Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Murder by Numbers: With Only Half of the Real Killers on Hand, Enjoyable United Center Show Lacks for Fresh Ammunition -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

The Killers
w/ opening act Alex Cameron
United Center, Chicago
January 16, 2017

Those hoping to note the continued viability of contemporary rock 'n roll connecting with mass audiences could find much to be heartened by at The Killers' concert Tuesday night at Chicago's United Center.

Though also, perhaps, not so much.

Although the Las Vegas band has enjoyed considerable international popularity since their 2004 debut album, Hot Fuss, I found it impressive that 14 years on, they sold out the UC, with a rather inflated aftermarket to boot.

Whereas their contemporaries, Arcade Fire, might've had their undersold UC show in late October hampered by playing Lollapalooza Chicago last August, doing so seemingly had the opposite effect for the Killers.

Not only did they fill the Windy City's largest arena--albeit without utilizing seats behind the stage--but at least around my 300-level seats, those in the 17-to-29 demographic seemed to comprise the largest contingent. (i.e. atypically young for an arena rock show by a veteran band whose best music came out over a decade ago)

And while I'll point out some qualms that--for me--made this stop on the Killers' Wonderful Wonderful tour not quite so, there were certainly many moments of communal, multi-generational joy.

"Somebody Told Me"--which lead singer Brandon Flowers halted midway through due to a fight he noticed down front, but resumed without missing a beat--"Spaceman," "Smile Like You Mean It," "Human," "This River is Wild," "All These Things That I've Done" and particularly the closing couplet of "When You Were Young" and "Mr. Brightside" all roared rather delectably.

So, more than not, it was a fun night alongside my frequent concert pal, Paolo, enjoying a band that just Tuesday afternoon, I ranked second among the Best Rock Bands of the 21st Century.

Lest one think the critiques I'm about to espouse come from a non-Killers fan or an out-of-touch old fogie--though I may well be the latter--Tuesday's concert does not make me rethink the above ranking.

This was my 4th Killers show--all in Chicago on 4 straight tours--and I truly loved the last 3.

My rave, @@@@@ (out of 5) review of the band's 2012 gig at the UIC Pavilion was particularly effusive, in the vein of what I was hoping to convey about this show.

I wasn't a big fan of the Killers' 2012 album, Battle Born, but felt the concert then enhanced the material. So despite being lukewarm about 2017's Wonderful Wonderful, I was still expecting a phenomenal show.

Frontman Flowers has always been the dominant (and nearly sole) focal point onstage, so that two of the four permanent Killers--guitarist Dave Keuning and bassist Mark Stoermer--have opted to sit out this tour, replaced by Ted Sablay and Jake Blanton, respectively, also wouldn't seem to be of obvious consequence.

Drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. remains a powerhouse, and with two additional musicians and a trio of backing vocalists abetting the core quartet, nothing sounded obviously deficient save for an occasionally imperfect mix.

But, while respecting that the Killers tried for a somewhat different, less dance rock tonality on Wonderful Wonderful, the title song that opened the show and the album's first single, "The Man," which came next, really didn't do much for me.

In the third spot, "Somebody Told Me," from Hot Fuss, first got the fans' fannies out of their seats--at least atop the arena--and across the 22 songs played (see the setlist here) the best ones clearly came from that debut album, its excellent follow-up, Sam's Town, and the subsequent & solid Day & Age.

Of course, most concerts by artists of any age are dominated by cherished hits of the past, not "new stuff."

But with Flowers just 36, the Killers are a band that should be surging forward, not just running through past glories.

So one starts to think, why did it take them 5 years to put out an album as "meh" as Wonderful Wonderful?

Why did two of the members--still officially part of the band, not reported to be ill or injured--decide not to tour as the Killers are playing the largest non-festival U.S. venues of their career?

Why don't any of their songs seem to mean anything?

And could it be that when Flowers sang the words, "Don't give up on me / 'Cause I'm just in a rut" on the new album's "Rut," he was being all too truthful about his band and its music?

Suddenly, one might not be so heartened about The Killers, and this sold-out show, attesting to the future of rock 'n roll.

Or at least an extremely bright one.

Perhaps it was just a less than killer night. Not only did the whole show seem too "by the book," Chicago was deprived of Sam's Town's fine "Bling (Confessions of a King)" and some choice cover songs the band has played on other recent tour stops--Dire Straits' "Romeo & Juliet," the Cars' "Just What I Needed"--and instead we had less-than-thrilling opening act Alex Cameron join the Killers for his own "Runnin' Outta Luck."

And following a seemingly main-set closing romp through "All the Things That I've Done"--the Killers' building-shaking staple in the vein of U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name"--came a slow new song ("Have All the Songs Been Written?") followed by another ("The Calling") to open the encore.

SMH, as the young ones seem to, um, text. (if indeed they still do)

Yet I don't mean to sound completely negative.

I still sufficiently enjoyed the show to make it worth attending at a bit of a mark-up, Flowers remains a highly-entertaining stage presence blessed with a fine voice and the Killers' great songs pretty much sounded great.

@@@@ out of @@@@@ doesn't mean it was a bad show. Far more so the contrary.

And though it didn't stir me like the band's past shows--and makes me think they need to come up some truly killer new material--I would still call the Killers the second best "newish" band in the world.

But the distance behind #1 Arcade Fire has considerably widened.

Though that band's fifth album, also released in 2017--Everything Now--neither was its high water mark in terms of recorded material, Arcade Fire sold it quite well in a transcendent, thoroughly imaginative concert I dubbed the Best of 2017, over much stellar competition.

Though not as well-attended as this one--for reasons unknown--that brilliant show rekindled my faith in the power of rock music, as a living, breathing idiom, performed by at least a few acts with members born after the Carter administration.

I hoped the Killers would further amplify that belief.

In some ways they did, with a strong back catalog, but let's just say they didn't quite slay me.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Ours Go to 11: The Best Rock Bands of the 21st Century (of Acts Largely Arising Since 2000)

Inspired by my heading to see The Killers, for the 4th time, tonight at the United Center, I thought I'd rank the rock bands--and solo acts who perform in a rock band vein--that I've liked best of those arising largely in the 21st Century.

Technically, some may predate Y2K, but typically only with a relatively little-known indie album or two. This does my best to gauge both the bulk and best of their work in the new millennium, recorded and in concert.

1. Arcade Fire
2. The Killers
3. The White Stripes + all Jack White incarnations
4. System of a Down
5. Coldplay
6. Maxïmo Park
7. LCD Soundsystem
8. The Black Keys
9. Linkin Park
10. The National
11. Mumford & Sons

Plus 11 more

The New Pornographers
Arctic Monkeys
Kings of Leon
My Morning Jacket
The Strokes
The Len Price 3
The Hives
Franz Ferdinand
The Fratellis

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Musical Signatures: A Look at My Collection of Signed CDs

Signed by the four original members; circa 1999. Virgin Megastore, Chicago.
From time to time--typically when there is a lull in shows to review--I devote space here to showing blog visitors things only home visitors would typically see.

Or not see, as many of my collections are stuffed into bookcases, kept in binders, stored in my bedroom or generally not the type of thing occasional guests would much notice.

Without meaning to show off, draw the attention of ne'er-do-wells or even suggest that any of my collections are all that extensive or spectacular, these posts have not only filled the occasional blogging hole, but allowed me to somewhat justify still having all this stuff.

In the past, I've put together blog posts compiling:

- My collection of shot glasses

- The art that adorns my walls

- My collection of neckties

- Several autographed Playbills

- Ticket stubs I've saved, including some autographed ones

Today, I am giving you a glimpse at signed CDs that I have gathered over the years.

Signed by the three original members, including the late Jim Ellison. 1994.
Tower Records, Bloomingdale or Schaumburg, IL.
Although it can loosely be called a collection, I have never actively collected autographed compact discs.

All of these autographs were obtained in person, and much more represent personal favorites than rock legends.

I do have books signed by Bruce Springsteen, Pete Townshend, David Byrne and Elvis Costello, a harmonica signed by Blues Traveler's John Popper and--among an extensive collection of autographed photos--several by musicians. (Back in 1998, I attended a CD signing by Garbage but opted instead to get photos signed.)

So this is not all that extensive, or even exhaustive in terms of items I possess that were autographed by musicians. I'm also leaving out a few by quite minor acts, and also a few duplicates.

In some cases, signing location and date might be best guesses.

But here's what I have:

Signed by Jeff Tweedy. 2009. In the living room of a friend's sister's
house, where Tweedy participated in a benefit concert for music students.
I actually have two of these. I think this was signed in 2003 at
the Tower Records in Lincoln Park, Chicago.
I believe I got this signed by Bob Mould after stalking him to the bowels
of the Field Museum, following an acoustic show he did there.
I had Paul sign this--and my ticket stub--after a 2002 show at the Vic.
Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent signed this after a show at Viper's Alley
in Lincolnshire, IL
I've seen Alejandro numerous times; these were probably both signed at an Old Town School of Folk Music show in 2005.
Willie Nile's become another personal favorite. Signed at various shows.
Kelly Jones and Richard Jones signed these. At least one was after a show at the Cubby Bear in 2003.
Signed by Tim Wheeler. Lincoln Hall. 2013
After shows at Buddy Guy's Legends, I've also had him sign ticket stubs, laminated show passes and a guitar pick.
The late Chicago bluesman signed this after a show at Skokie's
Backlot Bash in 2008
I believe this is the first CD I ever had signed. At Rose Records
in Evanston, IL. 1989.
Signed after a show at Milwaukee's Eagles Ballroom. 2004.
Signed either at the Metro in 2007 or Vic in 2008.
Metro 2002. Opening for Stereophonics.
At the ALS Mammoth Music Mart, Skokie, IL. Circa 1999.
Signed either at Taste of Chicago or Milwaukee Summerfest.
Signed by Jason Ringenberg at the Double Door. 2010.
Signed after a 2015 House of Blues show with the Waterboys.
Kathy Valentine (bottom right) was an original Go-Go.
Debut EP of a musician friend of mine. Signed 2015.
Dennis DeYoung wrote the music for this musical. He was at the
performance I saw at Chicago's Bailiwick Theatre in 2008 and signed this.
Signed at Zanies in Vernon Hills, IL, 2006
Jon Dee Graham, signed at Old Town School and perhaps Fitzgerald's
Signed after a performance opening for David Byrne in Milwaukee. 2004.
Signed at Symphony Hall. 2003.
Signed at Jazz Showcase. 2010.
Signed at NEIU Auditorium. 2013

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Pithy Philosophies #37

Seth Saith:

Human kindness is our common language. 

It can unite us beyond any differences.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Appreciating Some "Rio" Artistry: Tarsila do Amaral and Modern Art in Brazil (including numerous examples from the MNBA in Rio de Janeiro)

Tarsila do Amaral. Abaporu, 1928.
Art Exploration
focusing on:

Tarsila do Amaral
Inventing Modern Art in Brazil
Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago
Thru January 7, 2018
Exhibition website

Paintings in the collection of the
Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Visited March 2014
Museum website | Brazilian paintings

On an early December visit to the Art Institute of Chicago--I go at least a few times each year--I noted and perused an exhibition on the Brazilian painter Tarsila do Amaral, with whom I was not previously familiar.

Known primarily by just her first name, Tarsila lived from 1886-1973 and per the exhibit's subtitle--Inventing Modern Art in Brazil--she was among the first, and most influential, modern artists in Brazil.

I enjoyed the thorough but relatively compact exhibition within the AIC's Modern Wing, and appreciated Tarsila's vibrant use of color.

Tarsila do Amaral. Anthropology, 1929
Having opened in October, the exhibit is closing tomorrow, so this article doesn't provide much of a chance for you to go see it, even if you're in the Chicago area. (In my defense, I traveled to New York City soon after my Art Institute visit and then got caught up in my barrage of Best of 2017 posts.)

But while I found my brief exploration of some of Tarsila's art worthwhile, I spent less than 30 minutes in the exhibit space, as part of a membership visit (i.e. no direct cost), and a bit short of being blown away, I wouldn't advocate that the showcase is (or was) in itself a reason to rush down to the AIC. (Though do check it out if you get there tomorrow.)

Besides liking, if not quite loving, the paintings on an acute level, what intrigued me about the Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil exhibition are the memories it stoked of seeing and enjoying modern art on my trip to Rio de Janeiro in the spring of 2014.

Tarsila do Amaral. Postcard, 1929
Although I love exploring art museums almost anywhere I travel, I can't say visiting the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes was the highlight of my time in Rio, what with Copacabana and Ipanema beaches and boardwalks, Sugarloaf mountain, Christ the Redeemer statue upon Mount Corcovado, the Selarón Steps, soccer game at Maracana stadium, some fine food and more.

But though supposedly not even the most popular art museum in Rio de Janeiro, nor as good as some in São Paulo, the MNBA--the Portuguese translates to National Museum of Fine Arts--provided, along with the Confeitaria Colombo and some other sights, strong justification for venturing to downtown Rio.

And though the museum's collections don't represent many well-known French, Italian, Spanish and other international artists, much of what I saw was enticing...and surprisingly familiar.

Tarsila do Amaral. Carnaval em Madureira, 1924
Not familiar in terms of having seen those particular paintings previously--even as print or electronic reproductions--or other work by the same artists.

But stylistically.

Especially in terms of work dating from the 1880s to 1960s--roughly the delineation of "Modern Art" as I know it--there seemed to be high quality paintings rather analogous to many I well-knew and liked, but by Brazilian artists I never even knew existed.

Academically, this shouldn't be so shocking, as talented artists everywhere have long followed what was being created in Paris and later New York, and often even relocated there. (The Art Institute's exhibit on Tarsila do Amaral, "the first major museum exhibition in North America devoted to the artist, focuses on her work in the 1920s, when she traveled between São Paulo and Paris.")

But I recall that I was walking through the MNBA in Rio, it almost felt as if I'd entered a parallel universe, seeing paintings that could have fit into the fine Abstract Expressionist collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum, or hung near those by Mark Rothko in dozens of museums, or rivaled many fairly recognizable practitioners who followed in the wake of Monet, Manet, Picasso, Matisse, O'Keeffe, Rivera and Hopper--and yet were by Brazilian artists presumably unknown even to devoted art lovers in the United States.

Tarsila do Amaral. Workers, 1933
So with apologies for publicizing it in my small little corner of the world with just one day remaining, the Art Institute's Tarsila do Amaral exhibit--it will run at New York's Museum of Modern Art from Feb. 11-June 3--makes for a good excuse to now share images of "modern" Brazilian art seen in Rio back in 2014.

All of the paintings shown thus far in this post--click on any to see it larger--are of works in the AIC/MOMA exhibit.

Those from here on out--including another by Tarsila--are those I saw at the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes.

I do not mean this to be a comprehensive survey in the realms of modern art of Brazil, the MNBA collection or even what I saw of it. These are largely just some paintings I liked and photographed (permissibly). I didn't photograph all the placards, and regretfully in some cases am not able to provide the artist's name, painting title and/or year of creation.

Candido Portinari (1903-61), Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 1944
Belmiro de Almeida (1858-1935), Tiffs, 1887
José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior. The Model's Rest, 1882
Georgina de Albuquerque. Summer Day, circa 1928
Painter/Title unknown by author
Tarsila do Amaral. Self-Portrait, 1923
Alberto Guinard, Léa and Maura, 1940
João Fahrion, Interior with Figures, 1939
Seemingly signed by "Juima" or "Tuima" in 1950; other details unknown by author
Jose Borges da Costa, Beaten Harlequin, 1947
Artist, subject, title, date unknown by author
Firmino Saldanha, Composition
Loio-Persio, Composition No. 22, circa 1959
Emiliano di Cavalcanti, Slave Ship, 1961
Rubens Gerchman, La Television, 1967