Tuesday, January 30, 2018

When Ronny Met Misha: At Least From My Perspective, Goodman's 'Blind Date' Goes Rather Poorly -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Blind Date
a world premiere play by Rogelio Martinez
directed by Robert Falls
Thru Feb. 25
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Some blind dates go wonderfully; others not so much.

And conceivably, the two parties who find themselves on one might perceive it quite differently. 

Which is my diplomatic way of hoping that others attending Rogelio Martinez's new play, titled Blind Date, at Chicago's Goodman Theatre under the direction of esteemed artistic director, Robert Falls, are far more smitten than me.

But from my point of view, things began tepidly and then--after becoming a bit more beguiling--this Blind Date almost interminably missed several prime ending points that could have brought closure, sans love but also without much animus.

I have no problem with the play's premise, which chronicles the first meeting between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev--officially the General Secretary of the Communist Party--in Geneva, Switzerland in 1985.

Never had I seen a dramatic work about this specific event, and plays about political figures of relatively recent vintage are rather rare.

Photo credit on all: Liz Lauren
So certainly welcome, at least in theory.

And though--then and now--I didn't much concur with Reagan's politics, his somewhat bemused but largely sympathetic portrayal (literally in this case by Rob Riley, who does a nice job in the role) didn't much impact my theatrical enjoyment...or lack thereof.

But other than fine depictions of U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz (by Jim Ortlieb) and Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs Eduard Shevardnadze (by Steve Pickering) in setting up the meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev (William Dick), not much of import or enticement seems to happen in the show's first act.

Separately, we get to know a bit about the two leaders and their wives, Nancy Reagan (the terrific Deanna Dunagan) and Raisa Gorbachev (another stellar local stalwart, Mary Beth Fisher), albeit almost nothing that's riveting.

Through conversations Reagan has with his biographer, Edmund Morris (Thomas J. Cook), we learn that he is awed by his responsibility over the nuclear strike button, and we get a chuckle as Shevardnadze tells Gorbachev of the ex-movie star President's affinity for quoting--and often misquoting--famed lines from Hollywood films.

But after all of Act I sets up the actual meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev, Act II still takes some time before getting to it.

Ostensibly, an acerbic meeting between Nancy and Raisa is a highlight of Blind Date for some LOL jibes between the two.

But is showing a pair of powerful, smart, accomplished women being nothing but catty to each other really necessary?

I found it insulting and pointless, other than to give two fine actresses some juicy lines to utter. 

Once Ronny actually meets Misha, things get a bit more interesting but while their discussions fostered some Cold War thawing that clearly impacted the future, the acute dramatics of their interchanges weren't all that great.

And after an obvious conclusion--coinciding with the two leaders wrapping up talks with a touch of warmth--the play just keeps going for 20+ minutes in ways I found completely unnecessary and rather irritating.

Even the title, Blind Date, seems metaphorically suspect, as Reagan obviously knew who Gorbachev was when he sent a letter--through Shultz--inviting him to meet.

I know it's meant to be a lighthearted title, but its cheekiness winds up undermining what is--at its best--a straightforward geopolitical snapshot.

A 21-person cast seems far more than the core material really needs, but--as usual at Goodman--all of the acting is stellar.

My favorite aspect of Blind Date was in seeing old pros like Dick, Riley, Dunagan, Fisher, Pickering and Ortlieb onstage once again, clearly doing their best with the material provided. 

The set design by Riccardo Hernandez is quite striking and mechanically rather nifty.

So there's a good bit to appreciate beyond the narrative itself, and--though post-show word-of-mouth reaction was largely aligned with mine--it's not impossible to imagine many liking this Blind Date considerably more than I did.

But I was rather relieved when it was--finally!-- over.

And, with polite regard simply for the attempt, I'm pretty sure I won't recall it much.

Certainly not fondly.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Turn the Page, Excitedly: Latest Novels From Harlan Coben and Lee Child Keep the Thrills Rolling -- Book Reviews

Book Reviews & Personal Reading Recap

Harlan Coben
Don't Let Go
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Lee Child
The Midnight Line
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Both currently available in hardcover. 


My favorite active authors--in terms of novelists who write books I acutely enjoy reading--are the two represented here:

Harlan Coben and Lee Child 

This shouldn't come as much of a surprise to those who know me and/or have read this blog with some regularity over the years.

While I haven't written a ton of book reviews, when I have one or the other's latest works have typically been featured. (Coben examples: 1, 2, 3, 4; Child: 1, 2, 3)

In September 2016, I very much enjoyed meeting Harlan Coben after an excellent presentation at my hometown Skokie Public Library, and rue that a concert ticket kept me from attending a Lee Child event in 2015 even closer to my home.

As I've candidly admitted repeatedly, I am not a great reader.

At least of books.

I still read a daily newspaper and while I no longer subscribe to 10+ magazines, not a day goes by without me reading some long-form articles I find online.

And it's not like I don't read books; it's just that with most that I start, I have a hard time getting through them.

In 2017, I did read a rather substantive and terrific novel about slavery--Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad (see my article here)--and I finally made a point of reading Kurt Vonnegut's classic Slaughterhouse Five.

But for the most part, I made my way through thrillers & page turners, some quite good if not great literature.

These include three books by the fine Japanese suspense writer, Keigo Higashino--Salvation of a Saint, The Devotion of Suspect X and Malice.

And listed here much more for my own recollection than to impress anyone, I also read page-turners titled Dead Certain (by Adam Mizner), A Criminal Defense (William Myers, Jr.), I Found You (Lisa Jewell), The Old Man (Thomas Perry) and No Exit (Taylor Adams).

Including the first couple weeks of 2018, I also read the three Coben novels I never had--Shelter, Seconds Away and Found, aimed at Young Adults but nonetheless enjoyable--and the one Child novel I hadn't gotten through before (2016's Night School).

So with Coben's Don't Let Go--consumed in a few days last October--and Child's The Midnight Line, which I polished off just before New Year's, it seems I read 16 full books in 12-1/2 months. (I also read parts of several biographies and non-fiction books, but none in full.)

This is likely far fewer than many people read, but also more than others probably did.

Which only matters in not so sheepishly reiterating what has been true for years:

Harlan Coben and Lee Child are my favorite active authors. 

This isn't dubbing them "the best." Certainly, there are current authors writing far more substantive works, even in a fictional realm. Colson Whitehead would seem to be one of them.

But even with high quality books that I enjoy, reading is an activity that ranks behind many others for me (including attending shows, watching movies & TV, writing blog posts, etc., etc.)

With Coben and Child's latest works, as with many others--not only by them, but predominantly so--there was little I wanted to do more fervently than turn each page.

Don't Let Go is one of Harlan Coben's stand-alone novels, meaning that it doesn't center around the recurring characters of Myron Bolitar and Win Lockwood, who populate most of the writer's early novels and some newer ones such as 2016's fine Home.

Like most of Coben's books in either category, Don't Let Go is based in the writer's home state of New Jersey. And as unusual, it involves some kind of domestic mystery: a missing family member, a loved one long assumed deceased who may not be, etc.

But although this is ostensibly a book review, what the novel is about isn't as important as Coben's continued capacity to make me want to read it, as quick as possible.

Though I will say that there are some interesting twists as an adult man explores new strange new happenings regarding his long-thought-dead twin brother. And what makes Coben's writing--and Child's for that matter--so enjoyable to me is considerable glib humor and astute societal observations that accompany the action & suspense.

Some of Coben's books are obviously better than others, though I'm glad to have read them all. My memory isn't good enough to delineate many, though I know I enjoyed Tell No One, Gone for Good and Six Years more than some others.

And Don't Let Go is first-rate.

All of Lee Child's novels--he's also written some novellas and short stories, but I haven't read any of those--focus on a human superhero type character named Jack Reacher.

In a couple of movies now, Reacher has been played by Tom Cruise, but as written, the all-but-invincible character stands 6'5" and weighs 250 lbs.

And seemingly has never lost a fight, no matter how many opponents he faces simultaneously.

But as with Coben, that the Reacher books pull me in despite not much surprise in the end result is largely what attests to Child's writing quality.

Some of his recent books have seemed a tad lesser--I couldn't get through Night School on the first stab, despite getting a copy autographed by the author--but without representing anything astonishingly different, The Midnight Line is a fun read that was hard to put down.

If you're new to the Reacher series, I'd start with the early ones, especially as The Midnight Line is just out in hardcover (though I downloaded a free Kindle version via the Overdrive app and Skokie Public Library).

And if you're well-familiar, telling you the plot points of the latest book is kind of unnecessary. Basically, Reacher, who lives a nomadic existence, discovers a reason to get involved in a mystery of sorts, and follows it through while roughing up some bad people.

Again, this isn't much of a descriptive book review, but with both Coben and Child--who regularly top the best seller lists--it basically comes down to, "Is this a great one, good one, so-so one or disappointingly poor one?"

The Midnight Line is a very good one. Don't Let Go nearly great.

Both exciting to read, even for someone rarely all that excited about reading.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Of Love and War: Arthur Miller's 'All My Sons' Provides Forever Timely Look at the Consequences of Our Decisions, at Court -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

All My Sons
by Arthur Miller
directed by Charles Newell
Court Theatre, Chicago
Thru February 11
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Every time I see an Arthur Miller play, it acutely reminds me why I consider him my favorite playwright ever.

While there are many dramatists whose work I very much enjoy, including some rather new ones, I find a resonance in Miller's plays that goes well beyond what I'm seeing onstage.

Not unlike my feelings about musicals by Stephen Sondheim, songs by the Beatles, concerts by Bruce Springsteen, jazz recordings by John Coltrane and prime examples from other cherished practitioners who transcend even the best of their idioms, there is a depth & breadth to Miller that just makes me feel that much more attuned to the human condition.

This was reiterated by a fine production of All My Sons by Court Theatre, a professional company operating on the University of Chicago campus. Their work has long been estimable, though it's been awhile since I last made the trek from Skokie.

Photo credit on all: Michael Brosilow
But having the gist of All My Sons long etched in memory from a 2005 staging by Chicago's Redtwist Theatre--I recently referenced the underlying themes of the play in my review of Tracy Letts' new The Minutes at Steppenwolf--I really wanted to see it.

And am very glad I did.

Court's artistic director Charles Newell directs this version of the 1947 play which marked Miller's first taste of success, and while the staging isn't boldly re-imagined like Ivo van Hove's stark, barefoot A View from the Bridge--seen last fall at Goodman--the production values are all first-rate.

Probably somewhat daringly for a writer whose only previous Broadway play, The Man Who Had All the Luck, closed after just four performances in 1944, in All My Sons Miller sets things up engrossingly in the first act, but the edge-of-your-seat tension doesn't really kick in until midway through Act II.

Set in a suburb, seemingly of Columbus, Ohio, shortly after World War II has ended, All My Sons centers--quite literally in John Culbert's attractive scenic design at Court--on the Keller family.

The patriarch, Joe Keller (the always superb John Judd), runs a successful factory that, as a defense contractor, makes airplane parts for the military.

His wife, Kate (Kate Collins) maintains an anguished belief that their oldest son, Larry, hasn't been killed in the war, despite his whereabouts being unknown for over 3 years.

Living with them and working for Joe is another son, Chris (Timothy Edward Kane), who--like presumably most who serve in battle--has seen and experienced things he doesn't like discussing.

A family named the Deevers had lived next door to the Kellers but moved away, as the unseen father, Steve, was Joe's business partner but is now in jail. Their attractive daughter, Ann (Heidi Kettenring)--her appearance is oft-referenced in the script--was Larry's girlfriend, but as the play opens she is staying in the Keller house due to a nascent relationship with Chris.

The Baylisses (Karl Hamilton & Johanna McKenzie Miller) and Lubeys (Bradford Ryan Lund & Abby Pierce) now live on either side of the Kellers,

Early on, All My Sons seems to be about Chris' desire to wed Ann, which she and Joe know about, but Kate doesn't. Given his mother's emotional state, and stated belief that Larry is still alive, Chris is afraid to tell her even after his courtship of Ann develops desirably.

But adding considerable depth to the narrative, we learn that Steve Deever is locked up due to Joe & his company supplying faulty aircraft engine cylinder heads to the army, resulting in the death of 21 pilots. (The popular current musical act, Twenty One Pilots, hailing from Columbus, took their name from this reference, which is based on a real-life incident.)

Though initially arrested as well, Joe was exonerated, and the question about whether he should also have been severely punished--for complicity and/or cover-up--hangs over much of the play, from late in Act I until the end.

The arrival at the Kellers' of Ann's brother George Deever--a WWII vet with PTSD, demonstrably agitated after visiting his dad in jail--amps up questions of Joe's guilt.

I certainly won't reveal exactly what happens, but Joe's defense/excuse for any suggested wrongdoing is that he had a family to support--as well as employees--and wanted to pass on a thriving business to his sons.

It's powerful subject matter, still quite resonant today. As I mentioned above, I thought of this play in seeing The Minutes, which also deals with people who avoid doing what many might consider "the right thing" due to myriad harmful repercussions such a choice so might bring.

After All My Sons, Miller would repeatedly demonstrate mastery--in Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, A View From the Bridge, Incident at Vichy, The Price and more--in posing questions of morality likely not so easily answered, completely truthfully, by those in the audience.

Yet while this is definitely an excellent staging of a superlative play, I found some of the acting and casting choices a bit puzzling.

I'm not going to call anyone out specifically as being miscast; that's certainly not warranted. The actors are all established veterans, many whom I've seen elsewhere, and--for the most part--completely first-rate in their performances here. 

But the perceived ages of the actors/actresses are in many cases quite different from those stated for the characters (or my scant recollection of seeing another production 13 years ago).

This in itself wouldn't be a problem, but it left me confused about the connections between certain characters, some supposedly less than 5 years different in age but appearing here more like 15+.

And while Judd is certainly terrific as Joe Keller, my (admittedly hazy) past perception was that we are supposed to see the patriarch as a good man who makes a terrible mistake, for a somewhat appreciable rationale. Here, I wasn't nearly as empathetic. (Perhaps I've become too tolerant of white men thinking they're somehow above others, but I felt similarly about the characterization of Eddie Carbone in Goodman's A View from the Bridge, as really just an asshole, not some tragic hero.)

This isn't directly tied to the above parenthetical, but even as a 1947 play set in Ohio, it also seemed
the 10-member cast in Hyde Park might have benefited from some diversity.

And perhaps due to what I perceived as a bit of overacting, it felt like the play's powder keg conclusion carried on a bit too long, with a few too many overtly overwrought moments. 

But to be clear, what I did like, and appreciate, about All My Sons, once again, in a truly impressive production, far outweighs quibbles about how it could have been better.

I imagine there may have been somewhere around Chicago I could have seen Arthur Miller's first masterwork more recently, but I can't recall such an opportunity.

So the chance to see such a fine rendition of an important, resonant play by--IMO--the best playwright of all-time (at least excluding Shakespeare, but Miller's plays honestly connect with me more) shouldn't be readily passed by.

Great theater is timeless, not just as thrilling entertainment, but as thought-provoking allegory.

And you'd be remiss not to see Joe Keller newly have his day in Court's comfortable auditorium.

...as you consider what you wouldn't do for all your sons and daughters.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Strong Showcase of Powerfully Funny Women, Second City's 'She the People' Could Stand to Be Far More Kick-in-the-Ballsy -- Chicago Comedy / Theater Review

Sketch Comedy Review

She the People
Girlfriends' Guide to Sisters Doing It For Themselves
UP Comedy Club at Second City, Chicago
Thru April 1
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There really wouldn't be a wrong time to see a comedy show entirely written and performed by smart, funny and diversely-talented women.

But boy, and more so girl, does this feel like the right time.

Apologies for not finding the perfect adjective here--and I think a female would best make any such proclamation--but these past few months have been rather {momentous, empowering, retaliatory, ???} for women.

Certainly, I recognize that it's too soon since the Harvey Weinstein balloon was popped, and many similar dominoes began to fall, to suggest things have drastically changed.

Revealing and addressing horrendous wrongs is not the same as making things entirely right.

But on Saturday, when I began writing this, it was heartening to see huge turnouts and powerful speeches at Women's Marches around the world.

Photo credit on all: Todd Rosenberg
And while hoping things really will change in the way women are treated, respected, paid, heard, valued, etc., it would seem that--without suggesting that denigration, harassment, assault and worse are matters to be joked about--Second City's new all-female sketch comedy show, She the People, should have plenty of topical material from which to render astute insights.

Including the p---y grabber in the White House. 

Understandably, She the People--subtitled Girlfriends' Guide to Sisters Doing It For Themselves--was in development and largely written (by 10 women) well prior to reports about Weinstein's egregious behavior broke last October. 

And according to a staff member I spoke with within the UP Comedy Club at Second City, the show's genesis also predated Trump's election. 

So on several levels, it was welcome that much of the material was not ripped from the headlines. Being too obvious, or didactic, is rarely riveting.

Across nearly two hours, the six-woman cast--Carisa Barreca, Alex Bellisle, Katie Caussin, Maria Randazzo, Alexis J. Roston, Kimberly Michelle Vaughn--demonstrated not only much wit & wisdom, but impressively adroit range in acting out a variety of situations, characters, etc.

There were many excellent sketches, including ones about fearing turning into one's mother, a wrenching self-debate over eating a piece of cake and pals badmouthing a colleague's boyfriend after a breakup.  

As with Second City's still-running mainstage review, Dream Freaks Fall From Space--which I saw and reviewed in November--musical numbers often interworked with the comedy.

Roston and Vaughn led the best of these, a song ostensibly called "I'll Shake My Brain in Your Face" that was really smart on many levels. 

Also first-rate--though perhaps not needing a reprise after intermission--was a series of satires on the banal and often demeaning ways women are depicted in TV commercials (for shampoo, feminine hygiene products, "boner pills," etc.). 

And not to suggest She the People completely avoided hot button issues, there was a sketch utilizing quite shrewd metaphors to reference abortion, which I thought worked quite well.

So within the comfortable environs of the Second City's UP club, offering a first-class experience in every way, this all-woman revue definitely makes for a fun evening and enjoyable show. The talent is undeniable and the laughs should be many.

But as I watched it Thursday night--the same evening the world champion Golden State Warriors were at Dream Freaks Fall From Space; I didn't see them--I began to wonder, and even asked someone afterward, if Second City makes it a policy for their shows not to risk offending anyone.

Let me be clear, I am not a comedy writer and those involved in conceiving, creating and performing this show--as well as Dream Freaks..., which oddly avoids much Trump-related material--are not only far more talented than me in this regard, but much more shrewd in a practical business sense connected to comedic performance.

I get that green money comes from both red and blue leaning patrons, including men and women of vastly different political and social perspectives.   

But given the recent comeuppances wreaked upon Mrsssrs. Weinstein, Lauer, Rose, CK, Batali, etc., etc., it would seem some of the material in She the People should have been made me--or other men--a tad uncomfortable.

I don't mean cheaply or guilelessly, but with an acerbic, incisive edge the women onstage clearly had within them.

None of the recently-outed predators were directly referenced, and--even far more broadly--the mistreatment, denigration, subjugation and abuse of women that needs to be eliminated was only lightly and slightly broached.

Nothing I saw suggested the women of She the People couldn't have figured out some ways to artfully--yet quite powerfully--address recent revelations, long-term realities and uprisings without joking about things that aren't funny.

And in not daring to offend anyone, or possibly prompt some patrons to walk out, keeping the comedy safe kept the show from being truly great as socially commentative, contemporary art.

Not just in terms of being funny, or topical, but truly insightful, as the best comedy should be.

At at time when, hopefully, women's voices are being heard louder than before, She the People--despite being quite good, and welcome, as it stands--would be considerably better if it truly tapped into the scream. 

It seems somewhat wrong for me to say a show comprised entirely of women should be more ballsy, but I think there are those out there--perhaps even me--for whom it should far more forcefully feel "kick-in-the-ballsy."

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
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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
Muse
Arctic Monkeys
Gorillaz 
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