The first week of April brought a rather early Response Expo. I am the content director of this marketing industry trade event, which I co-founded seven years ago. Our annual event was bumped back a month from its normal May timeframe thanks to some hotel scheduling issues. Still, it’s never a bad time to be in San Diego. Here’s the week that was April 1-7.
Sure, you’ve read your share of 10-best lists of 2012. But most of them are laser-focused: books, movies, music, sports moments, restaurants, etc. Well, this one’s laser-focused, too. But since it’s my blog, that big laser is shining brightly on me — and anyone who knows me realizes that a list of my 10 favorite moments of the year about to pass is going to include a number of different things. So, here they are … my 10 favorite moments of 2012:
10. Brunch at Duke’s Malibu, November 4: The opportunity to enjoy a Sunday morning on the patio at the Barefoot Bar at Duke’s in Malibu is something anyone — native or tourist — should enjoy as often as possible. This particular November Sunday featured unseasonably warm temperatures tickling the 80-degree mark and great company, as Caitlin’s family was visiting for the weekend. Sunshine, relaxed smiles, tiki drinks and a great buffet made for one of the best mornings of the year.
9. Jack White at the Shrine Auditorium, August 11: As I wrote in my quick-hitting review on the blog on Aug. 12, “There’s nothing better than going into a concert with high expectations and having them met, let alone exceeded. Such was the case with Jack White’s epic performance last night at the Shrine Auditorium near USC.” The moment of moments that night, though, was White’s stinging performance of his White Stripes classic, “Ball and Biscuit.” To grab my Spotify playlist of that night’s setlist, find it here: Jack White Shrine Setlist 8/11/12
8. A Sunday in New York City, September 9: In town for the previous night’s USC football game against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium across the river in New Jersey, we had a full day to kill before catching a late flight back to Los Angeles. It’s been a long time since I did a bunch of “touristy” things in NYC, but with glorious weather to wander the city, we set off on just such a journey, with no pressure and no schedule. The day ended up including: a visit to Gray’s Papaya on the Upper West Side for some dogs; a stop by Strawberry Fields in Central Park; a walk across the park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (where we relaxed on the steps and watched the city move by); and, finally, a taxi ride to the Empire State Building where we enjoyed both observation decks. Truly, a perfect day.
7. Dinner at Chicago Chop House, March 10: The company, the city and the celebration would have made this a pretty memorable night no matter what. But, the staff at the Chicago Chop House on this night made it incredible — from the chefs who absolutely nailed the entire meal, to the maitre d’ and servers who made sure the whole experience was smooth, fun and special, there was a high likelihood from the moment this amazing meal ended that it would be my favorite of 2012. Only something incredibly special would be able to push it aside.
6. Christmas Eve at Dad’s, December 24: The most recent entry on this list, last week’s holiday celebration at my dad’s home was among the most relaxed and pleasant we’ve had. After spending last Christmas on the East Coast, it was a pleasure to be back in California for the holiday in 2012. Though the afternoon and evening were still missing a few key pieces, the return of my Aunt Sue to Southern California in 2012 was a massive factor in how great and memorable the day was. It was simply fantastic to have her a part of the family celebration and to see her so happy and relaxed with all of us.
5. Viewing the Eiffel Tower Light Show from atop the Arc de Triomphe, October 5: The early fall trip to London and Paris was full of amazing and memorable moments — one of which ranks slightly higher on this very list. However, from the perspective of having a purely “Paris moment,” nothing was better than our climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe on a Friday night. The views were stunning 360 degrees around, but our timing was perfect — we arrived just 10 minutes prior to the 9 p.m. version of the hourly light show on the Eiffel Tower. What happened next can only be the magic of the City of Light.
4. Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg Live at Coachella, April 15: My first Coachella was a truly fantastic experience, one that I summed up with one of my longer blog posts of the year. But the highlight of highlights was the event’s closing performance by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. With “The Chronic” being a major part of the soundtrack of my college years, my hopes were incredibly hight, but as I wrote on April 25: “… to say they lived up to those hopes would fall short. An unbelievable 75 minutes that featured a bevy of SoCal hip-hop greatest hits; cameos by Wiz Khalifa, Warren G., Kendrick Lamar, 50 Cent and Eminem; and the much-discussed Tupac ‘hologram’ – what more could you ask for?” Dre & Snoop grabbed the crowd by the throat, opening with their classic “The Next Episode” and showed the 80,000 in attendance that night one helluva great time. To grab my Spotify playlist of that night’s setlist, find it here: Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg Coachella Set List 4/15/12
3. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Perform “Jungleland,” December 4: It took 27 years and nearly 20 Springsteen shows before it finally happened: I got to see the epic “Jungleland” performed live. That it happened as the third of a four-song arc that also included “Badlands,” “Thunder Road” and “Born to Run” — even better. That, two songs later, I also saw my first live performance ever of the band’s version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” — wow. And all of this was at the tail end of a show that had spent its first two hours and 45 minutes being one of the best Springsteen shows I’d seen in more than a decade. It was one great night.
2. Dinner at L’Ami Jean, Paris, October 4: I got the idea to possibly visit this bistro during our Paris journey from a short piece I read on BonAppetit.com. When we arrived in town, we had our hotel book a reservation for us. What happened when we showed up is one of the greatest dining experiences of my life. Chef Stephane Jego’s food — advertised at seven courses for $75 Euro, but in reality closer to 10 courses — was beyond creative. I’d have never imagined eating foie gras with smoked eel in a herring bouillabaisse — let alone thinking it was one of the most delectable things I’ve ever tasted. Each course built on the last and was simply spectacular, finishing with the best duck I’ve ever had. For dessert, the restaurant’s famous rice pudding was as good as advertised. Beyond the food, the atmosphere in the tiny (maybe 40 seats) location was so alive. There was great service and great conversation with the folks sitting so close to you that you felt you were at — almost — a communal dinner. The entertainment of Jego finishing each dish for delivery to each table just outside the kitchen was also worth more than the price we paid. If you’re ever in Paris, trust the menu and do not miss this place.
1. The Kings Win the Stanley Cup, June 11: Yes, certainly the moment of victory was the best. But it was the two months — not to mention the 33 years since my first Kings game in 1979 — leading up to the final seconds ticking away in the 6-1 Game 6 win over New Jersey that made this so sweet. Committing to getting to one game per round prior to the playoffs didn’t seem like such a big thing, considering the Kings were the No. 8 seed in the West. But as they upset Vancouver in round one, thumped St. Louis in round two and put away Phoenix to reach the Stanley Cup Final, those pilgrimages to Staples Center became more and more enjoyable (and expensive). I thought we’d peaked out by attending the Kings’ 4-0 win in Game 3 of the Final, one of the great sports experiences I’ve ever had. But, no … at midnight the night before Game 6, I was about to shut down my computer for the night and head to bed when I decided to jump on Ticketmaster.com to see if anything might have been released for the “sold out” game. When those Premier level seats popped up for face value, I was stunned. Seventeen hours later, we were in the building. And four hours after that, we saw THIS. Go Kings Go, indeed!
All the best for a great 2013!
After a week of letting this show — one of the best I’ve seen from the band, well, ever — settle in, here are some quick notes and thoughts for fans (with the images from Backstreets.com):
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
Honda Center, Anaheim, December 4, 2012
- Land Of Hope And Dreams (with Tom Morello): After its run on Fox’s baseball coverage this fall, I was wondering how it would hold up. And, surprisingly, for a song that’s usually been a set closer throughout its long career, it worked rather well in the lead-off role.
- Adam Raised A Cain: The first sign we might be in for something special. A personal favorite and always a stellar fit in the important No. 2 song role as a true tone-setter.
- Streets Of Fire: Wow, here we go. I haven’t looked back through all the old setlists of shows I’ve seen, but I wouldn’t be stunned if this was my first go-round with this one.
- Hungry Heart: Four songs in and Bruce had the crowd in the palm of his hand. The famed sing-along brings those goosebumps every time.
- We Take Care Of Our Own: If you’d have told me we’d already have heard the previous four songs before this one, I’d have thought you were yanking my chain. The band really has this song on autopilot now. Strong stuff.
- Wrecking Ball: Great version, especially excellent vocal work from Springsteen on this night.
Death To My Hometown (with Tom Morello): This song — especially with Morello helping out — deserves a high place in the Springsteen annals. Such a timely, powerful, populist message with amazing Irish folk tinging. Brilliant.
- My City Of Ruins: I get what he’s looking to accomplish with the long version of this song in this spot, but it definitely slows the pace of the show. Though the old “Bruce and Steve Do Disneyland” story is always worth the great laughs it draws.
- Spirit In The Night: Brilliant and sing-along worthy.
- The E Street Shuffle: Fun choice. These past two got the groove completely back after the set had slowed a bit.
- Long Time Comin’ (solo acoustic): From a fan’s request, this nugget from “Devils and Dust” was a revelation on this night. It’s always been an underrated song, but Bruce’s effort on this night lifted it higher.
- Reason To Believe (roadhouse version): The Bo Diddley-style tracking on the blues version of this (first used extensively on the “Magic” tour) is fantastic.
- This Depression (with Tom Morello): Great fit coming off of “Reason…”
- Darkness On The Edge Of Town: You know how songs change meanings for you as you get older, but remain just as powerful — if not moreso? Yea. That.
- Bad Luck (with Mike Ness): It’s always a crowd pleaser in SoCal when Bruce welcomes Ness. And the band just drilled this early ’90s Social D classic, as Bruce and Mike traded vocals.
- Because The Night: A spotlight for Nils Lofgren’s soloing — and one he absolutely destroyed on this night.
- Darlington County: A personal favorite from my teenage years. I always kind of feel like I’m having the best time in the room when I see this one live.
- Shackled And Drawn: This new one kept the momentum going as the band seems to have taken to it well.
- Waiting On A Sunny Day: I’d have never imagined this song becoming the staple it’s become. But it’s almost always a nice fit.
- Raise Your Hand: Ah, harkening back to those first shows I saw in 1985.
The Ghost Of Tom Joad (with Tom Morello): I’m not afraid to say it: Morello has nearly risen to co-ownership of this song. I’ve seen his rousing guitar solo on it with the band many, many times. But it never fails to inspire awe.
- Badlands (with Tom Morello): Coming off of “Tom Joad,” the crowd exploded with this one.
- Thunder Road: To close the regular set, on this night, I couldn’t think of anything better.
- Jungleland: It’s been 27 years and close to 20 shows now that I’ve been waiting for this. I missed seeing the Big Man do his epic solo, but dammit all if Jake Clemons didn’t do his uncle proud. The chance to finally see and hear this song performed live will go down as one of my 10 best personal moments of 2012, without question.
- Born To Run: The band could have played just about anything here and my personal afterglow from “Jungleland” would have made it great. The fact that Bruce just dropped this four-song string on this crowd and capped it with “BTR” … insane.
- Dancing In The Dark: It’s funny to think that this song was really on the outs for so long. It feels so great now.
- Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town: Again, 27 years and another first timer. This is more understandable, as this is the first December Springsteen show I’ve seen. But with Bruce’s version being a personal holiday favorite since my early teen years, this one was sweet.
- Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out (with Tom Morello): “When the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band …” Such a perfect celebration and rememberance. And a fitting finale, as usual.