Soft beds. Beautiful down comforters. A comfy fleece throw. All of these lovely appointments are readily available in the gorgeous Sloane Square flat that Elena hooked up for the trip. Of course, you can't really use these things when you're not sleeping.
Shortly after checking in and getting situated in London, we got ready and made our way on the tube toward the neighborhood of Royal Albert Hall. Tonight's entertainment: A very special engagement of the Cure for the Teenage Cancer Trust, a very worthy charity. First order of business, though, was to find the Queen's Arms, a local residential pub - and the only one in the area - to meet up with Sarah and Amy who'd just gotten in from, and Carla, an Italian Londoner whom Sarah and I had met at Coachella a couple of years ago. Confused yet?
Well, Carla was running late, and Amy and Sarah were having serious problems with the tube, so we were left to drink all the beers ourselves at the Queens Arms. Well, ourselves and 600 of our closest goth friends. It was quite hilarious to see this small pub in an affluent neighborhood overrun with all sorts of mascarraed freaks, from teenagers who probably hang out at the UK equivalent of Hot Topic to old farts who've been perfecting their mock Robert Smith hair-do's for decades... not to mention Fat Bob's gut. Truly entertaining.
Peoplewatching aside, the experience was nothing short of fantastic. We wound up meeting Carla in front of the Royal Albert, and Sarah and Amy just made it under the wire for us to get seated and for the show to start.
A-MA-ZING. While the crowd seemed a bit subdued some of the time, there was an energy and magic to the night. Maybe it was because we were sitting smack dab beneath the dome of Royal freakin' Albert Hall. Or maybe it was because the band was only 30 feet away. Or maybe it was because Porl Thompson is back with the band, and that just made everything kick some serious pasty-white, black-clad ass.
For those non-fans out there, Porl Thompson was the (fill in: amazing, talented, mind-bending) guitarist who left the band after Wish, joing - of all things - the Page/Plant Led Zeppelin reunion thingamajig. After kicking out a couple of members last summer, Porl was asked back, and we now have a stripped down but definitely more muscular Cure. The new sound is guitar heaven - and although the lack of keyboard makes some of the songs lose a bit of dimension - the new raw sound and proper guitar work brings out the best of each. And they can finally start playing songs like "The Kiss," "Shiver and Shake," and "Never Enough" again. Bitchin. I really hope they filmed this.
Aaaanyway, enough about the Cure. It's time to post party. Of course, instead of doing the obvious thing and hitting up some goth or indie club, there was more travel/social business to attend to. I'd met Sarah's local friends Jess and Mo last summer, and I was really looking forward to seeing them again. They knew the DJ spinning at SAK in Soho, so that's where we went. After a bit of an ordeal trying to find a working cash machine (there were none) getting in (it's one of those members-only dealies, like the horrible jackets) we were sipping cocktails and bopping around to... hip hop? Ooops, this wasn't the funky house we were promised, but when you're surrounded by great friends and partying in London, who the fuck cares? It was just great to see J&M again and just be hanging out.
Naturally, the night wasn't over. While hanging out with cool London friends is great, there was one more mission for the night: Watch UCLA in the Final Four.
You might think I'm kidding. This guy travels to Manchester to see Depeche Mode, to Liverpool to do a Beatles tour, to London to see an exclusive Cure gig... and all along this musical journey, he needs to see a basketball game!? Hey man, I may be a music and travel dork, but I still bleed blue and gold. And a savvy traveler knows where expats watch ballgames that no one else in the country could give a damn about. And this place is the Sports Cafe in Piccadilly.
Of course, getting into the Sports Cafe can be an issue when you have no cash, their bloody cash machine doesn't work either, and they have a £5 cover. Oh, and they'd stopped serving food at this point, and none of us have eaten. This was not good. I'm with four girls with depleted blood sugar, I'm all aggro because I need to see my boys crush LSU, and none of us have access to cash.
We talked to the bouncers at Sports Cafe and told them we'd be back after locating a working ATM and food. The machine at RBS up the street didn't work. The 24-hour SPAR market nearby had semi-edible food, and while they let me use my ATM card to purchase a sandwich, there was no cash back option. In fact, there was no card back option. I walked back to Sports Cafe and figured I'd use my card to charge each of our covers and open a tab for drinks... but realized the jerk at SPAR had kept my card. So while I left a couple of the girls as collateral, I ran back to SPAR to get my card, ran back, and out of breath thanked the bouncer for keeping the line open for me. (It was just about their cut-off time of 3am by now.) Luckily, Brits can be nice. Not all bouncers are power trippers. So he let us in... for free. Mind you, it's been an hour and a half since leaving the club.
I needed a drink. We all did. So we got some. And it was good. Oh, and UCLA did wind up crushing LSU. In fact, it wasn't even a game. The Bruins put on a clinic and the Tigers were the invalids. Only all they were getting was pain. It was such a lop-sided game, it didn't even seem like the Final Four but some sort of exhibition match. So much so that all sorts of fans who were up late at the Cafe started to leave. But for me, it was worth it. All that running around, trying to find cash, trying to get in, all worth it. UCLA BASKETBALL IS BACK!!
Ok, at the time of this writing I'm excited. But it was 5:30 am by the time I got a cab home after the game. And a down comforter never looked, sounded, smelled, or felt so good.