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.