Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ethan, Michael, Martha and the songs of R.E.M.

I had been in a decided drought when it comes to celebrity spotting. People around me were seeing them like spots of gum on the city sidewalks: Will Ferrell in front of the bank across the street from work. Jonathan Cake (the British spy recently on Chuck) at the gym. Derek Jeter ... 's mom at our office. I recall having heard about more, but the details slip my mind now. I'm sure there were some, though.

It had been so long that I hadn't bothered to look. I wasn't conditioned to it, even though the list of famous faces that have been seen in Chelsea Market alone and spotted by my co-workers include Steve Buscemi, Samantha Bee and Jason Jones, and Molly Shannon (whom I later saw myself on the corner across the street).

But on Wednesday, as Casey and I walked to Company for dinner before the R.E.M. tribute at Carnegie Hall, we zigged and zagged our way from Sixth Ave. and 17th St. to Ninth Ave. and 24th St. As we walked up the west side of Eighth Ave., crossing over 21st St., we passed a man tossing a nerf football as he chatted with a woman on the corner. As we turned to walk down 21st to Ninth, in the back of my mind I had a thought that the voice I'd heard from him was somewhat familiar. That instinct didn't emerge from my subconscience until we were halfway down the block. The man with the nerf football had passed us on the sidewalk. Ahead of us, he paused to talk with a woman and two kids sitting on a stoop. He tossed the football up to one of the boys, who threw it back.

That's when I got a closer look.

"That's Ethan Hawke, isn't it?" I asked Casey.

"Yes, it is," she confirmed.

He continued his stroll toward Ninth Ave. before we overtook him, and we turned to head up to Company as he waited to cross the avenue.

We enjoyed our meal of two gourmet pizzas (we ordered the Popeye and Flambe off the menu, with a crisp, refreshing growler of Kelso from Brooklyn) and were finishing our pints before settling the bill and heading up to Carnegie Hall when Casey went to the restroom. As I idlly looked at the patrons -- we had arrived right around 6 p.m. to avoid the crowd, which had now arrived -- I noticed that a group at the round table in the front had begun to arrive. And I recognized the man in front of me: Michael Kors.

I laughed silently to myself and looked for Casey to return. Before she got back to the table, her eyes met mine and I pointed to Kors. She looked and began to laugh.

"He's stalking us!" she said.

We talked about that sighting in Palm Beach as we settled the tab and the rest of Kors' party walked in the door. Turns out he wasn't the most-recognizable face at the table, because after giving him a hug hello Martha Stewart took the seat to his right, her digital camera on the table. Alas, no blog post came of it, but it's not like we needed Martha's confirmation that we'd just eaten some damn good pizza.

The night only got better, once we got to Carnegie Hall. I'll leave the song-by-song recap to New York Magazine and Casey, who's the R.E.M. completist in the family. (I fill that role for Bruce Springsteen, and yet I had to miss a similar show at Lincoln Center in April 2007 because it fell just after our house closing and we had shit to do so that I didn't want to sacrifice a night. So my personal discovery of Josh Ritter came months later.)

Anyway, I got lucky with the three songs I recorded -- "Hairshirt" by Glen Hansard, "(Don't Go Back to) Rockville" by Jolie Holland and the show closer, "E-bow the Letter." They were among the highlights for me. All the performances were good -- especially Calexico on "Wendell Gee," Apples in Stereo on "South Central Rain" and Guster on "Shaking Through" -- but the one I really wish I'd caught was Ingrid Michaelson covering "Nightswimming" with only an upright bassist and digital-delay pedal for accompaniment. (She did it again the next night at City Winery -- and there's a great venue/concert experience that deserves its own entry.)

I just love it when a night lives up to its expectations from start to finish, especially when I'm exhausted enough to know a night in would've done me good. Yet I never wished that was the case, even as I napped on the train on the ride into the city.

Tasty pizza, cold beer, good music and a pretty girl will do that to you.

[Alas, the videos were removed from YouTube. Carnegie Hall getting all bitchy about its copyright. I don't know if this is the place to mention that the show was a benefit for music education, and 100 percent of the "net proceeds" -- after Carnegie's take, I'm sure -- went to three organizations that benefit underprivileged youth. I guess we can't benefit youth music education through the internet, though.]

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