Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Monster Ball

On the A1 Autostrade to see Lady Gaga.

Make no mistake about it, the only reason I'm here in Italy is to see Lady Gaga.

Yes, I've always wanted to visit La Marzocco. Yes, I've always wanted to see Ferrari, Maranello and stand at the main gate. And yes, I've been meaning to try real, Italian espresso.

But I never would have come here had it not been for Lady Gaga.

The vendors line outside the Forum.

After setting in to my hotel in Piacenza, about an hour away from Milan, I got myself ready and started making the journey north to Assago, the Milan suburb where the Mediolanum Forum is located.

When I was initially planning this trip, I couldn't really tell how I would get to Assago and the Forum if I was staying in Milan and using public transportation. Somehow you can take the metro and then a bus, but I just didn't want to bother. A car would be much easier and more convenient - and I could stay outside of the city in affordable digs and tour around the country as I pleased.

A sausage sandwich to tide me over.

It's been a long time since I've been to a concert. At least three years since I saw Les Nubians at the Recher Theater in Towson, and ten years since Duran Duran at the Nissan Pavilion in Virginia. With a 7:30pm start time, I figured I'd cruise over just before then, find parking and walk in. No deal, Daddy-O.

The Mediolanum Forum seats something like 20,000 people and this is a sold-out concert. Which means that everyone and their mother is going and the traffic is crazy and backed up all the way to the freeway. Not to mention parking the car way out in Timbuktu. And did I mention that it's been freezing cold and starting to flurry?

The Mediolanum Forum in Assago, Italy.

Before leaving, I had been thinking about my ensemble. Should I wear something nice or just comfortable and casual? I decided somewhere in-between and realized upon arrival that that was a mistake. Nice leather shoes on a slushy and wet walk from the far side of the moon? Luckily, I had my scarf and that really helped.

Italian concerts are interesting because there's a line of panini vendors with their trailers, lights and speakers blaring Lady Gaga's music. It was just past seven and I knew we'd be here for awhile, so I went up and got me a sausage grilled panini and a Coke Zero.

Waiting for Gaga.

By the time I made it inside the opening act, Semi Precious Weapons, had just taken the stage. I watched them play their 45 minute set with great enthusiasm. Their style is very rock and roll and they did a great job engaging the audience and rocking it out.

A good opening act sets the tone for the night and hypes the audience. Of course, if it takes an hour for the main act to come on, then any kind of hype the opening band has set is now gone. Then playing an entire Michael Jackson Hits CD doesn't help because by the end of the CD everyone is getting antsy and irritated that they've been waiting so long.

Is that Stefani or just another fan in the stands?

But whatever misgivings and irritations that may have formed in your mind over the last hour, when Lady Gaga actually takes to the stage in an explosive mix of music, dance, show and fashion, all is forgiven and forgotten.

Quite simply, there is nothing like Lady Gaga. Her show is just like her persona: over the top. Yes, she does talk from time to time about being yourself and accepting you for who you are, and while some music critics may criticize her for saying it, it does need to be said - over and over again until people make it their own.

When these guys get serious, you know it's time to start.

For nearly two hours, Lady Gaga and crew rocked it out with costume changes, set changes, video breaks and a whole world of Gaga that had been orchestrated for our enjoyment. It was well worth the 90 Euro price.

Honestly, I can't say enough about the experience. Well worth it. I would like to go again when she plays America next year, but with her increasing popularity it becomes harder and harder to get tickets. Best bet? Wait till she plays Australia again. Box office reports indicate they only sold 67% of the tickets in Melbourne. Suckers, they don't know what they're missing out on.

Lady Gaga begins.

But the world of concert-going has changed. Back in the 80s, during Madonna's Like A Virgin Tour, we had to smuggle cameras and recorders into the venue - and if we were caught, we would get tossed out. So much for the $28 you spend on a ticket!

Today, cell phones and cameras abound in the audience. So much so that Gaga even told her fans to put them down for awhile and dance. I guess the organizers just gave up because everyone has a cell phone and every phone now has a camera - it's just useless to try to stop it.

There's a keyboard in her jalopy.

And the cameras today take impressively high quality video so some of the footage you find on YouTube is quite good indeed.

Then there is Gaga's video system. I know it's been a long time since I've gone to a proper concert but their video system was impressive. Super crisp and detailed high definition. I was astonished at how good a quality video the projectors displayed - especially the nuanced detail of Gaga's eyes under the hat's shadow. From a old time video technician's point of view, THAT was impressive. I took a photo of it and you can see her eyes.

A New York Subway train car.

Roughly ninety minutes later, Gaga took to the stage with her rousing rendition of Bad Romance, truly the most popular of her songs and the highlight of the show. Too bad it was the encore.

And then it was all over.

Gaga tries to crush a stuffed animal.

Leaving the Forum, I noticed that it had gotten slightly colder and the flurries I had seen earlier were now fluffy snowflakes threatening to pile on the ground. Icy, snowy conditions on the Autostrade did not sound like a good idea. Nor did 20,000 people leaving at once. Traffic was snarled, so I grabbed another panini from a vendor and waited until the crowds dissipated.

The ride home wasn't bad. Nothing more exhilarating than doing 130 Kph on a snowy Autostrade in a tiny car.

Look at all those cellphones.

Lady Gaga sings at her piano.

The piano catches fire.

The glittering thing descends upon Gaga.

It engulfs her.

Then, she emerges looking like this. The dress moves and changes shapes.

And she rises above the audience.

Gaga changes into this hairy thing.

And laments.

Then plays to the audience.

Getting chased by the Monster.

Gaga's tits come alive!

Tearing down the stage.

Buy Gaga Gear!

Arrivederci Mediolanum Forum!

In the vendors tunnel.

A chicken panino sandwich.

A lonely 500.

It's snowing, really.

Racing back in the snow.

Can't really see much out there.

Gaga Time!

Driving Like An F458 Italia

Pushing her as fast as I dared to go.

While standing outside waiting for the F458, I struck up a conversation with a military couple from San Diego who gave me a brief rundown of things here in Italy. Evidently, there's no true speed limit on the Autostrade. You can go as fast as you want. No wonder I've been passed going 130Kmh like I was standing still by some of these cars.

Back on the Autostrade towards Piacenza and I'm caught up in a small train. Blasting the little 500 forward, we hold sustained speeds of 160 Kmh. Don't know how fast that really is, but in the little 500 it seems a bit fast. Should make good time.

Visions of Glory

Outside the Ferrari Main Gate.

Pizzeria La Piazzetta

Families gather for an after church, Sunday meal.

The guys on FerrariChat also recommended this pizza place. Not bad, but not the best pizza I've ever had. Not as good as that Salvatore Cuomo, World Pizza Champion place in Japan. But the crust was thin and the ingredients good.

Patata Fritta.

Pizza with artichokes, mushrooms and ham. Pretty good, needed salt.

F458 Italia

Peering into Fiorano.

I did it.

I drove the new Ferrari F458 Italia.

And I must say that there is no other car on Earth like it. Amazing. Fast. Controlled. Explosive.

Where else do you see so many Ferraris?

It was my first time using an F1 shifter and it's so easy. Just mash the pedal and click the paddle, don't let up on the throttle. Incredible.

Everything you've heard about the massiveness of this car is absolutely true. I've driven a bunch of the 3 series cars (308, 328, 348) and this is worlds apart. Where the older Ferraris required a bit of dexterity to get in and out, as well as stamina for the harshness of driving, the F458 Italia is luxury. Perhaps not as luxury as the GT cars but for the mid-engined crowd, there's nothing like it.

The F458 Italia.

We took it for a blast around Maranello and the thing just rockets when you need it and is nible and agile in the city. Weird. It gives you all the power and speed you could desire, and then some. And just when you've applied what may be too much power to lurch around a guy in the slow lane and the tail feels like it might breakaway from you, the F458 hunkers down, rockets away and instills confidence instead of the expected hell-raising fury you fear is going to get away from you. I loved it.

Now, if only I had a spare $250K...

I went so fast, I never did appreciate the gauges.

One Reason I Like Winter

Natural Refrigeration just outside my bathroom window.

I really don't like winter. I much prefer warm, tropical weather year round. I never tire of beautiful weather but I certainly tire of cold and winter.

However, one highlight for me during winter is Natural Refrigeration. Suddenly, I can keep things in the car or in the garage without spoilage worries. I can chill drinks no matter where I am. It is the one thing I do like about winter. The rest can go away.