Awesome little Oakland bits

All good evenings begin with hedgehog’s beer?

All good evenings begin with hedgehog’s beer?

Oakland doesn’t actually suck.

Granted, there are parts of the beleaguered city that, should they fall into the sea to be swept away and never seen again, no one would miss. Lots of parts. But as I wandered around the bizarre little city, my preconceptions of complete suckiness were, here and there, proved wrong.

I rolled up into O-Town around 3 p.m. this past Friday. A friend and I had tickets to see Girl Talk at the Fox Theater that night, but we wanted to see if we could survive a few hours in the O without getting jumped first.

Stop one was Chinatown, a far cry from that of San Francisco. It’s not a tourist destination, but a snapshot of the everyday lives of the people who live there. We stuck out like sore thumbs in our Toms and skinny jeans. While being literally the only tourists there meant feeling like voyeurs, it was great to take in the smells of apothecaries, fresh produce and roasting Peking duck without having to bob and weave around waves of others doing exactly the same thing.

Just beyond the ill-defined border to downtown lies The Trappist, which specializes in Belgian beers. We ordered a couple glasses of Géants Urchon. This brown ale was described on the menu as “the beer of the marshes of the hedgehogs,” and it was adorably delicious.

We had time for about one more stop before the show, so we decided it had to be someplace ridiculous and strange. A random neon martini sign hanging above a door on an otherwise empty block made the decision for us: a crappy dive called The Layover.

Instead of career alcoholics whiling away the hours between work and sleep, when we stepped inside the dive was alive, vibrant and fun. Hipsters, bike couriers and yuppies gathered in a funky, bohemian bar. Local artists’ works covered the walls, and each piece of furniture was unique. It looked like a cross between a first apartment and Grandma’s house. We’d have been completely happy spending the rest of the night at The Layover, but the Girl Talk show beckoned.

I’ve been asked often why I like mash-ups. For me, and most of the fans I’ve spoken to, it’s all about the energy. Philadelphia-based Girl Talk brought that energy harder than I ever expected on Friday. Iggy Pop to Blue Öyster Cult to Mstrkrft to Gucci Mane set to a frantic light show—the seamless, hours-long set was a mind-blowing circus. Some 3,000 people pulsed and writhed and, for a few hours, forgot everything except the music, and it was perfect.

The intimate afterparty at the next-door Den was set to Junk Culture’s dynamic, spirited music, and Girl Talk, a.k.a. Gregg Gillis, wandered about somewhat anonymously, sipping a beer and occasionally signing autographs. (Don’t worry, guys, I took care of it: Next tour, he’s bringing the party to Sacramento.)

If only he could bring some of those awesome little Oakland bits with him.