REVIEW: Flying DOWN to RIO with P.O.R.K.

The Zal Gaz Grotto Club, it seems, never disappoints.

I had a grand evening watching a Fred Astaire classic and tapping my foot to some hot jazzy tunes played by local ensemble P.O.R.K. The movie was everything you could hope for in a theatrical 1930s musical–the dancing scenes alone were enough to bring this film great fame. The choreography was excellent, each pair a carbon copy of the others in their motions and timing. Elaborate, multi-textured costumes added infinite flair, the skirts on dresses in flight with dance. The love triangle that formed the major tension in the movie was enticing, all-encompassing, and the plane choreography was superb despite the physical constraints of the dancers. I was most shocked by how well the humor works today; I am woefully untickled by most old movies, given the difference in speech patterns and slang. The whole experience was vibrant enough to pull me right into the 1930s; inexplicably, I felt the urge to light a cigarette and dance in glamorous clothes, touching foreheads and moving every which way in the wild Carioca. Everyone seems impossibly beautiful, skin so smooth and clothing so stylish and perfectly suited for each character. And, I must say, Gene Raymond is built. 

The live music portion of the evening furthered our education in America’s rich artistic past, bringing life into the antique. Had I come with a partner, I would have joined the dozen or so couples who got up to dance to the passionate music that snaked and drifted through the dimly-lit space. While the others got up to waltz and swing, I and the lady in the motorized wheelchair next to me sat and watched. She tells me that many in the band are university professors, and I’m surprised to find that they never rehearse, only playing together at gigs. Besides songs from the movie, they play a few old hits, like “Sleepy Time Down South.” All the instruments worked well together as one, though their individual solos were enjoyable. I was reminded then how mournful a dampened trumpet can sound, ripping through the air to cry directly to you.

My favorites were the ones that involved singing, as there are some great sets of pipes in the group. Bonnie channeled the exact energy of a time so long before her own, so that I could picture her in costume singing to the dancers of the Carioca. She is quite a strong alto, perfect for this style of song. Jean’s voice was soft, understanding of the mournful themes of his solos. Justin (or “America’s heartthrob,” as he was introduced) made a lovely contribution to one of the ending pieces, somewhat reminiscent of Bublé, and maybe even a touch of Sinatra. Most of all I thought of my favorite cartoon frog, George Washington. There are videos below if you’d like to compare for yourself.

They played for two hours with minimal breaks, which did seem unnecessarily long for both the audience and the dead tired band. I would suggest that in future evenings they cut a few songs from their sets, to reduce the likelihood of depleting the energy of everyone involved.

P.O.R.K. plays every first and third Sunday evening at the Grotto, so you have a chance to swing by soon. Their next performance will be December 8th.


PREVIEW: Flying DOWN to RIO with P.O.R.K.

Sundays are all too often reserved for the results of a week of steady procrastination. Or perhaps various responsibilities have tugged you every which way and through the mud despite constant work. The end of the week turns from an intended relaxation day to a horror-filled scramble to finish everything at once. We must fight this international tragedy, by starting to save time for ourselves to self-educate in the matters of the heart and spirit.

And so I invite you to join me at the Zal Gaz Grotto Club (2070 W Stadium Blvd) at 4pm on Sunday, November 17 for an evening of old-time jazz and film. We’ll be “Flying DOWN to RIO with P.O.R.K.,” in which Phil Ogilvie’s Rhythm Kings (P.O.R.K.) will be playing all the songs from the hit 1933 musical adventure comedy Flying Down to Rio after its screening. The cover is $10.

They say 1930s dress is encouraged, though not required, but I will be deeply hurt if I’m the only one in full costume, so I had better see some other participants in there.


REVIEW: Mystic Nights at Zal Gaz Grotto Club

Certain situations seem to arise from mostly nothing, creating a sensation of mystery from mere sights and feelings and sounds. In the event room of the Zal Gaz Grotto Club, there was a heavy, though not unpleasant, smell of red wine; dimmed overhead lights, with strings of Christmas lights bordering the room; a quiet playlist of music going, ranging from the Doctor Who theme to classics from The Beatles; and a thickness to the warm air coming from the heaters.

I sat at table 8 before the show began, reading a science fiction novel. Though distracted by the book, I was aware of my surroundings. However, at some point Misha Tuesday just seemed to appear in front of the velvet curtain, gazing at the audience. I dog-eared the page, and the show began.

It was curious that the mystic’s performance was not based in the showy ways of magicians or mediums; there was no claim of celestial powers beyond that which anyone can obtain through study. He stood before us, a slightly short, unimposing man, and argued he was neither a mind-reader nor a psychic, but a well-read investigator of a world hidden by our need for simple order and logic. I had not been expecting a Ted talk, but it was a good speech.

He went through a whole lineup of what he called “experiments,” exercises where we were meant to allow our latent intuition and sight to come through. There were some card tricks, displays of mind reading, of predicting the future. Nothing quite made sense; he seemed to be able to see with people as they visualized names and places, stepping into their thoughts as one could step into a room. Everything should have had some explanation, but it laid a little ways beyond my reach.

I was called up towards the beginning, and though I had wished to be chosen, when it became reality I was nervous to stand before the audience. I was shown a paper with a list of objects for less than a second. One of the objects was inside of a closed box I held in my hands. With the blank side of the paper facing toward me, he moved a pair of scissors up and down, asking me to tell him where to cut so that he cut through the word of the object in the box. I stopped at a random point (or so I thought). He asked whether I wanted to move a word up, and, the spotlight seeming to beat down on me like an August sun, I said no. The word was uttered quietly; it seemed to slip out of my lips without meaning to. He asked if I wanted to move one down, and I said yes, again unsure why I was feeling so certain and yet maybe not in control, not quite.

The word he cut through was “keys,” and in box was a ring of them. Unsure of what had passed, and unsure of its importance, I walked back to table 8 as the audience applauded my participation.

Was it all the effect of exquisite slight of hand? The power of persuasion? Some passing of unspoken signals between the volunteer and the mystic that allowed Misha Tuesday to command thoughts? I have no idea.

But that was the point of his performance, and of any performance that deals in mystic themes. To know the reasons for everything is to have failed at living meaningfully. Instead, as Tuesday preaches, we must ask questions, but not ask for their answers. There is a certain amount of mystery in the world, and it should be considered, but not attempted to be arranged into the static patterns that dominate society. Wonder is precious in the way it takes us away from the oppressive structure of the rest of our lives, and allows us to imagine, if just for a second, that the things we hold as fact may have many forms.

PREVIEW: Mystic Nights at Zal Gaz Grotto Club

Image result for magic clipart

The world is full of unknowable things, things that exist underneath reality: the supernatural, the magical, the mystic. Some are gifted with the ability to see into this plane of being, but most of us are offered mere glimpses, if any sight at all. Occupied by the ordinary world, we fail to see the extraordinary that lies just beyond our unseeing gaze.

But this Wednesday, March 27 the magician Misha Tuesday will be lifting back the curtain. He will be performing miracles in the form of hypnosis, mind reading, and magic to provide guests with a soul-changing evening. Your very understanding of reality will be tested and torn by the hands of this great illusionist. Perhaps you will be given the sight yourself. Anything can happen when mystery rules the night.

Doors are at 8:00 PM, and the show begins at 8:30, but the kitchen and bar are open beforehand. The experience will be priceless, but tickets are $10 at the door or at