Thursday, February 19, 2015

New Jack Swing Valentine's Day Love Jam

Disclaimer: Please forgive the quality and shakiness of my photos and video. Soon you'll be able to see how far I was from the stage, and although my camera has incredible zoom, any movement at all, even the beat of my heart, caused camera shake. 

On Sunday, February 15th, seven friends and I attended the "New Jack Swing Valentine's Day Love Jam." It featured performances by Bell Biv Devoe, SWV, After 7, Blackstreet, and Tony! Toni! Tone! Our tickets were $84 tickets each and we couldn't wait to go. So, how was the show?
 
If you were anywhere in the DC Metro area this Valentine's Day weekend, you know that the temperature was near one degree Fahrenheit. On the night of the concert, girlfriends, guy friends, and couples celebrating Valentine's Day showed up wearing big coats, little skirts, and high heels. The listed start time for the show was 7 pm, and I arrived at about 7:20.

Me and my friends Angel and Carla in our gold chains.

After buying drinks from the cash-only bar and concession, the first performer, After 7, was announced around 8:30 pm.

After 7's members wore matching suits like the Five Heartbeats and they even sang “Nights Like This.”
 

Kevon Edmonds sang his butt off. I always remember his voice because it's so high and recognizable, but all of them sounded fantastic. "Ready or Not" and "Can't Stop" were welcomed with screams from the audience. Couples were slow dancing at their seats. Their performance totally captured the theme of the show. It was beautiful. 

There was about a 10 to 15-minute wait between each performer. Then came SWV. Were they good? Of course they were. They covered “I’m So Into You”, and “Rain Down On Me” and of course “Weak”. Coko amazes me by hitting every single note that you expect her to. I guess she never deviates from the original song and I appreciate that because we were ON IT -- singing along and waiting for the high notes. She is phenomenal. My video ruins my depiction of her performance, but trust me, it was great. 








 


So between SWV and the next performer, my friends and I discussed how excited we were for Tony! Toni! Tone! So eavesdroppers in the row in front of us were like, “Why? It’s not like Raphael Saadiq is gonna be here.” We were dumbstruck. “He’s NOT???!!! we exclaimed at once. I guess Raphael Saadiq is too big time for our little show. So then I wondered, how is this band performing? To many people (including myself), Raphael Saadiq is Tony! Toni! Tone! And then they were announced. 



The band came out onto stage and immediately got started with "Little Walter," remember that? Then a man came out, a bald guy, in great shape, dancing and jumping like Prince and singing his butt off. From our seats, he looked like Raphael Saadiq. He sounded like Raphael Saadiq.  I asked the person to my right if it was Raphael, and they said yes. I asked the person on my left, my good friend Angel, if it was Raphael, and she said yes too. I took pictures and even zoomed in and recorded video, and instead of scrutinizing further, I just enjoyed the show as they sang "Feels Good," “It Doesn’t Rain In Southern California,” “Anniversary” and others. 






Great performance! Raphael was full of energy and danced and jumped about the stage as he sang. At the end, one of the members announced all of the band members by name, including the lead singer, and 50% of the audience collectively gasped upon learning that he was indeed not Raphael Saadiq. By then, it was funny. He gave us everything Raphael would’ve, I suppose. Still a great show.

So we were waiting for Blackstreet when all of the sudden, Majic 102.3's Adimu (our host) announces none other than…BBD? You mean BBD isn't closing the show? What the hay? Blackstreet is closing? Before we could ponder this anomaly further, Ricky, Ronnie, and Mike enter the stage to a DJ and everything was 90s magic and starshine for about 20 minutes. People were HYPE. Women LOVE Ronnie. BBD even did a few New Edition snippets like “Candy Girl” and “Mr. Telephone Man” and "Cool It Now" because, face it, the group only had like three singles like "Do Me" and "When Will I See You Smile Again," but we are all familiar with one: “Poison”, which they used to end their show in dramatic fashion. Side note: During their performance, Mike said they were “running late” and we didn’t quite know what that meant because everyone had relatively short sets.











After BBD left the stage, about 15% of the audience started to leave too. We stayed because, hey, we’re already here, what’s the rush to go home? Soon, a huge screen on the stage showed a video montage of Blackstreet’s biggest hits and a booming recorded voice announced their performance for them (who needs a host?) and there they were. In all white. With glittery belts and chains on. Three of them, including none other than Teddy Riley. And people were so pumped for Teddy Riley, even though he sings nothing at all. The other two were busy singing their butts off, when a very large man, also dressed in white, entered the stage. It was one of the original members, David Hollister. People jumped out of their seats with excitement! Then he began to sing and sounded as magical as ever. “Before I Let You Go” , “Don’t Leave Me”, “No Diggity”, etc. Then Teddy Riley did his auto-tune on the keyboard by himself for a needless 6 minutes, and then they all came back out to finish their set with like two more songs and SHOWPLACE ARENA TURNED THE LIGHTS ON because it was time to go home. Time was up. Time: 11:15 pm.



Blackstreet continued on for about 3 minutes because people were really rockin' to "No Diggity" but then the sound probably would’ve gotten cut too. What a great time nonetheless. Endless crowd participation and the immense nostalgia of a show like this can't be beat. The end.
  
Were you at the show? What did you think? Did you wish you were at the show? Who do you think should've opened the show? Who should've closed?

Until next time,

Insana



Friday, December 26, 2014

Happy Holidays | Ariana's Christmas Medley

Check out my chickadee Ariana singing during our annual family Christmas show. It was such a great time. The other children recited poems, read from the bible, and told Christmas jokes. I hope you enjoyed Christmas as much as we did!



Happy Holidays!

-Insana

Friday, September 19, 2014

[REVIEW] Zero Motorcycle: World's Quietest Ride

Recently, I got the chance to ride an electric sportsbike made by Zero Motorcycles on Zero demo day at Coleman Powersports in Falls Church.  Founded in Santa Cruz, California, Zero Motorcycles offers four models, from the enduro-style FX to the SR streetfighter.  Like an electric car, electric bikes are clean to ride and efficient, but what is it really like to ride one? Could a traditional gas-powered sportsbike owner truly enjoy the electric ride?

I demoed two models, the Zero S and the Zero SR. Featured here is the Zero S, "developed to aggressively take on urban environments while encouraging the occasional detour" -Zero Motorycles. Sitting on the bike was comfortable and noticeably upright, unlike the race bikes I'm accustomed to. The bike was not surprisingly narrow, since there's no gas tank nor combustion engine.

Zero S Specs:
103 miles per charge, city (w/out optional power tank)
Top speed: 95 mph
Max torque: 68 ft/lb
Max power: 54 hp @4,300 RPM
Typical cost to recharge: $0.96
Charge from 0-95%: 5.5 hours (w/out optional power tank)
Weight: 367 lbs (w/out optional power tank)
Seat height: 31.8 inches
MSRP: $12,995 - $17,490


Each bike has a similarly large display, featuring power level, speed, time, an odometer, mode and battery temperature. Most of the bikes have three riding modes: Economy, Sports, and Custom, which you can change with the quick double tap of the mode button with your throttle thumb.

Demo riders were reminded that there is no clutch; to just turn the key and twist the throttle. This, for me, was strange--but change can be good!

Power inlet on the left side of the frame, to use with a normal 110-volt outlet.

Zero Motorycle drive train
Next up: the Zero SR, the fastest and most powerful of the Zero line. I was really excited to ride this bike, capable of going from 0-60 in 3.3 seconds. The Zero Motorcycles rep claimed that this bike could beat a Suzuki GSXR in a 1/4 mile drag race.  

Zero SR Specs:
137 miles per charge, city (w/out optional power tank)
Top speed: 102 mph
Max torque: 106 ft/lb
Max power: 67 hp @4,000 RPM
Typical cost to recharge: $1.28
Charge from 0-95%: 7.4 hours (w/out optional power tank)
Weight: 407 lbs (w/out optional power tank)
Seat height: 31.8 inches
MSRP: $16,995 - $19,490


And we're off! Which sounds a lot more exciting than our departure from the motorcycle lot: these bikes are quieter than church mice. The lack of engine noise is a frequent complaint of any electric vehicle owner--at least at first. I found it calming, and almost stealth, to ride through residential streets seemingly unnoticed. However, riding unnoticed is not the name of the motorcycle safety game, so I found myself much more aware and alert of myself and other vehicles, while approaching speeds up to 65 mph.  Also, speaking to my fellow riders at a stop light, instead of shouting over a muffler, was ridiculously easy.
Riding in Northern Virginia, especially during rush hour, will leave the typical rider waiting at a fair number of red lights, quickly raising the temperature of a running gas-powered bike to more than 200 degrees. But even after four straight minutes at a red light, the temperature of my S and SR models never exceeded 127 degrees F.

Along with the cool battery came cool legs; look ma, no exhaust pipe!




In lieu of a gas tank, the Zero bikes feature a deep, removable lunch box-like trunk.

So what was it like? Riding a Zero motorcycle is insanely quiet but smooth, and braking was effective and seamless. Acceleration was responsive, but never felt as immediately responsive as a manually geared bike, not even close. There's an inherent power in determining and feeling your motorcycle's gears and mastering your bike's performance between each pull of the clutch. I admit, this opinion could be a product of years of sportsbike riding and the physical sense of your bike's gear and engine power, markedly absent on a clutchless electric bike. The lack of manual gears would take a while to get used to, but I think it's an incredibly effective commuter motorcycle. Racing?...that's another story entirely.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Istanbul, Oh, Istanbul

In August 2014, April and I departed Mykonos for the last leg of our four-part trip, to Istanbul, Turkey. Thankfully, we were smart enough to fly this time, although you'll always have to connect via Athens when leaving the Greek islands.

Aegean Airlines to Athens at dawn. [20 euro cab ride.] Note: I bought that cute green roller bag in Athens on our first day there for 35 euro. What a piece of trash. Six days later, one wheel had bent inward, a seam had ripped and one of the handles was about to tear off. That's what I get for buying from a street vendor.

Saw this in the airport. I love the consistently blatant "Smoking kills" labels.
ALERT: You need a Visa to enter Turkey. While in Greece, we paid $20 each to do this online, which was instant. We printed them out and packed them with our passports for arrival to customs in Istanbul.

This is my first view of Istanbul, from the cab on the ride from the airport.  What I saw was landscaping. Parks. Kids playing. Fathers teaching their kids to ride bicycles. On sidewalks. Yellow cabs. City employees. Real city life, which we hadn't seen in a week. The body of water shown here is the Sea of Marmara (an extension of the Mediterranean) which lies completely within Turkey on all sides.

Our room, in the Avicenna Hotel.

Rooftop restaurant of the Avicenna Hotel.

Our hotel was located in "Old City", which meant it was full of cobblestones but in walking distance of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. This is the view from the rooftop restaurant, featuring the Sea of Marmara.

As with the other cities we visited on this tour, there was no time to tarry; the Blue Mosque wasn't going to see itself. After a 15-minute walk from the hotel, we could see the mosque, but the Hagia Sofia was closer, so we went there first.  

View outside the Hagia Sofia.

It costs 30 Turkish Lira to get into the Hagia Sofia and the line is very long. Luckily, it was a really nice day in Istanbul, about 78 degrees.

There was a female guard outside telling us to cover up--to wear a head scarf and cover the skin on our arms and neck. I obliged, but then removed my scarf before I started to sweat; do you see anyone else covering their skin inside the Hagia Sofia?
The Hagia Sofia is a former Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later an imperial mosque, and now a museum. Built in 536, Hagia Sofia means "Holy Wisdom" in Greek. Directional signs in Istanbul read "Ayasofya."
It's a beautiful place.
April was in there workin her green dress.
Then we headed over to the Blue Mosque. Let me take a time out to mention the Incessant Salesmen of Istanbul. Many of the men you see pictured above are clamoring to offer you a tour of the Bosphorus (more on that later), a tour around Istanbul, a map of Istanbul, a flute, a velvet hat, a ticket to see the whirling dervishes, or themselves. It was a neverending sea of yellow-toothed men, literally blocking your path to offer you something you didn't want, every 15 feet or so. I've never witnessed this kind of harassment before and we couldn't wait to get out of the tourist center. Don't believe me? Here's proof. I took photos while walking down this single pathway.





When I refused to buy this book about Istanbul, the man to the left offered me...the man to the right.
Anyway, where was I? ...oh, The Blue Mosque!!
Contrary to my initial belief, there are plenty of blue mosques in Turkey. This one, Sultanahmet, is a historic mosque in Istanbul, popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built from 1609 to 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I.
More stray dogs

Entry is free, but you must follow the rules. You must also remove your shoes and are provided bags to carry them. April and I were prepared for this.



The Blue Mosque was equally as beautiful as the Hagia Sofia.


There was a separate area strictly for prayer.

It looks like I'm smuggling stolen fruit from country to country.
Anyway, we needed to relax, so after the big landmarks were out of the way, we headed to this nearby bazaar. Not the Grand Bazaar, but a bazaar nonetheless. It was located about two blocks from our hotel and had nice leather goods, rugs, purses, luggage, ceramics, lamps, spices, etc.

The shop owners here took a page from the Incessant Salesman of Istanbul but only followed it halfway: they coax you to come into their shops, without following you down the street or standing in your way. Things were looking up.
We found dinner at a nearby restaurant, and there were many to choose from.

Our playful waiters. They had lots of jokes, and offered us food like sliced apples, apple tea, and pita while our meals were prepared.
There weren't many customers yet, so this is what the waiters did in the meantime: sat across the street and smoked.
Stuffed mushrooms
Pita.

Chicken casserole. It's not much of a "casserole" but I liked all of the ingredients: chicken, vegetables and rice. I could eat this every day.

April's shrimp casserole.

After finishing our meal, the manager surprised us with baklava. My first time trying it, and it was delicious! It would go great with ice cream.

Intent on saving our energy for the last day of the trip, we turned in early.

The next morning, we took a 15-minute walk to the Grand Bazaar. Why is this bazaar so grand? Well, it was built in 1455, and is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops which attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. What's sold in the Grand Bazaar? I'm glad you asked.
Fake Louboutins, 380 Turkish Lira

Fake wallets and purses

Real electric lanterns

Fake sneakers [I assume]

Real ceramics

Jewelry
Plates. April even matched the ones in this store.
And clothes. This guy even had a "dressing room".





The bazaar was cool, but after about an hour in there with more Incessant Salesmen of Istanbul, we booked it to the nearest tram, headed to Taksim Square, "uptown."

The tram is a really cool way to get through the city because traffic is really bad. Each ride costs one token, or 4 Turkish Lira.

Completely forgot to tell you: currency in Turkey is the Turkish Lira, which was great. One dollar equals about 2.15 Turkish Lira. So everything we bought, I would just divide the value in half to calculate actual cost. If a dress cost 40 TL, it cost $20 in my mind (actually, a bit less). Our dinners were rather inexpensive (22 TL per dish, for instance).

View of the city, just off the tram. We got off the tram at Karakoy and decided to walk the rest of the way to Taksim Square. Big mistake. Behind these buildings are incredibly steep cobblestone hills, and we had to climb them in the heat to get to Taksim Square. We were covered in sweat once arriving at the top.

View over the bridge from Karakoy.
Near Taksim Square was a Georgetown-like shopping area, full of people. It is estimated that 2 million people walk through Taksim Square daily. This area reminded me very much of Amsterdam with hip stores, tourists, wifi-enabled cafes and a few street vendors.
I took this photo from the second story of a Mango store near Taksim Square.

Not sure why the riot police were out that day.


Later, we stopped for a snack at a small cafe near our hotel. They served something called "Green Water" to April. She didn't like it.

I got chicken wraps and super crunchy fries. I did like it.

Clear Ketchup.

Waitstaff at the cafe, and the only man in Istanbul with white teeth.

Afterward, we got ready for dinner in Ortakoy 5 1/2 miles away. The cab ride to Ortakoy [35 Turkish Lira] took an hour, because traffic was just that bad. Watch April smile in the path of an incoming tram.
Crowds at Ortakoy.
Ortakoy is the site of another blue mosque and a beautiful bridge over the Bosphorus. The Bosphorus is the straight that separates the European and Asian sides of Turkey. It is also the narrowest strait in the world used for international navigation, in which ships have to turn 45 and 80 degrees just to get through.


Dinner in Ortakoy, complete with chanting and fireworks!
 We returned to our hotel area after dinner and had to stop at an ATM for cash. What did we see?

A real, live Whirling Dervish.

The whirling dance of the "dervish" [someone treading the Suti Muslimic ascetic path, usually associated with extreme poverty] was not originally meant for entertainment, but has become a tourist attraction in Turkey. The dance is part of a formal ceremony called the Sema, which is performed to achieve "religious ecstasy." [Wikipedia]
Although well after 11 pm, the shops near our hotel were still open. I took this picture in a dress I bought near Taksim Square earlier that day. I just loved it, and I loved how these lanterns from this shop lit up the street. [Sidenote: a man in a car yelled "Michelle Obama!" at me while I took this photo.]
Alas, it was time for us to leave Istanbul and return home. What did you think? Would you take a trip like this? Have you done it before? I've heard people say the could live in Istanbul, but I definitely don't feel the same way. It has a lot of big city elements that I like, and your American dollar goes a bit further than the rest of Europe, but I don't think I could live there. The traffic is just so bad and the lovesick men are relentless. And what's up with the dental care?

Until next time,

Insana