Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Best of 2017: The Best New Movies I Saw

I can't help but think that if more people saw more of the types of new movies I saw in 2017, the world would be a better place.

Yes, I know how naive, foolish, snobbish and vainglorious that sounds.

Yet I really don't mean to suggest my tastes are better than anyone else's, or to condemn blockbusters about superheroes or space battles.

I enjoy several of those myself.

But I liked how the crop of new films I saw this year depicted real people facing identifiable issues.

Such as the British pensioners fighting cold bureaucracy in I, Daniel Blake, the Hasidic widower trying to retain custody of his child in Menashe, the Native American couple coping with tragic loss in Wind River, the Iranian theater director seething after an attack on his wife in The Salesman, African-Americans facing abject brutality in Mudbound and Detroit and aiming to rise above it, the Georgian (the country, not state) woman searching for appreciation & peace of mind in My Happy Family, the teenagers discovering young love, sometimes with those of the same sex, in Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name.

Hence, the idealist lefty in me can't help think that if more people saw--at least onscreen--others they presumed were nothing like them, but who faced similar struggles, heartbreaks, etc., we wouldn't be besieged by so much bigotry and xenophobia.

And with that I move onto my rather standard disclaimer my selections below do not adhere to Academy Award eligibility for "2017," but rather include any films that first played at a movie theater or TV screen near me over the past 12 months.

I've decided to list out My Favorite Documentaries separately, and actually will do so right here:

1. I Am Not Your Negro
2. Chasing Trane
3. Pearl Jam: Let's Play Two
4. One of Us
5. Loving Vincent
6. Joe Cocker: Mad Dog with Soul
7. Long Shot

As in years past, after my list I will include the Top 10 of my friend Dave, who tends to see a wider swath of art films than I do.

I won't take the time to spell out which films are still in theaters, on Netflix or other streaming service, rentable or whatever else, but have found an app called Just Watch is quite valuable in this regard. 

Best New Movies Seen in 2017
(F = Foreign; A = Animated; 16 = Officially a 2016 release)

1. Dunkirk
2. I, Daniel Blake
3. The Salesman (F, 16)
4. Lady Bird
5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
6. Wind River
7. Mudbound
8. Call Me By Your Name
9. Silence (16) 
10. The Shape of Water
11. Molly's Game
12. Okja
13. Menashe
14. Detroit
15. My Happy Family (F)
16. Darkest Hour
17. Coco (A)
18. Hidden Figures (16)
19. Logan
20. Everybody Loves Somebody

Honorable Mention (in preference order)

Baby Driver
The Lost City of Z
Get Out
20th Century Women
Wonder Woman
The Big Sick
Their Finest
Beauty and the Beast
Good Time

Notable 2017 Movies Not Yet Seen
The Florida Project, The Square, All the Money in the World, The Disaster Artist, I Tonya, The Post, Phantom Thread, Wonder, It, The Ornithologist, God's Own Country, A Ghost Story, Blade Runner 2049, Battle of the Sexes, American Made, Logan Lucky, War for the Planet of the Apes, A Quiet Passion, Last Flag Flying, Thank You For Your Service, Marjorie Prime, Brigsby Bear, Brad's Status

Notable Movies Seen But Not Cited Above
The Meyerowitz Stories, Megan Leavey, Graduation, A United Kingdom, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Spiderman Homecoming, Split, Paterson, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, John Wick 2, Atomic Blonde, Mother

Dave's Top 10 Movies of 2017

1. Baby Driver
2. The Salesman (F)
3. Lady Bird
4. Dunkirk 
5. Julieta (F)
6. The Square
7. The Big Sick
8. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
9. The Florida Project
10. Frantz (F)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Best of 2017: Some Most Memorable Meals

As is pretty typical in a given year, in 2017 I ate over 300 meals out-of-home.

Most of these were fairly pedestrian: hot dog stands, fast food, Bakers Square, etc.

But I can enjoy a good meal at these types of places--including a couple that opened this year in Skokie, where I live--and occasionally at places considerably nicer.

In this list for 2016, I cited my favorite places in various food categories, and in 2015 I delineated by the level of restaurant as best I could.

Many of those selections still remain valid, so I think I'll make this a much simpler, multifaceted list aimed at highlighting some of the more unique, delicious and perhaps new restaurants & meals I savored.

Restaurants I Especially Enjoyed in 2017
Not in ranked order. Primarily based on food and perhaps setting & ambiance; not factoring in companions, occasions, etc. Restaurants are in the Chicago area except as noted.

● Sea Lounge - Mumbai, India. In August I traveled to India, partially with a tour group mainly eating buffet style. Some of these were very good, as cited below, but my best meal in India was at this restaurant in Mumbai's famed Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, where I stayed for a night. There was a special menu to celebrate India's 70th Independence Day, and I greatly enjoyed my salmon dish and much else.
● Pierpont's - Kansas City. An excellent steakhouse in KCMO's Union Station. A generous "tasting menu" combo deal provided filet mignon, crab cakes, bisque and creme brulee, and the server was memorable as well.
● Culver's - Skokie. The Wisconsin-based fast-food chain opened a location in Skokie, and
was probably where I ate the most in 2017. Not exactly health food, but I love the sourdough melt, pot roast sandwich, pork tenderloin sandwich, cheese curds and custard of many varieties.
● Taco Diablo - Evanston. I've long enjoyed Taco Nano, something of a posh taqueria in Northfield, and noticed, visited & wrote about several similar taco stands that exist in Chicago's North Shore suburbs (Trendy Taco, Taco Lago, Stacked & Folded, The Otherdoor). Taco Diablo is somewhat different, as it has wait service, but I really enjoyed the tacos I got there, and the range of options. 
● Savory Crust - Morton Grove. A small joint with literally one table, but their fresh empanadas are wonderful.
● Cosme - New York. Every time I go to NYC, I try to find a fancy restaurant to splurge at, though relatively inexpensively (typically for lunch rather than dinner). Cosme fit the bill, as it is ranked #40 on the World's Best Restaurant list and is owned by a chef of a place I liked in Mexico City (Pujol). But getting just tacos (featuring Cobia, a fish) and dessert, it didn't cost a fortune.
● Las Fuentes - Morton Grove. Still my "go-to" Mexican restaurant near home, and I haven't tasted better Mole sauce (on the enchiladas) anywhere else.
● Shahpura House - Jaipur, India. The fanciest restaurant on the Gate 1 "Golden Triangle" tour of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. A bit of tummy queasiness prompted me not to indulge in the buffet quite as much as I might have liked, but still quite a memorable excursion, including rooftop appetizers and entertainment before our main meal. 
● Real Urban Barbecue - Skokie. I've enjoyed their restaurants in Highland Park and Vernon Hills, so was glad when one opened this year on Touhy in Skokie. Between their Burnt Ends sandwiches and fine baby back ribs, it was better BBQ than I had on a trip to Kansas City.
● Monastero's - Chicago. This family-owned Italian restaurant has been a Chicagoinstitution for 55 years. Though I'd been to a friend's wedding in the banquet hall some years back, I didn't ever eat in the restaurant, until a week before it closed forever. My sister and I took my mom for her birthday and we all really enjoyed it.
● Rojo Gusano
- Chicago Located along Ravenswood, I went here during Chicago Restaurant Week back in February, and still fondly recall the ceviche.
● Riobamba Latin Kitchen - Glenview.
A bit after my taco exploration mentioned above (under Taco Diablo), I discovered this place and feel it deserves mention.
Ess-a-Bagel - New York. The line was out the door, but I circumvented it by getting just one bulk "everything" bagel with nothing on it, to eat as I walked down 51st Street toward Rockefeller Center. It may be the best bagel I've ever had, and I consider myself a connoisseur.
The Exchange - Novotel Aerocity, Delhi, India. By far the best of several hotel buffets enjoyed on my Indian adventure.
Prime & Provisions
Chicago. A Restaurant Week meal here with good friends supplied the best steak I had in Chicago in 2017. 
The Noodle - Wilmette.
A selection on past lists, but with pasta made and cut fresh in front of one's eyes, this remains my favorite restaurant close to home. 
Poochie's - Skokie.
Still my favorite hot dog stand anywhere. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Best of 2017: "Other" Live Entertainment and Various Events

Of the 100+ live events I go to every year, 90% or so tend to fall into four categories:

- Rock Concerts
- Musicals
- Plays
- Baseball games

Except for baseball--and this year, I saw 14 Cubs and Sox games, including one between the two--these correspond with my Best of 2017 lists, which is what the hyperlinks above connect to.

But each year I also try to mix in jazz, blues and classical concerts, operas, stand up comedians, improv, ballets, other dance performances, Cirque du Soleil and/or whatever else catches my attention and fancy.

I probably didn't get to as much "other" entertainment as I should have in 2017, with no classical musical performances and almost no jazz. I did see, again, the great bluesman Buddy Guy, but included that among my rock concert rankings.

But some of what I saw was fantastic enough to justify this category and relatively brief post, including my #1 pick, which despite a Special Mention in the Rock Concert post and reference in Best Musicals, didn't really belong in either.

Choices #2, 3 & 4 were also among the best shows I saw, of any type.

Aside from the performances, with the Top 11 below being about all I saw in 2017, I'll also cite some quality events that weren't really entertainment, but quite worthwhile nonetheless.

My Favorite "Other" Live Performances (beyond rock concerts, musicals & plays)
(Date listed is the date seen, even if among a long run)

1. Springsteen on Broadway - Walter Kerr Theatre, New York - December 9 (my review)

2. Savion Glover's All FuNKD' Up (tap dance) - McAninch Arts Center, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL - November 26 (my review)

3. The Nutcracker - Joffrey Ballet - Auditorium Theatre, Chicago - December 1 (my review)

4. Reginald Robinson (jazz/ragtime pianist) - SPACE, Evanston, IL - December 20 (my review)

5. The Invention of Morel (opera) - Chicago Opera Theater - Studebaker Theatre, Chicago - February 26 (my review 

6. The Rockettes Christmas Spectacular - Radio City Music Hall, New York - December 9

7. Julianne and Derek Hough - MOVE Beyond (modern dance) - Chicago Theatre - April 22

8. Dream Freaks Fall From Space (sketch comedy revue) - Second City, Chicago - November 2 (my review) 

9. Charlie Parker's Yardbird (opera) - Lyric Opera at Harris Theater, Chicago - March 24 (my review) 

10. The Nutcracker - Salt Creek Ballet - North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie - December 16

11. WWE Raw (professional wrestling) - Allstate Arena, Rosemont - March 6 (my recap & photos)

Non-Entertainment Events
(In chronological order; not ranked.
Doesn't include all baseball games attended.)

- Interfaith Protest Rally & March Against the Muslim Ban - Muslim Community Center, Morton Grove - January 28 (my recap & photos)

- Mike Huff - presentation by former major league baseball player - Wilmette Historical Museum - February 12 (mentioned in this piece)

- Muslims on Stage & Screen panel discussion - Muslim Community Center, Morton Grove - February 12

- Colson Whitehead - author presentation about The Underground Railroad - Evanston High School - February 27 (my recap) 

- Algren: The Movie panel discussion and Albany Park Tour by Chicago for Chicagoans - (my recap)
March 5

- Chicago Blackhawks vs. Vancouver Canucks - United Center, Chicago - March 21

- Democratic Party of DuPage County Annual Gala w/ Keith Ellison, Keynote Speaker - April 23 

- David Ross Book Signing - Barnes & Noble Old Orchard, Skokie - June 1 

- Mark Buehrle Jersey Number Retirement Ceremony - Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago - June 24 (my recap & photos)

- Sameer Banerjee / Gate 1 Travel - Guided tour of Delhi, Jaipur, Abhaneri & Agra, India - August 8-14 (photo gallery)

- Six Word Memoirs - Fresh Off the Boat Book Release Party - Ikram, Chicago - September 7 (my recap)

- Chicago Cubs vs. Los Angeles Dodgers - NLCS Game 4 - Wrigley Field, Chicago - October 18 (my recap & photos)

- Jonathan Eig - author presentation on Ali: A Life - Bookends & Beginnings, Evanston - November 7 (my recap)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Best of 2017: The Most Enjoyable & Enlightening Museums, Exhibitions and Attractions I Experienced defines "museum" as:

a building or place where works of art, scientific specimens, or other objects of permanent value are kept and displayed 

This seems a perfectly logical definition, but what if you go to a building that in itself is a work of art?

And so too is every painting or carving or sculpture or structure within?

On my 2-week trip to India this summer, I went relatively few "museums;" most prominently just the Gandhi Smriti in Delhi--the last residence of Mahatma Gandhi, which displays several images from his life, and death on the premises.

But in terms of appreciating art and beauty and history and "objects of permanent value," many of the sights I saw in India--the Taj Mahal, I'timād-Ud-Daulah's Tomb, Agra Fort, Humayun's Tomb, Amber Fort, Jaipur City Palace, the Elephanta Caves, Mysore Palace, Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue in Mumbai), ISKCON Temple, Tipu Sultan's Summer Palace, Lalbagh Botanic Garden and more--all could be considered museum like.

But so, too, I guess, could an ornate old church.

So like all of my Best Of lists, there are imperfections in terms of definition and delineation, but I've tried to have one list specifically for museums--or simply exhibitions--and another for other tourist attractions, such as the above.

And while the second list could be comprised entirely of sights in India, I'll try to mix things up a bit.

Speaking of which, in the museum listings, in some cases I cite particularly great Special Exhibitions, while in others simply a visit to the museum itself (or both). In the specific case of the Art Institute of Chicago, I have visited it for so long and so often--including a few times this year--here I will merely consider special exhibits I saw this year, although the museum as a whole could always rank near the top My Favorite Museums list.

My Favorite Museum Visits of 2017

1. Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York

2. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art - Kansas City, MO

3. The Rolling Stones: Exhibitionism - Navy Pier, Chicago (my review)

4. Gandhi Smriti - New Delhi, India

5. Harry S Truman Presidential Museum - Independence, MO
6. Eugene Eda's Doors - Chicago Cultural Center (my overview)

7. Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution - Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center - Skokie, IL (my review)

8. National World War I Museum - Kansas City, MO

9. Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
- Kansas City, MO

10. Take a Stand Center - Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center - Skokie, IL (my review)

11. Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg - Museum of Contemporary Art - Chicago (my review)
Honorable Mention
- Frick Collection - New York
- Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist - Art Institute of Chicago (my review)
- American Writers Museum - Chicago
(my review)
- Hallmark Visitors Center - Kansas City, MO
- Terry Firkins: The Saddest Happy Ending - Palette & Chisel Academy of Fine Art, Chicago
(my overview)
- Evanston History Center
(my overview)
- American Toby Jug Museum - Evanston, IL
(my overview)
- Whistler’s Mother: An American Icon Returns to Chicago - Art Institute of Chicago
- American Jazz Museum - Kansas City, MO

Best Non-Museum Attractions Visited in 2017

1. Taj Mahal - Agra, India (my photos)

2. Amber Fort - Jaipur, India
(India photo gallery)

3. Chand Baori Stepwell - Abhaneri, India

4. Oculus - New York
(photos in this post)

I'timād-Ud-Daulah's Tomb - Agra, India

6. Elephanta Caves - Near Mumbai, India

7. Community Christian Church (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) - Kansas City, MO
(photos in this post)

8. National Elks Memorial - Chicago
(recap & photos)

Mysore Palace - Mysore, India

Fine Arts Building - Chicago (my photos)

11. Albany Park Walking Tour - Chicago
Honorable Mention 

- Taj Mahal Palace Hotel tour - Mumbai, India
- Country Club Plaza - Kansas City, MO
- Crabtree Nature Center - Barrington, IL
- Chicago Botanic Garden - Glencoe, IL
- Central Park - New York
- Radio City Music Hall - New York
- Humayun's Tomb - Delhi, India
- City Palace - Jaipur, India
- Agra Fort - Agra, India
- Lalbaugh Botanic Garden - Bangalore, India
- ISKCON Temple - Bangalore, India
- Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue - Mumbai, India
- Chamundeshwari Temple - near Mysore, India

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Best of 2017: The Best Musicals I Saw Onstage

Obviously, all of my Best of 2017 lists--or those of any other year--are imprecise.

Not only are they based solely on my tastes, whims and often faded memories months down the road--though I do refer to my own reviews and ratings--they are unavoidably as dependent on what I didn't see or hear as what I did.

A wrinkle in this category--The Best Musicals I Saw Onstage--is that I'm really not judging the musicals themselves so much as the particular production and performance I saw.

Of course, any review I write is an assessment that inexactly blends the source material and the rendition.

But it seems worth noting here, given how I truly enjoyed Marriott Theatre's glorious production of The Bridges of Madison County--a musical I hadn't seen previously but which was far from a smash on Broadway--considerably more than a 2017 production of a musical that ranks among my Top 10 of all-time: My Fair Lady. And that was staged under the auspices of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, which has done some outstanding musicals in years past.

The musicals I saw in 2017
Also, as with my Best Concerts of 2017 list, I am not considering Springsteen on Broadway officially part of this category.

Yes, within a Broadway theater, Bruce Springsteen accompanied scripted, biographical storytelling with musical performance, which doesn't make it so different from Beautiful: The Carole King Musical or Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill (about Billie Holiday).

And it was phenomenal, not just as a Springsteen concert--and I've been to dozens of those--but more so as theater. In fact, it's making a lot of lists chronicling the Best of Theater in 2017.

But while what constitutes a musical has wonderfully expanded over recent years--without any chorus lines or much choreography, the excellent Fun Home feels more like drama, albeit with songs sung as part of the storytelling--I don't believe Springsteen on Broadway belongs in this category.

Without it, there are 33 productions of musicals I saw in 2017, some new shows, some old, from which I am--unscientifically and imprecisely--selecting:

The Best Musicals I Saw On Stage in 2017:
(Note: All theaters in Chicago proper unless noted; in some cases the theatrical company is cited rather than venue. New shows are denoted with an *)

1. Les Misérables - Cadillac Palace (my review)
2. Hamilton* - CIBC Theatre  (my review)
3. The Bridges of Madison County - Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire (my review)
4. Wicked - Oriental Theatre (my review)
5. Mamma Mia - Marriott Theatre (my review)
6. Rent - Oriental Theatre (my review)
7. The Phantom of the Opera - Majestic Theatre, New York
8. Marry Me a Little - Porchlight Theatre (my review)
9. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical - Cadillac Palace
10. An American in Paris - Oriental Theatre (my review)
11. Billy Elliot - Porchlight Theatre (my review)

Honorable Mention
In preference order
- Parade - Writers Theatre, Glencoe (my review) 
- Fun Home* - Victory Gardens Theatre (my review)
- The King and I - Oriental Theatre (my review)
- Newsies - Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire (my review)
- Avenue Q - MTKC Pro, Kansas City, MO (my review in this piece)

As of this writing, Hamilton, Wicked and Beautiful are still running in downtown Chicago, as well as on Broadway in New York. Newsies is at Marriott Theatre through the end of 2017, and in January, The Phantom of the Opera celebrates its 30th straight year on Broadway. The excellent touring production of Les Miserables continues well into 2018.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Best of 2017: Sights Seen and Photos Taken (and a few brushes with fame)

This is not a competitive category.

The photos--all taken by me except for those of me--are shown in the order taken throughout the year.

They aren't ranked in terms of quality, and may not really be the best photos I took.

Some are chosen for photo quality, but most to show sights I saw, events I attended, people I encountered, etc.

In none of these regards is the post meant to be comprehensive. And though it largely leaves out--intentionally--photos with family & friends, this isn't to suggest those moments weren't special.

Me with the Cubs World Series Trophy, at Naperville City Hall. See more in this post.
The legendary Buddy Guy holds court at Buddy Guy's Legends. See this post.
The exterior of a now-closed hardware store in a building that once held a famed jazz club. See this post.
A mural from the old Sunset Cafe / Grand Terrace Cafe. See above.
The American Toby Jug Museum in Evanston, IL. See this post.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Ragtime and Beyond: Reginald Robinson Remains a Master at His Rather Unique Craft -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Reginald R. Robinson 
w/ opening act Katherine Davis
SPACE, Evanston, IL
December 20, 2017

In telling you that the other day my friend Ken and I went to hear some ragtime piano music, you wouldn’t be silly for thinking one of the following:

● Did you go to see The Sting, the 1973 Oscar winner featuring music by ragtime legend Scott Joplin?

● Do you mean you went to see the fine Ragtime musical, which hit Broadway in 1998 and has been regionally popular ever since?

● Or did you somehow travel back to 1897 or so, when ragtime music was all the rage, after Joplin and others had performed it at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893?

No, no and no.

I enjoy The Sting and its heavy use of Joplin tunes, and conceivably the renewed relevancy of ragtime was why his "The Entertainer" was among the first songs my older sister learned to play on piano when we were kids in the mid-'70s.

I also very much like Ragtime, and have seen the musical multiple times, most recently in a resplendent 2010 production at Drury Lane Oakbrook.

But neither of these factored into our evening, and though I'm forever fascinated by the 1893 World's Fair--including its being central to the Joffrey Ballet's brilliant new version of The Nutcracker ballet--neither H.G. Wells or Dr. Emmett Brown have been by with a time machine lately.

Yet while Ken and I didn't actually travel back in time, our ragtime excursion did involve venturing into SPACE.

As in Evanston's rather nifty and comfortable music venue, in the back of Union Pizzeria on Chicago Ave. just south of Dempster.

There we enjoyed an excellent performance--and something of a musical history lesson--by gifted pianist, Reginald R. Robinson, whose innovative explorations of ragtime helped him win a MacArthur Fellowship, or "genius grant" in 2004.

Album available at
Thanks to the Chicago Tribune's excellent, longtime jazz critic Howard Reich, I'd learned of Robinson some years ago, and was mesmerized when I saw him at Jazz Showcase in early 2010.

Reich's written about Robinson a good bit in the intervening years, but though he did so again in previewing the SPACE show--which celebrated the release of Music of Reginald R. Robinson, a CD of orchestrated versions of his compositions with the River Raisin Ragtime Revue--my impetus for attending was actually a Cyber Monday email from SPACE offering tickets for just $5.

Which turned out to be one of the best bargains I've ever received.

With seats right up next to the stage--though on the left side, as pricier table seating occupies the central SPACE--the night of music began sublimely with Chicago blues & jazz singer Katherine Davis, opening at the behest of Robinson, who later noted they've been friends for decades.

Accompanied by an excellent, though still-in-college, pianist named Tony Milano, Davis--clearly a seasoned pro--delivered the type of delightful set one would have to be an ornery grump not to enjoy.

The singer shared she would be paying tribute to a late singer & songwriter named Alberta Hunter, but while everything Davis & Milano performed sounded great, I don't know exact song titles or origins.

Some would seem to perhaps be called "You Can't Tell the Difference After Dark," "I Ain't Crying For You"  and "My Handy Man," and along with doing some nice scatting, Davis noted her mission to "celebrate life," which certainly felt apt.

Although the new Music of Reginald R. Robinson album being celebrated features orchestrations of his music--recorded in March at Eastern Michigan University with the River Raisin Ragtime Revue--at SPACE Robinson performed solo, including several of the songs that are on the CD.

In addition to the quality of the compositions, and Robinson's sublime piano playing, the experience was enhanced by Reginald speaking about each song's year of creation, impetus and style, which on many tunes goes well beyond ragtime.

The first two tunes performed, both dating from 2015, were inspired by The House on Mango Street, a novel by another MacArthur Fellow, Sandra Cisneros, who--if I understood correctly--Robinson met at a gathering of "Geniuses" in recent years.

Yet these two numbers were entirely different from one another. The first, "Monkey Business"--which opens the new album--is what Robinson described as a "Mexican polka."

The next, "Esperanza," has a "'70s sound" and both Ken and I were quite reminded of the piano coda on "Layla" (by Derek & the Dominos"), while I also caught strains of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons' "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You."

Far from ragtime, indeed.

And while Robinson's next song, "Adventures in Wonderland," was some wondrous ragtime, his pointing out his desire to "do something interesting with my left hand" in writing it added considerable enlightenment in watching him play it.

Other quite fine pieces performed, covering a variety of styles, included "Passioñera," "To Mimic," "Doing the Sugar Heel," the tango-ish "Sweet Envy" and "Head Over Heels, Over You," which was something of a tear-jerking waltz.

Also sadly beautiful was "Naomi," which Robinson wrote in memory of a wife's friend who had died in a car accident. He said it was the first song the River Raisin Ragtime Revue wanted to orchestrate.

Throughout his introductions, Robinson mentioned not only Scott Joplin, but other greats who had inspired him, such as WC Handy, Jelly Roll Morton and Earl "Fatha" Hines, who factored into the penultimate "Mr. Murphy's Blues."

The performance ended with a 2006 composition by Robinson called "Footloose," which he wrote to honor "a retiring MacArthur Foundation member named Jack."

Though I had bought a CD called Man Out of Time after the 2010 show and had Reginald Robinson sign it, Ken and I did not wait in the long line to do so this time.

I can only imagine the music with an orchestra on Music of Reginald R. Robinson is delightful, and I hope to hear it. (It isn't on Spotify.)

But hearing Robinson play his works alone on piano has repeatedly proven joyful, with Ken now corroborating that this is indeed a rather special artist.

For an incredibly low price, with a wonderful opening act, without having to travel far in time to reach SPACE, it was an evening of true delight.

Even genius.

To give you a sense of Reginald Robinson, here is a YouTube clip of him performing "Sweet Envy":

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Best of 2017: The Best Rock Concerts I Attended

Does Springsteen on Broadway count as a rock concert?

Or should the show--which features live singing by Bruce Springsteen on 15 songs across 2+ hours, with the Boss accompanying himself on guitar & piano while mixing in a prepared spoken-word memoir--find itself in my upcoming Best Musicals of 2017 list?

Or as a one-man show, perhaps it belongs in an Other Entertainment grouping, in which I'll cite opera, dance performances, etc.

Certainly, I could include it here as a concert. But while it was fantastic, the show was a far different beast than Springsteen's performances with the E Street Band, which topped my Best Concerts list in every touring year I've been compiling them (2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, as well as a 2009 Best of the Decade list).

So I'll do this (and perhaps repeat it in the Musicals category):

Special Mention

Bruce Springsteen - Springsteen on Broadway 
December 8, Walter Kerr Theatre, New York
(my review

And with that conundrum out of the way, I can move onto the otherwise challenging task of trying to differentiate between 11 other concerts (two by the same artist) to which I awarded a full @@@@@ on my Seth Saith ratings scale.

I gave 7 other shows @@@@1/2 and felt 13 others merited @@@@.

And of the 37 concerts I attended in 2017--from tribute bands in local parks and friends in small clubs to huge shows at Soldier Field & Wrigley Field, as well as, yes, Bruce Springsteen on Broadway, though I won't include that below--every one was enjoyable and worthwhile.

My Top 11 and Honorable Mentions below will only include the best of the best (@@@@1/2 & up), but other quality shows included those by old favorites such as Paul Weller, Billy Corgan and Wilco, living legends Brian Wilson, Aretha Franklin and Queen (with Adam Lambert on vocals) and a number of acts I was glad to see for a first time, including Tool, The Afghan Whigs, The Church, The Alarm and Echo & the Bunnymen (with the Violent Femmes). A very fine, if a tad brief, free show by the Drive-By Truckers at Millennium Park also deserves mention. (My reviews of virtually all of these shows should be readily found via a search, should you care that much.)

Certainly, it's quite sad that one of the artists making my list--Tom Petty--passed away later in the year, which also suffered the loss of Chris Cornell of Soundgarden (a band that always ranked high, though I didn't see them this year), several other artists I've seen in years past--Chuck Berry, Walter Becker (of Steely Dan), Malcolm Young (of AC/DC), Gord Downie (of the Tragically Hip) and Grant Hart (of Husker Du)--plus stalwarts such as Fats Domino, Gregg Allman, Chester Bennington (of Linkin Park) and Pat DiNizio (of the Smithereens).

Even artists I largely learned about via their deaths, such as Tommy Keene, Charles Bradley and Johnny Halladay, seemed like those I would've liked to have seen onstage.

So, given too the admittedly rather middling choices on My Favorite Albums of 2017 list, I can't say this was entirely a great year for music.

But in terms of the many outstanding concerts I caught, I found it to be a rather terrific one for live rock 'n roll. And as best I can recall and discern, these were:

My Favorite Rock Concerts of 2017
Artists seen multiple times ranked just once; venues in Chicago area unless noted. Co-headliners (denoted by "and") both factor into ranking; opening acts (denoted by "w/") do not.

1. Arcade Fire (w/ the Breeders) - October 30, United Center (my review) 

2. Midnight Oil - May 18, The Vic (my review)

3. U2 (w/ the Lumineers) - June 3 & 4, Soldier Field (my review) 

4. Paul McCartney - July 25, Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre (my review)  

5. Metallica (w/ Avenged Sevenfold) - June 18, Soldier Field (my review)

6. Radiohead - April 5, Sprint Center, Kansas City (my review in this piece)

7. Elvis Costello & the Imposters - June 12, Huntington Bank Pavilion (my review)

8. Green Day (w/ Catfish & the Bottlemen) - August 24, Wrigley Field (my review)

9. Willie Nile (w/ Nicholas Tremulis) - March 17, SPACE (my review) 

10. Buddy Guy (w/ Corey Dennison) - January 12, Buddy Guy's Legends (my review)

11. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (w/ Chris Stapleton - June 29, Wrigley Field (my review)

Honorable Mention
(in preference order)

- Maximo Park (w/ Active Bird Community) - November 23, Lincoln Hall (my review)
- Bob Dylan and Mavis Staples - October 28, Wintrust Arena (my review)
- Blondie and Garbage (w/ Exene Cervenka & John Doe) - July 22, Ravinia (my review)
- Hall & Oates and Tears for Fears (w/ Allen Stone) - May 15, Allstate Arena (my review)
- James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt - July 17, Wrigley Field (my review)
- Barry Manilow - December 5, Allstate Arena (my review)