Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Unfit For A King (a musical review)

All Shook Up

A few weeks ago, I saw a Broadway tryout, premiere production of "On The Record," a new musical featuring old Disney songs. With a minimal, static set simulating a recording studio, eight actors dressed in black took turns singing the songs. No story, no dialogue, no costumes, minimal choreography; in short, not much of anything (my rating: just one @ ). Which made me think, "Couldn't the most imaginative company in the history of entertainment, and even an innovator in musical theatre, come up with some kind of story?" Well, I guess be careful what you wish for, because "All Shook Up," a new musical comprised of Elvis songs, did concoct a story by a playwright of some note (Joe DiPietro), had dialogue, choreography and costume changes, and featured dozens of performers. And yet at the end, I thought that I would have better enjoyed an Elvis impersonator just standing there singing the songs. For though the songs were inherently good, and the performers professional and for the most part of fine voice, they really didn't enhance my enjoyment of the songs; if anything they made me long to get to a stereo and listen to Elvis' original versions instead. And that's my praise. The flimsy, silly & scattered story made Mamma Mia (the progenitor of these "old songbook" musicals) seem like Shakespeare and while it would be a bit extreme to term All Shook Up intolerable, it really didn't provide any moments of true enjoyment (other than a few of the song renditions) and it certainly wasn't inspired.

And if to me, you're going to cheat and steal an old songbook to draw a built-in audience, you owe it to really craft something special (or at least undeniably enjoyable, like Mamma Mia). Because if you don't, where's the art, rather than just a cover band?

Sunday, December 19, 2004

'S Wonderful, By George (a musical review)

George Gershwin Alone - Royal George Theatre - Chicago

Self-decribed as 'an "imagination" with music,' this one-man show created by and starring Hershey Felder as George Gershwin was a highly enjoyable exploration of the great American composer's life and musical genius. Though perhaps not as in-depth biographically or musically as I might have appreciated -- again spurring post-show research -- the show was engaging throughout, with Felder's piano and vocal prowess more than worthy of his subject. His take on Rhapsody in Blue was particularly exhiliarating and the show's "encore" was a refreshingly sentimental surprise -- much more acutely for all the old folks in audience, but it was nice for me to observe. This show has played Broadway, London and many other stops and is in the midst of an extended run in Chicago. Try to catch it. One other thing that I have no glib transition for: in the Playbill it revealed that Felder is married to Kim Campbell, a former Prime Minister of Canada, which is unique enough, even without knowing that she's at least 20 years his elder.

A Stella Production (a play review)

A Streetcar Named Desire - Raven Theatre - Chicago

This fine production by a small professional theatre group housed in a former grocery story on Chicago's North Side did just about everything I could have wished it would. For just $16 (through HotTix, on which it's been readily available) , it gave me a great introduction to one of America's most iconic plays. Though its title has been familiar since who knows when, I had never seen or read the play, and though I picked up the DVD after Marlon Brando's death earlier this year, I had yet to watch it (other then checking out the "Stella! Stella!" scene). I enjoyed the play at face value, particularly the performances of Liz Fletcher and Dominica Wasilewska as Blance DuBois and Stella Kowalski, respectively. I thought Mike Vieau's Stanley seemed a bit too brutish, without the rogue charm of Brando, and subsequently watching the movie confirmed that thought. But if the worst thing I can say about a $16 play is that the star wasn't as good as Marlon Brando, I'm really being unrealistic. And since seeing the play on Friday night, not only have I watched the movie, but I ordered the book, did a bit of internet research on the play's meaning & message, as well as Tennessee Williams, and am now interested in exploring his works further (having only seen Glass Menagerie some years ago). Not bad for 16 bucks.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Worth A Glance (a movie review)


A beautiful character study, albeit at times laboriously paced, Sideways is one of those movies that's probably even better than my acute enjoyment of it. But although I may not have appreciated all that it was trying to say, and could've used a bit more action or a few more moments of outright hilarity, I still enjoyed it. Though I'm not sure if I would have liked it as much if I were trying to sit through it on TV. But of late, there's no one better at playing sad sacks than Paul Giamatti (who I just discovered is Bart Giamatti's son) and though he's been MIA since Ned & Stacey (and who else even knows what that is), Thomas Haden Church is still enjoyably off-beat, though at times, a tad off-putting. At least enough time has passed that I don't automatically think of him only as Lowell from the TV show Wings. Anyway, Paul & Thomas as Miles & Jack take a week-long trip to wine country in California, (not the one near Napa, but near Santa Barbara which I never really realized existed) shortly before Jack's upcoming wedding and while Miles continues to drown in a post-divorce malaise. They meet a couple of women and we follow the events of their week. But rather an outright comedy, it's more a psychological character study that works for the most part, if you have the patience.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Wow, That's More Like It

Last Wednesday (not last night), I went to the Chicago Bulls-Cleveland Cavaliers game, expecting to witness a phenomenal exhibition from LeBron James, which I would've blogged about the next day. Because from what I had been seeing and hearing, he is extremely rapidly on his way to being the world's greatest basketball player, if he isn't already. Well, wouldn't you know it, the up-til-then hapless Bulls blew out the Cavs 113-85 (earning me a Big Mac) and LeBron really did nothing all that amazing. He was 5-15 from the field and except for a few nice passes, was pretty mediocre in scoring just 19 points. Learning that day that it would be the Cavs 2nd of back-to-back games I had a premonition that it may be an off night for LBJ, and I was right. There were a few glimpse of transcendent ability, and I got some decent photographs (nothing phenemonal), but certainly could not blog about seeing the second coming of Michael Jordan based on the performance I had seen. And then, I was too busy at work the next day to blog anything about it anyway, so I just never did.

Well, based of a 30-second ESPN highlight clip from last night's Cav's game, my hyperbolic tendencies have been re-ignited. There was one mind blowing play where he took a an errant pass out of the air with his left hand and made it seem like a designed alley-oop. And there was also a period where he scored like 12 points in 3 minutes, or something like that. So while I guess he has a little ways to go to match MJ's ability to amaze virtually every time he took the court, he clearly is the most exciting player in the game, and given Kobe's free fall from grace, likely the most popular. And excepting perhaps those 6'11" and over (Duncan, Garnett, Shaq) very possibly already the very best.

Monday, December 13, 2004

What I'd Say (a movie review)


I finally saw "Ray" yesterday after having wanted to since it was released in October, both due to the subject and the excellent reviews it -- and particularly Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles -- received. I was not disappointed and certainly found Foxx to be phenomenal; he deserves to receive the Best Actor Oscar, even over Johnny Depp's excellent turn in "Finding Neverland." The movie itself may deserve to be nominated (there's still several I need to see, like "Sideways" and the upcoming "The Aviator"), though it didn't quite reach the highest heights. It was a very well-crafted portrayal of an incredibly talented and admirable, though flawed, man; that said, it didn't seem all that revelatory. The movie's timeline basically ended in 1965 and along with Charles' musical genius, one of the central elements of the movie was Ray's addiction to heroin and ultimate struggle to conquer it. Though the movie doesn't say it, from what I've read on, although Ray had a career for nearly 40 years since the mid-60's (until his death this year), his peak -- in terms of hits, creative brilliance and popularity -- pretty much stopped then. I'm not saying he should've kept doing smack, but there obviously seems to be a connection the movie never quite made.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Fumble!!!!!!!! Laughing At The Whole Holy Mess

Even way back when, when its football team was perennially excellent, I never cared much about, or for, Notre Dame. They always seemed to have a (literally) holier-than-thou arrogance that back in my formative sports fan years made me hate them along with the Yankees, Cowboys and Celtics. And combining my early distaste with an approximate 15 year run of mediocrity (and sometimes worse), I really don't quite understand -- or perhaps more correctly respect -- why Notre Dame maintains this elite stature, er, posture. I mean, I guess they have a powerful following that earns them major play in the Chicago media, special status in the BCS, invitations to bowl games they may not deserve, and supposedly, attractiveness to players and coaches. But though the coverage of them is unavoidable, I've largely done my best not to pay much attention. I can't even tell you what the football team's record is this year (ok, I just looked it up, they're 6-5 and headed to the Insight Bowl). And while my not being Catholic has never mattered to me in rooting for (or at least not against) DePaul, Marquette, Villanova or other Catholic universities, Notre Dame has always seemed to overtly cloak itself in its Catholism, which only has added to my disdain and disinterest.

So from a football fan's standpoint (and I'm not a huge follower of college football), I felt no particular outrage at the firing of Tyrone Willingham as Notre Dame's football coach, as I'm not well enough aware of his strengths & weaknesses. Based on what I knew of prior not-so-successful ND coaches (Gerry Faust, Bob Davie) fulfilling their 5 year contracts despite rancor among the faithful, it seemed somewhat unfair to dump Willingham in his 3rd season. By many accounts, including Notre Dame's explanatory press conference, Ty was a man of integrity, with the respect of his players, an upstanding demeanor and a strong record in facilitating the academic development of his players. But in the eyes of the powers that be in South Bend, and among their seemingly buffoonish, self-righteous fat cat alumni boosters, he just didn't win enough.

Others can argue if racism played a factor in the alumni's demand that Willingham (who is black) be canned, but supposedly the ND Nation was hoping to lure Urban Meyer, a former Irish assistant who is the hot coach of the moment after leading Utah to an 11-0 season . And supposedly the interest was mutual, but despite Notre Dame's rapid overtures, Meyer chose to take the job at Florida for much more money and -- aided by lesser admission standards that Notre Dame wouldn't budge on -- a better chance of winning.

So now, the proud and mighty Notre Dame University is flailing around (much resembling the bumbling Chicago Bears organization) trying to find a coach and getting shot down by all the high profile names, like Jon Gruden and Steve Mariucci. They're now wooing a guy named Tom Clements, a former ND quarterback and current Offensive Coordinator for the Buffalo Bills. Though I've never heard of him, he seems to be a popular choice among ND followers, at least according to the Tribune. So if they don't get him, they'll really have egg all over their face and nowhere obvious to turn.

Keep in mind Willingham himself was hired after a fiasco involving the hiring-then-firing of George O'Leary for falsifying his resume. And though not overwhelmingly successful, Willingham had won his first 8 games in his inaugural 2002 season, restoring some prominence to Notre Dame, led them to a bowl game this year (though he won't be coaching it), upheld the academic standards ND claims are so important to them and didn't even get to see any of his recruiting classes through to fruition. If only Notre Dame hadn't fired him, he'd be their best head coaching candidate.

Oh what a holy mess. And I can't help but laugh. Morons.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Catching Up On My Projections

It had been quite awhile since I had seen a new movie, well before I went to Europe, but here's my take on a few I just saw (I tend to see them in bunches). To remind, my rating scale is based on the @@@@@ system.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
This one's on it's last legs at the cheap shows, but I'm glad I saw it on a big screen (especially for $2) and for fun, escapist entertainment with a new technological twist, I recommend it. It combines live action performances by Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie and Giovanni Ribisi with scenery that I believe is 100% computer generated. But it looks good and despite a somewhat simplistic "hero saving the world" storyline, has pretty good writing including some humorous banter between Jude & Gwyneth.

Written by Patrick Marber based on his acclaimed (though unknown to me) late 90's play and directed by the legendary Mike Nichols ("The Graduate"), this is a movie that didn't seem all that good, or meaningful, as I watched it, but like a good play, it has depth that didn't reveal itself until the end, and even beyond. I enjoyed reading Roger Ebert's review (after the movie, as I tend to do with him; I knew he'd given it 4 stars (out of 4) but he tends to give away too much in his reviews) and I also gained good insight & food for thought by reading message board discussions at There's more going on than you may initially pick up on, though even at face value (and with Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen, it'll be hard for anyone to complain about its "face" value) it's entertaining.

Finding Neverland
This was a real treat. Albeit with some creative liberties, this is a reality-based film about J.M. Barrie's inspiration for writing "Peter Pan" through his friendship with a widower and her 4 sons. With great performances by Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet and some of the child actors, this may be the best film I've seen this year. I always have some trouble with creative liberties in bio-pics because I don't know if I should believe the subject is as admirable as he is being made to seem; though I did some post-film browsing on J.M. Barrie, I don't really know enough about his "reality" to make certain assessments. But especially if you take this as simply a movie, and not necessarily a factual biography, it's fantastic.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Upon Further Review, 'Bomb' Still A Dud

U2 - How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

Wire. Exit. The Three Sunrises. Twilight. Like A Song. Hawkmoon 269. Ultraviolet. Some Days Are Better Than Others. Kite. Indian Summer Sky. I've just named 10 U2 songs that would not make their way onto a "Best Of" compilation of my making, nor were included on the band's two greatest hits releases. Yet I would rather listen to any of these songs, and dozens of others, than just about anything on U2's new album, "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb."

A few weeks ago, I reported on hearing a radio preview of the album and being largely unimpressed. After having bought the album and listening for more than a week, I still feel it is a sub-par effort. The album is selling like crazy (820,000 in its first week) and has seemingly gotten overwhelmingly positive reviews. But while repeated listenings have made the songs more familiar, with a few exceptions, they have not made them any more exciting. This is not an unlistenable album, but certainly an uninteresting one. And when you have been, at your best, one of the most brilliant bands of the last 25 years, one of my personal favorites and likely the most popular, blandly professional just isn't good enough (just ask John Kerry).

While I can't deny the ear candy enjoyability of "Vertigo" despite its seeming banality, it sadly is clearly the high point of the album. Some reviews I've read have heaped praise on Bono's deep lyricism, but perhaps that's the problem. U2 used to blend sonically interesting music with passionate sentiments, now it's like most contemporary art: overtly obvious messages with no stimulate-your-soul artistry, or even much surface appeal. There's a song on the new album called "Love and Peace or Else," the Edge-less version of what once was "Sunday Bloody Sunday" while the wretched "A Man and A Woman" traipses so listlessly over common ground that you can't believe this was a band that once wrote "With or Without You."

On a somewhat curious note, I read an Amazon's shopper's review that pointed out that there are several excellent "extra" songs that didn't make the album; I found a couple and while they're still not "Where The Streets...", "Pride" or even "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" they do seem better than most of the songs on the album. But I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing.

Of course, when U2 tours next year (look for them stateside in March) I'll pony up my $100 or more to go see them, but it certainly seems I'll have no shortage of songs during which to take a bathroom break or grab a beer.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Wham Bam Amsterdam (Uh, No Thank You Ma'am)

I'm actually back in London, late Monday night. I never got a chance to blog from Amsterdam, as I spent all my time running around doing stuff, I didn't have Internet access at my hotel and there didn't seem to be any Internet cafes nearby. You know, there's something kind of about traveling around Europe as I have been, well not really surreal, it's just that you plan a trip like this months in advance and build up a sense that places like Prague & Amsterdam should be larger than life or something like that (though unlike London, Paris, even Sydney, my anticipation did not come with any specific visuals; I didn't see anything previously familiar, except for some paintings). But my point is that though my anticipation was somewhat gradiose, once you're there, there isn't really time to appreciate any sense of awe, you just figure out how to get to the hotel, how to get around, and then go here, there and everywhere. I certainly enjoyed many of the things I saw, specifically in Amsterdam, my activities included the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, Heineken Experience (a pseudo brewery tour, kind of like Guiness in Dublin), and just walking around a lot of places, including the famed -- and a good bit creepy -- Red Light District. Adding to my meandering point is that of the 12 days on this vacation, only 7 allowed for real, full daytime activities. There's just a sense of dipping in for a whirlwind of sightseeing and then leaving, which is the only way it can be, but not as acutely exhiliarating as it should be. It's late, gotta go. Got back to London just in time to see one more musical, which I got a 1/2 price ticket for: Bat Boy, the Musical. It was nearly empty, but very enjoyable.

Bat Boy 11.22.04 London @@@@

Friday, November 19, 2004

Gilligan's Travels

Greetings from the lovely Internet access joint at London's beautiful Gatwick Airport. I got 3 minutes left for this blog. It's 3:55pm here, I'm waiting for a 7:15pm flight to Amsterdam, having had my flight from Prague delayed (read yesterday's blog for background) not due to snow, but some sort of logistical dispute between EasyJet and the Prague Airport. The delay was 1 hr 45 min so I had no chance to make my new flight (not officially a connection); that sucks but it's not as tragic as it could have been had I not been able to get a seat on EasyJet's 7:15 to Amsterdam, with no extra charge. Will try to blog from Amsterdam.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Putting Prague To Bed

Despite two chilly & rainy days (luckily, mostly a drizzle, not a downpour) I enjoyed Prague. I didn't really notice any of the "youthful vibrancy" that I recall hearing about, though admittedly I stayed largely in the central Prague tourist area. In fact, I wouldn't even know how, or where, to get out and about to "real Prague" but I guess it's that way for tourists who stay exclusively in downtown Chicago. It kind of reminded me of Brussels, the awe was in the beauty of the buildings, not really all that much in terms of wonderful activities or attractions. Today I schlepped up more stairs I've ever walked outside -- in the cold rain, mind you -- to reach the Prague Castle. In fact, the visually cool part of Prague Castle is a big church, St. Vitas Cathedral, and I've been to enough big beautiful churches already. The castle itself was a real dud, in that I got to see like three rooms, the main one of which had construction going on. Tonight, I attended an opera, The Bartered Bride, by Smetana, who was a Czech. I really actually enjoyed it, more probably than most of the operas I've seen at the Lyric in Chicago. Of course being in the 3rd row rather than the 5th level helped.

So much for Prague, hopefully. Tomorrow may be a bit hairy, as I'm supposed to fly into London Gatwick from Prague, arriving at 12:35pm and then fly out of London Gatwick on a separate flight to Amsterdam at 2:45pm. If all goes right, or close to it, I shouldn't have a problem getting my suitcase and re-checking in during this 2 hour window. But I saw on the weather (on the Internet) that they're expecting snow in Prague tomorrow morning. No sign of it yet, just rain tonight, but let's hope that doesn't delay my flight. If I can't get out, or get out to late to catch the other flight, well, that wouldn't be good. I think there's an evening flight from Gatwick to Amsterdam, which could be a fallback, but might require purchasing a new ticket. So keep your fingers crossed for me.

Celebration, What Celebration?

Perhaps you've read or seen about how yesterday, November 17 was the 15th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution (is that where Velvet Revolver got their name?) in Prague, marking the day Communism fell and the Czechs got their freedom. Supposedly there were speeches and marches and concerts in the streets and all kinds of celebrations. Well, I was out and about in Prague from 10am to 11pm and somehow missed all signs of any such things. I saw Frank Gehry's nifty Fred & Ginger Building (it resembles a pair of dancers). I walked on the famed Charles Bridge. I visited Old Town Square and saw the historic Astronomical Clock go off on the hour, I toured the Jewish Quarter with its many synagogues from centuries ago and reminders of the 80,000 (of 90,000) lives lost in the Holocaust, I attended a classical music concert, saw a Black Light Theatre performance and hung out for awhile at a Jazz & Blues Club. As for historic political celebrations, I was here, but somehow unaware. Guess I'll have to come back in 5 or 10 years.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Czeching In From Prague

Travel days are always a pain in the ass and today was really no different. Nothing particularly bad happened, but it was the usual schlepping, waiting, trying to figure out currency, trying to figure out maps, etc. Took a bus to a train to the airport in London, got off in Prague and took a bus to a train to a few blocks from my hotel in Prague, and initially walked the wrong way. Eventually got it straightened out and got here. The hotel seems nice; good to have a toilet & shower in the room again and there's free internet which I'm now on in the lobby. Had no plans for tonight, so I just walked around a bit. Went to the Old Town Square and had dinner and of course, Czech Beer (Pilsner Urquell). Found my way back with a map but navigating around still seems confusing. Hopefully in daylight (let's hope rain predictions prove false), everything will seem clearer. It's a good bit colder here than in London. Wish I packed a hat. Oh well. Till next time...

Monday, November 15, 2004

I Saw London

Tomorrow it's off to Prague. Here's a list to recap London.

Fire alarm
Oscar Wilde walking tour
Jerry Springer the Opera
Sushi for Dinner
The Woman In White
Abbey Road
Madame Tussaud's
Wallace Collection - art museum
Courtauld Gallery - art museum - great!
Walk across Waterloo Bridge & through Leicester Square
Indian food for dinner
Big Ben & Parliament - exterior only
Shakespeare walking tour with boat down Thames
Tower Bridge
National Gallery with Raphael exhibit
The Producers
Writing this blog
Off to sleep

Still In Full Bloom

Theatre Review
The Producers - London 11.15.04 -@@@@@

If you read in my last post that this was going to be the 6th time I've seen The Producers musical, it should be pretty obvious that I like the show. A lot. In fact, I'll state that it is the most entertaining show of any kind -- musical, play, concert performer, tv show, movie -- that didn't exist prior to the 21st century. I was fortunate enough to see it's world premiere in Chicago back in February 2001, and since them have become a self-professed Producers-ologist. I've seen it on Broadway (as in Chicago) with Nathan Lane & Matthew Broderick, in LA with George Alexander & Martin Short and in two touring productions without major stars. Some were better than others, in terms of various performances and such, but the show has always been great. Tonight's London show, just a week after it officially opened here, was supposed to star Richard Dreyfuss as Max Bialystock and a British actor named Lee Evans as Leo Bloom. But either because he was ill, injured or just bad, Dreyfuss got thrown to the sharks, so with a seat front row center, I had a close encounter once again with Nathan Lane, who was again fabulous. I still think Broderick is the best Leo I've seen, and the side-splitting humor hasn't been shocking since the first time, but the London crowd loved it and gave a standing ovation, which they didn't at the other two shows I saw. Obviously, I highly recommend The Producers to anyone who gets the chance to see it.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Musings On Two Musicals

So today I saw two musicals; perhaps not an ideal thing to do on the first day of an international trip, but London theaters are dark on Sundays and seeing shows was a major reason I wanted to get to London again. I saw Jerry Springer: The Opera, which isn't really an opera but a musical based on (more like spoofing) The Jerry Springer Show. I have no idea who the composer was; it starred David Soul of Starsky & Hutch fame, but has he been seen anywhere since?; plus there was an understudy for one of the main characters, whose normal actor won the British equivalent of the Tony. I also saw The Woman In White, a new musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by David Zippel, who happens to be the lyricist for the first show I saw in London 12 years ago, City of Angels, which I loved for it's wordplay. The star was Michael Crawford, the legendary original Phantom of the Opera. And , it's based on a classic novel, though I've never read it nor even heard of it.

So guess which one I liked more.

Wrong. Somewhat shockingly, even to myself -- despite Jerry Springer being delightfully profane, at times laugh-out-loud hilarious, well acted & sung, with genuinely tuneful and funny songs ... and despite Michael Crawford being unrecognizable in a fat suit and not even the main character, despite the fact that I recently saw and disliked "Phantom" and think Webber is likely overrated, despite Zippel's lyrics at times being painfully too clever (huh, what's that?), despite the lack of many songs that seemed truly wonderful and despite the fact that Woman In White used video imagery instead of physical set pieces, for the most part -- I have to say I think I enjoyed The Woman In White more. Though it was 3 hours, and perhaps didn't need to be, it was engaging, story-wise and music-wise; with great performances from Crawford and all the leads. I have to hear the music more (likewise with Jerry, which I also went into cold) to make a comparitive judgment, but I certainly liked Woman In White more than Phantom, and that's still running here after 18 years.

I gotta go, but just need to add that I did like Jerry, but after awhile it seemed like a one-joke-pony (albeit told in a variety of mostly funny ways).

I don't know that I could call either show must see, but am glad to have seen both. Of course, I'm seeing The Producers on Monday night, which despite having seen 5 times already, will still be better than either of these shows.

Jerry Springer: The Opera @@@1/2
The Woman In White @@@@

(Mostly) Alright For Starters

It is now Saturday night in London; I arrived last night and everything went smoothly. Well almost everything. Getting through O'Hare was a breeze; the flight left on time; except for some occasional minor turbulence, the flight was smooth; 7 hours went by pretty fast; the food on the plane was pretty good actually and the in-flight entertainment not bad; I arrived in London 20 minutes early and that was after circling Heathrow for about 40 minutes; getting through customs was fast & easy; my suitcase was waiting when I got to Baggage Claim; except for being a bit of a schlep, getting to and using the London Underground from Heathrow was simple and cheap; though I had to lug my luggage up some steps to get out of the subway, it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been; and when I walked out of the Picadilly Tube station, never having had to switch trains, my hotel was literally right on the same corner.

Then I walked into my hotel, the Regent Palace, which I stayed at once before (the location is wonderful, but it's not first-class because it is too old to have air conditioning and most of the rooms do not have bathrooms in them; so it's not the best, but in general the trade-offs are worth the savings). As I entered, there seemed to be a lot of people in the lobby. And more coming. It quickly became apparant that the fire alarm was sounding and all the guests had evacuated their rooms. Luckily, after only about 1/2 hour, they announced that it had been a false alarm (revealed by a front desk clerk to be caused by someone smoking in a hallway). So I got my room, which I was told would be temporary (to be switched today, which it was), as it had 4 beds. Indeed, so the one I slept on was a twin (no great tragedy, but still); the room was freezing. I turned on the radiator, but the heat never really kicked into gear. Then as I buried myself under the covers and struggled to fall asleep, as 1am was only really 7pm to me, guess what. Another fire alarm. After swearing a bit, I threw on some shorts & a jacket over my t-shirt and made my way into the hallway to go downstairs (had it been a real fire and I had to leave the building, I would've have been frigidly underdressed. Fortunately, before I went down any stairs, the alarm stopped. I went back to my room & bed. But for the next 1/2 hour or so, there kept being alarms that sounded and then went off in seconds. I never left my bed again and eventually that stopped, though there seemed to be a propensity of people on my floor who didn't seem to realize shouting and slamming doors (not due to alarms; just as morons) at 2am isn't very courteous. Eventually, I fell asleep and got like 6 hours.

Today, I switched to a single room, which I haven't stayed in yet, but it seemed nicer and warmer in the 5 minutes I was there. So not an idyllic start, but a good story and no great harm done. Unless there's more alarms tonight.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

London Calling

Tomorrow I head out on a European vacation that will take me to London, Prague and Amsterdam. London is a city I've greatly enjoyed twice, and look forward to visiting again, while I've heard & read good things about Prague & Amsterdam. Suffice it to say, I'm expecting it to be fun, exciting, eye-opening and even a bit educational. Hopefully I will find some public computers from which to hop online and post blogs about my adventures. So check in often.

First Impression: Atomic "Bomb"?

I just heard the new U2 album "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb," for the first time; they're playing it all the way through all day on WXRT. Hopefully, I'll like it more upon repeated listenings, but my first impression isn't particularly favorable. I remember saying about the song "Vertigo" a little while ago, that if it is the best song on the album, that would be a problem, but that U2's history has had them releasing a first single -- particularly, The Fly -- that wasn't necessarily the album's best track. On a first listen to the whole album, it sounds like Vertigo might be the best song; at the very least it's the most rocking. This album has been hyped as a "hard rocking" and "awesome" album. I'm about to hear it for the second time; let's hope I like it more. So far, not so good.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Second Wave Of Mutilation

Concert Review
The Pixies - 11.9.04 - Milwaukee Theatre

In case you haven't heard, The Pixies are back, and I don't just mean at the newly reopened Fannie May stores. One of the best and most popular bands never to achieve mass popularity, The Pixies are a group I came to know & like toward the end of their 1987-1992 heyday, but never saw in concert. Playing together for the first time in 12 years, The Pixies are enjoying a surprisingly succesful reunion tour -- that started back in April -- despite not recording any new music. Next week's 5-night stand at the Aragon promises to be a high point of the reunion, during which they will play to 10 times more fans in Chicago than they ever did during their original incarnation. Unable to see any of those shows as I will be in Europe, I caught The Pixies last night in Milwaukee at the plush, new (in an old building) Milwaukee Theatre, a far more comfortable venue than the Aragon (which isn't necessarily a good thing for the sake of a rock concert, but I didn't mind).

I enjoyed the show. The Pixies were very good, and easily could have been phenomenal. They sounded good and played virtually every song I would've wanted to hear, including Wave of Mutilation twice (one the normal rocking version, one a slowed down version as the first encore number). But while the music was first rate, the band and the show felt a bit cold and distant. More a band I appreciate for their unique & dynamic sonics than easily accessible songs -- which all seem to be less than 3 minutes; they must've played 20 songs in the first hour -- I wasn't expecting, nor did I get, captivating showmanship from The Pixies. But after a 12 year absense, more than 8 total spoken words from the band -- two Thank You's and a Thank You Very Much -- would've made them seem a bit less mercenary. Even musically, they were at their best when they did an extended jam at the end of Gigante, a nice change from the barrage of wham-bam-thank you-mam 3 minute blasts.

And the end of the show seemed a bit abrupt & disappointing. Though under 2 hours, they played long enough, but the encore consisted of the slow version of Wave of Mutilation, the mellowish Where Is My Mind and then -- rather than a rousing show closing, yet-unplayed rocker, like Dig for Fire, Allison or something like it -- they put down their instruments, said the last 4 of their 8 words (the only ones to come from Frank Black) and walked offstage. It seemed another encore was in order, but the house lights came up, giving a somewhat subdued ending to a good show that should've been masterful, but for a bit more warmth and one last blast to send us into the Milwaukee night.

I still recommend seeing them at the Aragon; hopefully the multi-night stand will loosen them up a bit.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Announcing My Discontent

It's Tuesday, November 9 and I still have a bad taste in my mouth. About the Presidential Election? Certainly, but what I'm referring to here is the Cubs. I still am acutely irked by the stupid way they played, their being a bunch of whiny jerks led by the ego-moronical Sammy Sosa and their parting company with their TV announcers -- Chip Caray & Steve Stone -- after a tempestuous relationship that I perceive being mostly the fault of the Cubs players & management including Dusty Baker. Now I just heard today that the 2005 Cubs Convention has already sold out in record time, so I guess legions of Cubs fans don't feel betrayed as I do, but to fans like me, who feel legitimately disgruntled about how things went down (and I mean down), the Cubs have a lot of work to do to fix things both in terms of fielding a truly World Championship caliber team on the field and restoring a positive public image; i.e. giving me a team I want to root for.

Now the reason for this blathering today is that I read that Bob Brenly will be the new color analyst on Cubs television broadcasts; the play-by-play announcer hasn't been selected yet, but the top contenders are all people I haven't heard of (one is a guy named Len Kasper, or something like that). This bothers me, though I actually really like Bob Brenly as an announcer. It might sound stupid, but I want my announcers to be "Cubs guys." Steve Stone played for the Cubs, albeit for just 3 years. Chip Caray is the grandson of Harry Caray, as legendary a Cubs figure as any non-player has ever been (and yes, I know Chip & Harry's "relationship" was negligible at best). But true or not, I got the sense that they were Cubs fans, which made listening in general more enjoyable and hearing them criticize the Cubs somehow more incisive. Don't get me wrong, I don't want my announcers to be blatant homers; I realize that a long tenure -- Vin Scully: Dodgers, Ernie Harwell: Tigers, Harry Kalas: Phillies -- can make an announcer seem more like part of the team than a short-lived playing career; and I don't want a terrible announcer calling the game just because there is a connection (a la Joe Carter). But I'm afraid listening to Len Kasper and Bob Brenly, if that's the tandem, will sound more like an ESPN broadcast than a local telecast. It may be good announcing, but at least for awhile, disconcerting to Cubs traditionalists like me.

Call Me Pathetic, Call Me What You Will

Concert Review
Green Day - 11.8.04 - UIC Pavilion

Back in 1995, when I saw Green Day for the first time, I felt old -- I was 27 and most of the crowd was in high school. Now I'm 9 years older, so are the guys in Green Day, but the majority of fans still seemed to be of high school age. If I was more insecure, my awareness of being seen as "that old dork by himself" might keep me from attending shows like this. But that would be a shame, because Green Day still is a really great band and they put on a terrific show at the UIC Pavilion last night.

Going in, I thought they would "perform" their excellent "American Idiot" concept album straight through as they had earlier in the tour. But after the initial 4-5 "AI" songs, they attacked some of their greatest hits like Longview, Basket Case, Brain Stew and Minority. For purity's sake, I think I would've liked the full "American Idiot" treatment, but everything they played sounded great and Billie Joe Armstrong is a tremendous frontman, showman, songwriter and guitarist who probably doesn't get his due. The crowd seem to really know & enjoy the two "latter day Green Day-esque" bands that opened the show -- Sugarcult and New Found Glory -- but other than their names, I was unaware going in and unimpressed coming out. But the lameness of these "posers" only further revealed to me what a truly top tier band Green Day is. And while I may admittedly be an old dork, if they keep rocking, so will I.

Obligatory Bemoaning Bush Blog

Note: This was written on Thursday, Nov. 4, but attempt to post didn't work. It's not really that good, but I am posting for history's sake.

Well Hallelujah! The stupid people of America have re-elected the stupid man they like having as their President. Who cares if there's no end in sight to our soldiers getting killed in Iraq, and to our military killing about as many Iraqi civilians as Saddam ever did? Who cares, Ohio, if millions of people are out of work with no new jobs on the horizon? Who cares if the people in areas most affected by 9/11 voted overwhelmingly for Kerry, seemingly debunking the myth that Bush is stronger on Terrorism? How could any of that possibly matter as much as the possibility that homosexuals might get married? Or that women might still be empowered to make choices affecting their own bodies & lives?

Moral Values, what a fucking joke. Beat on & cheat on your wife, smack around your children, raise them to hate blacks & Hispanics & Jews, drive drunk, bet on football and/or do a bunch of other crap, but maintain your holier-than-though attitude about anyone who isn't like you.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Where Have You Gone, John Kerry?

Friday night, I saw a free showing of Going Upriver, a documentary about John Kerry's service in Vietnam and subsequent protests against the war. The fact that I hadn't bothered to check it out until then was partially due to having had enough of the "propaganda" from both sides; I knew who I was voting for long ago, although except for a good showing in the debates, Kerry's candidacy has left me underwhelmed.

Well, Going Upriver really opened my eyes to the fact that John Kerry USED TO BE really cool. At 27, a genuine leader and decorated hero during the war, he showed amazing courage & conviction, passion & perspective, and even abundant charisma in spearheading the Veterans Again Vietnam group & rally in DC, and in speaking against the war in a U.S. Senate hearing. He really was quite impressive, and it made me think "What happened to him? Where did the fire go? Why is he so patrician, and seemingly unimpassioned, and prone to speaking in pre-programmed sound bytes?" I tried to think of a good analogy, someone who showed inordinate promise at an early age, and is still better than most, but just not the evolution you would have hoped. Another Kerry came to mind, as in Kerry Wood, but injuries are largely to blame for not fulfilling his wunderkind promise, plus he's only 26 now. This still may be weak, but John Kerry is like Elvis Costello. In 1978, Costello oozed anger and fire and brilliance, which you'll still see occasional glimpses of nowadays (which is why Sting wasn't my example; that would be too insulting to Kerry), but Elvis has veered too closely to middle of the road for my tastes, although I still like his current stuff more than 95% of today's music. I realize everyone gets older, changes priorities, is forced to make compromises, but if you're running to be the leader of the free world -- and you've shown that it's in you to say: THIS IS MINE, I'M TAKING IT -- it's just a damn shame that the fire still doesn't seem to have rekindled.

I sure hope John Kerry wins tomorrow, but I also hope he makes a better President than he does a presidential candidate. And if he wins, he certainly should thank Bruce Springsteen, Michael Moore, Al Franken, Eminem, Howard Stern, Robert Greenwald, Jim Gilliam, MoveOn,, Rolling Stone magazine, REM, Pearl Jam, Dixie Chicks, John Fogerty, Steve Earle, Bob Woodward, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, numerous others and John Kerry circa 1971, for they've all made a better case about why he should be President -- and done so with more balls -- than he himself has.

Weekend Reviews

Just to remind, @@@@@ is the highest rating.

Friday Night Lights - Movie
This well-made movie about high school football in Odessa, Texas -- and the accompanying fanaticism -- is notable for a lack of sheen and sentimentality, unlike Remember the Titans (though I also like that film). Although it takes a few creative liberties, it is based on a true story and told in it's straightforward, almost flat, manner, it feels pretty real.

Wilco - Auditorium Theatre - Sat. 10/30/04
The band rocked harder, and to me was loads better than in a dreary, overly folksy show I saw back in August 2002. In the Auditorium, Wilco sounded great and while as a fan of Being There and Summerteeth (even more so than their more recent albums, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot & A Ghost Is Born) I would've preferred a few more choice cuts from those albums, I certainly can't complain about the quality of what they played.

Sweeney Todd - Musical - Porchlight Theatre - Sat. 10/30/04
An excellent performance of Sondheim's macabre masterpiece. Though the grisly, unredeeming story is always a bit off-putting, the songs are first-rate and were wonderfully sung in this Porchlight Theatre production at the Theatre Building. Michael Aaron Lindner in the title role may have seemed a tad young for the part, but gave an excellent rendering nonetheless. Sondheim is such an icon of musical theatre, it is almost easy to take the genius of his music & lyrics for granted, but even if a song about making pies out of deceased humans sounds incredibly disgusting, Sondheim's wordplay is so adroit, you can't help but smile.

Going Upriver - Movie about John Kerry & Vietnam
This rating recognizes the quality of the movie; I'll talk more about my impressions in another post.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Wicked Impressive, I Guess

Sometimes, you just have to appreciate the weirdness of it all. On Saturday, October 17, I watched the New York Yankees take a 4-3 lead into the 9th inning of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox. As you all know, the Yankees had a 3-0 series lead, and the almost invincible Mariano Rivera was on the mound. To paraphrase the loony Pedro Martinez, I figured the Red Sox were about to get spanked once again by their “Daddies” and to be honest, I didn’t mind laughing at their recurring misery. Well, the Red Sox tied it up (and should have won it) in the 9th and the game went into extra innings. I lasted through the 11th, and then too tired to endure any more, I turned off the TV and went to sleep, figuring either the Yankees would win it as they usually did or even if the Red Sox won as the home team in their last at bat, there was no way to win the Series.

Well I just woke up and can you believe the dream I had?

But seriously, you’ve probably heard all you want about the Reverse of the Curse, the End of the Drought, the historic comeback, the heroic Schilling, the Foulk Hero, etc. so I won’t bother with any of that for now. Just thinking about the present day Red Sox, think about this: If they could’ve, they would’ve gotten Alex Rodriguez, who had a decent but not sensational year and whose lack of clutch hitting helped do in the Yankees. They would have gotten rid of Manny Ramirez, who won the Series MVP and may very well win the season MVP. They would have gotten Magglio Ordonez, who missed most of the season with the White Sox with injuries. They would’ve gotten rid of Nomar Garciappara before the season, got rid of him at the trading deadline to the consternation of their fans, and wound up doing much better with Orlando Cabrera, who the Cubs passed on to get Nomar. They had two ex-Cubs 3rd basemen, Bill Mueller and Mark Bellhorn, who every Cub fan will tell you they were happy to replace with Aramis Ramirez, but Mueller & Bellhorn had huge hits, in game 4 of the LCS and game 1 of the series respectively. Bellhorn, now the Red Sox second baseman, would likely not be favored by many over Todd Walker, last year’s Red Sox second baseman, who platooned for the Cubs this year. And they had the savior, Keith Foulke, who the White Sox dropped from the closer role, just back in 2002 and traded for Billy Koch who was coming off a 44 save season and completely sucked.

So while I never bought into the whole supernatural aspect of the Curse, Red Sox or Cubs variety, there is something about fate, and almosts & not quites, and luck, and team chemistry, and karma that I find somewhat fascinating. I still don’t care much for whiny Red Sox Nation; but hopefully we won’t have to hear them whine anymore. And the team deserved it. Cheers!

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

What The Dickens! A Present Surprise.

Scrooge The Musical - 10.26.04 - Ford Center/Oriental Theatre, Chicago

Going into "Scrooge," a new musical based on Dickens' A Christmas Carol, my envisioned enjoyment of the show had a lot going against it, both from a personal and universal standpoint. This was the U.S. premiere of the show, with last night being the very first performance. It supposedly was well received in London but seems to have gotten very little publicity here. It was a replacement show in my Broadway in Chicago series, replacing the far more publicized -- and personally more anticipated -- world premiere of Masada, which got scrapped. It came the night after a great R.E.M. concert, which left me both tired and somewhat wishing I could see R.E.M. again rather than attend Scrooge. The music, lyrics & book were written by Leslie Bricusse, who has some respectable credits, but nothing I particularly know. Unlike most musicals I attend, I was completely unfamiliar with any of the songs ahead of time. It was a Christmas show, which in addition to being a bit early anyhow, never much appeals to the Jew & religious cynic in me. And finally, the star of "Scrooge" was Richard Chamberlain, of whom I've never been a great fan and who seems to engender giggles when his name is mentioned.

So with all that working against it, how could it possibly be any good. I really don't know, but it was. It wasn't a masterpiece, or anything earth shattering, but I cannot deny that I found it enjoyable. Given the extremely familiar story, even to a Jew, it was executed about as well as I could have imagined. I doubt I'll be buying the Cast Recording and the music wasn't incredible or anything, but it was alright, with a few truly hummable tunes. Richard Chamberlain was good, with a surprisingly good voice. Chicago actor George Keating, who've I've often seen at Marriott Lincolnshire, was also quite good. The sets were impressive, with a few "ghostly" illusions created by a guy whose worked on the Harry Potter movies. Beyond my own personal enjoyment of Scrooge, which is slightly above middling but not overwhelming, I can really see this show as one parents can bring their kids to and introduce them to musical theatre in a worthwhile way. Far more so than Phantom of the Opera or some other higher profile shows. While it would've been so easy to pan this show with a "Bah Humbug," it really was surprisingly Merry indeed.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

East of the Mountain Third Party Call

R.E.M. - 10.25.04 - Auditorium Theatre - @@@@1/2

Now 36 and officially an old geezer, pop culturally speaking, I was oblivious to the maelstrom over the Ashlee Simpson lip synching incident on Saturday Night Live until I read about it on the Internet yesterday. Despite the fact the Internet was supposedly "burning up with discussion about Jessica's sister's humiliation" followed by news stories detailing Ashlee's excuse after excuse after PR spin, I still couldn't understand why this mattered. An at-best marginally talented singer was revealed to actually be talentless; why did this matter? Are the 12-year-olds buying her album really that discriminating? Or outraged?

But the point I'm desperately trying to get to is this: Ashlee's debut album recently hit #1 with something insane, like 400,000 copies sold in the first week and who knows how many after that. Which means she's selling a ton more albums -- and getting a ton more publicity, even for her embarassments -- than R.E.M. is these days. So as I was about to comment on the great R.E.M. show I saw last night, with a reference to the fact they're getting a bit long in the tooth, I realized I would -- and anybody else should -- happily see them until they're 100 rather than concern myself with the Ashlee Simpsons of the world.

Good setlist, as you can see below. Great mix of old & new, with the new songs sounding much better than they do on the albums. Great seat, 3rd row, about 10 feet directly in front of Mike Mills, which means I got "bass-prominence" more than I ever had before at an REM, or any, show. I didn't hear the Peter Buck's ukelele at the beginning of Losing My Religion, I heard the bass line, which was a nice change of pace. It was a pretty interesting perspective. Especially for a band that I've seen dating back to 1986. Sure they're getting a bit long in the tooth, but last night's show was a nice mix of past glories and a still vibrant -- if a bit less astonishing -- future.


Around the Sun
Begin the Begin
So Fast, So Numb
Exhuming McCarthy
Boy in the Well
So. Central Rain
High Speed Train
The One I Love
Bad Day
I Wanted to Be Wrong
Imitation of Life
Don't Go Back to Rockville
Final Straw
Losing My Religion
Walk Unafraid
Life and How to Live It
What's the Frequency, Kenneth?
Sitting Still
Leaving New York
Sweetness Follows
Permanent Vacation
I'm Gonna DJ
Man on the Moon

Monday, October 25, 2004

Here's to the Cheap Show

Yesterday, I saw The Manchurian Candidate (the new version; @@@) at the Ogden Theatre, for which I paid the whopping sum of $3. The Ogden, in Naperville, IL, and the Buffalo Grove Theatre, which fortunately for me are convenient to my home and workplace, respectively, are seemingly the last of a dying breed -- "the cheap show." Commonly known as second run theatres, these $2-3 theatres are more accurately 3rd run, as $3.50-7.00 theatres such as the Glen (in Glen Ellyn), Wilmette, Highland Park and wonderful Pickwick now provide a middle ground between the first run ($9-10) theatres and the Ogden & Buffalo Grove. There used to be a few more truly "cheap shows" around Chicagoland -- Morton Grove, and one I used to go to in Lombard, plus many of the mid-range theatres used to be really cheapos. I don't know the economics of cheap shows, but I sure wish there were more of them and I certainly wish the Ogden & Buffalo Grove don't go out of business or raise their prices like many others have. These two theatres seem to draw a nice crowd, are well-maintained, and if you're willing to wait 2-6 months after its release to see a movie, or are willing to take a flyer on just about anything for $2 or 3 bucks, they really can't be beat.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Bye George (Pt. 1, let's hope), or, Yankees Go Home

Has anyone seen George Steinbrenner lately? Or Pedro’s midget? Maybe they’re hanging out together. Anyway, while I must confess to not feeling any sort of personal joy over the Red Sox victory over the Yankees, their comeback certainly is a historic feat worthy of admiration. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the Yankees losing, though an obvious defect in my character doesn’t mind, and even enjoys, heartless dominance. I liked when Tiger Woods dominated the field, and especially Phil Mickelson; likewise I got a kick of George Steinbrenner going out and fielding a team that dominated baseball, damn the whining of others. Perhaps it afforded me some sort admiration of smug arrogance that I’ve never been talented enough to enjoy in real life. But if you think about it, the Yankee mystique is somewhat gone anyway, this being the 4th straight year they’ve crumbled without winning the World Series. They’re almost becoming the Atlanta Braves. But I still don’t think I want the Red Sox winning the World Series. I know they might, and I don’t mind any specific New Englanders finally tasting the joys of victory -- though 2 of 3 Super Bowls should somewhat void the Red Sox championship void, though I know it’s not the same -- but there’s just something about the whole wretched, cursed, downtrodden Red Sox Nation that just bugs me. And they just shouldn’t win before the Cubs. It’s not right, this year’s abominable North Side demonstration notwithstanding. OK, you got me. I like the Red Sox curse and I don’t want it to end. The 1918 chant will live on at Yankee Stadium if the Red Sox don’t win the World Series, so I’d like to see Roger Clemens and the Astros beat them in Game 7 at Fenway. Some things just aren’t meant to change.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Picasso, Goya, El Greco...

...Ribiera, Zurbaran, Dali, Miro, Velazquez and Gris. Nine great Spanish artists, many or all you may have heard of depending on your level of art history knowledge. Here's a 10th for you: Murillo. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682) to be exact. I came across one of his works last year at the Kimbell Art Museum in Ft. Worth, Texas of all places and have subsequently seen a few others in person and done some exploration about him online. It seems much of his stuff is more religious than the ones I initially liked, but if knowing about great artists is your thing, he's one more to know about. I gathered a nice smattering of his works -- mostly of the secular variety -- and invite you to see for yourself. Copy and paste this web address in your address bar and you'll be discovering a 17th Century master in no time:

(click on each thumbnail to see a bigger image)

Monday, October 11, 2004

Weekend Reviews #1

- Thursday 10/7
- The Dresser - A Play by Ronald Harwood - at Steppenwolf Theatre
Strong performances by John Mahoney & Tracy Letts; good core theme about "the show must go on" for a troupe of Shakesperean actors in England during World War II; but ultimately not all that enthralling or enriching.

- Friday 10/8
- Love; The Zombies - Concert - Park West
Love @@@ The Zombies @@@@
Two great bands from the 60's that haven't really had much recognition combined for a concert certainly well worth the $25 price. Most people don't know Love at all; many only know The Zombies for She's Not There, but both bands drew on their rich, yet short & distant legacies for a highly enjoyable show.

- Saturday 10/9
- John Mellencamp w/ Babyface - Riviera Theatre
Another Vote for Change concert; the only one to reach Chicago. Very light on the politics. Mellencamp was once a phenomenal concert performer, but has slowed down considerably. He's also become quite crusty and at times seemingly belligerant, and a large meathead contingent made for a not so enjoyable vibe. Still, his good songs are still good and he sang most of them.

Sunday 10/10
Finishing The Picture - a New Play by Arthur Miller - at Goodman Theatre
At times interesting, largely due to the biographical context of being about Miller and wife Marilyn Monroe during troubled times on set of the movie The Misfits. Without knowing the history, the play really would've seemed lanquid, despite an all-star cast and strong performances from Stacy Keach, Linda Lavin and Scott Glenn.

Where It's @ - The Seth Saith Rating System

Every critic needs a gimmick; unfortunately I don't have one. I don't even have the ability to type stars, so for my reviews of just about anything -- concerts, albums, plays, movies etc. -- I will use the handy @ sign, with a 5 @ scale as follows:

@@@@@ = Phenomenal; don't miss it!
@@@@ = I really enjoyed it
@@@ = It was alright but nothing special
@@ = It was disappointing, or just bad
@ = Absolute garbage

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Finally ... Rockin' In The Free World

Well, I'm sure in violation of the International Blogging Protocol, having not posted for nearly a week, but quite frankly I haven't had time. And who's reading this anyway? But for those few, obviously very bored souls that might be, I thought I'd recap my rock 'n roll, Vote for Change weekend.

Saturday, Oct. 2, I went to the lovely metropolis of Toledo, Ohio for a Vote for Change concert starring Pearl Jam and Death Cab for Cutie. I didn't reach Toledo until about 3:30, so my pre-show activities were limited a half-hour in the Toledo Art Museum -- I've been there before, most recently in January. It's an excellent museum, far bigger & better than one might expect in a city of Toledo's size -- and a visit to Tony Packo's Cafe, a legendary local restaurant dating back to 1932, that had been frequently mentioned by Klinger on M*A*S*H. The concert was at the Toledo Sports Arena, an old, low slung building that looked like a roller rink. There was one-tier, 5,000 permanent seats, plus another 2,500 put on the floor (over a hockey rink you could feel through the floor boards). The show began 10 minutes before the ticketed time of 7:30 when Eddie Vedder walked onstage alone with a guitar; he played two cover songs: Steven Van Zandt's "I Am A Patriot" and The Beatles' "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away." Then he introduced "representing the other side" a supposed ex-Senator from Pennsylvania, who decried all the liberals on hand. But it was just a joke, it was really actor Tim Robbins who proceeded to play guitar & sing in a 4-piece band called Gob Roberts.

Next up was Death Cab for Cutie, an up & coming band from Seattle I was somewhat familiar with. They were okay, but nothing phenomenal. Then came Pearl Jam, who opened with "Long Road" and proceeded to play a great set -- oh, yeah, I was in the 3rd row. After an electric set, and a short acoustic set hightlighted by Elderly Woman and Black (2 different songs!), after an encore break, Eddie came out alone and introduced special guest Neil Young, along with Neil's wife Pegi. They played Neil's song Harvest Moon, then the whole band came back and played All Along The Watchtower (amazing!), Act Of Love -- at this point, Eddie introduced another special guest who was onstage with a guitar, Peter Frampton -- followed by Cortez The Killer and Rockin' In The Free World.

Boy, that was longer than I thought. Anyway, Sunday was Detroit. First the Detroit Art Museum, then the final Detroit Tigers game of the season, then the concert at Cobo Arena. First, a band called Bright Eyes, then R.E.M., then Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band with special guest John Fogerty. It was awesome. More later.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Of Winners...

I must admit to being pleasantly surprised by John Kerry's performance in the debate last night. I thought he clearly dominated the proceedings and am happy to see the polls indicate the majority feels the same. Shockingly, I didn't see a poll or results on But anyway, I'm not saying Kerry was perfect with his presentation or all his points -- he probably wasn't -- but in terms of poise and professionalism, he clearly was more impressive that the oddly smirking, stammering, tape looping president who kept saying "It's hard work" and reiterating his reference to Kerry flip-flopping about the war. It was almost like watching a subliminal message that forgot -- or didn't bother -- to be subliminal. But it seems that the public -- at least those that offered an opinion -- saw right through it for the banality it is. Now I get to celebrate, and continue the rallying, with a rock & roll Vote For Change weekend. Pearl Jam in Toledo on Saturday, Springsteen, REM & John Fogerty in Detroit Sunday. So Kerry On Wayward and keep on rockin in the free world.

...and Losers

I am writing this before Friday’s Cubs game, so technically they still have a mathematical chance to make the playoffs, but even if they somehow leapfrog the Astros and Giants, they’re still a bunch of losers. This has been one of the most disappointing seasons in memory, but not simply, or even primarily, because it looks like they will fail to make the playoffs despite having been touted as the pre-season favorites to win the World Series. No, this has been a disappointing season because the way the Cubs have acted and played this year has made me not even want to root for them. I have never observed such a bunch of whiny crybabies who can’t get the job done -- against the Mets? against the Reds? Against Aaron Harang, John Riedling, Gabe White, Jose Acevedo and Juan Padilla -- yesterday’s Reds pitchers who came into the game with an average ERA over 6.00 and who the Cubs couldn’t score more than 1 run off of in 12 innings? Now certainly the Cubs have failed before, and I and Cub Nation have forgiven them, but the way they’re failing now -- bad baserunning, failing to lay down bunts or hit the cutoff man, perpetually swinging for the fences, even with the wind blowing in -- combined with their boorish behavior -- blaming umpires, getting suspensions, berating Chip & Steve, chastising the fans, etc. really makes this Cubs team an absolute joke. There’s a slight chance they might still get to the playoffs, but really, they don’t deserve to.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Abbreviated Thoughts of a Sick Man

Under the weather as I am, I'll let you fill in the pontification on:

1. Ichiro. He deserves your admiration. Pay attention.

2. Jay Leno announced he will host the Tonight Show until 2009, when he will hand it over to Conan O'Brien. Which means 5 more years of not watching the completely awful Tonight Show.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Great Article on the Cubs,1,474045.story?coll=cs-cubs-headlines

(you'll have to cut and paste; it seems this doesn't hyperlink. And you may need to be registered to read the article)

It's A Shame About Rex

Obviously, it's a shame when a star athlete suffers a season ending injury, particularly if its someone that plays for "your team" and seems classy. That said, I feel particularly bad for Rex Grossman, the Bears second-year quarterback who suffered a season-ending knee injury stretching out for a touchdown in Sunday's game against the Vikings. Along with a new coaching staff that seems much more "human" than the past regimes, Grossman was a large part of my renewed interest in rooting for the Bears. I didn't expect them to be particularly good this year, but I was looking forward to seeing Rex develop in his first year as a starter. Hopefully backup Jonathan Quinn will be watchable and the Bears will be too, at least for awhile, but now I have to wait at least a year to see if Rex will be the quarterback all Bears fans hope he can be.

Down For The Count

I like boxing. Watching it that is. Though I really can't recall the last time I watched a live boxing match. That's because as far back as I can remember, all the fights you'd want to see were shown exclusively on pay-per-view, or maybe HBO, which I haven't had until recently. But though I actually saw very few of them, I vividly recall caring about many big fights, mostly in the 1980s. Leonard-Hearns, Leonard-Duran, Hagler-Hearns, Holmes-Cooney, Leonard-Hagler, Tyson-Spinks. But probably dating back to when Tyson went away to prison -- voiding an anticipated Tyson-Holyfield fight while both were clearly in their primes -- I can't recall a truly "huge" fight, one that truly captured America's interest, including the non-boxing public. So combined with the fact that even a "good fight" to boxing fans never elicited me to pay $40-60 to watch it, my interest in boxing has unavoidably waned. Tyson became not only a madman, but a criminal madman, Holyfield just wouldn't stop, Lennox Lewis was fine but not terribly interesting. Over the past 10 years or so, the only boxers who really stimulated any interest -- I followed their fights on the internet, or cared about the result enough to stay up watching ESPN -- were Oscar de la Hoya and Roy Jones, Jr. Admittedly, I was drawn to them largely by hype, including self-hype, but combined with unarguable talent, they were at least notable enough to sustain a passing interest in boxing a few times a year. Well considering that both of them keep getting their asses kicked -- formerly unbeaten Jones has now been knocked senseless by a single punch two times in a row, including last Saturday when he was out cold for 4 minutes following a 9th round KO by huge underdog Glen Johnson; de la Hoya has lost 3 or 4 big fights over the last 3 or 4 years, including most recently being KO'd and left writhing in pain from a body shot by Bernard Hopkins -- it's time for them to stop. Just stop, it's over. And if my ever-diminishing interest in boxing goes out with Oscar & Roy, so be it. The whole WBO-WBC, Arum/King, Tyson, etc. mess made me believe the whole sport's corrupt anyhow, and now with the two remaining bright spots being darkened, I can now care even less about boxing. And I think I can live with it.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Play Like Champs, Not Chumps.

Far be it from me to predict doom, and on paper the Cubs should still be the front runner to be get into the playoffs as the National League wild card, but I don't like what I'm seeing on the field or off. They continue to play and act like a bunch of idiots. This morning's Tribune quotes Moises Alou as saying the umps are "after me." You stupid baby, like that's going to help things. Just hit the damn ball, perhaps take the bat off your shoulders. And stop blaming Chip and Steve while you're at it. And Sammy, ever think about breaking out of your slump by just trying to make contact, go to right field, get base hits, instead of swinging from your heels and missing every damn time. That game Saturday was a killer -- they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, blowing a 3 run lead in the 9th -- and then they laid down and died Sunday, again to the lowly Mets playing for a lame duck manager. Believe me, I still want the Cubs to win, and I think they can, but they are certainly making it harder to root for them.

Can It Really Be Something Positive? Oh My, It Is!

This year, I've seen live performances by many outstanding musicians, including Buddy Guy, Prince, Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton, the guys from Rush, Metallica, Aerosmith, plus more songwriter types such as Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Van Morrison, Neil Young and David Byrne. And as a display of sheer musical virtuosity -- not the songs themselves, but the playing -- none has topped Robert Randolph and the Family Band, who I saw Saturday night at a special WXRT/American Express show at the Vic Theatre; I actually won tickets. Robert Randolph plays the pedal steel guitar and man is he phenomenal. I have his most recent album -- Unclassified -- and while it's good, Randolph's terrific live shows aren't so much about songs as long funky jams, extended solos, good natured interplay with the audience, etc. The band even takes a turn at trading instruments, and could easily fool latecomers into thinking the "switcheroo" arrangement is how it's supposed to be. You can check out the album, but it really doesn't do them justice. If you get a chance to see them live, even on TV, check them out.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Joey, I'm not watching anymore

I watched "Joey" again last night, and after 3 episodes, I have to say that while the show isn't quite awful, it's certainly not "Must See" either. After the first episode, I thought that the problem was Joey himself, that while in Friends his stupidity was at times amusing, it wasn't enough to base a show around. Like other great ensemble characters, or even the actors themselves, e.g. Kramer, George/Jason Alexander, Joey was good as part of the ensemble, but too much of a one-trick pony to carry a show himself. While this may be true -- for the show to succeed, they do need to expand Joey beyond his now predictably dumb self -- I realized last night that a greater problem with "Joey" is the rest of the cast & situations surrounding Joey. The sleazy sister, geeky nephew, pretty but married neighbor, etc. are already getting old and it's only been 3 episodes. And unlike Friends, where there were 2 apartments, the coffee shop and several situational locations, it seems like the whole Joey expereince is happening in his apartment. I can see this show potentially getting better -- as someone pointed out, many good shows had poor beginnings -- but it seems the problem is, they're aiming too low. Dumb Joey and dull supporting characters won't be enough.

I also tried watching CSI (the original one) for the first time, as it seemingly has become the most popular show on TV and I like William Peterson. But I couldn't even get through a half-hour. It just bored me.

And just wait til I really get going on a state of TV rant. Something to look forward to, I'm sure.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

A Tip Of My Virtual Cap

...and a raising of my virtual Old Style to Greg Maddux, who was the winning pitcher for the Cubs today. It was his 15th win of the season, making it 17 straight years of 15+ wins, something no one else has done in the history of baseball and really quite a remarkable feat. I don't know if he broke his own record or was tied with someone, but is really incredible considering every stupid caller to sports talk radio wanted run him out of town when he was struggling in April. And he really should be about 17-9 instead of 15-10 as he is, if the bullpen hadn't blown a couple of games he was on the way to winning. Also amazing is the fact that this should become the 14th straight year he hasn't lost more than 11 games. All told, he is 304-173. Quite a career that isn't close to being over. Here's hoping he gets a chance to improve his mediocre playoff record this year :) A trivia question for anyone who's actually reading this: How many times has Maddux won 20 games in a season?

Happy Birthday Boss

Today is Bruce Springsteen's 55th Birthday. This is a weird highfaluting thing to say, but is something I've been thinking, particularly in light of the Jewish high holidays -- and my own Judaism obviously -- not ever really meaning a whole lot to me other than a respect for my family & ancestors. I guess a lot of people take comfort in religion and that's fine if it comes naturally. But I've always felt "religion" should be that which gives you comfort, and since I was about 12, as much as anything, that's been the music of one Mr. Springsteen. So Happy Birthday Boss. "I believe in the faith that can save me."

Opera Nights & Green Days

So last night I went to the Lyric Opera in Chicago to see Mozart's Don Giovanni. A night at the opera isn't exactly a new thing for me, as this is my second year as a subcriber and I think I've been to something like 12 operas in the last few years. But I am still fully an opera novice, in terms of my knowledge, familiarity and appreciation of opera as a whole, particular operas and particular performances. I have a thorough respect for the art form, have truly enjoyed many of the operas I've seen and can now occasionally listen to opera on my iPod, willingly, albeit in small doses. That said, I kept nodding off last night during Don Giovanni. And though I thoroughly respected its many moments of obvious beauty and artful brilliance, the truth is, I was never really enthralled, enraptuped or engrossed. I basically sat through two 1-1/2 hour acts looking at my watch every 10 minutes or so, waiting for the time to pass. So I guess my efforts to learn to appreciate opera, as part of a wider mission to expose myself to new things, cannot yet be termed a success. I take the blame for not more thoroughly familiarizing myself with the music of each opera I see -- such as I do with Broadway musicals, with much greater enjoyment -- but I guess you can only like what you like, and while I'm trying to like opera and do to an extent, it's a work in progress. At best.

That said, I have been greatly enjoying Green Day's new American Idiot album, probably the best "rock" release so far in 2004. The dearth of good rock & roll -- particularly as presented on American radio -- is in large part what has spurred my exploration of Broadway (which I greatly enjoy), Jazz (which I now wake up to each morning, but am still just dabbling in), Classical (small doses at best ) and Opera which I discussed above.

Though stories & comments I've read/heard about American Idiot reflect surprise at Green Day's newfound relevance, I've been a fan since the day I heard Dookie and have purchased every release of theirs since, including their Greatest Hits and Rarities collection. They have tons of great -- though somewhat similar songs -- and they've been great live each time I've seen them. So I personally don't consider American Idiot a shocking return to brilliance, but merely the continuation of a solidly great band. Supposedly, it's a concept album, but I haven't even picked up on all that yet -- it just came out Tuesday -- I just like the songs. And hearing some fucking guitars again. Are you allowed to swear in a blog or will the FCC be knocking on my door?

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

This morning I listened to...

Placido Domingo, Maria Callas, McCoy Tyner, Howard Stern, but ultimately Nirvana's In Utero. I was reminded how great an album that is; I remember that after it's release in 1993 I felt it was a better album than Nevermind, and I have to say I still do today. But there's a weird phenomenon with that. If asked to name the 10 best albums of all time, Nevermind would clearly make my list, yet In Utero wouldn't. Yet if asked to rank the Nirvana albums, I'd put In Utero on top, over Nevermind. I think it's a better, bold artistic statement, yet lacks the cultural impact that makes Nevermind a more universally important work. If that makes any sense.

I remember that at the time of its release, In Utero got overshadowed by press stories about Kurt's fights with Geffen, the record label, over the rougher-edged songs like Milk It and Very Ape. It was vastly outsold by Pearl Jam's simultaneous sophomore release Vs., somewhat eclipsed by Nirvana's own MTV Unplugged performance and even further overshadowed by Kurt's suicide only 6 months after it's release. But its worth noting that while Kurt wrote Nevermind when nobody knew who he was, In Utero was the only album he wrote as a superstar, "voice of a generation," husband, father and publicly-documented drug addict. As such, his decision not to take the safe route, but to include songs that made his record company cringe and drop Nirvana clearly a notch below Pearl Jam in popularity, is all the more noteworthy. He could have easily made another Nevermind; he didn't, but in my mind made something -- amazingly as it sounds -- even better.

Monday, September 20, 2004

10 Bands On My iPod But Not Yours

1. Stereophonics
2. The Wildhearts
3. Ash
4. Longwave
5. The Killers
6. Death Cab For Cutie
7. The Jam
8. The Move
9. Love
10. Husker Du


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