This past Friday was Conan O’Brien’s final night hosting The Tonight Show, and it was a sad moment for me. As I’ve said, Conan is my favorite talk show host, and my idol as a comedian. I wish it hadn’t have come to this, but I’m glad that he took the opportunity to go out with a helluva bang. Steve Carell was a fun surprise, Tom Hanks proved why he’s the best guest out there, Neil Young’s performance was great, and going out by playing Free Bird with Will Ferrell, Billy Gibbons, Beck, & Ben Harper was an awesome way to exit (loved the cowbell, by the way.)

But more than that, I loved the speech Conan gave at the end. It was heartfelt, sincere, positive, and above all, classy. It’s clear how much he cares about his staff, and that he was deeply touched by the outpouring of affection from his fans. When he started choking up, I started to tear up.

Even though I wish his ratings had been higher & he had been able to reach a more mainstream audience in his stint on The Tonight Show, I wouldn’t have wanted it to happen at the expense of Conan’s unique brand of humor that I fell in love with 15 years ago. Like he said in his speech, he did it his way, and I wouldn’t have wanted to see it any other way. I don’t know where he’s going to end up, but I know that wherever it is, that’s where my TV is going to be tuned every night. I just hope that it’s as close to September 1st, as possible, because I know I’ll be going through some serious withdrawal by then.

And now, I leave you with a line from Conan’s speech that sums up not only what I love about him, but also the way I look at life, and why cynicism never leads anywhere:

“Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

Lately I’ve been trying to find new local restaurants in Atlanta to try. After eating at chain restaurants so much, I’ve kinda gotten sick of places where the food is the same regardless of where you are in the country. Also, my favorite show on the Food Network is “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and watching that show always makes me hungry for good, original food. For Christmas, my mom got me a DDD book, and there were two restaurants in there in the Atlanta area. I called up my good friend Christen, and we went and checked them out.

Matthews Cafeteria – Tucker, GA

Christen at Matthew's Cafeteria

The first place we tried was Matthews Cafeteria. I was excited when I saw that one of the places in the book was in Tucker, because that’s only about ten minutes from where I live. It was interesting, because driving past it it’s one of those places I never would have stopped. It has a small, nondescript entrance in the middle of old town Tucker, and even the inside was very plain: white walls, small tables with simple checkered cloths, and simple rod iron chairs (interestingly enough, they DID offer wifi.) That said, from the way the other people in line were chatting with the workers, I got the impression that the majority of their clientele are regulars.

As the name would imply, the service inside was setup cafeteria style, where you just go down a line and pick up whatever you want to eat. There wasn’t a huge selection of different foods, just a handful of entrees, sides, & desserts, but when I asked about one of the items mentioned in the book (their brunswick stew), they said it was only available on Wednesdays, leading me to assume that they have a different assortment of foods available each day. The food we did have was quite good. The chicken was cooked perfectly (I love it when it’s moist and just falls right off the bone), the scalloped potatoes were great, and the sweet tea was just what you’d expect from a country restaurant. I’ll definitely be going back there soon.

 

The Highlander – Atlanta, GA

Pastarella Sticks from The Highlander

The Highlander piqued my interest as soon as I saw it in the book for one reason: Homemade mozzarella sticks. Most places you go will just have frozen mozzarella sticks, but this place uses fresh mozzarella, wraps it in pasta, coats it, and then fries it. And holy crap, they are awesome. I’ve been there twice now, and ordered them both times. They seem to do sides really well, because I’ve also tried their jalapeno corn fritters, and they rock. They’re like really moist hush puppies with jalapenos. That is to say, delicious.

The first time I went I ordered the lobster ravioli, and it was killer (plus it’s just kinda cool to be able to order lobster ravioli at a bar.) It was a daily special, though, so I have no idea how often they serve it. The second time I went I ordered the bratwurst melt, but it wasn’t as good as I was expecting. Bratwurst is one of those tricky things, because depending on where it’s from it comes in one of three varieties: Awesome, Flavorless, and Breakfast Sausage (I’m sure there are actual names for different varieties of bratwurst, but frankly I’m not that knowledgeable.) Unfortunately, this one fell into the breakfast sausage category. But considering there’s still about a dozen things on the menu that look good, I’m not going to let one bad sandwich keep me away.

This is the kind of place I wouldn’t mind going to on a regular basis. It’s a bar in Midtown that has amazing food and is open until 3am, which means it’d be a great place to grab a bite after a concert or a night out in Atlanta.

Everyone who knows me who has ever heard me talk about music knows that I’m a huge Butch Walker fan. He is by far my favorite artist, and has been for over a decade now. There’s something about his music and lyrics that really moves me, and is easy for me to relate to. Regardless of the mood I’m in or what I’m feeling at a particular time, he has a song for that (hmm, I think there’s an iPhone add in there…) And not only does he have a song for whatever it is, he has the RIGHT song for it. So anytime I get the chance to see him play live, I jump at it. I’ve jumped almost 20 times now.

Is it really any surprise that this site is named after one of his songs? (note: this was written when the blog was hosted on my IntoTheBlack.com domain)

Butch Walker

This was Butch’s final stop on a four city minitour (like a minotaur, but with roadies) that took him from LA, to NY, to Chicago, and finally ATL. He’s had a four show residency in each city, where he takes a night each for his last three albums (Letters, The Rise & Fall of Butch Walker and the Let’s Go Out Tonites, and Sycamore Meadows,) and then one more show that’s a grab bag of songs from throughout his career that was voted on by his fans over Twitter. When I ordered tickets, I had originally intended to buy them for the Letters show, as the grab bag show was sold out & Letters is my favorite album. However, due to a mistake on the Ticketmaster site, the shows had been mislabeled, and I had actually purchased tickets for the grab bag show. In any case, it’s certainly nothing I’d complain about.

My friend Krissy went with me to the concert, and it was her first experience with Butch Walker. She’d probably heard some of his music before just from being around me, but she hadn’t heard any of his albums, let alone seen him live. And seriously, if you want to introduce someone to Butch’s music, the absolute best way is by taking them to one of his shows. The man’s not just a songwriter; he’s a storyteller.

The opening act was Jarrod Gorbel, who I’d heard play before with his former band The Honorary Title at one of Butch’s shows a couple years ago. He played an acoustic set that was really good, and the guy had a great personality and sense of humor (also, he looks like a cross between Jared Leto & Toby Maguire.) I scrounged together the last of the cash I had on me to buy his EP on the way out.

Of course when Butch came out, the place went crazy. Or at least as crazy as a small intimate venue could; he commented that he liked actually being able to see the audience (incidentally, we were able to get seats in the fifth row, which rocked.) Before he started, Butch mentioned how weird it was to be playing some of these songs, as some he hadn’t played in years, some he didn’t think he’d ever played live, and some he never wanted to play again (he’s looking at you, “Vampires in Love.”) But hey, we’d sealed our doom by voting for them, so he was going to play them (cheat sheets and all.)

It was great hearing some of the old favorites I hadn’t heard live in a while (“Let Me Go” and “Every Monday,”) as well as a bluegrassy version of “Valium.” For “Grant Park,” he kicked back and just played the guitar part and let us sing the song back to him, which is always fun; I don’t think I’ve actually heard him sing “Grant Park” in the last six years, even though I know he’s played it several times. He played a number of covers, from the familiar (James’ “Laid” has been a staple for a few years now) to the new (Simon & Garfunkle’s “Cecilia”, which Butch played on a mandolin, and excited my friend because it was the only song she knew all the lyrics to.) Butch also played a couple of tracks off his new album (which can’t get here soon enough), and then ended the evening with an unplugged version of “Take Tomorrow”, a beautiful song in its own right, but so much better when played with just a guitar and a voice, without the aid of amps or mics.

It was an awesome show, as expected. There were a few songs I would have liked to have heard (“Cigarette Lighter Love Song” is my favorite song of all time, and I also would have liked to have heard “Into the Black,” “Stateline,” or “Katrina,”) but I really can’t complain because the show still rocked my socks off (and when it’s twenty degrees outside, that can be a problem.) Below is the full setlist from the show, and all my photos can be found on my Flickr.

Butch Walker Setlist, 7 Stages Theatre, Atlanta, GA – January 13, 2010

  1. Wreck Me (1969)
  2. Let Me Go (Marvelous 3, Hey! Album)
  3. Last Flight Out (Heartwork EP)
  4. All Falls Apart (Unreleased)
  5. Beautiful (Marvelous 3, Ready Sex Go)
  6. Vampires in Love (Marvelous 3, Hey! Album)
  7. Laid (James cover)
  8. Valium (Marvelous 3, Math and Other Problems)
  9. I’m a Believer (Monkees cover)
  10. Half-Japanese Girl (Weezer cover)
  11. Grant Park (Marvelous 3, Ready Sex Go)
  12. Trash Day (I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart)
  13. Mrs. Jackson (Marvelous 3, Hey! Album)
  14. Every Monday (Marvelous 3, Hey! Album)
  15. Cecilia (Simon & Garfunkle cover)
  16. Don’t You Think Someone Should Take You Home (I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart)
  17. Take Tomorrow (Left of Self-Centered)

Butch Walker

Click for more concert photos.

So I’ve been following this whole mess between NBC, Conan O’Brien, & Jay Leno pretty closely since the rumors started popping up last week, and I don’t see any possible way that NBC could have screwed the pooch more than they did here.

Conan O’Brien is probably my biggest influence as a comedian. I’ve been watching his show regularly since 1995, back when I was 13. Hell, I used to record his show, and then piggyback two VCRs together and make compilation tapes of his best jokes, bits, and interviews. Kinda crazy, sure, but there’s always been something about Conan that makes me laugh. Doesn’t matter how bad my day’s been, when I tune into his show, I just can’t help but laugh. Maybe it’s a redheaded geek kindred spirit thing. Who knows.

When it was announced in 2004 that Conan would be taking over The Tonight Show in five years, I was ecstatic. It was nice to see NBC respected Conan enough to give him their flagship show, and that planning the switch that far ahead would help them avoid a messy situation like what happened between Leno/Letterman when Johnny Carson retired. Needless to say I wasn’t happy when in the months leading up to the intended switch there were rumblings that Jay wasn’t ready to hand over the reins. So NBC worked out a deal to keep Jay on at 10pm in order to keep him from going to another network.

I didn’t like this for a couple of reasons. For one, that’s five less scripted shows per week, and as a person who loves scripted TV, I hate seeing five hours of primetime programming wiped off the board for something like this. For another, it struck me as an unclassy move. In their bid to keep Jay from going to a rival network, NBC pretty much slapped Conan in the face by putting another talk show on an hour and a half earlier, and it greatly diminished the significance of Conan taking over as host of the Tonight Show.

So what do the brilliant suits at NBC do? They decide to give Leno a half hour show at 11:35, then follow that up with Conan & Jimmy Fallon. Conan released a statement today saying he wouldn’t do the Tonight Show starting at 12:05, because moving the Tonight Show back to the next day would tarnish the franchise. And you know what? He’s absolutely right. The Tonight Show has started at 11:35 for 60 years, and NBC’s proposed plan would ultimately end in failure for all parties involved.

Despite how much he’s been taking shots at NBC, I don’t really see that Jay has reason to complain. He’s getting exactly what he wants: His 11:35 time slot back. And now that Conan has said he won’t be responsible for moving the Tonight Show to 12:05, all Jay has to do is sit back and wait until NBC shuffles Conan out the door and gives him the keys to the Tonight Show again. My perfect world scenario is that Leno takes the classy route of stepping down and letting go of the show he promised to Conan five years ago. But considering that he’s said recently that he’d take the Tonight Show back if NBC offered it to him, I really don’t see that happening.

There is one person who gets screwed over in this whole mess that nobody’s talking about, and that’s Carson Daly. The proposed change would find his show canceled (no idea if he gets to stay if Jay takes the Tonight Show back.) Now, when Carson Daly first came onto the late night scene, I hated his show. And I hated it because he tried to do a typical late night talk show: Open with some jokes, maybe do a bit, then guests. And that didn’t work, primarily because he’s not a comedian. However, since then he’s found a format that really works for him, where he just sits down and talks to people, and has guests on the show who are interesting or just now breaking out. I’ve found that I actually like it a lot, and regularly watch his show as part of my late night lineup.

I would love for Conan O’Brien to remain the host of the Tonight Show. I think he deserves it, and I think he’s earned it. Conan’s tenure as Tonight Show host has been much more reminiscent of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show than Leno’s ever was, and it’s always much more interesting. When Leno was host, I’d only tune in if there was a guest I liked. With Conan as host, I want to catch every monologue, every bit, every guest. Unfortunately, it’s looking more and more likely that Conan is going to be heading to Fox, rather than remain a part of the Tonight Show legacy. And I can’t say that I blame him. While I do still curse Fox for canceling far too many quality shows before giving them a chance (I’m looking at you, Firefly), they’d probably give him more respect than NBC does. The best late night host in the biz deserves to be on a network that isn’t continually in last place. But with great programming decisions like this, is it really any wonder that NBC’s a sinking ship?