Monday, October 17, 2005

Shut Up and Cheer

I am very happy this morning, because for the first time in my life -- and I just turned 37 on Saturday -- I will get to witness a World Series in which a Chicago team is participating. I am thrilled the White Sox got there, admiring of the way they have played most of the season and in the playoffs, eager to attend a game if economically feasible, non-conflicted in my intent to root strongly for them to win and ready to celebrate when they do.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be the case, because I am also -- and even more so -- a Cubs fan. And according to the great arbiters of all things, this is blasphemy. If you are a Cubs fan, you should hate the White Sox, want them to lose and despise their fans. Well, I don’t. Although I have always been a pretty major sports fan, I have never been -- and even less so as time goes on -- too vigilant about it. Watching sports brings enjoyment to my life and at times I get as rapt up in a team’s fortunes as anyone, but it’s not life or death and I don’t treat it as such. I always am bemused when a world tragedy or an athlete’s untimely death -- such as Jason Collier’s this weekend -- causes players, managers, announcers and fans to say, “This really puts everything in perspective; it’s just a game.” And then, a full 4 seconds later we once again lose perspective.

So you can call me a frontrunner, a bandwagon jumper, a waffle, a fair weather fan, etc. OK, I am. Shoot me dead. But I root for anyone I enjoy rooting for and damn the contradictions. I’ll never deny that there are far more devout White Sox fans -- who deserve and will enjoy their current success far more than I -- and even more devout Cubs fans. When the two teams play, I typically root for the Cubs and would certainly rather have them win a World Series than the Sox. But the Cubs have been embarrassing on and off the field the last couple years and haven’t really been a team that makes you want to root for them. And while the White Sox have always existed in the shadow of the Cubs -- for me, the city and the national perspective -- it’s not like I didn’t root for the South Side Hit Men in 1977, or attend the first game of the Carlton Fisk/Greg Luzinski era in 1981, or buy a Winning Ugly T-shirt in 1983 or watch every playoff game they’ve been in during my lifetime, in ’83, ’93 and 2000.

I’ve never much cared what other people think and I really don’t now. It’s not like anyone is trying to stop me from rooting for the White Sox. But even as reflected on local sports talk radio and Internet message boards this glorious morning, the ardor with which people ascribe the purity of being a Cubs fan or a Sox fan is ridiculous to me. I didn’t go to the University of Illinois, and neither did a lot of other people who were rooting for them during their basketball team’s incredible run this year. Without pretending that I’m “diehard” I’ll avidly follow any local team that’s worth following, be it the Blackhawks, Northwestern, DePaul, etc. And while pretty solely devoted to the Bears and Bulls within their sports, too often team management in Chicago -- and resultant suckage -- has made it hard to unconditionally cheer for anyone at all times. And again, this isn’t life or death. I remember mentioning to a hardcore Bears fan a few years back that back when the Green Bay Packers were in the Super Bowl in the mid-90s, I rooted for them to win and admired Brett Favre. You’d have thought I insulted his Mother.

Relax folks and enjoy it. Chicago has a World Series for the first time in 46 years, and just the second time in 60. And that’s good enough for me. Go Sox. Go Go Sox!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

My 100 Favorite Artists (Painters)

1. Van Gogh, Vincent
2. Picasso, Pablo
3. Raphael
4. Seurat, Georges
5. El Greco
6. Monet, Claude
7. Botticelli, Sandro
8. Caravaggio
9. Michaelangelo
10. Renoir, Auguste
11. Magritte, Rene
12. Hopper, Edward
13. Vermeer, Jan
14. Pissaro, Camille
15. Goya, Francisco de
16. Matisse, Henri
17. Rembrandt van Rijn
18. Murillo, Bartolome Esteban
19. Dali, Salvador
20. Manet, Edward
21. Caillebotte, Gustave
22. Kandinsky, Wasily
23. Bonnard, Pierre
24. Modigliani, Amadeo
25. da Vinci, Leonardo
26. Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri
27. Gerome, Jean-Leon
28. Ribera, Jusepe de
29. Bronzino, Agnolo
30. Velasquez, Diego
31. van Dongen, Kees
32. Cezanne, Paul
33. Tissot, James
34. Miro, Joan
35. Chagall, Marc
36. Rubens, Peter Paul
37. Hassam, Childe
38. Vuillard, Edouard
39. Klimt, Gustav
40. David, Jacques-Louis
41. de Chirico, Giorgio
42. Davis, Stuart
43. Liechtenstein, Roy
44. Cassatt, Mary
45. O’Keefe, Georgia
46. Bougereau, William
47. Jawlensky, Alexei
48. Romney, George
49. Sisley, Albert
50. Leger, Ferdinand
51. DeKooning, Willem
52. Munch, Edward
53. Zurburan, Francisco de
54. Gauguin, Paul
55. Klee, Paul
56. Derain, Andre
57. Frieseke, Frederick
58. Close, Chuck
59. Warhol, Andy
60. Wood, Grant
61. Albright, Ivan
62. Escher, MC
63. Kahlo, Frida
64. Utrillo, Maurice
65. Titian
66. Soutine, Chaim
67. Signac, Paul
68. Vigee-LeBrun, Elizabeth
69. Rousseau, Henri
70. Steen, Jan
71. Benton, Thomas Hart
72. Rivera, Diego
73. Canaletto
74. Mondrian, Piet
75. Reynolds, Joshua
76. Bellows, George
77. Braque, George
78. Pollock, Jackson
79. Kirchner, Ernst
80. Remington, Frederic
81. Prendergast, Maurice
82. del Sarto, Andrea
83. Delvaux, Paul
84. Boucher, Frederic
85. Fragonard, Jean-Honore
86. Ernst, Max
87. Lippi, Fillipino
88. van der Weyden, Roger
89. Sargent, John Singer
90. Gris, Juan
91. Rockwell, Norman
92. Johns, Jasper
93. Van Dyck, Anthony
94. Jordaens, Jacob
95. Kokoschka, Oscar
96. Freud, Lucien
97. Leighton, Frederic
98. Archimboldo, Giuseppe
99. Glackens, William
100. Beckmann, Max

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Chicago's Seven Wonders

The Chicago Tribune is running a survey, asking for people to submit their 7 Chicago Wonders. Here is my submission:

Seven Chicago Wonders

1. The Art Institute - I’ve been to art museums around the world, and ours is truly one of the very best.
2. Wrigley Field - Likewise, I’ve been to virtually every major league ballpark, and old or new, none compares to Wrigley. If only we had a team worth watching there.
3. Millennium Park - Beyond the striking features (i.e. Pritzker Pavilion, Cloud Gate, the face fountain), this new, still somewhat-in-progress park has become a remarkable communal setting for Chicagoans and tourists alike
4. The Theatre Scene - Goodman, Steppenwolf, the touring Broadway shows & now Wicked’s long run are awesome, but what really sets Chicago apart from everywhere else are all the small, often storefront theatre companies that provide something good to see on almost any night
5. The Legendary Pizza Places - Gino’s East, Pizzaria Uno & Due and Lou Malnati’s all serve pizza that is better than anything the rest of the world has to offer
6. The Skyline - Growing up in Skokie, the southbound view, with Hancock on left, Sears on right is quintessential. But northbound, especially from the Planetarium, is also amazing. Much better than New York’s; more balanced & not as crowded.
7. Forest Avenue, Oak Park - Brigadoon for admirers of the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright
8. (Hey, this is Chicago. We get extra votes.) Bahai Temple - One of the most beautiful structures in the United States, with almost equally spectacular gardens

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

My All-Time 100 Favorite Artists of Popular Music

1. Bruce Springsteen
2. The Beatles
3. R.E.M.
4. Nirvana
5. Led Zeppelin
6. The Rolling Stones
7. U2
8. The Jam
9. The Who
10. Smashing Pumpkins
11. The Kinks
12. Pearl Jam
13. Radiohead
14. David Bowie
15. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
16. The Replacements
17. Midnight Oil
18. Cheap Trick
19. Stereophonics
20. Dinosaur Jr.
21. The Wildhearts
22. Green Day
23. Elvis Costello
24. Bob Dylan
25. Foo Fighters
26. Pink Floyd
27. The Clash
28. AC/DC
29. Talking Heads
30. Rush
31. Aerosmith
32. Bob Segar
33. Jimi Hendrix
34. Neil Young
35. John Lennon
36. The Waterboys
37. Liz Phair
38. John Mellencamp
39. Johnny Cash
40. Guns ‘n Roses
41. The Police
42. Alejandro Escovedo
43. Peter Gabriel
44. The Ramones
45. Queen
46. Van Halen
47. Creedence Clearwater Revival
48. Husker Du/Bob Mould/Sugar
49. Simon & Garfunkel
50. The Flaming Lips
51. Paul McCartney
52. Eric Clapton/Cream/DerekDom
53. Elton John
54. Garbage
55. BoDeans
56. The Doors
57. Ash
58. The Cure
59. Def Leppard
60. Eagles
61. Billy Joel
62. Nine Inch Nails
63. Zombies
64. Metallica
65. Depeche Mode
66. Social Distortion
67. Dire Straits
68. Warren Zevon
69. Jason & the Scorchers
70. Van Morrison
71. George Harrison
72. Material Issue
73. Soundgarden
74. The Byrds
75. The Pixies
76. Red Hot Chili Peppers
77. The Smoking Popes
78. Wilco
79. The White Stripes
80. Elvis Presley
81. Bad Religion
82. Prince
83. Beck
84. Coldplay
85. Blondie
86. Jackson Browne
87. Santana
88. Stevie Ray Vaughan
89. Ozzy Osbourne
90. The Smiths
91. Muse
92. Love
93. Velvet Underground/Lou Reed
94. Jane’s Addiction
95. The Wallflowers
96. The Darkness
97. Counting Crows
98. Graham Parker
99. Buddy Holly
100. ZZ Top

Monday, June 13, 2005

All The City's A Stage (Weekend Reviews)

One of the truly great things about Chicago is the constant abundance of live theater. Far beyond the Loop -- where two of the biggest and best musical spectacles of recent years, Wicked and The Lion King will run all summer and at least in Wicked's case, much longer -- north, south, east (relatively east, at least) and west, you can almost always find something worthwhile to see. With the help of the wonderfully useful HotTix, I saw all three of the shows below -- all world premieres -- for a total of $35, or less than a nose-bleed seat to The Lion King. And while the lack of air conditioning in a couple cases made for creature discomfort and none of the shows was truly fantastic, each was well worth taking a look at, certainly for the price.

Dave Davinci Saves The Universe
Viaduct Theatre
Unfortunately, it was so hot in this out of the way theatre on Western, just south of Belmont, that I could not fully appreciate the merits of this inventive story and staging as sweat cascaded down my back. The show was somewhat confusing and perhaps not worth the effort or discomfort, but overall I would give it a thumbs up just for attempting something unique.

Martin Furey's Shot
TimeLine Theatre
Inspired by real-life photojournalists covering strife, and armed conflict, in South Africa just prior to Nelson Mandela's election in 1994, the interesting subject matter of this play was a bit better than the writing itself, but I liked it quite a bit. There was very interesting background material to read in the lobby and while the theatre was quite warm, compared to the night before, it felt almost breezy.

Red Light Winter
Steppenwolf Garage Theatre
Probably the most high-profile of the three plays, this world premiere by Adam Rapp -- who wrote the insanely intriguing Blackbird -- had an interesting premise, some sharp, culturally-savvy dialogue and strong performances, but was just too long and somewhat misguided. Two mismatched friends are in Amsterdam where they interact with a prostitute. Despite the length, it was highly watchable, but while many great plays are somewhat ambiguous, I'm not sure what Rapp was trying to say.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Power & The Glory (and the Ego)

5.12.05 United Center Chicago

Kings of Leon (opening act) @@@@

Able to instantly sell every ticket they put on sale everywhere in the world, in the same year as their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, U2 is seemingly a band with nothing to prove. But I've been a fan since the early-'80s and going into last night's show, I genuinely wondered if within the corporation that U2 has become, there still beat the heart of a great rock 'n roll band. For if Bono's ego hadn't been insufferable enough in the past, his recent high profile humanitarian efforts -- while genuinely admirable on their own -- have not been artfully integrated into the band's music, despite repeated attempts. Most notably, their new CD, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, is chock full of songs that proselytize, but fail to connect. Or rock.

Well, last night's show reiterated that U2 is a band that can reach heights few others can. Phenomenal from the outset, the show had me planning my exuberant @@@@@ review midway through, until Pope Bono couldn't help but show up. Early highlights included the rightful show opener Vertigo (although past setlists reveal this to be the first show at which it was) and an amazing rendition of 1981's Gloria. And even if the band becomes a leisure-suited lounge act, the staccato drumbeat opening of Sunday Bloody Sunday will never fail to excite me. Despite several new songs that I still don't much love, even the pacing and vibe were dead on. But when Bono led into a beautiful rendition of Running to Stand Still by saluting the men & women of the U.S. military, I couldn't help but cringe at what seemed like rote, pre-scripted pandering. At the end of 'Running,' a song about heroin addiction, a video screen ran text from 1948's Declaration of Human Rights with some narration about how torturing people is bad. This may have been fitting had it led into Walk On, The Unforgettable Fire or if Bono had a twisted sense of humor, So Cruel. But the song that followed was the new City of Blinding Lights, accompanied by the most extensive lights and video display of the show.

During Pride, a song everyone knows is about MLK, Bono of course had to speak his praises rather than just sing them, and this lead into a speech about eliminating African poverty, with Bono actually (I'm pretty sure) singing Kum-Ba-Ya over the glorious build up of Where the Streets Have No Name, during which the video screens rotated African flags. Hey, I'm sure he's well-intentioned about noble causes, but do you really have to smack me in the eyeballs? More Bonoesque blather actually diminished the power of One rather than enhance it.

Then came the encore. Would Bruce, in town the night before, show up?


Without the Boss, three Actung Baby songs led off the encore, including the unnecessary (for me) Mysterious Ways, followed by a great rendition of With or Without You. Offstage, then back on, for an acoustic Yahweh (from the new album). From the past setlists, I expected '40' to close the show as it had way back in the 80s. But surprisingly, U2 went into an amazing version of Bad, which almost redeemed Bono wrecking the feel & pacing of the set and included the "how long to sing this song" section of 40.

Great band -- thank goodness for Edge, Adam & Larry, solid pros forever -- and a great show that should've been phenomenal. If only Bono could help himself.

Oh, and the Kings of Leon, who opened the show, were excellent, putting on a rocking 45 minute set that connected even in the 3rd deck.

U2 setlist: Vertigo, All Because Of You, Elevation, Gloria, The Ocean, Beautiful Day, Miracle Drug, Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own, Love and Peace or Else, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Bullet the Blue Sky - When Johnny Comes Marching Home, Running to Stand Still, City of Blinding Lights, Original of the Species, Pride, Where the Streets Have No Name, One

Encore: Until the End of the World, The Fly, Mysterious Ways, With or Without - Strangers in the Night, Yahweh, Bad - Norwegian Wood - Sexual Healing - 40

Thursday, May 12, 2005

A Perfectly Low-Key Boss

Bruce Springsteen
5.11.05 Rosemont Theatre

I've now seen Bruce Springsteen live on stage 22 times, but last night was the first time I've seen him by himself. No E Street Band, no accompanying musicians, not even an appearance by his wife (and E Streeter) Patti. And while I figured with U2 having an off night during their Chicago stand Bono was bound to show up, no sign of him either. Just Bruce, for 2 hours & 15 minutes of acoustic guitar, pump organ and piano, centered around songs from his new, low-key Devils & Dust album. While the show didn't compare to the buoncy of a typical hard-rocking Bruce & E Street greatest hits inclusive affair (and really, nothing does) for a fan like me, it offered an ideal complement.

While the storytelling, short on melody nature of a number of his song selections made for quiet appreciation rather than overt enjoyment, the pacing was never boring as Bruce mixed up his instrumental & vocal stylings, and made several revelatory introductory explanations to his songs. To be honest, an appearance by Bono would have been way too grandiose for this admirably low-key affair. Though I can't deny that despite my appreciation for the Devils & Dust songs, it was solo piano renditions of Incident on 57th St. and The River (old Bruce songs) that really felt special.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Pain and Validation

5.9.05 Cabaret Metro Chicago

It's sad to say, but I'm old. And decrepit. For standing at a concert, which I have done hundreds of times in my life, now brings pain and discomfort to my legs after about an hour. Which means my days of going to shows at the Metro, Aragon, Eagles Ballroom (in Milwaukee) and other venues without seating may be over.

Which would be a damn shame, because I'd miss out on (suffering through) shows like last night's excellent Stereophonics show at the Metro. For the first time in six tries, the Stereophonics gave me a show that truly justified my affinity for them. And I had to go get a beer in the middle of it, I was in so much pain.

But Kelly Jones was nice to the crowd for a change, the setlist was heavy on the new album, which came alive live, but also featured favorites like A Thousand Trees, The Bartender and the Thief and Local Boy in the Photograph.

Why this band can't "break" in America I'll never know. But I'll keep supporting them, at least as long as my legs support me.

Where Have I Been?

On Sunday, April 24, I left on a trip to Spain, fully intending to blog along the way. I even knew of an Internet cafe around the corner from my hotel in Madrid. And from the get-go, I had blog-worthy material, in my head at least. But the EasyInternetCafe in Madrid was no longer in business and between not finding computers to use and being too exhausted to seek one out, well I never did any Spain Bloggin.'

I have now been back for nearly a week, and while this somehow seems unnecessary, for history's sake I'm going to recap my trip as best as I remember.

On the morning Monday, April 25, I arrived in Madrid. Upon arriving at my hotel -- Hotel Europa at the Puerto del Sol, a central area in the city, kind of like a Times Square or Picadilly Circus -- and checking in, I went to the attached cafeteria and saw Rick Steves, the guy who writes the tour books that I utilize. I chatted with him briefly and went on my way. On the first day, still kind of groggy, I went to two art museums and a palace. One real highlight was seeing Picasso's Guernica at the Reina Sofia Museum.

Tuesday was a day trip from Madrid to Toledo, a beautifully preserved city with lots of El Greco paintings. I must've seen over 50.

Wedneday began with the Prado in Madrid, a truly miraculous art museum, followed by another one. I went to a dance concert at night just to see the Teatro Real. Nice theatre, but boy was it boring. Afterward, I went to Cafe Botin, supposedly the oldest restaurant in the world (from 1752) and said to be a favorite of Hemingway's. The specialty of the house is roast suckling pig, which of course, I had to try.

Thursday, an opulently decorated old convent and a bullfighting museum. Then a flight to Bilbao. Just walking around along the river at night, seeing Gehry's Guggenheim, Calatrava's bridge and more may have been the most enjoyable time of my whole trip. The city just seemed vibrant and alive.

Friday, I actually went to the Guggenheim, where the collection paled in comparison to the building itself. Then another museum in Bilbao and more exploring.

Saturday to Barcelona. First some strolling through the big park, then to the Picasso museum. Then across town and up Montjuic to see the Miro museum and the Olympic area from 1992. My first visit to Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's masterful unfinished church, came that night. Pretty amazing.

Sunday I went back to Sagrada Familia and climbed the stairs as high as you can. Then to two other Gaudi masterpieces, Casa Mila and Casa Battlo.

Monday, walking down the Ramblas, walking along the beach and going to Gaudi's Park Guell. At night, a concert by a group called Madredeus, who played sleepy guitar music with vocals. Got to see the spectacular Catalan Music Hall.

Tuesday, a flight to London. Got there mid-Afternoon. Caught an hour of a Caravaggio exhibit at the National Gallery, then saw a stage version of Mary Poppins, the hot show in London at the moment.

Wednesday, fly home.

Following Tuesday, here I am.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Weekend Reviews

Weekend Reviews

Floyd & Clea Under The Western Sky
A Musical at Goodman Theatre
It's really pretty shocking that this turned out to be the best event of the 3 this weekend, yet this world premiere country/western musical was a sweet little gem. With just two people, and all the music performed on stage, it felt more like a play with music than a traditional musical, and while it was not particularly deep, much of its charm came from the subtle, rather than overtly maudlin, way it treated its subject matter. The show's creator, David Cale, stars as Floyd a down on his luck country singer befriended by Clea, an aspiring star half his age. Even without the bargain basement, in previews, HotTix price of $7.40 that I paid, this one is well worth your time and money.

Paul Westerberg
Concert - 4.15.05 - Riviera Theatre
The Replacements were, and remain, one of my favorite bands, with Westerberg's brilliant songwriting at their core. For some reason, however, the singer has never been able to match that brilliance in his solo career which has now has outlasted the Replacements duration (a flaw he shares with his namesakes, Mssrs. McCartney and Weller, and plenty of others). Nonetheless, I own everything he has released, including albums under his Grandpaboy pseudonym, and could put together a 15-song or so compilation of worthy solo material. But Friday's show at the Riv was a sad showcase of how far from glory he has fallen. It was still a true pleasure hearing some great old Mats' (short for Place Mats, a nickname of the Replacements) songs, like Little Mascara, Left of the Dial, Alex Chilton and Merry Go Round. But much of the non-Mats stuff bored me, and toward the end he got embarrassingly sloppy, like a drunk poet screaming on a street corner. Bad covers played half-way through, smashing stuff on stage like someone half his age, etc.

Lost Land
Play at Steppenwolf Theatre
'Seeing John Malkovich' would've been a more apt title for this world premiere by British playwright Stephen Jeffreys, for the on-stage reappearance of Steppenwolf's most famous, and arguaby best, actor was admittedly what brought me to buy a full-price advance ticket. And while I stipulate that perhaps there was a subtle artistry to this work about people in Hungary during WWI that I couldn't appreciate, other than the chance to see Malkovich, this play really didn't do much for me.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Weekend Reviews

It's been a busy few days; here are my thoughts with reviews based on a @@@@@ system.

A play by David Mamet
Produced by the Inspirare Theatre at the Glen Ellyn Civic Center
This 1992 2-person Mamet play, inspired by the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill sexual harassment case, is certainly worthwhile material. Performed in an old classroom, which was appropriate per the script, this was the inaugural performance by a new theatre group called Inspirare. For just $7 for Thursday night performances, you can't go wrong, though the performance by the actress playing the female student was weaker than the one of the male professor. Yet given the story, that imbalance was almost fine.

Ash & The Bravery
Two bands in concert, 4.8.05 at Cabaret Metro
Ash @@@@
The Bravery @@
I went to this concert strictly for Ash, an hard-driving yet melodic Irish rock band that I've liked for some time. While certainly not brilliant, I have found Ash consistently enjoyable and their hour-long set at the Metro didn't disappoint. While seemingly receiving top billing, they played before a new band called The Bravery, which blends a bunch of influences (The Smiths, Duran Duran & other 80's bands) into a contemporary Dance Rock style (a la The Killers, Franz Ferdinand) that's pleasantly derivative, but not distinctive.

Sin City
Novel & brilliant moviemaking yet short of a wonderful movie.

The Diary of Anne Frank
Play - Chicago Jewish Theatre
Very well acted version of the Frank family's period of hiding from the Nazi's in WWII Amsterdam. The story is too real to be artfully dramatic, but strong performances made it quite worthwhile.

Randy Travis
Country/Gospel Performance
Willow Creek Community Church
Yes, I went to a church, though it seemed more like a performing arts venue, with a brand new 7,000 seat auditorium. Fortunately, for this Jew, it was 95% singing and just 5% preaching, though Travis' selection of songs were mostly spiritual in nature. I've never followed his music before, but found him to be a likable performer with a good voice & style. Probably would've enjoyed a straightforward country performance better, but this was a good introduction.

Take Me Out
A Play by Richard Greenberg
Steppenwolf Theatre
I left my apartment just before Tiger Woods' miracle chip shot on 16, and eventual Master's win, so that just added to my disappointment with a show I was looking forward to seeing. About, or perhaps more correctly, centered around a baseball star's announcement that he is gay, this first Chicago production of a recent Tony Award winning play didn't quite strike out, but it was certainly no home run either. It seemed meandering rather than pointed, and even at 2 hours, felt long.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Disappointing But Not A Disappointment

Perhaps it's uncouth to admit it, but I listen to sports talk radio quite a bit. But at some of the most seemingly appropos times, I avoid it like the plague. Like today. I'm relatively certain that there are any number of hosts, reporters, analysts, experts and fans dissecting the Illinois loss last night to North Carolina in the NCAA Championship game. I'm sure people are ripping on James Augustine for his foul problem, lamenting Luther Head's errant pass near the end, questioning the team's poor first half, rueing the crucial late misses by Head and Deron Williams, poking at Coach Bruce Weber's strategy for guarding Sean May, and even perhaps without criticizing, whining about the team's failure to win it all.

Screw that, I say (unsure about the profanity regulations of this blog site). Like any Illini fan -- including unquestionably millions more devoted than me, whether U of I students, alumni, etc. -- I watched, and rooted, and hoped they won. And showing amazing heart and resilence, they almost did. Between them, Head and Williams had great looks at four 3-point shots that could have put the Illini in the lead, or at least tied the game near the end. Unlike earlier shots that brought the Illini back from a 15 point deficit, all four shots hit the rim and bounced out.

That's, literally, the way the ball bounces sometimes. You take your best shot, and hope it goes in. The fact that it didn't doesn't diminish from the accomplishments of, and enjoyment provided by, a team of 19-21 year old men who won 37 of 39 games this season, equalling the most any college team has ever won.

It would've been great had they won, but it's not a great loss that they didn't. As some great philosopher must have once said: Enjoyment is in the experience, not the outcome.

Go Cubs.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Curious Case of the Stereophonics

A few years ago, back in the halcyon days of pure, unadulterated Napster, frustrated by the dearth of great rock ‘n roll made – or made known – in America, I discovered and became enamored with a Welsh band called the Stereophonics, who were – and remain – platinum-selling, stadium-filling superstars in Great Britain, yet virtually unknown in the United States.

My first exposure was to their second album -- Performance and Cocktails -- which I thought was great; not quite genius, but highly charged, hook laden rock 'n roll. I then explored their debut album -- Word Gets Around -- and found it to be just as good if not better than the second, with what still remain my two favorite Stereophonics songs: A Thousand Trees and Local Boy In The Photograph.

Those albums quickly became two of my favorites and I championed the band & introduced their music to anyone who might care. And I looked forward to each of their three subsequent albums in anticipation of not only more personally enjoyable music, but perhaps even tunes that would bring the stateside success that their first two albums warranted, but failed to capture.

But on both counts, five years and three albums later, I'm still waiting.

I won't go so far to call the three albums -- including the just released "Language.Sex.Violence.Other?" (instantly #1 in England but unworthy of the New Releases rack at Best Buy) -- awful. Through familiarity, live performances and appreciation of band leader Kelly Jones' ongoing attempt to find a new songwriting voice, I can find some merit in the material. And some of it has actually caught the fancy of acquaintances and U.S. critics.

But compared to the quality (and promise) of the first two albums, I have found all three of the most recent albums to be terribly dull and disappointing. If any of the three served as my introduction to the Stereophonics I doubt I would have been much smitten, and I really can't fully champion this band to others given their recent output.

Still, I plan to see the 'Phonics when they come to the Metro on May 9 -- just as one more example of their UK/US disparity: last summer, they headlined one day of the Isle of Wight Festival; the other two days were headlined by David Bowie and The Who --
and if anyone out there wants me to put together a Stereophonics compilation, I gladly will. Just don't expect more than 6 of the 20 or so songs to come from the last 3 albums.


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Anything But 'Miserables'

Les Miserables - Cadillac Palace Theatre - Chicago

While it may not seem newsworthy, or even blogworthy, to extol praise upon Les Miserables, which has been one of the most popular, successful and acclaimed stage musicals for nearly 20 years, the fact is, there are other shows with similar pedigrees -- most notably Phantom of the Opera -- that fall far short of the enjoyment that Les Miz provided yesterday on the opening night of its latest run. I have seen the show twice before, most recently in 2002 with the same performer (Randal Keith) in the starring role of Jean Valjean, and even in the second to last row of the Cadillac Palace, on a night when I was plenty tired and a tad bit sick, I still found the show to be nothing short of superb. In addition to the impressive Keith, all of the singing was excellent.

Supposedly, this might be the show's last Broadway-level tour that brings it to Chicago. While it will likely always be around in some form, whether at the Marriott Theatre or a la Sweeny Todd a few years back, done as a Lyric Opera production, the scenery, orchestra & performances make this rendition one that any appreciator of musical theater simply should not 'Miz.'

Monday, March 14, 2005

Frightening Illini

Yesterday, I sourced out a relatively inexpensive ticket and attended the Big 10 Championship game between Illinois and Wisconsin at the United Center. Illinois won, but not particularly impressively, especially for the #1 team in the country. Though they built up a sizable lead, largely through an incredible defensive effort, toward the end they looked like a boxer just trying to hang on, as Wisconsin cut it to a 5 point game, and had good looks at shots that could have gotten it even closer. Fortunately for the Illini and the sea of orange in the UC crowd, Wisconsin couldn't convert when it needed to, and UofI walked off with the win, their #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament firmly in hand.

Certainly some slack could, and should, be cut the Illini if their subpar performance through the Big 10 tourney had something tangibly or intangibly with the tragic death of Coach Bruce Weber's mother on Friday (after she had arrived at the UC for the game, she was taken to the hospital with chest pains, and died during surgery to repair her aorta). But even prior to this weekend, the Illini has appeared a far cry from the team that blew out Wake Forest, Gonzaga and Cincinnati early in the season. Their shooting is hit or miss, their inside game isn't dominant and though they have 5 excellent players, they don't have one outright superstar and that could be a problem.

Today, I filled out a NCAA tournament bracket and wound up with Illinois winning. If they play their best, this really should be a reality. But it also wouldn't be too shocking for them to lose anywhere after the first round. If someone were to offer me a straight up bet of Illinois or the other 64 teams in the field, I don't think I'd put my money on the Illini. Though I must note that there isn't any other team I'm as familiar with as the Illini -- in terms of players, strengths and weaknesses. And other "powerhouses" like North Carolina, Wake Forest, Kentucky and Kansas all lost during their conference tournaments; Illinois didn't.

So, we'll watch and see. Let the madness begin.

Monday, March 07, 2005

An Interesting Disappointment (movie review)

The Jacket

Seen on a day that didn't require one, The Jacket was not a great movie. I can't even say it was a good movie. But in spite a confounded plotline that aimed high yet ultimately failed to truly hit the mark, or rise above its confusion, it was a more interesting, watchable, thought provoking and well-crafted & acted film than many "good movies." I won't try to explain the plot, which combines psychotic reactions, psychic visions, time travel and/or other supernatural elements that I can best reference as Memento and It's A Wonderful Life put in a Cuisinart and lightly seasoned with a touch of The Deer Hunter (or some other traumatic post-war movie). As I said, it aimed high, but didn't quite work, despite completely engaging performances by the intensely engrossing Adrien Brody and the luminous Keira Knightley. While I don't wholeheartedly recommend that you see it (though in a cheap show or on video, it's probably worth a look), I feel safe in assuming that despite its paltry $2.7 opening weekend box office take, it is eminently more worthwhile than The Pacifier, which somehow opened with $30 million.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Pretty Austentatious

Bride & Prejudice

With good friends who are east Indian and a fondness of Indian food, I am appreciative of and somewhat interested in Indian culture (i.e., "the ways of living built up by a human group"). This has inspired some curiosity in, but as yet not particular enjoyment of, Indian culture (i.e., "artistic and intellectual pursuits and products"). In essence, this means that I have found the 2-3 true Bollywood movies I have seen to be overlong, overwrought, over-the-top and overly simplistic. The plots are always essentially the same -- beautiful Indian girl is destined for a rich jerk but longs for the charming peasant -- and if you think Broadway musicals (which I readily enjoy) feature a lot of weirdly exuberant singing and dancing, well, Bollywood movies, the preponderance of are 4 hour musicals, make most Broadway musicals seem low-key & high-drama in comparison.

To each their own, of course, and if millions of people in India and around the world love Bollywood movies, made with a profusion that dwarfs Hollywood's output, it certainly is no big deal, literally to anyone, if I don't.

Lately, however, for understandable economic, demographic and even well-intentioned artistic reasons, there have been some high-profile attempts to merge Bollywood with Westernized entertainment. Namely: 1) Bombay Dreams, a musical which played in London & Broadway to mixed reviews and supbar box-office. I saw it on Broadway, appreciated the attempt, but found it disappointing and 2) Bride & Prejudice, a new Bollywood meets Hollywood movie musical directed by Gurinder Chadha, a British Indian who made the excellent Bend It Like Beckham. Loosely based on Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, which I never read, it too was valuable for further exposing me to Indian culture -- and particularly the stunningly beautiful Aishwarya Raj, Bollywood's biggest star, who both Roger Ebert & Julia Roberts have not inaccurately called the most beautiful woman in the world -- but in sum, it too was disappointing.

In the big picture, the meshing of Bollywood/Hollywood just doesn't seem to work. It's not like there aren't thousands of real Bollywood movies out there; if you like 'em, see 'em. Or don't. But it's not like watering Indian moviemaking down to play to the suburban cineplexes creates something better.

In the small picture, or this exact one, due to Raj, Bride & Prejudice was watchable, but her American love interest was played by a handsome but eminently dim & dull Australian actor named Martin Henderson. He singlehandedly ruined whatever chance this movie had to be truly good. As the formulaic Bollywood plotline desribed above sounds much like nearly every John Cusack movie ever made, I think he could've been a whole lot better in the role of Will Darcy. At least he has some humorous, almost roguish charm, that while not making Bride & Prejudice anything wonderful at least would have made it a better popcorn movie.

Supposedly, Aishwarya Raj is slated for roles in Hollywood-made movies and that should only be a good thing. While the red states may not tolerate a Hindu movie starlet in American roles, at least within the blue states she seems to have the aura to become a somewhat exotic, modern day Audrey Hepburn-type star.

Some movies are worth seeing, not because they're good, but just because they're worth knowing a bit more about. Bride & Prejudice falls into that category, but you can surely wait until it hits video.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

"...and the Seth goes to..."

Having seen, somewhat atypically, all of this year's Academy Award nominees for Best Picture and a large percentage of the contestants in the other major categories, here are my selections of who SHOULD (not will) win.



...and the Seth goes to: Finding Neverland


Don Cheadle - HOTEL RWANDA
Leonardo DiCaprio - THE AVIATOR
Jamie Foxx - RAY

...and the Seth goes to: Jamie Foxx


Thomas Haden Church - SIDEWAYS
Clive Owen - CLOSER

...and the Seth goes to: Morgan Freeman


Annette Bening - BEING JULIA
Catalina Sandino Moreno - MARIA FULL OF GRACE
Imelda Staunton - VERA DRAKE

...and the Seth goes to: Hilary Swank (though I only saw her & Winslet's performances, and thought Winslet's nomination was for Finding Neverland.)


Cate Blanchett - THE AVIATOR
Laura Linney - KINSEY
Virginia Madsen - SIDEWAYS
Sophie Okonedo - HOTEL RWANDA
Natalie Portman - CLOSER

...and the Seth goes to: Sophie Okenedo


Martin Scorsese - THE AVIATOR
Taylor Hackford - RAY
Alexander Payne - SIDEWAYS
Mike Leigh - VERA DRAKE

...and the Seth goes to: Martin Scorsese (can you believe he's never won? It's a crime)



...and the Seth goes to: Finding Neverland



...and the Seth goes to: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Don't be surprised when a crack in the ice appears under your feet

I've never been a big hockey fan, in terms of following NHL results throughout the season or watching games on TV, but I enjoy the game itself enough to have gone to 1-2 Hawks games per season for most of the last several years. It's quite possible I would've become a bigger fan if the Hawks haven't been so dismal on & off the ice. So all things being equal, I would prefer for there to be professional hockey being played, but that said, if the NHL never plays another game due to the labor problems that resulted in this season's cancellation, I doubt I'd much care.

Monday, February 07, 2005

A Classic Farce, A Powerful New Drama and A Welcome Return

Weekend Reviews

The Importance of Being Earnest - Peabody Estate, Oak Brook
A Play Review
Over the past year or so, I've gained greater awareness & familiarity with the life & works of Oscar Wilde, a legendary Irish/English writer of the late 19th Century. I've seen two plays about him -- A Man of No Importance and the Judas Kiss -- saw a play by him -- Lady Windemere's Fan -- and took an Oscar Wilde-themed walking tour when I was recently in London. So I eagerly attended a performance of his play, "The Importance of Being Earnest" produced by the First Folio Shakespeare Company at an old estate in Oak Brook. It was cool seeing the play in a setting that felt like the setting in the play -- i.e. not a theatre with a set, but the real thing -- and I enjoyed it. But though not quite as hard as Shakespeare, the tone, dialogue and dialect of Wilde's plays are somewhat hard to appreciate on an initial viewing, let alone the Victorian-era subject matter. I guess dating your cousin wasn't taboo back then. Wilde's wordplay is fascinating, but at this point I appreciate his quips better than I have his full plays. But the performance was certainly well worthwhile.

Permanent Collection - Northlight Theatre, Skokie
A Play Review
As a fictionalized account of recent happenings at the Barnes Collection, a spectacular & unique private art museum in the Philadelphia suburbs that I had the pleasure of visiting, this recent play by Thomas Gibbons would have intrigued me simply with it's insight into art (and the viewing of it). But going far beyond a story about art, the play presents a fascinating debate about race. It really is well written, and insightful to the point that I figured that Gibbons had to be a black writer, but was surprised to learn he isn't. And it stars a great actor named Harry Lennix, who played Joe Adams in "Ray" (he's the impresario who steals Ray away from his original manager) as well as substantial supporting roles in both Matrix sequels. The other performances are very good too. This really may be the best new play I've seen since Proof.

Alejandro Escovedo
with Jon Dee Graham
Saturday, 2/5 at the Old Town School of Folk Music
A Concert Review
For nearly the past 10 years, Alejandro Escovedo has been a singer/songwriter who I've really enjoyed and seen a couple times. Over the last couple years Escovedo has been battling Hepetitis C, which supposedly nearly killed him. I don't think he's cured, but has improved to the point where he's beginning to play sporadic shows. His 3 local shows this weekend marked his first performances outside his hometown of Austin, TX since his illness became debilitating. It was great to see him again and the setting at Old Town was very comfortable; I may have wished for some other material than what he selected to play, but that's almost immaterial. Plus, his old bandmate in the True Believers (who precede my awareness), Jon Dee Graham opened for him and played alongside him. I stumbled across Graham at the Continental Club in Austin when I was there a few years ago and I thought he was very good. So I enjoyed seeing him play again, too. And after the show, both signed CDs.

And Now For A Commercial Message

Well, it's about 2-1/2 hours after the Super Bowl telecast ended. From just before kickoff until just after the trophy presentation, I saw every play, every commercial and what I thought was the best half-time show ever. Paul McCartney singing great songs, and sounding pretty good doing so. I thought it was great. But as for the commercials, by and large, they again seemed like a person (guy or girl) who just tries way too hard. Even wanting to comment on them, I really can't recall very many of them. And even if you laugh, or are somewhat surprised by a commercial, that doesn't make it good. I mean, I know Mike Ditka, Jim McMahon, William Perry and Dennis Rodman were in a commercial. I think it was for countertops of some sort, but I have absolutely no idea what the brand was. And I doubt you do either.

I thought the best commercial, though I doubt many pundits tomorrow will concur, was the Blockbuster spot. It actually debuted previously and wasn't laugh out loud funny, but in a clever way introduced you to a new service of theirs (videos by mail, to compete with NetFlix). It did what I think a commercial should: add to the brand identity while also selling a product, cleverly but also clearly.

The FedEx Kinko's spot making fun of Super Bowl commercials was pretty astute.

And what's with all the chimpanzees? I don't see any, ever, except for on Super Bowl ads. The Verizon (?) ad was cute, I guess, but CareerBuilder's ads were a bit dim. I may have a chip on my shoulder since I've had various dalliances with joining CareerBuilder in some sort of marketing role that have never gone anywhere, but aren't there better ways of showing a bad job than using Chimps? I would've used Donald Trump (as much as I hate him) saying "I'm hiring again, apply through" Then at least people would go to the site. But who am I to say.

And those are just the commercials I remember. Oh yeah, there was some stupidity with Puff Daddy and Carson Daly for Diet Pepsi (I think I'll keep with my Diet Coke) and more stupid animals for Budweiser. But maybe stupidity sells more than I think. I just visited (seemingly a perfectly mundane web domain buying site), despite it probably having the most egregious commercial of the night.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Feeling Patriotic

Devoid of a rooting interest (and as a Chicagoan, let's face it, I often am), I've always been a sucker for a historical storyline, or some sort of significant milestone coming to fruition. Unless I dislike a team or player for some reason, I'd just as soon see history be made. As such, I was rooting for the Patriots and am glad they won (fortunately, I didn't bet on the game, as I would've bet the Pats to cover the 7 point spread, which they didn't in their 24-21 win). While it gives me no particular happiness to see the Boston area get more than its share of winning (3 Super Bowls in 4 years plus the Red Sox in '04), the Patriots themselves seem like an admirable team. They play hard and they seem to win without being particularly arrogant and obnoxious. Even some of the post-game interviews I just saw showed players and their coach, Bill Belichick, proud of their victory and repeated success, but unwilling to proclaim themselves a dynasty. Sure, perhaps even modesty can be an act, but at least it's a becoming one. I'm also reminded again of what I blogged about a few weeks ago, that what Tom Brady has done is incredibly impressive and I don't really understand why post-season accomplishments aren't considered in league MVP voting. In 4 years as an NFL starter, this 6th round draft pick has won every playoff game he's played in, including 3 Super Bowls. And unlike some quarterbacks who perhaps were along for the ride with a great team and just didn't have to screw up for their team to win (e.g, Trent Dilfer) Brady is as big a reason for the Pats success as any, except perhaps Belichick. He seems as cool and composed as any quarterback ever could be, and he always seems to make the big play when needed. At only 27 (I think) he really has to be mentioned among the all-time greats. I believe on Bradshaw, Montana and Aikman have won as many or more Super Bowls, and theoretically Brady's best years should be ahead of him.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The IncrediBull Resurrection

Well, it's time to give credit where credit is due. Up until December 8, 2004, when I attended the Chicago Bulls game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bulls were 2-13. Since that game (at which I was somewhat miffed that they dominated LeBron James and the Cavs), including it and this past Tuesday's game against the Denver Nuggets, which I also attended, the Bulls have gone 19-6. Obviously, it was my Supercalifragilistic Karma that turned the Bulls season, and fortunes, around.

And it sure is nice to have a good basketball team around here for a change. In Chicago, we'd almost forgotten what the NBA Playoffs were like, much as we've forgotten about the existence of hockey. But at 21-19, the Bulls are currently in a position if they make the playoffs, though they have half the season left, with lots of road games against good teams. But along with the excitement the #1, 20-0 Illini, whose game against Wisconsin I closely followed over the Internet on my cell phone during the equally exciting end of the Bulls game, it's just fun to have the Bulls back again.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Peyton's Place

Peyton Manning is a loser. I do not mean this pejoratively (look it up), but simply as a statement of fact referencing the fact that throughout his largely outstanding college & professional career, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback has consistently been unable to lead his team to victory in their biggest game of the season. Despite having perhaps the greatest regular season of any quarterback in NFL history, with a record setting 49 touchdowns, this past Sunday Manning was rendered powerless by the New England Patriots in a 20-3 loss. This was the second year in a row the Pats had his number, and three previous trips to the playoffs proved equally fruitless for the Manning & the Colts. This after a 4-year college career at Tennessee in which Manning was the most heralded quarterback in the land, on teams with genuine national championship aspirations, and year after year played poorly in crushing losses to Florida, Tennessee's big rival at the time. And the year after Manning left, a much lesser regarded quarterback named Tee Martin led Tennessee to an undefeated season and a national championship. So while even this week, many will claim Manning's teams' losses are not nearly all his fault, there certainly seems to be a clear trend.

Meanwhile, the Patriots quaterback, Tom Brady, who wasn't the full-time starter in college at Michigan and was drafted in the 6th round (unlike #1 pick in the draft Manning), is 7-0 in his career in playoff games, has won 2 Super Bowls and could reach a 3rd with a win over Pittsburgh this weekend. And though he led the Pats to a 14-2 record in the regular season, he was an afterthought in the league MVP voting, which Manning won unanimously in voting held before the playoffs.

But who is really more valuable, and whose career would you rather have? It reminds me of the Dan Marino-Joe Montana era, where Marino put up mindboggling numbers, but never won a Super Bowl and Montana, with much less gaudy stats, led his 49ers to 4 Super Bowl victories (including one over Marino's Dolphins, in the only Super Bowl he reached). And while Marino was recently -- quite deservedly -- elected to the Football Hall of Fame, Montana (who's also a Hall of Famer) is clearly thought of as the better of the two, and perhaps even the greatest quarterback of all time. For like Brady's doing now, he won. And for whatever reason, the truth is, Manning hasn't.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Holy Grail of Musical Comedy? Not Quite.

Shubert Theatre - Chicago
@@@ (out of @@@@@)

As a World Premiere musical based on "Monty Python and Holy Grail," headed straight to Broadway (with a big advance sale and hype as "the next Producers"), created by Python's Eric Idle, starring David Hyde Pierce, Tim Curry & Hank Azaria and directed by Mike Nichols, Spamalot promised to be the clear highlight of the current Broadway in Chicago season. I went in with high expectations, and perhaps as a result, left somewhat disappointed. The show was certainly watchable, enjoyable and even hilarious at parts. And with no point of reference in terms of comparisons with other musicals, it's easy to see how many will think "it was awesome" as one audience member commented. But compared to musicals I thought were awesome, this one clearly wasn't. For unlike The Producers and Hairspray which enhanced their classic movie sources with equally brilliant music, lyrics, staging, etc., most of Spamalot's humor, and overall appeal, came directly from the movie, while the music, staging, etc. was nothing particularly wonderful. It was like watching the movie onstage with music, rather than a genuinely inventive musical with movie origins. And when it attempted to be newly zany, it seemed rather derivative of The Producers. Curry and Azaria were good; Pierce wasn't particularly distinctive. All in all worth seeing just for "the event" and the all-star cast, without which it would be even worse, but certainly not a truly magestic show. I have more global comments on the state of musicals in general, but I'll take that up another day.