Portugal. The Man surprises, delights sold-out House of Blues crowd

The lights are dim, the anxious crowd screaming and applauding, the curtains closed.

The TVs around the venue lit up with breathtaking imagery of glaciers and snowy mountains.

Portugal. The Man’s latest single “Got It All (This Can’t be Living Now)” begins to blare through the speakers, but it’s not them playing the music.

A 10-minute theatrical HD music video debuts before the band plays a note.

The video featured lead singer and guitarist John Gourley on some sort of “Into The Wild” adventure in Alaska.

Gourley, wrapped in a fur-hooded parka, is pulled through arctic tundra by a pack of sled dogs. And, without giving away the ending, finds himself on the ground, mouthing words to the song.

After the extended introduction, the four-piece started into a re-envisioned version of an old track from debut album “Waiter, You Vultures!”. Lights flashed as Gourley’s frenetic guitar noodling danced to distorted bass lines.

I’ve watched Portugal. The Man ascent to fame over the years, collecting each album and watching them live a handful of times.

Each performance is different than the last and Saturday was no different.

The Portland, Oregon by way of Wasilla, Alaska indie quartet group releases its sixth studio album “In The Mountain, In The Cloud” July 17 and used its sold-out House of Blues Anaheim audience as ears for many of the new tracks.

The group sprinkled a number of the new songs throughout the hour-and-a-half long performance that include a single song, but 10+ minute encore.

It was clear Portugal was on tour to generate steam for the upcoming release of “In The Mountain”.

Fans sang along to favorites from the popular (and more pop-sounding) album “The Satanic Satanist”, which helped but the band on the map and in 2010, secure a deal with Atlantic Records after two, two-record stints with Fearless and Equal Vision Records, respectively.

The band has progressed a lot since the falsetto vocals matched to drum machine beats and introspective guitar riffs. The sound has opened, Gourley’s voice has progressed — along with the backup singing — and the new stuff sounds wide open, soaring and even a bit grandiose. Somewhere between “Censored Colors” and “Satanist”.

You’ll have to listen to hear what I’m talking about:

Below, videos from the performance!

Urban Outfitters goes to Israel!

I recently came across the new Urban Outfitters Early Spring 2011 Catalog and started flipping through.

Didn’t take long for me to realize I recognized some of the locations in the photos.

Turns out the photos for the hip clothing brand’s latest fashion catalog were taken in ISRAEL.

I wouldn’t venture as far as saying Israel is my homeland since I’m not from there, but it is close to my heart.

I traveled to Israel in October on a birthright trip with about 16 fellow Jews from the Los Angeles area for a 10-day experience of a lifetime. And the best part? It was free. Sponsored by Jewish organizations, private donors and the government of Israel, these trips have been going on for about 10 years.

Specifically, Urban took its models, clothing and photographers to sunny Tel Aviv, Israel, which is sister cities with Los Angeles and has been referred to as a mini LA. Tel Aviv was beautiful, relaxing and of course…urban (seriously). On my trip in October, Tel Aviv felt like a vacation in between an educational journey filled with long hikes, early morning expeditions, camel rides and nights spent in a Bedouin desert tent.

Below is the shot from the Urban catalog featuring an interesting red sculpture. This is right across the street from the Grand Beach Hotel where I stayed. My picture from there follows.

Tel Aviv, Israel. Courtesy of Urban Outfitters Early Spring Catalog 2011.

Sculpture by the beach in Tel Aviv, Israel. Photo by Daniel Ucko.

Interesting to note, Urban Outfitters’ relationship with Israel isn’t exactly untarnished.

In 2008, they sold keffiyehs, those Middle Eastern scarves that conjure the image of Palestinian leader Yaser Arrafat, according to fashion blog The Gloss. The scarves were a bestseller – in fact I have one – until Jewish blogs accused Urban of an anti-Israeli political agenda. The apparel company eventually gave in and stopped selling them, though they still offer similar items.

In addition the keffiyeh fiasco, Urban has no stores in Israel. That makes the exotic locale of Tel Aviv an interesting choice, as the company has been criticized for its lack of presence. H&M opened in Tel Aviv in 2010 and several pro-Palestinian groups attempted to boycott the chain. The Gloss says Israel does ship to Israel, as well as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait.

So why Tel Aviv? It’s simple, according to Urban’s facebook page“We were craving some warm weather, so we headed to sunny Tel Aviv with photographer Marlene Marino to shoot our early spring catalog.”

Find photos from the shoot HERE. Check out my photos from 10 days in Israel HERE.

A sampling of my shots below, taken on a Canon XS DSLR:

The rest of my Israel photos HERE, Urban Outfitters’ Tel Aviv shoot HERE.

Shiomo Laha Promenade in Tel Aviv. Photo by Daniel Ucko.

The Grand Beach Hotel in Tel Aviv. Photo by Daniel Ucko.

Downtown Tel Aviv from rooftop. Photo by Daniel Ucko

Banksy graffiti art in downtown Tel Aviv. Photo by Daniel Ucko

A taste of Israeli life in downtown Tel Aviv. Photo by Daniel Ucko.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 3,100 times in 2010. That’s about 7 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 22 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 68 posts. There were 46 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 31mb. That’s about 4 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was January 22nd with 38 views. The most popular post that day was The CoCo and Leno Show.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, plugintodan.com, twitter.com, en.wordpress.com, and current.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for amazon mp3 logo, amazonmp3 logo, mata leon, couples retreat, and rx bandits wallpaper.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


The CoCo and Leno Show January 2010


Mirthless “Couples Retreat”, heartfelt “Wild Things” October 2009


Pomona’s big changes July 2009


Bay Area band Mata Leon emerges with fresh focus February 2010


First Listen: Gorillaz “Plastic Beach” floats on March 2010

Cal Poly Pomona grad competing in Miss California contest in Palm Springs

Since summer, I’ve been following the journey of one contestant in the Miss California USA beauty pageant.

Her name is Kelleen Lim Chea and she’s a recent Cal Poly Pomona grad. I got exclusive, behind the scenes access to her life as an aspiring beauty queen and how she made it to this weekend’s contest.

On Friday, I had a major feature air on 89.3 KPCC, the largest Southern California NPR station.

Here is the text, but be sure to listen to the report so you can hear my voice and audio from the interviews!

Good luck to Kelleen, representing the city of Anaheim and all the other ladies.


By Daniel Ucko

The “Miss California USA” pageant is this weekend in Palm Springs. Close to 400 young women are competing to represent the Golden State at next year’s “Miss USA” pageant. One of the contestants is a recent graduate of Cal Poly Pomona.

It’s a hot summer evening in August. Kelleen Lim Chea – or as her sash says, Miss Anaheim USA – glides across the floor of a rowdy Huntington Beach nightclub in high heels & a form-fitting evening gown. She’s leading a parade of young women in bikinis and lingerie. It’s a fashion fundraiser. A portion of the proceeds go to a campaign to help stop human trafficking. It’s just another day on the job for an aspiring beauty queen.

“I had this expectation of becoming a doctor but I just don’t feel like it’s my time or it’s my passion,” says Chea.

Since graduating from Cal Poly Pomona with a chemistry degree, Chea’s had one eye on her career and another on beauty pageant glory. Now, she’s seeking the crown of Miss California. Med school will have to wait.

“And it’s been a struggle because I always knew this is what my family expected of me; however, deep down inside it just didn’t feel right,” says the petite 23-year-old.

But with her silky long black hair, winning smile and girl next door good looks, Chea is just right for pageant recruiters like Erik DeSando.

I met DeSando at a busy outdoor cafe in West Hollywood. He’s the middle man between pageant producers and the thousands of girls who apply for the Miss California and Teen USA pageants every year. He gets more than a dozen messages during our interview.

“The type of girl I attract for the contest is a five-finger girl. On the four fingers, we have loving, caring,” says DeSando.

“Then I point to my big finger, middle finger which is non-judgment. Then on the thumb, that’s where the beauty comes in.”

So now you know; the thumb is the most beautiful digit.

Kelleen Lim Chea tries to keep her beauty wholesome. Scar removal below the knee and teeth whitening are the only surgical enhancements she’s had. There are however other enhancements. Interview skills and stage presence are sharpened with the help of a pageant coach; Giselle Boone, a fashion show choreographer and former model. Chea & Boone spent the summer working on everything from posture to stage presence.

Competing in beauty pageants also means marketing a glamorous image through sponsorship deals. Sponsors help raise money, and Chea needs it. All contestants must pay a $1700 dollar entrance fee just to compete in this weekend’s pageant. That covers everything from food to personal security.

“You wanna do this? I will show you 15 different ways to get that money together,” says Miss California recruiter Erik DeSando laying out another unconventional beauty pageant formula.

“A girl has a 20-100 sponsor. A 20-100 sponsor is $20 from 100 people,” laughs DeSando. “Now it’s simple as hell, but think about it, you can find 100 people to give you 20 bucks.”

You can also find friends willing to work for you on the cheap as agents, photographers and stylists. Chea has tapped several. It didn’t always work out though. Several friendships, including with her now x-pageant coach Giselle Boone, were cast aside in the quest for the crown.

“I couldn’t say if it was me or the other party, all I can say is we’re just not in alignment for the path I’m going to,” says Chea.

“My mother, she would probably be wishing that I would be going to medical school right now. But she understands life is short. Do you what you want to do.

But the life of an aspiring beauty queen is short. Kelleen Lim Chea is 23. At 28, you’re considered over the hill – even if you’re a winner. But just showing up to compete can pay off handsomely in scholarship money, endorsements, modeling jobs and more.

And the winner of this weekend’s pageant also gets the chance to represent the Golden State at Donald Trump’s Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas next summer.

Live stream on Justin.TV – http://justin.tv/missca2011/b/274306759

Google results of my feature below: