Friday, January 17, 2020

Quite the Trick: With 'Pure Lies,' Trent James Truly Engages, Nicely Enchants at the Chicago Magic Lounge -- Review

Magic Show Review

Pure Lies with Trent James
Chicago Magic Lounge
Thru March 25

Any quick perusal of this blog will accurately convey that I predominantly see and review theater (musicals & plays) and rock concerts.

But a far deeper dive would reveal that—even just over the past ten years—I’ve attended and often written about shows across many idioms.

Classical, jazz, blues, bluegrass, country, folk, ragtime, funk and concerts in other musical genres. Ballet, tap, modern dance, the Rockettes and Riverdance. Stand-up, sketch and improv comedy. Cirque du Soleil shows, similar productions and more traditional circuses. Numerous operas. Poetry readings. Kabuki theater. Professional wrestling.

And magic.

But rather little magic. Although I enjoy a good magic show, I think the only one I saw over the past decade was a touring production called The Illusionists.

I did also see, in 2016, a House Theatre play called Death and Harry Houdini, featuring the talented magician Dennis Watkins doing some tricks connected to the most famed magician ever.

And sure, back in the day, I saw some David Copperfield specials on TV. I once saw Penn & Teller in Las Vegas. I vaguely recall seeing a magic show by Kirby Van Burch on my only visit to Branson, MO. And I think I saw the legendary Doug Henning once at the old Mill Run Theater in Niles, IL when I was a kid.

But I really should see more magic.

…as evidenced by how much I enjoyed my first visit to the Chicago Magic Lounge and a show called Pure Lies by current artist-in-residence Trent James.

Per the above, I don’t have much point of reference. And while he demonstrated easygoing charm and engaging showmanship along with what I saw as strong magic, I imagine even the 22-year-old James would agree he probably needs a bit more seasoning and polish before he gets a Vegas theater named for him (à la Lance Burton, Criss Angel and other “name” magicians past & present).

James’ nearly hourlong set was nicely low-key—especially for a Wednesday night, though the well-appointed venue was pretty full—but never quite felt monumental.

But, as you can see above, that’s about all that’s keeping me from bestowing a full @@@@@ on my Seth Saith scale.

Now, before I loosely describe some of James' tricks and gags--I certainly won't give much away--let me back up a bit.

Although I am a fairly avid follower of the Chicagoland arts scene, consider magic a creative idiom I enjoy (even if I don't see it much) and have driven along the 5000 block of Clark of block a number of times--the Raven Theater is a few blocks north, the Black Ensemble Theater a few blocks south--I didn't know of the Chicago Magic Lounge's existence until late December 2019. (It seems to have opened nearly two full years ago.)

Granted, the facade of the building at 5050 N. Clark gives nothing away, unless you're specifically looking for the magic venue and notice a few vintage posters in the doorway.

Even once you step inside, what you see is a laundromat (I wouldn't give this away if didn't).

Luckily, some other patrons enabled a friend and I to quickly find the right point of entry, and what we ultimately encountered was quite impressive.

It was via a Chicago Tribune mention about things to do on New Year's Eve that I became aware of the venue, and a perusal of their website indicated they do shows every night, including a "Signature Show" Thursday through Friday.

Intrigued, I reached out to see if I might be able to attend and review a performance, and learned of Press Night availability for Pure Lies with Trent James, the current quarterly artist-in-residence show.

After entering via a washing machine, my friend Ken and I were corralled into an attractive but rather close-knit cocktail area, where a guy named Al James was doing magic at the bar. (In his act, Trent James mentioned his dad also being a magician, but in asking him after the show I learned that Al James is not his father. Just a magical coincidence, I guess.)

Via a small magic library with some cool old posters and a framed Conjurer's magazine accompanied by a (presumably signed) photo of Harry Houdini, we then went into the main showroom.

This is a large, multi-level cabaret-type space that would well-accommodate a stand-up comedian, small jazz combo, vocalist/pianist duo, etc. (On Mondays at the Chicago Magic Lounge, there is a live jazz accompanying magic.)

We ordered some food & drinks, and while the menu isn't vast, what we had--Beef & Cheddar Sliders, Prosciutto Wrapped Dates, Peanut Butter Bonbons--was all quite tasty.

And before Trent James took the stage at 8:15pm, we and many other patrons were able to enjoy the talents of table magicians making their way around the showroom.

A friendly woman did card tricks; a denonair man did nifty tricks with two cushioned balls. Apologies for not being able to cite their names, though they did introduce themselves.

So my first impressions of the Chicago Magic Lounge were quite strong, even beyond James' show, the main focus of this review.

I perceive it as pretty nifty place to take a date, if only I could make one appear.

And my understanding is that the "Signature Show," which rotates performers night-to-night, makes for an even fuller night of magic than the Wednesday artist-in-residence shows. (There is also a Family Show on Sunday afternoons.)

Which brings me back to Pure Lies with Trent James.

Throughout his act, James had a hip, cheery, self-effacing manner, and his magic skills--he said he's been at it since the age of 5--are accompanied by fine comedic and acting prowess.

He started with some magic using various props--a handkerchief, egg, lemon, even a flute--but he was even stronger with pieces involving audience members brought onstage.

Whether he was reading minds--with the aid of a silent dummy named William--or picking pockets, he consistently had me fooled.

And entertained.

Without knowing how else to judge a magic show, it seems both are key criteria in saying this is a good one.

I'd be happy to see other shows and magicians at the spiffy venue, and/or elsewhere, and would be curious to note how James' career develops as his impressive poise continues to.

But even, or perhaps especially, to an arts lover who rather rarely takes in magic but was intrigued & tickled to do so, Trent James, his Pure Lies solo show and the Chicago Magic Lounge all appear to be the real deal. 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Something Good: Led by Amiable Peter Noone, Herman's Hermits Merrily Invade Waukegan -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Herman's Hermits starring Peter Noone
w/ opening act
Gary Puckett & the Union Gap
Genesee Theatre, Waukegan, IL
January 11, 2020

Based on what I love and value, the British Invasion has had a tremendous impact on my life.

Yet it took place before I was born.

And as such I may not completely understand what it was acutely like, or all the connotations.

I think everyone would agree that--as it pertains to rock 'n roll, as there was also something of cinematic invasion--the British Invasion represents the arrival in America of rock bands from the United Kingdom, or perhaps even more so, an influx of music made by such acts.

This was led by The Beatles--whose "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was released in the U.S. 56 years today--with the Fab Four themselves landing at JFK Airport in New York on Feb. 7, 1964.

By almost all accounts, the Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on the evening of February 9, 1964--watched live by a then-record television audience of 73 million people--was the watershed moment of the British Invasion.

In the wake of Beatlemania, many other British bands became very popular in America, and I've come to love several.

With the caveat that, having been born in 1968 and kindling an interest in popular music about a decade later, my purview lacks "in-the-moment" acuity, I perceive the best bands of the British Invasion as being:
1) The Beatles 2) The Rolling Stones 3) The Who 4) The Kinks 5The Zombies 6) The Animals 7The Yardbirds 8) The Hollies
But I understand that, in not really arising until 1965, The Who were part of a second wave, and that the intensity of the initial British Invasion also included:
The Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Mannfred Mann and--perhaps especially--Herman's Hermits.
Fronted by a cute teenage singer named Peter Noone, who became perceived as "Herman," the Hermits had 14 songs hit the U.S. Billboard Singles Top 40 between August 1964 and February 1967, including "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" and "I'm Henry VIII, I Am," which both hit #1 in mid-1965.

A few more minor hits would follow this blitz, but Herman's Hermits' popularity seems to have ebbed well before Noone initially left the band in 1971.

To my wherewithal, HH's pop sound never significantly evolved in a way akin to the Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks and Zombies, nor did Noone or other band members go on to form/join other famed projects, as did Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page of the Yardbirds, Graham Nash of the Hollies and Steve Winwood of the Spencer Davis Group.

Unlike most contemporaries cited, Herman's Hermits did not write their own songs, and perhaps for that reason and others mentioned, they have not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Gary Puckett
Still, they were an important part of the British Invasion--for awhile in late '64 and early '65, it seems they may have been bigger in America than any import besides the Beatles--and even if a bit belatedly, my appreciation for their place in rock history brought me to the grand Genesee Theatre in Waukegan on Saturday night, accompanied by friend Dave, who gratefully did the driving.

Fortunately, the falling snow and high winds didn't mess with our trek too much, nor kept over 2,000 nostalgic fans from getting to the Genesee, but we learned that the weather had impacted both bands on the bill in their travels to Waukegan.

First up, and consequentially starting about 15 minutes late, were Gary Puckett & the Union Gap.

As is Noone with this version of Herman's Hermits, Puckett is the sole original member of his '60s outfit, an American one that still distinctively dresses in Civil War Union Army uniforms.

Although I had long heard the name Gary Puckett & the Union Gap and recognized some of the hits they played, I can't claim to be all that familiar.

In watching Puckett, I couldn't help perceive that most baristas, flight attendants, hotel clerks and whomever else encounters the fit, articulate, long-haired senior citizen on a regular basis would likely be oblivious to his significant rock stardom 50+ years ago.

Though he seems like a hip elder, his vibe also feels cordially unassuming.

But--also like Noone--he still seems to be having a lot of fun on stage, and not only is he an engaging storyteller, his voice still sounds great at 77.

Opening with "Lady Willpower," one of the band's two #2 hits from 1968, Puckett & co. proceeded to pay homage to some pretty famous songwriters & artists whose songs GP&UG had recorded way back when: Neil Diamond ("Kentucky Woman"), Sonny Bono/Sonny & Cher ("You Better Sit Down Kids") and Jimmy Webb/Glen Campbell ("By the Time I Get to Phoenix").

As Herman's Hermits would do likewise, this provided good context to appreciate the heyday of Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, even beyond their own hits--"This Girl is a Woman Now," "Woman Woman," "Young Girl"--which rounded out the set.

Prior to Puckett's set, Peter Noone had come onstage briefly with a show host for a prize drawing, and--dressed down in jeans--he looked a bit paunchy and also somewhat gimpy.

But for the headlining set, adorned in a 3-piece blue suit, it was possible to perceive the frenzied teenage screams he elicited when the Hermits first enchanted America.

If Wikipedia and my math are correct, Noone was only 16 when the band's debut single--"I'm Into Something Good"--hit the U.S. charts in late 1964.

That song, written by Carole King & Gerry Goffin, opened the show by Noone and his four current Hermits--apologies for not knowing their names, but all were fine musicians--followed by HH's hit take on Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World."

Cheeky from the get-go, Noone spoke of not being able to read the setlist on the floor, and while most of Saturday's selections seemed to match those of recent shows, it seemed that the singer was somewhat ad-libbing the order they were played.

And along with many Herman's Hermits gems--"Dandy," "A Must to Avoid," "Just a Little Bit Better," "Silhouettes," "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat," "Jezebel," "Sea Cruise" and a lovely "Listen People" with Noone in fine voice--the appreciative crowd heard a variety of other British Invasion songs (and those from roughly the same time period).

These included the Beatles' "All My Loving," the Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash"--with Noone aping Mick Jagger--Mannfred Mann's "Do Wah Diddy Diddy," the Monkees' "Daydream Believer" and Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."

Noone had fun interacting with a woman at the edge of the stage who was interpreting the lyrics into sign language--"How do you do "Do Wah Diddy Diddy?"" he asked--and in a variation on the de-aging process recently used in Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, at one point glibly sang "Leaning on a Lamp Post" from behind a teen idol poster of himself a fan had brought.

He also played a bit of guitar while localizing lyrics to a song seemingly called "Travelin' Light," then still with the six-string took "No Milk Today" a bit more seriously.

A nice poignancy was also brought to "The End of the World."

Though I've long-known "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter," it was only in prepping for the show that I came to know Herman's Hermits' other #1 smash, "I'm Henry VIII, I Am," and both were loads of fun (though stylistically rather different).

"There's a Kind of Hush" ended the fully enjoyable 75-minute set.

Though "oldies acts" are most of what I see these days, this wasn't a rock concert on par with the energy, excitement and breadth of musical excellent Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and The Who--all of whom I saw again in 2019--still bring.

So while it was lots of fun and my knowledge of and appreciation for both Herman's Hermits and Gary Puckett & the Union Gap--to whatever extent the current lineups do them justice--were expanded, @@@@ (out of 5) seems about right.

But I also appreciate that for those about Peter Noone's age and older, who acutely recall him from the '60s, the visceral excitement of seeing him perform might be nearly on par with Paul McCartney.

He was part of the world changing, forever, and though this Herman's Hermits show was far more exciting than a history lesson, I was thrilled to be taught that much more about the British Invasion.

And to be--yet again but also somewhat newly--into something good. 

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Bearing a Gift Beyond Price: A Tribute to Neil Peart, Rush Drummer and Lyricist (1952-2020)

My fandom for the Canadian rock band Rush--whose legendary drummer and lyricist, Neil Peart, passed away last week--goes back roughly 40 years

So I can't cite exactly how or why or when or through whom I got into them.

I'm guessing that via some combination of rock radio and junior high word of mouth, I became aware of (long after its release) "Fly by Night"--a 1975 gem that the band eschewed live after 1978--and was intrigued enough to buy the 1980 album Permanent Waves sometime following its January release.

I can't say exactly when that might've been, but I know I had Permanent Waves before Moving Pictures came out in February 1981.

I instantly loved the first song on Permanent Waves, "The Spirit of Radio," still consider it my favorite Rush song and ranked it in the top 10 of my All-time Favorite Rock Songs when I last compiled a list in 2015.

Back then, loving a band meant knowing the names of the people in the band, which was easy for a Rush fan as there were only three members (and if you look really closely at the Permanent Waves front cover, their last names are included in the art).

Geddy Lee, a really skinny guy with long hair and a high-pitched voice, was the vocalist and bass player.

Alex Lifeson was the guitarist, and a key part of the trio's sonic inventiveness.

And Neil Peart not only had a crazy massive drum kit, he was almost always referenced as "one of the best drummers in the world."

And while Lifeson, Lee and Peart collaborated on the band's music, once he joined Rush in mid-1974--John Rutsey was the band's original drummer and played on their eponymous debut--Peart wrote virtually all of the lyrics.

Some have likely called his lyrics "dense" in both senses of the word, and he may well have had too much of an Ayn Rand fascination at one point. But Peart showed a real sensitivity and social consciousness that I always appreciated:
- "Begin the day with a friendly voice, a companion unobtrusive"

- "And the men who hold high places must be the ones to start, to mold a new reality closer to the heart"

- "No his mind is not for rent, to any god or government"

- "In the high school halls, in the shopping malls, conform or be cast out"

- "I can't pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend"

- "If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice"

- "Just between us, I think it's time for us to recognize the differences we sometimes fear to show"
- "Who can face the knowledge that the truth is not the truth?"
- "Freeze this moment a little bit longer, make each sensation a little bit stronger"

- "All of us get lost in the darkness, dreamers learn to steer by the stars"
- "And if the love remains, though everything is lost, we will pay the price but we will not count the cost"
Certainly, these lyrics were enhanced by accompanying what I thought were rather cool, mostly hard-rocking songs, played with the utmost technical proficiency.

After first getting into "Fly by Night" and then Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures, I soon came to know much of Rush's earlier output, including the 2112 album with its famed "Overture" and "The Temple of Syrinx."

A friend had the band's first live album, All the World's a Stage, and I would excitedly buy the next one, Exit...Stage Left.

My freshman year of high school, in the fall of 1982, began a few months before I really started attending rock concerts with friends, so I rued not seeing the Signals tour at the Rosemont Horizon (now known as Allstate Arena).

But I first saw Rush on June 30, 1984 at the Rosemont Horizon, on their Grace Under Pressure Tour.

When I next saw them, in January 1992 at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles--I was living out
there at the time--it felt like I was seeing an "old" favorite, though Geddy/Alex/Neil were still great.

But the last 7 of the 9 times I saw Rush live were shows in seven different years between 2002 and 2015, at the amphitheater in Tinley Park, IL, headlining at Milwaukee Summerfest or at Chicago's United Center.

So, somewhat astonishingly, despite never quite being deemed "cool" by the rock intelligentsia--Rush was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, many years after first being eligible--the trio never lost their staying power.

Though there were Rush concerts I robustly loved, like this one in 2010, there were also quite candidly times--including the last few--when their setlists were a bit esoteric for my tastes and the shows tended to drag in parts.

Including--gasp--sometimes during Peart's extended drum solos.

Though my reverence for his drumming talent is immense, there were times when I wondered why he needed quite so many drums.

And of those I've seen in person--such as Dave Grohl, with Nirvana in 1993--as well as just on video (John Bonham of Led Zeppelin), I tend to prefer sheer brutality on a smaller kit.

Still, I believe what I posted on Facebook the other day holds true:
With the deaths of Ginger Baker and Neil Peart, every drummer in the world has moved up two notches.
Anyway, I imagine that to the public at large, I'm a major Rush fanatic and to true Rush "geeks," I'm something of a poser.

But in these polarized times I think we can tend to forget that to love someone or something--whether a friend, family member of lover, leader or country, band or baseball team, etc.--doesn't mean constant, automatic or unquestioning approval and adulation.

It means your life wouldn't be nearly as good without them. And your appreciation is both immense and intense.

I love--and always will--a lot the music Neil Peart helped make with Rush.

I loved his drumming, his lyrics and even a sense of humor that probably wasn't always obvious.

I am sorry for his suffering, of late from the brain cancer that ended his life at just 67, and the loss of his daughter and wife during a brutal 10-month stretch in 1997-98. (He would remarry and have another daughter.)

Unaware of his illness, or whatever part it likely played in Rush's retirement, I was shocked and gutted by the news of his death, even given this grim article about how the coming decade will see an ongoing parade to the grave of rock heroes, beyond the legends already lost.

But with nearly any death, excepting those of someone particularly young or via unnatural means, I like to offer this condolence:

As you weep for what has been lost, smile for all that has been gained

The truth is, I gained a whole lot via my fandom of Neil Peart and Rush.
"Love and life are deep" he wrote in the song, "Tom Sawyer."
And then in "Dreamline" some years later:
"When we are young
Wandering the face of the Earth
Wondering what our dreams might be worth
Learning that we're only immortal
For a limited time"
Thanks for the magic, Neil Peart.

Your drumbeats will live on for quite some time.

And not just on indelible songs--such as these--and DVDs I can watch upon my wall.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Totally Fetch?: Not Quite, but 'Mean Girls' Musical is More Likable than Not -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Mean Girls
First National Tour
Nederlander Theatre, Chicago
Thru January 26

I’ve been surprised by many a musical, regardless of its reputation, subject matter, source material, composer, lyricist & writer, target demographic or whatever else.

There have been musicals I’ve unsuspectingly found rather delightful—Bat Boy and Legally Blonde come readily to mind—and others that candidly disappointed me, sometimes despite high expectations.

Though I came to love the music of Hedwig and the Angry Inch before seeing it for the first time a few years ago, and heartily applaud the show’s themes and messages, the excessive monologues largely sapped my pleasure beyond hearing the songs.

What’s a bit strange about Mean Girls—a musical based on Tina Fey’s 2004 movie about high school cliques—is that it both delighted and disappointed me a bit more than expected.

I have high regard for Fey’s comedic writing talents and sufficiently enjoyed the movie—in which new girl Cady Heron (played by Lindsay Lohan) contends with but also befriends the pretty Plastics, led by mean Regina George (Rachel McAdams)—both back when and again more recently.

Photo credit on all: Joan Marcus
I never felt like, “OMG! I can’t wait to see this as a stage musical,” but as I intimate above, stellar musicals can come from anywhere.

And in doing something of a survey of rock-infused musicals last year, I found myself really liking some of the songs from Mean Girls, particularly “I’d Rather Be Me” and “I See Stars.” (Lyrics are by Nell Benjamin, who also did a fine job on Legally Blonde, but rather than her usual songwriting partner, Laurence O’Keefe, the music for Mean Girls was composed by Fey’s husband, Jeff Richmond.)

Fey adapted her screenplay into the book of the musical, and Mean Girls continues a nice Broadway run even as its inaugural national tour is well underway.

The show garnered 12 Tony Award nominations in 2018, and though it didn't win any, I'm always happy to expand my universe of musicals seen.

So I entered Chicago's grandiose Nederlander Theatre--long known as the Oriental--fairly excited to come face-to-face with Mean Girls.

And while I didn't quite find it fantastic--or per the movie's buzz word--fetch, at least not to an exponential degree, it certainly made for enjoyable entertainment.

My recollection of the movie isn't strong enough to reference it with exactitude, but my sense is that the musical hews pretty closely.

But Fey and director Casey Nicolaw--whose pedigree includes The Drowsy Chaperone, The Book of Mormon and Aladdin, and who also serves as choreographer--have opted bring two of Cady's friends more front and center to help guide the story.

Cady (nicely played and well-sung by Danielle Wade, who reminds of Fey), has been raised and home-schooled in Kenya, but suddenly relocates to the jungle known as north suburban Chicago.

Arriving at the fictional North Shore High School, she faces the normal discomfiture of being a new kid, but is welcomed by artsy-cynic Janis (Mary Kate Morrissey) and the openly gay Damian (Eric Huffman).

Through the rather inspired "Where Do You Belong," accompanied by an inventive dance number featuring cafeteria trays, Janis and Damian tell Cady about the high school cliques and pecking order, topped by The Plastics.

Mariah Rose Faith plays Regina George, who domineers over the school and her sycophantic pals Gretchen (Megan Masako Haley) and Karen (Jonalyn Saxer).

Other than to mention a boy named Aaron (Adante Carter) who Cady quickly comes to like but learns is Regina's ex, I'll leave the plot points for you to discover--on stage or via the film.

The performers are generally strong and the production values are good, even as the scenic design utilizes video imagery to a greater extent than any musical I recall to date. This gets to be a bit much, but suits the young-skewing themes and is inventively pulled off for the most part.

While there are many likable songs in Richmond & Benjamin's score--nicely spread to various characters, with Huffman's Damian doing a stellar job on the Act 2 production number "Stop"--there is also some more middling material.

And although Fey's attempt to impart uplifting, "be kind to one another" messages to young people, particularly teen girls, is appreciable and admirable, the tonality of Mean Girls is just more slight than truly great musicals.

Likely because it's based on a popular movie, the narrative at times seems oddly stretched to fit things in--like Cady's Mathlete competition and even what happens to Regina--and lacks the emotional gravitas of, say, Dear Evan Hansen (an original musical about teens).

If, like me, you're inclined to see any decent new musical, Mean Girls certainly has enough merits to be worth your while.

If you have a strong affinity for the Mean Girls movie, I would say that this is a rather solid adaptation. It was definitely nice to see many girls attending with their parents.

But though Mean Girls does have aspects that any musical theater lover may appreciate, if you only make a point of seeing the very best of the Broadway genre, this just isn't an "A+" project.

Still, as I know from my high school days in the Chicago suburbs, a "B+" can be perfectly nice.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

The Best of the Decade 2010-19: My Favorite Non-Review Blog Posts, of Those I Wrote (or Edited)

Please forgive a bit of hubris but I am somewhat proud of this blog.

No, it isn't really any kind of great accomplishment, hasn't earned me a dime, hasn't made me famous, isn't very influential, hasn't led to other opportunities, etc.

But while it technically dates back to 2004, I consider my first gamut of Best of the Decade posts--back in December 2009--as the origin of my maintaining it with regularity.

And in the past decade, I wrote--or for a handful of guest posts, almost all by my friend Ken Stasiak, edited--1,582 posts.

Some of these were rather brief Pithy Philosophies, while others were lists, as in year and decade end "Best Of" rankings and some "Ours Go to 11" picks on various topics.

But even, let's say, I wrote 1,500 blog posts for Seth Saith averaging 1,000 words per article, the 1.5 million words I published in 10 years nearly doubles Shakespeare's lifetime output.

And while I have no idea how many of the estimated 1.38+ million pageviews Seth Saith garnered this decade constitute actual readers of articles vs. individuals finding one photo or non-human robots--nor do I know why I spiked to 50,000 pageviews for a few months or dropped to under 6,000 in some after that--that makes for an average of 11,500 pageviews per month across the 2010s.

Sounds pretty good to me.

Especially as I'm happy to have anyone read anything I write.

Also making me proud is that most live theaters around Chicagoland--via their PR representatives--now invite me to Press Nights. I was reviewing shows long before this was the case, but it's a nice perk and one I never take for granted.

Reviews--of theater, rock concerts plus the occasional opera, comedian, movie, book, museum, restaurant, etc., etc.--by far comprise the bulk of posts.

But there were many other pieces I was proud of, and I thought I'd highlight just a few of those. (Note: Some earlier pieces may have missing photos or other formatting issues; I'm not bothering to re-edit anything now.)

Societal Changes and Concerns

● The Erosion of Associative Learning

● The Commonality Conversation, or One Small Suggestion Toward How To Stop Bullying

● Whatever Happened to the Creative Cluster 

● A Code of Conduct for Live Events

● Impact of the Beatles' First Appearance on Ed Sullivan

● Global Warming

Profiles & Interviews

● Ralph Frese

● Rohina Malik

● Ginger Zee

● Britni Tozzi

Robert Katzman

Larry Smith by Ken Stasiak

● Me


● Tom Petty

● Chris Cornell

● David Bowie

● Prince

● Philip Seymour Hoffman

● Robin Williams

● Whitney Houston

Travel Recaps & Guides

Washington DC Guide

London Guide

Detroit Guide

Japan Recap

Mexico City Recap

Taj Mahal Photos

Boston Recap

Valuable Travel Resources

Film Musings

● Citizen Kane vs. Casablanca

● The Socio-Cinematic 70s: When the Movies Had Something to Say

● The Beautiful Oeuvre of Catherine Deneuve

● An Appreciation of Asghar Farhadi


● Stuart Davis: Modern Before His Time -- an Art Exhibition in a blog post

● Federico Zandomeneghi Makes a Surprising Impression

Early Works by Abstract Artists

Diatribe on Contemporary Art

Chicago Dining World Tour

This was a series of 50 or so dining recaps of restaurants in Chicago representing different cultures and ethnicities. It ran from January 2013 through June 2014, with this being the first post and this being the last. Searching the blog for "Chicago Dining World Tour" or clicking here will bring up all of them, starting with the last one.

Other Random Favorites

● The Boss Hits 70: Celebrating Bruce Springsteen on His Birthday

● Exlploring Chicago's Legendary Sunset Cafe

● Exploration of Cambodia's Killing Fields, in Chicago

● Proof That Life is a Crapshoot: A Somewhat Random, Somewhat Revelatory Look at the 2009 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft

● Celebrating Immigrant Pride in 'Six Words: Fresh Off the Boat'

● Retracing My Life Via Google Maps

● 50 Self-Indulgent Selfies at 50