Thursday, June 18, 2009

Not Two Legendary

Concert Review
Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood
June 17, 2009
United Center, Chicago
@@1/2 (out of 5)

Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood's performance last night was relatively enjoyable and never boring. It would probably make for a good episode of Soundstage. But for $100+, it was far too infrequently incredible. Sure, there were a few "Oh wow" moments--some Clapton guitar solos, a sweet rendition of Can't Find My Way Home--but over the course of 2+ hours, these two prodigious talents and true rock legends never seemed to break a sweat. There were just too many mid-tempo, obscure numbers, which was fine for the first hour; settle into a groove, then let it rip. But that never really happened. Layla was done acoustically, a big disappointment, and though Buddy Guy's appearance in the encore was the highlight of the night, it meant we were deprived of Cocaine and Dear Mr. Fantasy, the show closers elsewhere on tour. And Winwood spent far too little time playing electric guitar; though he's more known as a keyboardist, back in the late '60s when "Clapton is God" was spraypainted around London, Winwood was considered his closest guitar rival (until Hendrix came along and blew both away). I wanted to hear Winwood and Clapton go toe-to-toe and really push each other, but again, it didn't happen. Nothing really terrible, and plenty of enjoyable music, but just not enough to really ever excite.

Here's what they played, with the song's origin/writer in parentheses (stolen from Greg Kot's Tribune review; which is more positive than mine)
1. Had to Cry Today (Blind Faith) 2. Low Down (J.J. Cale) 3. After Midnight (J.J. Cale) 4. Presence of the Lord (Blind Faith) 5. Sleeping in the Ground (Sam Myers/Blind Faith outtake) 6. Glad (Traffic) 7. Well Alright (Buddy Holly/Blind Faith) 8. Tough Luck Blues (Big Maceo) 9. Pearly Queen (Traffic) 10. Crossroads (Robert Johnson) 11. There’s a River (Winwood) 12. Forever Man (Jerry Williams/Clapton) 13. Georgia on My Mind - Winwood solo (Hoagy Carmichael) 14. Driftin' Blues – acoustic (Charles Brown) 15. How Long Blues – acoustic (Leroy Carr) 16. Layla – acoustic (Derek and the Dominoes) 17. Can't Find My Way Home -- acoustic (Blind Faith) 18. Split Decision (Winwood) 19. Voodoo Chile (Jimi Hendrix)
Encore:20. Sweet Home Chicago (Robert Johnson)21. Drowning on Dry Land (Al Jackson)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

See It, Hear It

Theatre Review
The Who's Tommy
Circle Theatre
Forest Park, IL

Before getting home to watch the Tony Awards, which I'll broach upon in a moment, today I saw a wonderful production of The Who's Tommy, the stage version of Pete Townshend's masterful rock opera, which was originally produced on Broadway in 1993 and subsequently nominated for Best Musical. As I was watching it, it dawned on me that in addition to its monumental impact on rock 'n roll, Tommy has had a huge impact on Broadway and musical theater, more than one might imagine.

Although "Hair," which won the Tony tonight for best revival, brought rock music to Broadway way back in 1968, it's hard to overstate Tommy's impact on what Broadway could be, who could create its musicals and who would attend them. Think about it. Tommy came to Broadway--and was a solid hit--before Rent, before Elton John started writing musical scores and before Mamma Mia & all the songbook musicals that followed. I don't think rock and pop music--including that showcased in Billy Elliot (the big Tony winner) and Rock of Ages, a musical featuring '80s rock--would be as ubiquitous on Broadway if it weren't for The Who's Tommy.

And it was a sheer pleasure seeing what the Circle Theatre--long noted for stuffing big productions into a shoebox-sized space--did with it. A young, vibrant and attractive cast--headed by Tom McGunn as Tommy--had fine voices, well-choreorgraphed numbers on a small stage and were augmented by a clever set design featuring a well-used video screen. It's still a bit shocking to hear Townshend's score not sung by Roger Daltry, and the stage version's revisions toward the end were a tad off-putting, but with a solid band providing the necessary chops, Tommy--which I had seen onstage once before--proved to well-justify its transition from 1969 vinyl to 1975 cinema to 1993 Broadway to 2009 Forest Park.

It runs through July 19 and at less than $20 through HotTix, it's a great deal...of fun.

As for the Tonys, it was an enjoyable show and though I haven't seen the other musicals nominated (Shrek, Next to Normal, Rock of Ages) and actually saw Billy Elliot in London, it seems that it correctly won Best Musical and loads of other awards. I don't know how soon I'll be getting back to NYC, but hope to see the revival of West Side Story (Maria looks gorgeous) as well as God of Carnage, which won for Best Play.