Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Best of 2014: The Best Rock Concerts I Attended

I have always loved live music, and though there are aspects I rather dislike--shows where standing entirely is the only option, and therefore festivals; the proliferation of rude assholes who frequently seem to be sitting nearby--at the age of 46, I still love going to rock concerts.

And in 2014, I attended more concerts than I ever had in a given year.

Qualitatively, as well as quantitatively, it was about as good--and fulfilling--a concertgoing year as I can remember. 

I saw many living legends including those I'd seen before--Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Robert Plant, Billy Joel, Bob Seger, John Fogerty, Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac and more--and some I never had: Stevie Wonder, Barry Gibb, Jackson Browne, Richard Thompson, Alice Cooper.

I even saw Santana, Devo, Steve Winwood, The J. Geils Band and R.E.M.'s Peter Buck--as opening acts!

Though my calendar was crowded with Rock 'n Roll Hall of Famers, I also caught "current" acts such as Arcade Fire, the Black Keys, Fitz & the Tantrums and Vampire Weekend as well as alternative era superstars such as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bob Mould, Billy Corgan, Johnny Marr, New Order, Wilco, The Pixies, Flaming Lips, Afghan Whigs and even the Spin Doctors.

I saw longstanding personal favorites like Paul Weller, Alejandro Escovedo, The Bangles and Rik Emmett of Triumph. 

I survived two festivals: Lollapalooza in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Riot Fest (for a day) in Chicago.

I caught a trio of outstanding free shows at Chicago's Millennium Park, as part of the city's Downtown Sound Series at the Pritzker Pavilion: Bob Mould, Richard Thompson (playing electric but also opening with an acoustic set) and The Both, consisting of Aimee Mann and Ted Leo. The latter two shows were especially revelatory for me.

And beyond the big name, high profile concerts, I derived great pleasure from small blues shows (Carl Weathersby at Kingston Mines, plus Buddy Guy at Legends), a Bluesfest performance by Bettye Levette and several first-rate cover/tribute artists including American English, The Cheetles, an unnamed Zombies tribute band, Gerry Grossman (the Human Jukebox), Final Say and Tributosaurus as Stevie Ray Vaughan and as The Doors.

Just this past Sunday, I made a point of seeing a deep-blues guitarist/singer named Donna Herula at the Skokie Public Library, accompanied by her husband Tony Nardiello, because I had enjoyed Herula so much earlier this year at the Glenview Public Library (where she was joined by a harmonica player named Dave Ricks).

So although I had to take a Thunder Road trip to Columbus, Ohio to see my all-time favorite concert performer, Bruce Springsteen--he was again fantastic, even for the 44th time, and played personal favorites like "Backstreets" and "The River"--even without catching the Boss multiple times (as I often have), 2014 was a truly spectacular concert year.

For more that I can readily remember, I had numerous "OMG!" lose-my-shit, "rock is my religion," "art is salvation," "this is fucking incredible!" spastic air-drumming moments of musical bliss--that honestly do make life much more worth living.

And on my @@@@@ rating scale, I gave 30 shows 5 or 4-1/2.

Looking back, I do not feel like I overrated any.

So every show in my Top 10 and Honorable Mention was one I truly loved, and many are not readily distinguishable in terms of quality, especially months later.

Thus, take this ranking with a grain of salt, but know that even if primarily performed by aging legends I conceivably could have been seeing for the last time--not a small factor in choosing to attend so many shows--I still love rock and roll.

Live and in person. 

And so, without anything else on my concert docket for the remainder of 2014, I proudly present...

The Best Rock Concerts I Attended in 2014
Includes Blues performances; does not include cover/tribute acts

(Note: I will cite opening acts in cases where I enjoyed them in their own right, but my rankings are based solely on the performance of the headliner. All venues are in Chicago area except as noted.)

1. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band - April 15 - Nationwide Arena, Columbus, OH (my review) (full concert audio on YouTube)

2. Pearl Jam - October 20 - BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI (my review)

3. Arcade Fire (w/ Devo) - August 26 - United Center (my review)

4. Robert Plant (w/ The Last Internationale) - October 2 - Riviera Theatre (my review)

5. Stevie Wonder - November 14 - United Center (my review)

6. Neil Young - April 21 - Chicago Theatre (my review)

7. Elvis Costello - June 11 - Copernicus Center (my review)

8. Bob Mould (w/ Split Single) - June 23 - Pritzker Pavilion (my review)

9. Paul McCartney - July 9 - United Center (my review)

10. Santana (w/ Rod Stewart, co-headlining) - August 16 - Allstate Arena, Rosemont (my review)

Honorable Mention (in preference order)

- Buddy Guy - January 19 - Buddy Guy's Legends (my review)
- John Fogerty - July 27 - Chicago Theatre (my review)
- Richard Thompson - June 16 - Pritzker Pavilion (my review)
- Fleetwood Mac - October 3 - United Center (my review)
- Paul Simon and Sting - February 25 - United Center (my review)
- Paul Weller - September 13 - Riot Fest (my review of Riot Fest)
- Fitz & the Tantrums - November 22 - Riviera Theatre (my review)
- Soundgarden - April 2 - Lollapalooza, Buenos Aires
- Afghan Whigs - September 13 - Riot Fest
- New Order - July 3 - BMO Harris Pavilion, Summerfest, Milwaukee (my review)
- Barry Gibb - May 27 - United Center (my review)
- Billy Joel - July 18 - Wrigley Field (my review)
- Billy Corgan - August 30 - Ravinia Festival (my review)
- Arcade Fire - April 1 - Lollapalooza, Buenos Aires
- Johnny Marr - November 25 - The Vic (my review)
- Bob Seger (w/ J. Geils Band) - December 11 - United Center (my review)
- Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band - June 28 - Chicago Theatre (my review)
- Bob Mould (w/ Jason Narducy) - January 17 - Prairie Center for the Arts, Schaumburg (my review)
- Wilco - December 8 - Riviera Theatre (my review)
- Carl Weathersby Blues Band - March 10 - Kingston Mines (my review)

Others Worth Mentioning

- Bob Dylan - November 8 - Chicago Theatre (my review)
- Jackson Browne - October 14 - Chicago Theatre (my review)
- The Both - July 21 - Pritzker Pavilion (my review)
- Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (w/ Steve Winwood) - August 23 - United Center (my review)
- Rik Emmett - January 23 - Arcada Theatre, St. Charles (my review)
- Red Hot Chili Peppers - April 2 - Lollapalooza, Buenos Aires
- Alice Cooper - November 2 - The Venue at Horseshoe Casino, Hammond, IN (my review)
- The Bangles - July 28 - City Winery (my review)
- The Black Keys (w/ Cage the Elephant) - September 27 - United Center (my review)
- Nine Inch Nails - April 1 - Lollapalooza, Buenos Aires 
- Alejandro Escovedo (w/ Peter Buck) - February 22 - Lincoln Hall (my review)
- Steve Nieve - September 30 - City Winery (my review)

Others seen at Festivals (some only in part):

The Pixies, Vampire Weekend, Ellie Goulding, Lorde, Imagine Dragons, Phoenix, Buzzcocks, Television, Flaming Lips, Face to Face, Tokyo Police Club, Face to Face, The Orwells, The Get-Up Kids, Bettye Levette, Spin Doctors 

Friday, December 19, 2014

En Route to Broadway, Excellent 'Airline Highway' Reaches the Essence of Us All -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Airline Highway
a world premiere play by Lisa D'Amour
directed by Joe Mantello
Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago
Thru February 8, 2015

Airline Highway is easily one of the best new plays I've seen in 2014, a year in which I've seen several excellent ones. (Look for my Best Plays of 2014 post here in the days ahead.)

But I would be hard-pressed to tell you what it's about, with any specificity in terms of storyline or meaning.

Best covering both may well be a line spoken by a character named Miss Ruby (well-played by Judith Roberts), who despite having rather limited stage time offers some of the show's most poignant sentiments, including this one:

"You are the most gorgeous group of fuck-ups I've ever seen."

She is speaking to the (mostly long-term) residents of the Hummingbird Motel, a now dilapidated establishment along Airline Highway, the road from the airport to the heart of New Orleans.

Photo Credit: All photos by Michael Brosilow and from
Without giving away much, these characters--in the best sense of the word--include a prostitute (played by Kate Buddeke), stripper (Caroline Neff), transvestite (K. Todd Freeman), indigent poet (Gordon Joseph Weiss), hardscrabble handyman (Tim Edward Rhoze), longtime motel manager (Scott Jaeck) and a former nightclub promoter nicknamed Bait Boy (Stephen Louis Grush).

Although Airline Highway is a quite formidable work in its own right, commissioned by Steppenwolf Theatre from Lisa D'Amour, whose play Detroit premiered at the venue in 2010 and went on to be a Pulitzer Prize finalist, echoes of Lanford Wilson's Hot L Baltimore--which I saw at Steppenwolf in 2011--are not coincidental.

In this interview with Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones, D'Amour speaks of wanting to write an ensemble piece for Steppenwolf and pen "a tribute" to the Wilson play, which similarly concerns itself with a community of down-but-not-out tenants of lodging in disrepair.

Given the New Orleans setting, ensemble cast and celebration of societal outcasts, it's also not hard to think of various Tennessee Williams plays while watching Airline Highway.

And I also can't help but recall hearing Rebecca Gilman--in discussing Luna Gale, her terrific play that premiered at Chicago's Goodman Theatre early in 2014--speak of her frequent desire to "give voice to the voiceless."

For as much as any specifics I might give you (or avoid giving you), that to me is what Airline Highway is about.

Like a Toulouse-Lautrec painting humanizing the prostitutes, Can-Can dancers and other denizens of Montmartre, D'Amour's play not only chronicles a festive day in the life of a group of N'awlins tourist trade workers, but suggests that their sense of pride, dignity, camaraderie, community and even insecurity & self-doubt makes them no different or lesser than anyone of any station in life.

The entirely entertaining play reiterated my belief that there is a special story--or many--in everyone, and it was fun to ride the Red Line home afterward with that thought in mind.

Under the direction of A-List Broadway director Joe Mantello--he's directed Wicked, The Last Ship, several plays and has won a pair of Tony Awards--the cast is superb, despite only featuring two Steppenwolf Ensemble members.

One of those, K. Todd Freeman--who the program notes was college classmates with Mantello--is an absolute hoot as Sissy Na Na, a transvestite with a proverbial heart of gold.

Kate Buddeke is terrific as Tanya, an aging prostitute, as are all the others named above, particularly Neff and Grush. It was also a pleasure seeing the fine acting work done by Tim Rhoze, whose directing and writing--and he himself--I came to know a bit via three productions I saw this summer by Evanston's Fleetwood-Jourdain Theater, for which Rhoze is the Artistic Director.

With no disrespect to anyone in the fine Steppenwolf cast, I wouldn't be surprised if some bigger names take over a few roles when Airline Highway arrives at New York's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in April.

Though everyone was perfectly delightful in imbuing the ragtag gathering at the Hummingbird Motel--an early Act II onstage singalong of a song seemingly called "Love Me Good" is absolutely blissful--and I would be happy for several of them to hit Broadway, I can imagine some star faces adding a bit more personality, not to mention box office, to this ensemble piece.

As it was, in taking advantage of Steppenwolf's exceptionally generous "Twenty for $20" day-of-show discount offer, I was able to see a bound-for-Broadway, likely-to-become-Tony-nominated, regularly priced at $60+ play for just a mere pittance, along with my friend Bob, who seemed to like it even a bit more than me.

Based on sparser-than-it-should-have-been attendance in the balcony on Thursday night, you should well be able to take advantage of the "call 312-335-1650 right at 11am" discount offer as well.

But even for those who have no problem paying full price, as long as one can appreciate the "we all matter, equally" abiding theme, this fine new play is well-worth everyone's time, money and consideration.

And though it has substantial depth despite ambiguous acuity, Airline Highway is also a whole lotta fun, with vibrant colors, an outstanding set design by Scott Pask and a buoyant cast of characters who deserve far better than to be callously passed by on the way to town. Stop by and see 'em.

For they're likely to wind up seeming--perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not--a whole lot like you and me.

The Best of 2014: My Favorite Songs -- A Spotify Playlist

My list of favorite songs of this year is rather different than the other Best of 2014 posts that will populate Seth Saith for much of the next fortnight. 

As opposed to, say, my Favorite Rock Albums of 2014, which I posted yesterday, my song selections will not be a list ranked in preference order, but a Spotify playlist sequenced to make for a (hopefully) nice listen .

Though I have been compiling my "Best Songs" choices for years, I think this is the first time I've included the category in my Seth Saith year-end Best Of barrage.

But having put the compilation together in Spotify, it makes for a rare interactive post that allows people to actually hear my Best Of selections.

And if you don't want to bookmark this post, you can still directly access my Best of 2014 Spotify playlist through a custom URL:

While some people may have already seen and heard this playlist, as of today I've added seven additional songs to my original playlist--and may well add more as I come across worthwhile 2014 tracks that I may have missed.

So if you have some righteous tunes to recommend, please let me know. Otherwise, please enjoy--in no ranked order:

My Favorite Songs of 2014

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Best of 2014: My Favorite Rock Albums

I'm usually pretty cynical about year-end Best Albums lists.

Including my own.

Which isn't to question the integrity of anyone (except me) who puts together such lists.

I would assume that most reputable rock critics (if they still exist) and publications hear and revisit a much wider swath of albums than I do, and offer up their honest opinions about the ones they liked best.

But even in understanding that music is much more segmented these days, that rock--still my preferred genre--isn't the dominant pop style anymore and that pretty much everyone knows and likes some artists that others have never even heard of, all too often it seems Best Albums of (Year) lists are filled with many choices that appear far too arcane.

At least for my tastes and awareness.

In part, because--to me--for an album to really be considered great, it (and to a certain extent the artist) needs to have staying power. I realize that's kind of impossible for anyone to judge within the year of release, but when I see Best Of lists filled with unfamiliar artists, I can't help but wonder if said critic will really revisit those albums or acts in years to come.

Led Zeppelin III - My favorite album reissue of 2014
Thus, for better or worse, my tastes--and Best Albums selections--usually run to the tried & true, and are likely much more populist than those of most rock critics or publications.

Sure, I have several lesser-known personal favorites, and try to listen to what critics herald, so there will always be some selections others may see as esoteric.

But I know that a "decent" album by a favorite band will typically stay in my listening repertoire far longer, and provide more acute pleasure, than many a MetaCritic Top 10 year-end album by unfamiliar artists that time may likely soon forget.

Which makes 2014 all the more weird.

As the album as a commercial art form continues to devolve--though I would argue qualitatively as well, I really mean that fewer & fewer albums are being sold, especially as one can listen to almost anything for free on Spotify, and not necessarily in full--Rolling Stone honored some of my all-time favorite rock artists with top spots in its 50 Best Albums of 2014 list.

U2 ranked #1 with their free-via-the-Apple-tree Songs of Innocence. Bruce Springsteen was second with his collection of outtakes and covers, High Hopes. Foo Fighters came in at #12 with their recorded all-across-the-USA Sonic Highways. Weezer was #14 with yet another "return to form" in Everything Will Be Alright in the End. The Black Keys, whose last two albums I really liked, were ranked #3 by Rolling Stone for Turn Blue. And Taylor Swift, who I really have fancied as a first-rate pop songwriter, slotted in at #10 with 1989, by far the biggest selling album of 2014.

And I thoroughly disagree with any of these albums being close to the very best I heard in 2014.

Each of the above had their moments of professionalism, satisfaction and sometimes even brilliance, but none of them delighted me from beginning to end like a truly great album should.

And I really can't say many on my list below did either, where somewhat surprisingly a band I've never really liked before wound up at #2.

So before I get to my Top 10 and some Honorable (enough) Mentions, let me say that nothing on my list was really among my favorite dozen albums released in 2014.

By far, the music that excited and delighted me most on albums purchased since January 1 was found on the first five Led Zeppelin albums (re-released individually) and the first seven Bruce Springsteen albums (released as The Album Collection, Vol. 1).

With outstanding remastering, these albums--even in MP3 form, though I bought the CDs--sound better than they ever have. And they were phenomenal to begin with. I was particularly delighted to discover just how great Led Zeppelin III is, and of the Springsteen re-issues, listening to The River through good headphones is an absolute job.

Anyway, for those of you going, "Just give my your damn list already," well, here it is.

My Favorite Rock Albums of 2014

1. Bob Mould - Beauty and Ruin (Spotify link)
2. Interpol - El Pintor (Spotify link)
3. The Both (Spotify link)
(note: The Both = Aimee Mann + Ted Leo)
4. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Hypnotic Eye (Spotify link)
5. Ryan Adams - 1984 (Spotify link)
6. Johnny Marr - Playland (Spotify link)
7. The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream (Spotify link) 
8. Robert Plant - Rainbow (not on Spotify)
9. AC/DC - Rock or Bust (not on Spotify)
10. The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers (Spotify link)

Honorable Mention
(in preference order)

Jackson Browne - Standing in the Breach (Spotify link)
Bruce Springsteen - High Hopes (Spotify link)
J Mascis - Tied to a Star (Spotify link)
The Last Internationale - We Will Reign (Spotify link)
Tokyo Police Club - Forcefield (Spotify link) 
Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots (Spotify link)
Tweedy - Sukierae (Spotify link)
U2 - Songs of Innocence (Spotify link) 
Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways (Spotify link)
The Men - Tomorrow's Hits (Spotify link)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ill-Fitting Updates Can't Deprive 'Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella' of Its Musical Charms -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella
Cadillac Palace, Chicago
Thru Jan. 4, 2015

One of the things I commonly gripe about is that whatever passes for mass entertainment these days seems conspicuously short of social commentary at a time when many common folks have a fair amount about which to complain.

I have often longed for the days when artists like Norman Lear, Sidney Lumet, David Mamet, The Clash and others would rise above the creative din while calling out societal ills in their work.

And while as a title, storyline and shorthand for "surprising success," Cinderella has long been part of my awareness and vernacular, I don't harbor acute affinity for any particular telling that would automatically cause aversion to an updated interpretation.

So in having read about Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella 2013 Broadway bow--originally created for a CBS broadcast in 1957, the R+H musical version has been tinkered with over the years and toured a good bit, but had never previously played Broadway; that production is the source for the current tour now playing in Chicago--I noted that some reviewers disliked the show's new book by Douglas Carter Beane that adds considerable social context, but that others appreciated his attempt to add some societal gravitas to this Cinderella story.

Photo Credit on all: Carol Rosegg
And primarily because the current Broadway in Chicago presentation at the Cadillac Palace prompted me to explore the rich Rodgers & Hammerstein score--some tunes from which I knew through osmosis, but in full I was delighted to discover--during the first act I was largely accepting of Beane's updates.

(SPOILER ALERT for those wanting to know absolutely nothing.) 

As I was alluding to above, there isn't a previous version of Cinderella I explicitly remember or hold sacred, so--per what I could deduce from Wikipedia about the 76-minute 1957 production--it didn't grievously bother me that the current prince is named Topher nor that his parents, the King & Queen, are dead before the curtain rises.

And given my own perspective about what's wrong with the country and world, I didn't much mind the gibes taken at the monarchy in the name of economic fairness for all, most stridently voiced by a character named Jean-Michel (well played by David Andino), who is something of a Renaissance political activist and social reformer.

That said, even in Act I, the main charms of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella came via things that weren't exactly nouveau.

Songs such as "In My Own Little Corner," "The Prince is Giving a Ball," "Impossible" and "Ten Minutes Ago" are delightful and hold up well within Rodgers & Hammerstein's legendary canon.

As Cinderella, Paige Faure is quite lovely both before and after she is gussied up by her fairy godmother (Kecia Lewis)--and sings her songs well.

And at least from the top of the Cadillac Palace, Andy Jones seems to make for a rather charming Prince, who in this version has been raised by a mean minister named Sebastian (Blake Hammond). 

Thanks to the songs, performances, some fine choreography by Josh Rhodes and several snazzy costumes (and costume changes) by William Ivey Long, this entire Cinderella under the direction of Mark Brokaw is enjoyable and impressive enough in the realm of quality downtown theater entertainment.

Though while well-suited for kids--who were better behaved Tuesday than many nearby adults--and Rodgers & Hammerstein devotees alike, even at its best this production was a shade below being a masterpiece.

But after Cinderella lost her slipper at the Act I--but then (SPOILER ALERT) quickly snagged it back--Act II became far more leaden as Beane's tale of public unrest weaves together with that of the Prince trying to find Cinderella in a way that feels convoluted.

And probably unnecessary.

In and of herself, it's likely no crime to have instilled this Cinderella with a bit more chutzpah to accompany her royal romantic longings than Cinderellas past. But not only has the story--as I've known it--always been a rebuke of people who treat others shabbily or with a complete lack of empathy, as I've discovered with much appreciation in recent years, Rodgers & Hammerstein shows (Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, The Sound of Music) include a lot more social stridency within them than people may realize.

So while I have no inherent or political aversion to what Beane, Brokaw and other collaborators tried in modernizing the context of Cinderella, it felt--again, without a specific point of comparison--like it may well be a case subtraction by addition.

Because still in Act II, what really matters is the music.

"Stepsister's Lament" (better known by its "Why would a fella want a girl like her?" refrain) and "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?" are two more terrific songs that Richard and Oscar wrote for Julie Andrews-starring 1957 broadcast, while "There's Music in You" is one of five Rodgers & Hammerstein songs that were added into the 2013 Broadway staging.

So I'm glad I saw Cinderella and--even with my multiple spoiler alerts--don't think I'm giving too much away to reveal that most everyone in the show winds up living happily ever after.

None of the new touches should ruin the show for Princess-adoring children, or even adults who recall Cinderella fondly from whatever incarnation(s).

And in a way, I find the the attempt at modern contextualizing admirable.

But more than not, it fits like a glass slipper on the wrong foot.

I don't know if what Rodgers & Hammerstein originally created just needed padding timewise to mandate a "sell more souvenirs" Intermission, but I have to imagine I would have been happier without Cinderella going all social crusader.

As much as I applaud the motivation behind it. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Few Photos From the Rafters as the Blackhawks Extinguish the Flames on December 14, 2014

Last night I attended my first Blackhawks game of the 2014-15 season and just my second of the year.

As the last one was outdoor in the snow and freezing cold, despite having a wonderful time at that one (photos here), I couldn't be too chagrined at having Standing Room tickets for Sunday's game against the Calgary Flames.

And things turned out as well as they could have.

I found a free parking space on the street, I was able to sit in an empty seat right in front of the standing room area and--after going down 1-0--the Hawks came back to win 2-1 with an exciting goal by Brandon Saad with about 7:00 left in the game.

As usual, I took a lot of pictures. I was using a Canon point-and-shoot with an 18x zoom lens, but not only was I quite far away, I abstained from taking photos when anything exciting seemed to be developing.

Still, thanks to a good multi-shot feature on my camera, I wound up with a few photos that came out pretty well. If for no reason other than to justify having taken them, here is a selection:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Party Like It's 1889: Auditorium Theatre Celebrates 125 Years With a Spectacular Showcase

Theater / Showcase Review

Living the History: 125 Years of the Auditorium
Auditorium Theatre, Chicago
December 9, 2014

In about a week, I'll start writing and posting my "Best of 2014" lists on this blog.

In terms of live entertainment, these will include Best Rock Concerts, Best Plays and Best Musicals, with my having seen at least 20 of each this year.

Although I haven't seen nearly enough Operas, Classical concerts, Blues gigs, Jazz performances or Dance shows to compile much of a Best of 2014 in any of these categories, perhaps I'll lump them and some other things together in a "Best Other Live Entertainment" category.

Especially now, because last Tuesday I saw a show that doesn't really fit into any of the specific categories. Rather, it would more so be classified as quite nearly "All of the Above."

The show only lasted 100 minutes, but in harkening back 125 years to the opening of Chicago's glorious Auditorium Theatre--and celebrating the years in between--Living the History was truly outstanding from beginning to end.

The joys started in the lobby, where several attractive young men and women were dressed in garb emblematic of December 9, 1889, the day President Benjamin Harrison attended the grand opening of the Auditorium Theatre, within the then tallest building in Chicago and largest in the U.S.

Vice President Levi Morton, a New Yorker, was also there with the President, who at one point turned to him and said of the Dankmar Adler & Louis Sullivan-designed masterpiece:

"I say, Mr. Morton, New York surrenders, eh."

To which the Vice President replied, "Yes."

So while I wasn't exactly dressed in my fineries precisely 125 years later, it was fun to see others who were.

The anniversary celebration also featured a gala dinner, which I didn't attend, happy just to get a $25 discount ticket to the show through Goldstar.

My seat turned out to be on the lower level of the Auditorium, which after years of re-configurations--including as a USO Servicemen's Center complete with bowling alleys replacing the orchestra seats during World War II--has long been restored to one of the most resplendent places to see a show, anywhere.

Before the performance even started--with a 6:00pm curtain seemingly to accommodate the donors and others who would later party like it's 1889--it was fun to peruse the commemorative program for the event.

I liked these tidbits:

- In the same week in November 1970, the Auditorium hosted Aretha Franklin, Frank Zappa, Smokey Robinson, Derek & the Dominos, Stevie Wonder and Fifth Dimension

- Between 1969 and 1971, James Brown performed 11 times on the Auditorium stage

- In August 1971, over the span of 10 days, the theatre hosted two Neil Diamond shows, two Grateful Dead shows, two Who shows and one Black Sabbath performance.

And as much of tenor of the 125th anniversary celebration was to salute the performances people remember seeing there, before getting back to a recap of Tuesday's show, I will regale you with a list of shows I've seen at the Auditorium.

In terms of rock concerts, somewhat surprisingly I didn't attend any at the venue until October 25, 2004, when I saw R.E.M. from the FIRST ROW--I was right under Mike Mills.

I would see Wilco there just 5 days later.

Subsequently, I saw Bob Dylan with Merle Haggard, Robert Plant, The White Stripes, Radiohead, Foo Fighters (acoustic on their Skin & Bones tour), the Smashing Pumpkins, Eddie Vedder and the Pet Shop Boys.

In terms of theatrical performances, I saw The Phantom of the Opera there in 1994, and both Les Miserables and Miss Saigon in the early 00s. The Auditorium would subsequently become part of the Broadway in Chicago circuit, so I've seen several more musicals there including--without naming all of them--The King and I (with Sandy Duncan), Evita, Mamma Mia, Sister Act, Spamalot (with Richard Chamberlain) and Movin' Out.

I've also seen Riverdance there, the ballet Giselle (by the Kirov Ballet) and for Fuerza Bruta: Look Up in 2010, I--and the rest of the audience--got to stand on the same stage where luminaries such as Sarah Bernhardt, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Katherine Hepburn, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Janis Joplin, James Brown, Bob Marley, Muddy Waters, Bruce Springsteen and thousands of others once performed.

Photo credit: John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune
So the 125th anniversary of the Auditorium had special meaning to me before the show even started.

But then the lights went down and a boy--whose name I would later learn is Matthew Uzarraga--came onstage alone and started singing "Do You Hear the People Sing," from Les Miserables.

Goose bumpingly, he was soon joined--on one of the greatest choral songs of musical theater and a personal favorite--by the Apollo Chorus of Chicago, whose origins go back to 1872 and which performed at the Auditorium's opening in 1889.

I learned several such tidbits from the show's emcee, the great John Mahoney, a Chicago native who got famous on Frasier but has now long returned to local stages. (I've seen him frequently at the Steppenwolf and Northlight theaters). 

It's always a joy to see him, especially as he now seems much more hearty and hale than he had in recent years.

After a few remarks following "Do You Hear the People Sing," Mahoney introduced Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who noted that in his being a former ballet dancer onstage at the Auditorium, "At least one Jewish mother in America is happy."

The mayor cited First Lady Michelle Obama as an Honorary Chair of the event--she wasn't there Tuesday--and shared that when the Auditorium opened in 1889, it was called "The 8th Wonder of the World."

Emanuel also noted how historically significant the Auditorium was symbolically, in rising 18 years after the Chicago Fire decimated the city and being a catalyst for Chicago landing the World's Fair, i.e. the Columbian Exposition of 1893. 
"It helped make Chicago one of the cultural capitals of the world," Mayor Emanuel said about the theater we were in, which next year, he also boasted, will become the location of the NFL Draft.
Photo credit: John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune
I guess it's pretty cool that Chicago has taken that event away from New York, but on Tuesday I was much more excited that Patti LuPone was in the building. 
Her appearance was notable on several levels, not just because she is one of the greatest Broadway stars--and simply singers--in the world.

On the Auditorium's opening night in 1889, the star performer was Adelina Patti, who the composer Giuseppe Verdi had called the greatest singer who ever lived. 

Patti LuPone is the great-grand-niece and namesake of Adelina Patti, and her first appearance on stage Tuesday was in singing the latter's most famous tune, "Home Sweet Home."

LuPone then sang her signature tune, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," from her original starring role in Evita, and it was absolutely sublime (and all the more meaningful for me because I was in Buenos Aires this year, and even saw Eva Peron's grave).

This was only about 15 minutes into the show, and I already had my money's worth. (With the caveat that this was the 10th time I was seeing LuPone, as well as Mahoney, live on stage.)

Photo Credit: John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune
Later, LuPone would recollect how she had first appeared at the Auditorium in 1976 while part of John Houseman's Touring Company that was performing a musical called The Robber Bridegroom. Backed by four Chicago musical theater stars--Michael Mahler, Brandon Dahlquist, James Earl Jones II and either Andrew Mueller or Matt Raftery (sorry, not quite sure)--and forgoing a microphone, she sang "Sleepy Man" from that show. Even though I am unfamiliar with the song, it was pretty cool. 
As were the rest of the night's performances. 
Representing the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which had its start at the Auditorium, the CSO Brass played a lovely number, and Jonathan Johnson and Hlengiew Mkhwanazi were on hand in homage to the Lyric Opera's origins at the venue. 

They did a nice duet, but her version of Gershwin's "Summertime," from the Lyric's current Porgy and Bess--in which she stars as Clara--was positively blissful and one of the night's clear highlights.

Johnson, who was seemingly on hand in place of the listed Eric Owens, then delivered a superlative "Be My Love," originally sung by Mario Lanza in the 1950 musical film The Toast of New Orleans.

There were also two truly outstanding dance numbers, first a solo performance by Vernard J. Gilmore of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, doing things with his body that suggested he and I are not of the same species.

And representing the Joffrey Ballet, which calls the Auditorium home, Rory Hohenstein and Christine Rocas, seemed about as talented and beautiful as one could want--even to a ballet neophyte--in a performance from Romeo and Juliet.

Rock 'n Roll was represented Tuesday by a group led by Chicagoan Jim Peterik, accompanied by Paul Wertico, Barbara Unger-Wertico and Richard Patterson. I guess Springsteen or Elton John, who also famously played the Auditorium in the '70s, were well beyond the event's budget.

But Peterik, who wasn't specifically billed or introduced, is something of a Chicago rock legend from his days in both The Ides of March and Survivor. So the rock set that included "Vehicle" and "Eye of the Tiger," as well as "Sweet Home Chicago," was fun enough, even if--without any clear connection to the Auditorium itself--it didn't quite match the gist of the evening.

Reappearing late in the show, LuPone paid tribute to Ravinia, where she has often performed--including in Gypsy, which led to a Broadway run--and delivered a terrific version of "Everything's Coming Up Roses," from that musical.

We were also treated to two other marvelous singers, Roderick Dixon and Alfreda Burke, who dueted on a song I can't name but that sounded along the lines of "We'll Build Our House."

All the evening's performers joined them on stage, whose bracketing panels then raised to reveal the orchestra, stagehands and the back of the house.

We were then invited to come back "125 years from now" for another celebration.

Congratulations to the Auditorium on its 125th Anniversary. I hope to be back a whole lot sooner then 2139.