Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Late Night Singalong: "Human Jukebox" Gerry Grossman Well Worth a Song

Concert / Theater Review

Gerry Grossman
Human Jukebox Reloaded
Greenhouse Theater Center
March 15, 2014
(Ongoing residency)

As I arrived at the Greenhouse Theater Center late Saturday night--on the weekend before St. Patrick's Day--it was impossible not to notice scores of people, most presumably much younger than me, seemingly enjoying themselves at (and outside) numerous bars along Lincoln Avenue. 

Yet, and I've undoubtedly long been an old fogie at heart, not only wasn't I green with envy, but after the show by a sixtysomething named Gerry Grossman--a.k.a. the Human Jukebox--at which I was, by a wide margin, the youngest of 18 total attendees, I couldn't help but think that we had a lot more fun.

At least per my sense of it. 

Admittedly, I have always loved hearing great music much more than pounding down beers, green or otherwise, and acting as if I was 21--even when I was 21--but for those of us at the Greenhouse, the blast from the past was a delight with far more than nostalgia present. 

Before seeing his current show--which is more a one-man concert than it is theater, although it takes place in one--I had never heard of Gerry Grossman prior to getting an advertisement for discount tickets from Goldstar

Especially with Goldstar tickets only $6 plus half that in fees, I couldn't help think that this would be something that I would like and my friend Dave--who has encyclopedic knowledge and appreciation of songs from the '60s far beyond my own--really should love. 

Though I rarely relish being in the midst of hipster-infested Lincoln Park on a Saturday night, the combination of St. Patrick's Weekend and a plethora of crater-sized potholes on Lincoln Ave. made March 15 theoretically even less desirable. Yet earlier dinner plans in the city made it well-suited for meeting Dave--who lives nearby--for the 11pm show. 

Even just the lobby of the Greenhouse felt like a comfortable cocoon amidst the swarm of green-clad revelers. And after the venue's executive director, Jason Epperson, welcomed the crowd by noting that the particular room we were in is the oldest existing storefront theater space in Chicago--operating since 1969, it held early David Mamet plays back in the day--the affable Grossman effusively welcomed those of us who made the effort to get there. 

Not touching his guitar for the first 15 minutes, Grossman giddily rambled, observing that "my peeps have aged with me," letting us know how happy he was to have returned home from a gig in Huntsville, Alabama and sharing that his wife was among those of us in the small but enthusiastic audience.

In addition to subsequently learning that Grossman is an enormously talented guitarist who can deftly play and sing virtually any old rock song that is shouted at him, I gleaned that he grew up in Glencoe, went to New Trier West (some years before Dave), was part of the great Chicago folk scene at Earl of Old Town, once almost joined the Lovin' Spoonful and has often opened for the Temptations, among others.

But while I would imagine a memoir show from Grossman would be quite entertaining, the bits of biography he shared in cheerfully introducing songs, honoring requests and answering questions didn't comprise the main component of his 100-minute performance.

No, he and the collective "we" were there to share an immutable love of great rock music. And not of the current kind, as Grossman pretty aptly proffered that "new rock and roll sucks."

Though both the songs and stories likely vary a good deal from night to night, a part of the show in which he sings lyrics from golden oldies--such as "Under the Boardwalk" and "For What It's Worth"--and lets the audience continue them seems to be a staple, as is likely a brief segment running through classic TV Theme Songs and another showcasing some of the "weirdest songs ever written."

While all of this was a lot of fun, I liked the portions that were even more free form, when Grossman would--instantaneously and with virtuoso guitar abilities--play songs from artists mentioned by the audience (The Monkees, Four Seasons, an impressive extended Beatles medley, a near complete rendition of Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," etc., etc.).

Click image to access purchase page on Goldstar.com; free registration
is required. Discount tickets also may be available on HotTix.org
I appreciated his mixing in a number of tunes that went beyond my musical vocabulary, including "Red Rubber Ball" and "Turn Down Day" by The Cyrkle, "Nashville Cats" by the Lovin' Spoonful  and "Five O'Clock World" by the Vogues, all of which Dave knew well. 

And although on the way in, Epperson estimated that the "Human Jukebox" would unplug after about 75 minutes, not only was it well past that when Grossman honored my callout for "Bus Stop" by the Hollies, but after 12:30 or so he remembered that an hour previously I had mentioned the Kinks when he asked for some of our favorite bands.

At my request, he delighted with "A Well Respected Man" and "Sunny Afternoon," and threw in "Tired of Waiting for You" for good measure.

Now, I would guess that most of those assembled in their finest greenery at nearby watering holes couldn't imagine that 18 mostly suburban fossils singing along to a shaggy old dude with a guitar could be having anywhere near as much fun as they were, let alone more.

But I'll take Gerry Grossman and his crowd any day.

For even without celebrating the Irish with "Gloria" or "Here Comes the Night," I was a whole lot happier to be with Them.

No comments: