gun.

At the next stop we got off and walked the rest of the way.

We arrived at a bar opposite the Fillmore called Razzles for our VIP pre-show party.

We didn't know what to expect. If we had known there was going to be a hot buffet on offer we probably wouldn't have stuffed our faces earlier. We were able to take full advantage of the free bar however. The VIP tickets weren't cheap at $210 each and we needed to get our money's worth. We only managed three rounds of drinks in the hour we were there.

Included in the price was also a bag of Black Crowes goodies. A pair of drumsticks, a harmonica, a bottleneck for playing slide guitar, a laminated pass that looked like a backstage pass but wasn't, and a gig poster for the San Francisco dates.

It was raining quite heavily when we left the party. Luckily it wasn't far to the entrance of the Fillmore. As we were crossing the road this big black guy came towards us holding a delicate little mushroom in his hand "'Shroom?" he asked. We declined his kind invitation to buy his fantastical funghi, I had enough adrenalin and excitement coursing through my veins I didn't need anything else.

We collected our tickets from the box office and entered up the staircase. "Welcome to the Fillmore" greeted a member of staff as he checked our tickets. He asked if we had been here before. "Don't forget to grab yourselves an apple" he said.

It's apparently a Fillmore tradition to offer free apples to all.

I picked up a large red juicy apple and we walked around taking in the atmosphere and the history, admiring the antique candelabras that hovered over our heads. It was a really funky venue.

"You should take a look upstairs" said the lady who sold us raffle tickets. So up we went.

There were two rooms, both had every conceivable wall space filled with posters of previous performers. There must have been thousands of them.

We got excited and took photos of several posters including Welsh band Stereophonics and also our very own Tom Jones.

We made our way back down stairs and settled at the back of the hall for the performance to begin. The air was thick with anticipation and the sweet smell of weed.

The Black Crowes strolled onto the stage to great applause. On this tour they've been doing two sets, an acoustic one and an electric set.

They began tonight with a song called Remedy, a classic from their 1992 album Southern Harmony & Musical Companion. Being stripped down to the acoutic elements it lacked the explosive punch at the start but the laid back funky arrangement suited the song nonetheless.

It chugged its way through as we joined in the chorus "Can I have some Remedy" I was glad to hear the voices of the backing singers Porsche & Mona joining from the back. They always add an important layer to many of the Crowes' songs.

It was the Southern Harmony & Musical Companion album where I fell in love with this band. Two years earlier they had released a great first album, Shake Your Moneymaker, full of catchy rock songs. The only criticism was that their sound could've been described as quite generic, very reminiscent of The Faces and classic Rolling Stones. But they did it well. Then along came SH&MC and with a new guitarist (Marc Ford) on board they discovered their own unique style and it was something spectacular.

Next song was Roll Old Jeremiah, a song from their diverse double album Before the Frost ... Until the Freeze. Recorded in a log cabin near Woodstock in 2009 it was inspired by the roots of American music with many folk influenced songs. The sound of a banjo wouldn't have been out of place as it flirted with folk traditions.

It was followed with a song called "Whoa Mule" which began with them singing those same words. You could easily imagined that they were a bunch of prospectors travelling to California during the Gold Rush and they should all be wearing dungarees and chewing grass and spitting whilst they sang this song. Despite its old time roots it was under pinned but the distinctive Black Crowes rhythm.

The drummer Steve Gorman has been the one constant over the last twenty years supporting brothers Chris and Rich Robinson. "Whoa Mule" was off their Warpaint "come back" album which they released in 2008 after taking a four year hiatus as a band and a seven year gap from the studio. They were also reunited for that album with guitarist Marc Ford who had been sacked twelve years earlier.

Chris Robinson introduced the next song as "you have no idea how topical this song is". It was called Thunderstorm 6:54PM . It shuffled along beautifully.

It was actually off an album that never got released. They had recorded what would have been their "difficult" 3rd album and called it "Tall" but ditched it and returned to the studio to re-record the whole lot, emerging with (in my opinion) their finest hour, the "Amorica" album.

The lost "Tall" album became almost mythical and the songs that never made it onto the Amorica album were much sought after amongst the tape trading community that had built around the Black Crowes.

As a band the followed The Grateful Dead's lead and had an open policy about recording their live performances and by the mid-nineties I had collected over thirty concerts, swapping copies of tapes with fellow Croweheads in America.

They also had a great reputation for never repeating a set list so those recordings probably had over 150 different songs on them. By then their mainstream popularity had waned but I felt privileged to be a part of this cult following, part of the Brotherhood. That sense of community was evident here tonight. There was a great vibe in the crowd. Everyone was relaxed. Every one was respectful of those around them. I even got offered to share a joint. There was no pushing or talking over the performance. We were all there for the music and were all mesmerised.

They followed with the first cover version of the evening doing "No Expectation", a Rolling Stones song off of the Beggar's Banquet album. It slotted neatly into the set list sounding just like a Black Crowes original.

Then, after a song about thunderstorms earlier they did another meteorological themed song called 'Tornado', a country-style ditty from their aborted 3rd album "Tall". It began with the line "sit down by the window and watch the tornado" and ended with "please, please stay away from me". Clearly whoever Tornado was, she was trouble.

Chris Robinson was on great form tonight. His voice sounded as clear and as strong as ever, even sounding rich in a deeper quality that has developed over the years.

Next up was "Oh Josephine" from the Warpaint album an ode to love and another opportunity to sing-a-long, "It's too late to play it safe, so let's let it all ride". It was classic power ballad of the highest order and if we were outside in a field lighters would have been waving.

Rolling on, with an emotional rendition of "She Talks To Angels" we were transported back twenty years to 1990, a moment in time when I was 23 and Julie was 21 and we first heard The Black Crowes and their exciting "Shake Your Moneymaker" album.

I had Julie in my arms, listening to song that we've heard together a thousand times over the years. It moved me. I felt my eyes filling up and my throat tighten holding back the emotion. It was a very touching moment and it captured the reason why we came all the way to San Francisco.

Before it all got too heavy the next song was Shine Along a whimsical stomp that would bring a smile to anyone's face.

It was from the "...Until The Freeze" album, a collection of songs that was only available to download when you bought the Before The Frost album. They were all recorded "live" in front of a small audience in a "barn" near Woodstock. I don't know if anyone else has ever done it like that before.

The second cover of the evening came up next with Joe Cocker's version of Space Captain, from his Mad Dogs and Englishmen album, a song well suited to the whole Haight-Ashbury vibe of the late sixties. "We've got to get it together. It's getting better and better!"

That really got the crowd going. We were then all lifted higher still with one of my favourite Crowes tune, My Morning Song from the Southern Harmony & Musical Companion.

It slides, it rides, it's relentless in its progression, whipping you up into a glorious frenzy. Before we carried away and lost ourselves to the song it kicked into another song called Stare It Cold, a full on rock-on song from their first album. Without a break it went into a drum solo which was fortunately brief enough not to be a bore. It then fell back into the original My Morning Song completing the magical musical adventure.

It was beginning to get hot in here. I'm not a dancer, I'm incapable of prancing but you couldn't help to at least shuffle from one leg to another in an almost instinctive movement to these songs.

Their next song was arguably the most designed for dance of the evening, a little known soul track called Show Me by a little known artist called Joe Tex. It certainly got me going and I had worked up quite a sweat by the end of it.

The mood then mellowed down easy with a wonderful song with a hint of gospel influence called Seeing Things from the Shake Your Moneymaker album. We were 21 once again singing along word for word. It gave me the goosebumps and a wave of emotion washed over me again.

They then went full-on gospel when then sang God's Got It, a cover version of a Reverend Charlie Jackson song from their own Warpaint album. It was an unadulterated bible basher.

I remember the first time I saw them perform this song at the Brixton Academy London and Steve Gorman strapped on a huge bass drum as if he was in a marching band and stomped his way up and down the stage banging his drum with the joy and enthusiasm of a fully fledged member of the happy clappy club. It was absolutely hilarious. He stayed behind his drum kit tonight.

The next song was Feathers, another from their album that never was and possibly their most sought after unreleased song. The mystique that surrounded it and finally getting hold of a studio version of it released on a promo CD for a HORDE festival tour in 1994 it instantly became my favourite. It still one I think of as special. In all the years of seeing the Black Crowes I've never heard it performed live. Tonight, it was meant to be.

It's a beautiful song, beginning with a moody bass line introduction that repeats itself hypnotically throughout. "If I found you a floating feather, sent down to help me fly away; If I found you a floating feather, I would be amazed." It was a very special moment for me.

It always amazes me, the power of a song. A song can lift you, thrill you, comfort you or knock you down to your knees and make you cry. After sending me to my favourite happy place inside they brought the house down, uniting the crowd in song and dance as we all joined in their most joyful and uplifting song; Soul Singing. It was the first song performed tonight from their 2001 album Lions. I was close to reaching a state of abandonment where I would have happily raised my palms to the heavens in worship and not cared about how daft I looked.

They followed it with Thorn In My Pride, a song that swayed and swaggered until it broke into another drum solo.

This time it went on for a bit. I had joked with Julie at the beginning of the song saying if she needed a toilet break now would probably be a good time.

They returned as a Rolling Stones tribute band knocking out five great songs, beginning with Midnight Rambler which showcased Chris Robinson's excellent harmonica playing, then came the country-esque Torn & Frayed, followed by Just Want To See His Face where Rich Robinson given a rare opportunity to take the vocal lead and then Can't You Hear Me Knockin'.

They ended the evening with 'The Last Time' which was the perfect last song for their last performance.

As they sang "This could be the last time" I'm not ashamed to say I had a tear in my eye. It couldn't go on forever and after almost three hours of great music it was all over. Chris Robinson thanked us all as the band waved goodbye and walked off the stage.

We didn't rush out. We stayed for a while as the hall slowly emptied and made our way to the front to take a closer look at the kit.

Eventually we found our way out where we crossed the road and hailed down a taxi to take us back to the hotel. It only came to $6.80 so I handed him a very damp $10 from my sweaty pockets and told him to keep the change.

At the Clift hotel we headed to the Redwood Bar.

"Any room in the inn?" I asked.

"Pardon?" replied the maitre de. It's not as funny if you have to repeat yourself, not that it was that funny in the first place. Slightly embarrassed I asked again "Uh ... Any room in the ... inn?" He wasn't impressed.

He could have easily said "no go away" but fortunately there was room for us tonight. Two stools at the bar had just become vacant. We perched ourselves and marvelled at the 20ft high shelves of spirits behind the bar. It was quite a feature.

We couldn't wait to watch the barman's face drop if I ordered the whisky from the top shelf but we couldn't recognise any of the labels. I ended up going for a Jack Daniels which predictably was on the bottom.

Sitting next to us at the bar was this guy who was whispering to barman. Julie caught some of the conversation which sounded like he was ordering a beer with a female companion chaser.

Moments later one arrived. She didn't look like the usual low-cut top, fishnet stocking, mini skirt wearing lady of the night. She was dressed for business in a pin stripe power suit, very prim and proper. They soon left. They didn't even finish their drinks. I guess the clock was ticking.

We on the other hand had our seats at the bar and we weren't giving them up. It was 12:45am when we eventually fell into bed.

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