Entertaining myself

…went to the media preview for King Tut today at The Field Museum.

… The exhibit, as expected, was a fascinating collection of antiquities, gilded statues, carvings, jewelry and many more treasures taken from King Tut’s tomb. And I learned more than I'd ever expected about King Tut himself and the Egyptian culture.

When British archaeologist Howard Carter and his crew discovered a step cut into the floor of the Valley of the Kings on the morning of Saturday, Nov. 4, 1922, an unusual silence cut through the air. Finally, after five years of searching and his bank nearly empty, Carter had found the tomb of the storied Tutankhamun.

A spectacular discovery, the tomb and its 5,000 beautifully preserved artifacts had been untouched since ancient times. Carter had found the only tomb of its era still intact and, in doing so, created a worldwide sensation.

Movies and television soon delved into Egyptian themes, and Steve Martin sang about it. When Tut came to America and stopped at The Field Museum for the first time in 1977, the exhibition was a blockbuster in the truest form. Lines stretched around the museum as 1.35 million paid $1.50 each to see 55 treasures from the boy-king’s tomb.

The $25-admission price is a little steeper this time, but 29 years after the original stop, King Tut has returned to The Field in an updated exhibit that’s twice the size. "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" will offer visitors face-to-face encounters with more than 130 ancient artifacts — of gold and silver, jewels and semi-precious stones, alabaster and gilded wood — excavated from the tomb of Tutankhamun and other royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings.

The Chicago stop is the third of four on this latest U.S. tour, and many of the objects, including the royal diadem worn by Tut during his life, are traveling to the United States for the first time.

At the exhibit, visitors will learn about the life of Tutankhamun, as well the years between 1539 B.C. and 1292 B.C. when Egypt enjoyed stability and peace, and art, architecture and literature flourished.

Visitors will see many of the objects used by and buried with the ancestry that preceded Tutankhamun’s ascension to the throne as a 9-year-old child. People also will learn about life and death in ancient Egypt, and the intimate relationship between the two.

Among the galleries that visitors won’t want to glaze over is the exhibit’s fifth, "Death, Burial and the Afterlife," a complement to an earlier gallery with religious artifacts. The space concentrates on items placed in elite tombs, preparation of the body and the steps Egyptians took to protect the body for the afterlife. The centerpiece is the gilded, elaborately-decorated coffin of Tjuya.

Two more galleries showcase gold or gilded statues of Tutankhamun, exquisite jewelry and scenes of Tutankhamun with his wife, Ankhesenamun, before the ninth gallery, "Daily Life in Tutankhamun’s World." Here, visitors can view objects that Tut might have used during his life and were placed in his tomb to be used in the afterlife. Although no two objects may illustrate the boy-king more than a tiny game board with similarities to Parcheesi and a child’s chair and footrest Tut probably used as his royal seat during rituals.

Absent from the exhibit are the familiar solid gold death mask, Tut’s coffin, or any mummies for that matter. Toward the end of the exhibit, however, are the chilling sights of objects actually found on Tutankhamun, along with a series of photos depicting the unraveling of his mummy.

A solid gold dagger placed at Tutankhamun’s waist for protection against dangers in the afterlife features a handle with decorative bands of granulated gold and cloisonné of red and blue glass. Fighting animals on the sheath are symbols of the king’s control over chaos.
In the same room, visitors can view Tut’s gold collar made of carnelian glass with inlaid beads, a golden diadem found on the head of Tut’s mummy and the royal headdress made of gold obsidian, carnelian and glass.

The final gallery gives visitors a glimpse into how Tutankhamun might have looked when he was alive and insight into how, unexpectedly at age 19, he might have died. X-rays taken in 1968 suggested the young king might have been killed by a blow to the head.

But the updated exhibit offers the results of landmark CT scans taken just last year that showed no signs of trauma. The new research instead speculates Tutankhamun might have died from an infection that developed in a severe break just above his left knee.

The exhibit was as fascinating as any of the other half-dozen or so I’ve been lucky enough to see over the last year.

… Just as fun, though, is simply being in Chicago. The city. The rush. Taking that calming train ride downtown. Getting off at the transportation center and moving with the rush hour crowd. Listing to my iPod, watching others doing the same, wondering what their listening to, and taking pleasure in knowing that I too am part of 'the iPod nation.' And then transferring between the buses. Enjoying all the scenery. The activity. The environment. ... and then stepping back on the train to leave it all ...

* * *

By 7 p.m. I was at The Rave in Milwaukee for my long-awaited date with Imogen Heap (go to her MySpace site to hear music clips of her coolest songs in full!!) … It’s crazy to think I hadn't heard of this woman like six months ago. Then I discover her music, become mesmerized by it, find out she’s coming to Milwaukee and jump at the opportunity to see her …

Having never seen a show at The Rave, I didn’t know what to expect but had my mind made by the end of the night that I will definitely be looking for some future shows there. For my Kansas City-area and KU peeps, the venue’s size and atmosphere reminded me an awful lot of The Granada in Lawrence. I also saw shades of Omaha’s Sokol Auditorium with its balcony area that makes for a great view of the stage and layers of audience members leaning over the railings... (I saw Ben Folds Five at both of those locations ...)

On this night, the venue was set up with small candlelit tables and chairs, as if ready for a taping of VH1 Storytellers. It was so perfect, so intimate.

As I’d expected, about 70 percent of the audience were teenage girls. There also was a clear set of middle-aged moms toting elementary-aged girls, which actually didn’t surprise me much either considering Imogen’s honest, wholesome lyrics and her fun-for-all-ages sound. Then, there were the guys like me -- and the similarly-aged guy sitting next to me with whom I built up a good conversation -- who simply like good music and have added Imogen’s unique sound to their collections …

Right on schedule, Imogen came out to introduce the opening act, cellist Zoe Keating. … I know, not exactly the kind of music to get you energized for the main act, and apparently much of the audience agreed because the talking nearly drowned her out at times. Too bad, because she was hugely talented and extremely interesting to watch.

Much like Imogen, Keating plays her cello and records each part as she plays, controlling the composition in real time via foot pedals linked to an array of electronic devices. On several songs, she began by tapping, even beating, her cello to get a percussive background going, and then one by one added additional melodies with her bow, soon coming up with wonderful, multi-layered compositions …

As for her banter between songs, Keating, who was wearing a skirt with slits that nearly cut to her hips, explained to the audience early on that she typically wears shorts underneath her skirt but on this night she had forgotten her shorts -- so she was hoping not to have a ‘Sharon Stone moment.’ ... And later, she introduced a song by explaining how her electronic devices failed during a recent performance, she freaked out and made up a new composition on the spot. She paused and then said, “It’s called ‘Don’t Worry,” drawing a good laugh from the crowd …

Keating played for about 45 minutes. There was a short intermission, and …

Imogen appeared on stage for her set.

Her performance was far more than I had hoped it would be, and yet everything I wanted.
Playing just about every track on her current album, ‘Speak For Yourself,’ she opened with an a cappella version of ‘Just For Now’ which sparked one of those I-can't-believe-I'm-right-here-in-this-moment smiles on my face. Oh, that voice …

Then in her own whimsical way, (by the way, she was dressed in this Mary Poppins get-up, complete with flowers in her hair) Imogen introduced ‘her band.’ The thing is: Imogen is the band. She surrounds herself with keyboards, organs, synthesizers and beat boxes to create an amazing sound all her own … First, she introduced her bass box and played a ditty on it. She did the same for her beat box, her vocoder and on until it appeared she was ready to start her next song. Then she stopped, thought for a second and said, ‘Oh yeah, and I have to introduce one more member of the band -- my lights.’ And right on cue, a huge sheet of Christmas lights illuminated the stage.

Did I say how great this show was!?

…The fanciful melodies. The lush harmonies. The catchy beats. It was all there, and even more mesmerizing live. … ‘Goodnight and Go’ never sounded better to me, and the opening melody and lyrics of ‘Let Go’ -- most recognized from the Garden State soundtrack and a product of her Frou Frou side project -- drew a warm applause too as Imogen played it out in a beautiful piano version …

Then, midway through the show, Imogen added yet another dimension to her set as Zoe came out and teamed her cello up with Imogen on a few songs, including ‘Headlock’ and ‘Have You Got It In You?’ -- which the duo totally rocked with the songs’ hard, loud chorus sections.

Eventually, Imogen -- or Immi as she's sometimes called -- stepped to the mic and said the next song would be ‘my last,’ holding up quote marks as she said ‘my last.’ She proceeded, ‘I say it’s ‘my last,’ but you all know it won’t be my last. I say it’s my last, but I’ll go off, you’ll applaud and I’ll come back out again any play some more …’ Then she strapped on one of those keyboards you wear like a guitar and played that wonderfully haunting tune that turned me on to her in the first place: ‘Hide And Seek.’

… As promised, Imogen went off the stage -- for what couldn’t have been more than a minute -- and then returned to play three more songs. She started by playing her newest song ‘Speeding Cars.’ She took a request, asking the crowd, ’should I play something from I Megaphone or Frou Frou?’ She opted to play a Megaphone song I hadn‘t heard and then ended with yet another beautiful one -- ‘The Moment I Said It.’

When she finished, the crowd erupted almost immediately in a standing ovation … A hugely memorable show is one way to describe it, but even that doesn’t seem to do any justice. It was an experience …

Even though I already had a copy of ‘Speak For Yourself,’ I splurged for another one at the show in hopes of having her sign it … but the tight-wad security, which was almost unbearably stiff all night long, shooed everyone out of the theater almost as soon as the show finished.

I probably would have started walking back to my car and started home, had I not been walking next to another guy, who I later learned had driven all the way from Iowa for the show, veering toward Imogen’s tour bus parked in front of the theater. ‘I wanna get my s*#@ signed,’ he says to me, also explaining he had just purchased the special edition CD he was holding from Japan last week. … a few other fans joined us and we began waiting -- quite patiently, as thunder rumbled in the background -- on the sidewalk outside the tour bus.

We passed the time quickly, chatting about the show and fending off the two or three beggars who shuffled by on the sidewalk. Then we were chatting up the security guard just as I noticed Imogen appear from the doorway.

‘Here she comes guys,’ I blurted. … a hush fell over us and we broke away from the security guard, gazing at Imogen as if she was some angel traipsing down the stairway and walking toward us ... My first reaction? Gosh, she’s really tall!

… My second reaction was how cool, how sweet, how refreshingly friendly she is. She said hello -- in her British accent, of course, and apologized for taking so long to come out. She politely began signing items and posing for pictures (my camera, unfortunately, was in my car -- another casualty of the tightest concert security I’ve ever dealt with …) … Then, my turn. She took my CD as I told her my name. She signed it to me, filled it with hearts, stars and wrote ‘love and kisses, Immi.’

I thanked her, shook her hand and told her how much I loved the show.

I walked back to my car in bliss.

The icing on my cake. The cherry on my sundae.


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