Saturday, March 30, 2013
Call Me Pathetic, Call Me What You Will... but Green Day Still Rocks My World -- Chicago Concert Review
w/ opening act Best Coast
Allstate Arena, Rosemont, IL
March 28, 2013
The first time I saw Green Day, in 1995, I felt really old.
It was on their Insomniac tour, supporting the album following their breakout smash Dookie, itself actually the band's third album, not debut as often thought.
Having greatly enjoyed both albums--and even, out of sequence, their first two--at the age of 27 I went to the UIC Pavilion by myself and found that the majority of the crowd was significantly younger than me…except for a number of fathers accompanying teenage and younger children.
18 years later, in seeing Green Day for the 7th time, at the Allstate Arena on Thursday night, I again found myself well beyond the mean in terms of audience age, except for my two companions and, once again, the dads, who suddenly seemed to be in my demo, rather than 10-20 years older.
Sorry, but no, I say.
First of all, I long ago accepted being that slightly out-of-place misfit, but not really giving a shit. Yes, I'm no longer physically comfortable at SRO shows, but as long as I have a seat where I can sit at least occasionally, I imagine I'll be going to rock concerts for as long as I'm able to get to them.
Second, most of the concert acts I see are considerably older than me--Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, The Who, Leonard Cohen (who I saw recently), etc. and Bob Seger & Fleetwood Mac coming up--or at least in my age range: U2, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Radiohead, etc. Even the three core members of Green Day have now passed the 40 threshold.
Sure, if I knew of and loved any arena-sized rock acts in their 20s, I would go see them--and perhaps feel slightly more sheepish--but given the dearth of any truly great new bands, rock can no longer be considered primarily music for the young.
And third--as I wrote 9 years ago in a similarly themed and titled but much briefer review of a Green Day show--it would be a shame if I voluntarily stopped attending concerts like this due to any sense of bashfulness. For there are few things in life that give me more pleasure.
Billie Joe Armstrong's stint in rehab, supporting a trio of subpar albums--¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tré!--released within 5 months, having "gone Broadway" and, with 26 years having passed since their formation, far longer a run than any other punk rock band of their stature, as a live act Green Day is still that good.
Even if Thursday's show felt a smidgen lesser than the last Green Day gig I saw--in 2009 at the United Center--from beginning to end the band proved that they actively remain among the best rock 'n roll concert performers of all-time.
Following PA-pumping warm up songs paying homage to Queen ("Bohemian Rhapsody") and The Ramones ("Blitzkrieg Bop")--within the show, the band would play snippets from Ozzy Osbourne, Guns 'n Roses, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles--Green Day opened their 130-minute performance with "99 Revolutions" off ¡Tré!.
Four of the next six songs would also be from the recent trilogy of so-so albums that should've been combined into one stellar one. None of the these tunes, nor two subsequent newbies in Green Day's Allstate Arena setlist, were duds, but neither did they bring the excitement that the older songs would, particularly the 5 culled from Dookie and 6 off American Idiot, their two true masterpieces.
So the first 30-40 minutes weren't quite as "OMG!"--see, I can ineptly pretend to be young and hip--as they might have been, but once things truly kicked into high gear, Green Day was as awesome as ever.
Having seen four of the band's previous 21st century breakdowns, shtick like bringing fans onstage to sing (as in the "Longview" clip at bottom) and the foppish production number that has "King for a Day" segueing into a cover of "Shout" felt a tad tired, but far more so than contemporaries like Soundgarden, Weezer, Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins and even Pearl Jam, Green Day deserves kudos for continually regenerating their audience, with seemingly as many high school fans at this show as there were in 1995 and again in 2004.
And even as he's hopefully quelled the personal demons that sidelined him late last year, Billie Joe Armstrong remains a phenomenally frenetic frontman, with childhood friend and bassist Mike Dirnt still literally and figuratively by his side.
It was also fun to see the ever-animated and powerful drummer Tre Cool still loving to entertain, and I appreciated the band going way back to the pre-Dookie albums--1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours and Kerplunk!--for a few songs: "Disappearing Boy," "2000 Light Years Away" and "Going to Pasalacqua."
In addition to reflecting the impressive range of their musical influences, Green Day also reminded that their strain of social consciousness well-preceded 2004's American Idiot album by closing their main set with "Minority" off 2000's Warning.
"American Idiot" was a perfect way to open the encores, and it was interesting that the band chose to follow it with the 9 minute "Jesus of Suburbia"--as on the album--without losing steam.
I really didn't miss the 'been there, done that...often' "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" as a show closer, but might have preferred something a bit more iconic than the recent "Brutal Love."
But even if I don't love ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tré!--individually or in sum--nor was I all that wowed by 2009's 21st Century Breakdown, I can't blame Green Day for serving up a good smattering of their latest material on yet another world tour.
After all, even if it's hard to believe 40-year-old arena rockers can still convincingly be called "punk," Billie Joe, Mike and Tre (along with three touring sidemen) did--once again--deliver a buoyantly crowd-pleasing show for the ages.
All of them.
Opening the show was Best Coast, a band from L.A. led by Bethany Cosentino. Although I recognized only one of their 11 songs--"When I'm With You," which I included on a year-end Best Of compilation a couple years back--even from the top of the balcony all the way across the arena, I thought they sounded terrific.
Based on the number of phone cameras seemingly continuously rolling on the General Admission floor, you likely can see the entire tour-opening Green Day concert on YouTube. This is a clip by "When I Come Around" and "Longview," posted by spinguy429:
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
With Inventively Modern Take on 'Measure for Measure,' Robert Falls Adds Dimension to Shakespeare -- Chicago Theater Review
Measure for Measure
by William Shakespeare
directed by Robert Falls
Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Thru April 14
As I explained in reviewing Julius Caesar at Chicago Shakespeare Theater last month, I am an appreciator of William Shakespeare, but far from an expert or even aficionado.
Case in point, until it became part of my Goodman Theatre subscription series, I don't think I even knew that there was a play by The Bard called Measure for Measure.
As such, I certainly had no purist's aversion to director--and Goodman Artistic Director--Robert Falls choosing to set the action and costumes in 1970s Times Square, while retaining Shakespeare's original verbiage (though I'm not sure if verbatim).
I actually rather enjoyed it, including Falls employing Donna Summer songs--"Love to Love You Baby" and "Last Dance"--to open and close his extremely inventive staging, which also included "Miss You" by the Rolling Stones.
I suspect that Falls' take helped me to appreciate Measure to Measure--which, according to Wikipedia, is considered one of Shakespeare's "problem plays"--more than a traditional rendition done in Baroque costumes.
I can't say that I was 100% captivated from beginning to end--likely due to a bit of difficulty in readily gleaning Shakespeare's poetic language, especially on a first encounter with this work--but I suspect that "on merit," this Measure for Measure may be even better than my appreciation of it. (Although Chris Jones of the Tribune gave it 3-1/2 stars out of 4, roughly equivalent to my 4 out of 5, and if I ever did so, I might have rated it @@@@1/4.)
Falls' "change of venue" becomes even easier to applaud when one notes that Shakespeare set the play in Vienna, yet gave the characters Italian names--despite himself having never been to Austria or Italy. And it seems to largely be presumed (from what I've read) that with Measure for Measure, Sir William was making comment on the London in which he lived. Thus, the exact setting he employed seems largely immaterial.
The 25-person cast was quite impressive, with among several standouts being James Newcomb (as the Duke, who initially leaves Vienna in the hands of the corrupt judge, Angelo, but later returns in disguise), Jay Whittaker (Angelo), Kevin Fugaro (Claudio, the man sentenced), Alejandra Escalante (Isabella, his sister, the soon-to-be Sister), Jeffery Carlson (Lucio, played here as a Times Square "dandy") and Aaron Todd Douglas (Pompey, a pimp in this production).
Chicago Shakepeare's Julius Caesar was also wildly imaginative and largely terrific.)
That said, although it fits well into a contemporary format, I doubt many experts would rank Measure for Measure among Shakespeare's very best plays, despite some twists worthy of a mystery novel (and others a bit more dubious).
And while I fully endorse Falls incorporating whatever adjustments and accoutrements might've been necessary to suit his imaginative staging, I'm not sure I support his decision to end the play by having something happen to one of the characters that was not indicated by William Shakespeare.
Though the great director undoubtedly added appreciable dimension to my enjoyment of Measure for Measure--and Shakespeare in general--I think he might have been better off stopping short of authoring his own ending.
But if you're going to be daring, I guess you might as well do so in large measure.
Monday, March 25, 2013
March 23, 2013
Places visited: Franks Diner, Kenosha Public Museum, Jelly Belly Factory Tour
When I mentioned to my mom that I might go up to Kenosha with my friend Ken, she asked simply:
And she seemed genuinely surprised when I mentioned that there was a classic diner (which she and I had learned about at a library program) and that I had heard good things about Kenosha's fairly newly-housed Public Museum and rather recently-built Civil War Museum.
"Oh," Mom said, "I thought you meant you were going shopping."
You see, while with the Brat Stop and the Mars Cheese Castle, Kenosha--just across the Illinois-Wisconsin border, although actually preceded by Pleasant Prairie--has long been a great stopping point en route to Milwaukee, Lake Geneva and Alpine Valley, for the most part "going to Kenosha" has served as a euphemism for visiting the outlet malls that straddle I-94.
While I have nothing against those malls, I haven't visited them in years and wasn't planning to do so on this northward adventure. Unlike "interstate adjacent Kenosha"--the malls, Brat Stop, Mars Cheese Castle, even the now defunct Dairyland dog track--real residential and downtown Kenosha (a city of 99,000 people) is alongside Lake Michigan and 5-10 miles east of the interstate.
As I referenced above, awhile back my mom and I had attended a free presentation at the Skokie Public Library about the oldest restaurants in and beyond Chicago. Franks Diner in Kenosha was mentioned as having existed for quite awhile, and after driving past a depressing number of empty storefronts, that's where Ken and I went first.
Franks--not Frank's, as it was established in 1926 by Anthony Franks--is a rather charming little place, created in part out of an old rail car.
At around Noon on Saturday, we waited around half-hour for a table, but the wait staff was sassily friendly--as I incessantly snapped photos--and in addition to an impressive bobblehead collection on display, the diner features a number of fun signs, such as:
- "If you are drinking to forget, please pay in advance."
- "Shut Up & Eat"
- "No Snivelling"
I went with a half (3-egg) Garbage Plate with Corned Beef Hash and Swiss Cheese, accompanied by Franks' homemade bread.
Ken had basically the same thing, except with American cheese.
Especially in being washed down with a delicious Chocolate Malt, my Garbage Plate was great. And Ken liked the coffee so much he wound up buying the coffee mug.
After this delightful brunch, we drove just a couple blocks to the Kenosha Public Museum, located along the lakefront. The museum has existed since 1936, but in 2001 moved into an attractive new building, with a separate new Civil War Museum added next door in 2008.
The first thing we saw was a quilt show, organized by the Southport Quilters Guild. Running from March 2-24, this show has now ended, but some impressive quilts were on display, as were some old-fashioned tools, which inspired Ken to give me a lesson on their purpose and use.
Me, I was inspired to come up with this absolutely hilarious joke:
Q: Did you hear about the blanket that over 20,000 women slept with?
A: Quilt Chamberlain
Rim shot, please.
After Ken recovered from laughing for at least 5 minutes straight, we wandered through a couple permanent first floor exhibits; one on a Woolly Mammoth--complete with a skeletal recreation--that had been uncovered in the area, and another on Native American settlements and the lives of their residents.
Lorado Taft--he created Fountain of Time, still found on the west end of the Midway Plaisance at University of Chicago and the Alma Mater statue at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, among many other works.
As an information placard conveyed, Taft created the dioramas "between 1927 and 1936 to capture the imaginations of children with the creative spirit of art."
With the dioramas, Taft paid homage to great sculptors who preceded him, including Michelangelo, Donatello and others. Having seen most of the original Michelangelo works that Taft created in miniature--including David in a separate diorama--I was most enchanted by that piece. But several other were wonderful as well. Unfortunately the glare didn't allow these to photograph well, but if you ever get to the Kenosha Public Museum, look for the Taft Dioramas.
And if you get there by April 28, you're likely to enjoy Peanuts, Naturally, an exhibit of Charlie Brown comic strips having to do with the environment, the ecology and the natural world. Though not nearly as extensive as the Peanuts exhibit that was recently at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, the ample collection of Charles Schulz strips served as a strong reminder of the social consciousness that went into his craft.
No photos were allowed in the traveling exhibit organized by the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, CA, but I found the above picture online.
After finding a few fun items in the gift shop, I told Ken that we could either view the Civil War Museum--but not that extensively given his need to get home for an evening engagement--or the Jelly Belly Factory Tour, but not both.
I think he preferred the Civil War, but left it up to me, so we wound up at Jelly Belly (it's free, you get free beans and the Civil War Museum would've cost $7 each for a brief stay).
I wouldn't say the tour--which consisted of a tram ride looping around the warehouse, with stops to watch videos of how Jelly Belly beans are made and packaged--is worth a trip to Kenosha in itself, nor would it warrant much of an admission fee, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
The videos were sufficiently informative, though I'm still a bit fuzzy on how Jelly Belly gets imprinted on the beans, and I enjoyed seeing some artworks that had been created out of Jelly Bellies.
Although we got a complimentary Jelly Belly bag, I still felt compelled to select several of my favorite flavors--including Buttered Popcorn, A&W Cream Soda and Orange Sherbet--in the store.
I also tasted a few others at the "Sample Bar," but couldn't bring myself to ask for Harry Potter-inspired flavors such as Soap, Dirt and Vomit.
Though undoubtedly not as educationally-nourishing as the Civil War Museum--a return trip is in order--it was nonetheless a sweet way to end an enjoyable trip with Ken to Kenosha, and as I'm still working my way through the Jelly Belly Seth Mix, the excursion continues to be a rather flavorful one.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Following a season that was plagued--and prematurely ended--by injuries, it's entirely possible that neither Urlacher himself nor the Chicago Bears really know the answer to that question.
While I won't apologize for having a sentimental side when it comes to sports, I realize--as per the Cubs' ill-fated decision to bring Kerry Wood back last season--that emotion cannot much matter when it comes to personnel decisions in professional sports, which is, of course, a business.
So whether the Bears believe that, at age 35, Urlacher's skills have eroded too egregiously, that he would be an unnecessary distraction during Coach Marc Trestman's first season or that it's just smarter to develop a young linebacker in a year unlikely to end with the hoisting of the Lombardi trophy, I can't--from a football logic perspective--too convincingly fault the Bears for parting company with the future Hall of Famer.
But as a fan, I don't like it.
First of all, while I have avidly watched the Bears my entire conscious life, I don't pretend to have the wherewithal to intelligently assess Urlacher's play in 2012 and how severely it may have diminished from his dominance in prior seasons. But it seems to me that the Bears' defense last year was pretty damn good, and with Urlacher in the central role--if no longer the best player; that would be Julius Peppers--it stands to reason that he couldn't have been all that bad.
Now I realize that leadership, locker room popularity, reputation, defensive play calling and whatever else ardent supporters ascribe to Urlacher only go so far. None of the above really matters if a linebacker's ability to run and tackle are severely compromised.
But with Urlacher's backup, Nick Roach, having signed with the Raiders, the jury still out on whether 2012 #1 pick Shea McClellin can play middle linebacker and my preference that the Bears not bother with Manti Te'o, unless GM Phil Emery can find a stud linebacker in the draft--where offensive line help would seem a greater priority--I don't readily see the great detriment in bringing Brian Urlacher back for one last season.
|Photo Credit: Chris Sweda/Tribune Photo|
It appears evident, as Dan Bernstein of the Boers & Bernstein show on The Score 670 suggested in a Tweet, that the "Bears lowball to did its job. They save face while getting the fresh start they wanted all along (despite public comments)."
Bernstein may well be right, but I'm not sure of the necessity nor propriety of the "job."
Urlacher himself seems to have seen right through it, telling the Tribune's Vaughn McClure, "I just wish they would have said, 'We don't want you back.' I think this whole thing is just about them saving face and trying to say that they made a run at me."
If the Bears no longer wanted Urlacher, as their ridiculously low offer appears to attest, why not just come out and say "We thank Brian for his phenomenal service to date. It is with tremendous respect that we are opting to move forward in a different direction."
Over. Done. Honest. Gracious. And devoid of what the Tribune's Steve Rosenbloom called "the sloppy, squirrely, deceitful manner the Bears went about it."
Personally, I would have preferred to have seen Urlacher stay in a Bears uniform. But if it was time for him to go--as the great George Harrison once sang, "All things must pass"--it shouldn't have gone down like this.
Though I respect their enhanced perspectives, I have been puzzled by intimations from Rosenbloom, Bernstein, Barry Rozner of the Daily Herald (who filled in for Terry Boers the other day) and another Herald sportswriter, Mike Imrem, that Urlacher was largely unbeloved by fans, especially in relation to his stature as a player and the 'face of the franchise.'
I don't know; I only went to a few games at Soldier Field during Urlacher's tenure as a Bear, but it seemed to me that any fans decked out in team colors were overwhelmingly wearing an Urlacher 54 jersey.
If he wasn't beloved, the fans sure had a funny way of showing it.
On Facebook yesterday, a friend of mine--a former Bostonian and hardcore Patriots fan--posted that just last season he bought a Bears jersey. And like me, several years earlier, his choice was Urlacher.
I get that Urlacher could be surly and uncooperative with the media; this may explain some of the columns and comments I alluded to above. And I realize that he criticized the fans for booing the Bears and belittled the importance of their opinion after the Bears fired Lovie Smith.
I'm not condoning this; I just don't really care.
Who knows if I would want Brian Urlacher to be my best man? I doubt it will ever come up. But for the better part of 13 years, he was the best thing about the Chicago Bears.
Whatever his flaws, whatever his ongoing on-the-field capabilities, I appreciated him, I thank him and I think he deserved better.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Auditorium Theatre, Chicago
Thru March 30
Before I explain why I don't think Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is as good a stage musical as others do, I think it only fair to note that prominent among those "others" is my friend Paolo, with whom I saw the show Tuesday night--as part of our Broadway in Chicago series--and also had attended a performance in London in November 2011.
Paolo saw Priscilla five previous times in London over a two-year span, happily accompanying friends and relatives to repeat viewings of a show he obviously loves.
And while the U.S. Tour of the Broadway version is a bit different from the London production--primarily in some of the dance-infused hit songs it utilizes--Paolo still found it to be terrific.
As he sees as many musicals as I do and has discerning taste, his fervent recommendation that you see Priscilla is no less valid than my more lukewarm one. And many in the impressively filled, cavernous Auditorium seemed likely to agree with him.
But my take on Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, based in Australia and on a 1994 movie revolving around two drag queens and a transsexual who travel on a bus named Priscilla--which is eventually painted pink--from Sydney to the remote resort town of Alice Springs, is essentially the same as when I saw it in London (where I gave it @@@1/2 within this piece).
|Photo Credit: Joan Marcus|
The three main characters--Tick/Mitzi, Bernadette and Adam/Felicia--are accompanied by three female divas, an impressive full-size bus, a large company, live orchestra, a major second act character named Bob and enough glitz to impressively fill the spacious Auditorium stage.
I'll leave plot specifics for you to uncover via the musical or the movie, but Tick (a.k.a. Mitzi, played by Wade McCollum) is veteran drag performer who is motivated to make the trip for a show in Alice Springs, and gets Bernadette--a transsexual (played by Scott Willis)--and Adam (a.k.a. Felicia, a Madonna-loving performer, at least in the U.S. version of Priscilla, where "Material Girl," "Holiday" and "Like a Prayer" are incorporated, unlike in London) to come along. Adam/Felicia is played by Bryan West.
Though there is certainly some meaning and emotion behind the dialogue and narrative, much of it is middling, interrupted every few minutes by a big production number of a pop/disco hit from the late '70s or early '80s, including "Go West" (Village People), "I Love the Nightlife" (Alicia Bridges), "Colour My World" (Petula Clark; this one's from the 60's), "I Will Survive" (Gloria Gaynor), "Shake Your Groove Thing" (KC and the Sunshine Band), "MacArthur Park" (Donna Summer) and "Boogie Wonderland" (Earth, Wind and Fire). There is also, a bit obtusely but all the more enjoyable for it, an opera aria performed by Felicia, as well as more plaintive versions of "True Colors" (Cyndi Lauper) and "Always on My Mind" (Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson).
|Photo Credit: Joan Marcus|
The big musical numbers are not the problem with Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and--thanks too to some terrific costumes--are actually the primary reason that I would recommend this show, although not above The Book of Mormon and other choices in and around Chicago.
If you're just looking to have a good time with some friends over 2-1/2 hours, assuming the above rundown of the show and its music appeal to you, Priscilla really should make for a fun night out.
It's just not--IMHO--theatrically fantastic, nor even as good as it should be within its own shtick.
First of all, and perhaps I should see this as a sign of societal progress (at least in Australia), but the ostracism and bigotry Mitzi, Bernadette and Felicia face on their road trip comes across as relatively minor. Yes there is some ugly graffiti painted on Priscilla at one point and Adam/Felicia is roughed up by a Neanderthal in a bar, but I never really felt much pathos for the often more covert hatred and intolerance that members of the LGBT community must endure and overcome.
|Photo Credit: Joan Marcus|
In terms of musicals about drag queens and/or gay pride, both La Cage Aux Folles and the recent, soon-to-open on Broadway Kinky Boots, are considerably better--and more powerful statements.
Also, as I noted after seeing Priscilla in London, I suspect the ability to secure song rights likely dictated some of the creative choices, but there were nonetheless a few blown opportunities that flattened the show for me.
Near the end, when the trio arrive in Alice Springs for their big performance, there should be the grandest production number of the night; I would suggest a blow-the-roof-off-the-joint rendition of Chic's "Good Times" or perhaps "Stayin' Alive" from Australia's own Bee Gees.
|Photo Credit: Joan Marcus|
And as Tick/Mitzi, Bernadette and Adam/Felicia later belt out Pat Benatar's minor 1984 hit, "We Belong," I couldn't help but feel that Sister Sledge's much more seminal, "We Are Family," would have been a far better choice.
If your main goal is to make the audience shake their groove things, at least do it right.
Which, to be fair, in large part Priscilla, Queen of the Desert does. It's a good show, which some think is great. They're not wrong, no more than I am right, but heck, I offered Paolo the opportunity to write this review.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
w/ opening act California Wives
Lincoln Hall, Chicago
March 17, 2013
The first time I heard of Ash was in 1995 when they had two terrific songs--"Jack Names the Planets" and "Kung Fu"--included on the soundtrack for the movie Angus, which I bought primarily due to the opening track being an otherwise unavailable song from Green Day, "J.A.R." The soundtrack had some other great cuts as well, and may also have been my introduction to The Smoking Popes.
At the time, the three members of Ash--singer/guitarist Tim Wheeler, bassist Mark Hamilton and drummer Rick McMurray--were all still in their teens. Their debut album, released in 1996, was named 1977 because that's the year the bandmates hailing from Northern Ireland were born.
With excellent songs like "Lose Control," "Goldfinger," "Girl From Mars" and "Kung Fu," 1977 hit #1 in Britain--as would 2001's also terrific Free All Angels--and still stands as my favorite Ash album.
Though their U.S. popularity never came close to matching their U.K. success, I enjoyed getting to see them in smaller clubs: Chicago's Bottom Lounge and L.A.'s El Rey Theater, both in 2003, and at the Metro in 2005 as co-headliners with The Bravery.
And I wouldn't have even known about their show at Lincoln Hall had it not been for a Facebook post by another Chicago music blog, Chicago At Night.
But as soon as I learned of it, I bought a ticket for just $20--despite not exactly relishing the idea of heading down to Lincoln Ave. alone on St. Patrick's Day night.
But everything turned out to be smooth and easy; I found a parking spot around the corner on Fullerton, got a seat with no problem in the Lincoln Hall balcony, found the entire atmosphere to be completely comfortable, etc.
And the show was fantastic.
Opening for Ash (Wikipedia; AllMusic) was California Wives, a five-man Chicago band. They had a really nice sound, good songs and were very entertaining over 45 minutes, including tunes called "Marianne," "Michigan" and "Los Angeles." They have an album out called Art History, which can be found on Spotify. It was recorded at Tim Wheeler's studio in New York--where Ash have been living of late--and sounds pretty good as I'm listening now.
Ash took the stage at 9:15 and ripped into "Meltdown," the title track from their 2004 album, then rolled through a thoroughly satisfying 90-minute set comprised of several older songs I knew and loved, including "Orpheus," "Goldfinger," "Walking Barefoot," "Jack Names the Planet" and "Girl From Mars," which I caught on video from my balcony perch:
Yet equally--and perhaps more gratifyingly--enjoyable were the new songs Ash showcased from the A-Z Series. Some I had heard once in preparing for the show, others were completely unfamiliar but all sounded great, including "Joy Kicks Darkness," "Binary," "Arcadia" and particularly, "Return of White Rabbit." All of these can also be found on Spotify, and you can see the full setlist for Ash in Chicago on Setlist.fm.
As an Irish band, Ash were certainly aware of the occasion, though in wishing the crowd a Happy St. Patrick's Day, Wheeler correctly noted that most of the celebrating in Chicago had taken place the night before.
But It was particularly great to hear them pay homage to a couple of their homeland musical heroes during the encore.
First up was a spot-on cover of "Teenage Kicks" by Northern Ireland's The Undertones, a band you should know if you don't. (Besides "Teenage Kicks," "Get Over You" is my favorite of theirs.)
Next was "Whiskey in the Jar," a traditional Irish song most notably recorded by Thin Lizzy, who Wheeler called his favorite band while also noting that Metallica had covered the song. I think Ash stayed true to the Lizzy version, and it sounded great
The trio closed the 19-song set with one of their own songs, "Burn Baby Burn," from Free All Angels. And true to the band's name--and entire performance on this green night--burn it did.
I don't think that even in England, Ash is as big as they once were. Perhaps this is due to their decision to put out their own music, rather than through a record company. But now well into their 30's, it's cool that the once teenage sensations still get enough kicks out of what they do to come through Chicago, even if it meant--as I learned via Tim Wheeler's Twitter feed--driving 17 hours from an appearance at South by Southwest in Austin, and then having to drive up to Minneapolis for a Monday night gig.
I hope so.
For without being Irish nor liking Guinness (as a drink; I love the brand) nor attending a parade nor getting drunk, there really was no way that I--while wearing my green George Best t-shirt--would rather have celebrated St. Patrick's Day.
Below is a clip of Ash's outstanding rendition of "Teenage Kicks" by The Undertones:
Monday, March 18, 2013
3258 W. Foster, Chicago
What I Ate: Baked Brie, Norwegian Salmon, Swedish Meatballs, Almond Cake
In 2008, I was in Sweden; Stockholm to be precise.
I enjoyed my time there and know I liked the smorgasbord at the Grand Hotel, supposedly the world's best. I also ate at a cafeteria-type place in the heart of Gamla Stan, Stockholm's Old Town, complete with beautiful blonde attendants.
But I can't recall having eaten anywhere there--nor in Copenhagen or Helsinki--that had the same type of Scandinavian quaintness as Tre Kronor, located in Chicago's North Park neighborhood.
Happy to have my mom accompanying me on one of my worldly local dining excursions, we chose Tre Kronor in part due to her having heard them oft cited as providing food during WFMT pledge drives.
The waitress explained that Tre Kronor is owned by a Swedish man whose wife is Norwegian, and in addition to a signed jersey from Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson--"Thanks for feeding me," reads the inscription--the wall decor also had a poster referencing Denmark.
Thus I imagine the menu is of cross-Scandinavian design, but probably primarily Swedish. And though the waitress seemingly wasn't, she was quite nice, as was our meal.
We ordered two entrees and shared them. Best was the Norwegian Salmon with a Door County cherry and orange reduction (essentially a sauce), accompanied by au gratin potatoes and seasoned asparagus. All parts of this were terrific.
Though likely the most culturally-authentic dish, and not unpleasant, I was less wild about the Swedish meatballs. I just don't think I'm a big fan of the traditional gravy. But the lingonberry sauce provided a nice touch along with mashed potatoes. What I really liked from this dish were the pickled cucumbers.
It was good in a how-could-it-not-be sort of way, but nothing especially phenomenal.
All in all, the ambiance was probably the best part of Tre Kronor, but the bread, brie, salmon, asparagus, potatoes and pickled cucumbers were truly superb, with the meatballs likely well-made, just not that thrilling for me.
It provided a great taste of the Swede life, without having to go to Stockholm. And perhaps even then.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
The Man Who Fell to Earth Rises Again: David Bowie's 'The Next Day' Proves Well Worth the Wait -- Album Review
The Next Day
In January 2004, I saw David Bowie in concert twice within three days, at the Rosemont Theatre. I would see him once again a few months later in Milwaukee.
Although at the time I was already a huge, longtime Bowie fan--I saw him in 1990 at Dodger Stadium and wanted to attend his 1983 shows supporting Let's Dance--it was around early '04 that I bought all of his albums I hadn't already owned and really started to delve into the depth of his greatness.
Like many, I imagine, who were too young to truly appreciate Bowie in the 1970s, for several years I was aware of his ever-changing personas, the Ziggy Stardust album and the rock radio hits--many on the ChangesOneBowie collection, the first album of his I owned--like "Space Oddity," "Changes," "Suffragette City," "Rebel Rebel," "Young Americans," "Fame," "Heroes" and "Under Pressure," his great collaboration with Queen.
But it wasn't until I made a point of exploring his full catalog that I discovered just how thoroughly brilliant many of his albums are, from early ones like Hunky Dory and Aladdin Sane (and, of course, Ziggy) to Station to Station and what is known as the 'Berlin trilogy': Low, "Heroes" and Lodger.
Though those albums deserve to be heard in full, I made this Spotify playlist of "Less Showy Bowie" to show you what I mean:
OK, so in early 2004, perhaps more than ever, I was really into David Bowie. Although neither his 2002 album Heathen nor 2003's Reality set the world on fire, critically or commercially, I thought both were quite solid, really enjoyed him live and--like I had or would with The Kinks, The Who and Steely Dan--relished realizing that regardless of my vast fandom primarily via the famous songs, I really only knew the half of it.
Then in June of 2004, while on tour in Europe, Bowie had a heart attack. Following an emergency angioplasty, he seemingly survived sans any reports (that I saw) of his condition remaining grave. But other than a few television appearances over the next couple years, David Bowie disappeared.
From May of 2006 through his 66th birthday on January 8 of this year, there was no new music, no reports of anything in the works and excepting a shot of him at the premiere of son Duncan Jones' 2009 movie, Moon, no present tense photographs I could find on the internet.
On the morning of January 8, amidst some employment angst over a job I would eventually lose, I went to my home computer intending to post a video on Facebook saluting Bowie's birthday (rather than that of Elvis Presley, the same day). (See my 2011/2012 Bowie birthday blog post, with several song videos, here.)
Just after midnight, Bowie had shocked the world with news of a brand new song and video--"Where Are We Now"--and a forthcoming album, entitled The Next Day.
Especially as I found the song to be excellent in a subdued, slow-burning sort of way, it was one of the best musical surprises of my lifetime.
Bowie had resurfaced, seemingly healthy, with reports that he had secretly been recording songs for the past two years, but still very much Bowie.
No interviews. No tour announcements. No overblown appearance on the Grammy's.
Just high quality music--including the subsequent "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)--from one of the greatest artists the rock genre has ever produced, coming at a time when there is rather little new stuff that I think is any good, at least in a staying power sort of way.
So how's the new album?
The Next Day has arrived--actually last Tuesday--and it is terrific.
So I won't go through the new album song-by-song and tell you how Bowie's somewhat oblique lyrics pertain to "Heroes," other remnants of his past or his interest in English history.
Many others have provided this depth and insight, much better than I can.
What I will tell you is that I love The Next Day, not just because it sounds like the all too rare work of a great, professional musical artist demonstrating what that means, but because for a guy who hasn't put out a new album in 10 years, the whole thing--like "Where Are We Now"--just feels so beautifully unhurried.
Co-produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti, who did likewise for the Berlin trilogy--though Brian Eno is more famously noted as his collaborator on those albums--the new disc opens with the title track, which rocks pretty strongly and wouldn't seem out-of-place on "Heroes" or perhaps more so, Lodger.
But casual listeners, especially in this iTunes age of selective songs in lieu of cohesive albums, may find the slow dirge of track 2, "Dirty Boys," a bit boring.
Yet it is exactly what reminds one that at 66, after many thought he was terminally ill and/or professionally retired, Mr. Bowie is--still remarkably--doing exactly what he wants to do.
There are a number of upbeat-sounding songs that come at the tail end of the album--"I'd Rather Be High," "Dancing Out in Space," "How Does the Grass Grow?" and "(You Could) Set the World on Fire"--that, if sequenced earlier, could really get The Next Day off to a rollicking start, to better dazzle those without the patience to listen all the way through, or repeatedly.
Don't get me wrong; as is, The Next Day isn't a tough listen, it's just not front-loaded nor encompasses anything as accessible as, say, "Rebel Rebel" or "Let's Dance."
But I enjoyed it the first time I heard it in full, and several spins later am liking it even more.
At this point, I don't think it quite reaches the heights of "Heroes," Low or Lodger, Station to Station, Ziggy, Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane, etc. But I'm guessing that the German trilogy albums weren't instantly to everyone's liking--they had no hit singles except "Heroes"--but all are now considered masterpieces that perhaps define Bowie even more than the hits or the costumes.
Many years down the road, I imagine The Next Day will continue to hold up quite well. If it isn't quite the finest moment in an extraordinary career, it's already one of the most welcome--and best--comebacks in rock history.
This is definitely an album worth owning--and I have bought the CD though I could hear it in full on Spotify--but if you want to listen first, here's your chance:
Thursday, March 14, 2013
March 13, 2013
Some rock concerts are like thrill rides.
Others are akin to primal scream therapy.
Seeing Leonard Cohen for the first time on Wednesday night felt like being under a warm blanket next to a fireplace, reading a book you just can't put down.
I realize that might sound awfully boring to some. But those who appreciate the pleasure of being timelessly transfixed, sans chaos and commotion, will understand what I mean when I suggest that witnessing Leonard Cohen did not feel like watching a rock concert.
Thanks to his songs, his style, his gracious demeanor and his gifted accompanying musicians, seeing the 78-year-old Canadian perform 27 songs over more than 3 hours somehow just felt a whole lot classier and more unique than a typical rock show, even ones by contemporaries like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Van Morrison or Paul Simon.
"We don't know when we will meet again. Nobody knows that. But I can promise you that tonight we're going to give you all we've got."It was a promise abundantly kept.
Although his debut album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, dates to 1967, I've really only become familiar with Cohen during the last few years. So it's not like I knew every song he played, a mix of old and new.
full setlist for Leonard Cohen in Chicago on Setlist.fm)
But perhaps the most riveting moment of the two-sets-plus-two-encores (of 5 songs total) show was when Cohen delivered a spoken-word recitation of "A Thousand Kisses Deep." (Video, not from last night.)
And in addition to standing admiringly still, hat in hand, as his terrific band members delivered impressive solos, the gallant Cohen ceded the spotlight to Robinson, who delivered a beautiful rendition of "Alexandra Leaving."
He did likewise--on the evening's penultimate song, "If It Be Your Will"--for the lovely Webb Sisters, Charley and Hattie, who provided excellent background vocals along with Robinson the rest of the night.
show in Rosemont last November, as well as at other recent tour stops, as I left at 11:30pm all I could feel was satisfied that I was smart enough to seize the chance to see Leonard Cohen when the opportunity once again presented itself.
No, for those wondering about the extra 1/2@ I could have awarded the poetic, dapper and sonorous troubadour, Cohen's more subtly sublime show didn't quite provide the overt uplift of Springsteen, U2 or his fellow Canadians, Arcade Fire. So I can't say that I enjoyed it just as much.
But for a 78-year-old man to sing for three hours with nary a note I didn't like, well, especially on a bitingly cold night in Chicago, the musical equivalent of being under a warm blanket felt as good as I could hope.
And, as per the title of one the songs Cohen performed from 2012's excellent Old Ideas, "Amen."
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical
Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago
Thru March 24
First the good side: The stage musical version of Jekyll & Hyde, derived from Robert Louis Stevenson's novella, composed by Frank Wildhorn with book & lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, originally staged in 1990 and headed back to Broadway on April 5--where it ran for 1,543 performances between 1997-2001--has enough good songs to accompany its storyline to make for an enjoyable evening of entertainment, especially for just the $10 it cost me as part of my Broadway in Chicago balcony club subscription.
Bringing solid stage credits in addition to being an American Idol finalist--I saw him in Rent before reality TV brought him fame; he subsequently earned a Tony nomination for Rock of Ages--Constantine Maroulis is solid in the title roles, even if his voice has more of a rock edge than perfect Broadway timbre.
Even better were the show's two leading ladies: Deborah Cox as a prostitute that Hyde seeks and Teal Wicks as Emma, Jekyll's true better half-to-be. Both are lovely to look at, even through binoculars, and displayed beautiful voices that dazzled well into the upper reaches of the Cadillac Palace.
|Photo Credit: Chris Bennion|
To finish up the good, or Dr. Jekyll, side, the new, headed-to-Broadway production of a work I first saw in 2000--in the throes of my musical theater re-fascination--should be quite pleasing to the many ardent admirers of this much-more-popular-with-the-people-than-the-critics musical, and given its strong cast and production values, it should satisfy anyone who just wants to take in a large-scale musical in a downtown theater. I liked it more than I didn't.
Now for the bad side, Mr. Hyde: This isn't Les Misérables, My Fair Lady nor in a somewhat similarly macabre vein, Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. You will hear nothing approaching the imaginative resplendence of that show's "A Little Priest."
Thus, though it is no small accomplishment to create a cohesively enjoyable musical with several sweet-sounding songs, Jekyll & Hyde cannot be considered brilliant, one of my favorite musicals nor one of the best.
|Photo Credit: Chris Bennion|
If you are a musical purist, or well, snob, you might cringe at a song as over-the-top and irony-free as "This is the Moment."
And in scribbling a few notes during the show for this review, when Jekyll and Emma dueted on "Take Me as I Am," I wrote, "Sweet. Saccharine."
Certainly, this show about split personalities does straddle two sides: Tuneful and Tawdry. Moving and Melodramatic. Solidly enjoyable but lacking depth & subtlety. Good, but likely fleeting. Worthwhile but not essential.
Fortunately, thanks to Jekyll & Hyde being listed on HotTix for all of this week's remaining performances, the show's full-price tickets are also, appropriately, split in half. So if you want to see it, you needn't be conflicted. You could even go by yourself and with someone else, all at once.
Monday, March 11, 2013
A Phantastic Revue ... or Just a Well-Composed Memory? -- Now & Forever: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber -- Chicago Theater Review
Now & Forever: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber
Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire, IL
Thru March 24
I have mixed, and somewhat conflicting, feelings when it comes to Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.
I have seen, and enjoyed, enough of his musicals to appreciate his formidable talent, ambition, success and impact as a composer, and subsequently, producer and impresario.
His early works with lyricist Tim Rice, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar, helped to marry rock ’n roll with musical theater (after the pioneering Hair), and Evita—also with lyrics by Rice—remains, IMHO, the best musical Webber has written and among the best that anyone has.
In the ’80s, mega-blockbusters Cats and Phantom of the Opera forever redefined the musical theater landscape, and while I don’t like the latter nearly on par with its status as the most successful musical of all-time, it has its moments.
Sunset Boulevard was the first musical I ever saw on Broadway, and in London I saw two Webber shows—The Beautiful Game and The Woman in White—that either didn’t reach or succeed on Broadway. I even saw Bombay Dreams, which he didn’t write but produced and brought to Broadway, and I still remember how a musical aficionado aunt of mine long championed Aspects of Love as his most beautiful composition.
All told, I’ve seen 10 ALW musicals on stage and have the Phantom sequel, Love Never Dies, waiting on my DVR.
|One of my "Once Upun a Time" cartoons, from 1996|
And that while Andrew Lloyd Webber is likely the greatest ‘name brand’ maker of musicals since Rogers and Hammerstein, he also isn’t as good as them nor others, including Lerner & Loewe, Kander & Ebb, Bock & Harnick, Boublil & Schönberg, Jerry Herman and Leonard Bernstein.
Still, I’ve liked enough of what ALW has written to be intrigued by Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire’s world premiere revue Now & Forever: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. And having heard and read good things about it, I decided to check it out late Sunday afternoon, the least expensive of its 8 weekly performances.
Conceived by Marriott Theatre lead artistic director Aaron Thielen and longtime director Marc Robin (who directs it), and featuring songs from 14 Webber shows--including Love Never Dies, as yet unstaged in America--the revue essentially serves as a microcosm of my feelings for Sir Andrew, for better and worse.
There were enough good songs, great vocal performances from a stellar cast and impressive dance interludes to make Now & Forever pleasurable, at least in the moment.
But it took a late blast of trademark ballads—“Think of Me,” “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” “Gethsemane,” “Memory”—and a show closing, full-cast “Music of the Night” to get my rating up to @@@@ (out of 5), and did nothing to change my opinion about Webber being lesser than a number of other composers who haven't nearly accumulated his wealth.
I am fairly certain I would prefer a revue comprising some of the greatest hits of Sondheim, Rogers & Hammerstein, Kander & Ebb, etc., and I know that Snapshots--a 2011 Northlight Theatre show employing songs from the Stephen Schwartz catalog in service of a new narrative--was far more imaginative and satisfying.
|Stephanie Binetti and dancers performing "Buenos Aires" from Evita|
But I can't deny that I joined the near full house in giving the performers of Now and Forever a hearty standing ovation at the end of the 135-minute affair.
The show began with nary a performer onstage, as the unseen 11-piece orchestra played the Phantom of the Opera overture to accompany a large chandelier and flashing lights (harkening to a famous scene from that show). I would suggest a different opening, but the following "As If We Never Said Goodbye" allowed the cast--including several Broadway and/or Webber show veterans--demonstrate their superlative singing voices and/or dancing skills.
Stephanie Binetti, Ben Jacoby, Jameson Cooper, Brian Bohr and Catherine Lord also merit mention, while Travis Taylor--despite being one of few featured vocalists seemingly without Broadway or National Tour experience--clearly had the most resonant male voice. I would have liked to hear him get a solo turn other than "Til I Hear You Sing," from Love Never Dies.
Particularly sublime was a version of "Love Changes Everything" from Aspects of Love, pooling the talents of Taylor, Quinlan and Jacoby.
Perhaps it's because they were unfamiliar, but the songs from Love Never Dies didn't wow me, while it seemed there were a few too many selections from Song & Dance, a lesser known ALW show that was actually a combination of two other Webber musicals, Variations and Tell Me on a Sunday.
While the solo renditions were likely the highlights of Now & Forever, there were also some terrific choral numbers, such as "Superstar," "Requiem for Evita" and the closing "Music of the Night."
"Masquerade," which might well be the best song from Phantom, could have used a bit more oomph--while appreciating the cast had done a 1pm performance before the 5pm I attended--but it was nice that some costuming was employed, unlike "The Phantom of the Opera" duet between Erin Stewart and Max Quinlan, who should've been armed with a mask and cape.
If you love Andrew Lloyd Webber, Now & Forever should serve as a satisfying tribute with many superlative performances.
If you merely like him, like me, you'll likely appreciate the entertainment value of Now & Forever, but your regard for the celebrated composer is apt to pretty much stay the same.