Saturday, July 31, 2010

After 25+ Years of Success, Bon Jovi Still Only 'Halfway There.' But That Ain't Half Bad.

Concert Review

Bon Jovi
Opening Acts: Kid Rock, 7th Heaven
Soldier Field, Chicago
Friday, July 30, 2010

The best--and worst--thing I can say about Bon Jovi's sold out concert at Soldier Field on Friday night is that it was about as good as I could have expected.

I have enjoyed the earnest but edgeless New Jersey rockers--to an often vacillating degree--since hearing their first single, Runaway, back in 1984 and seeing them open for the Scorpions that same year. But they have always been quite far from ranking among my favorite rock artists (as illustrated by their omission from this 2005 list and most likely the updated version I will post soon ). After first seeing them headline in 1987 at the height of their initial "Slippery When Wet" popularity, I never felt a compunction to see them again until 2005, and then again last night.

Bon Jovi deserves much admiration for maintaining massive worldwide success for almost 25 years. Of acts that arose in the '80s, I think only U2 and Madonna have been consistently comparable as concert draws both in America and around the globe. And in a summer concert season plagued by cancellations and poor ticket sales, Bon Jovi will have played to nearly 100,000 people in Chicago after tonight's show (for which tickets are available).

But the band have never been critical darlings, often IMHO for good reason. Although they have a solid handful of fun, good time songs that made last night's show enjoyable, their songwriting is often hokey, rudimentary and trite. Many of their tunes traipse the same ground--namely individuality, perseverance and/or devotion--in only slightly different ways. And if their messages weren't hammy enough, they accompanied their latest pseudo-prosaic anthem, We Weren't Born To Follow with U2esque video imagery (clip from a recent show), mixing words like Unite, Act Now, Stand Up, Resist and Believe with pictures of Bob Dylan, JFK, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Muhammad Ali and Oprah(??) that only served to highlight their relative banality and inconsequence.

But all that said, I didn't go to last night's show--I only paid $40 for a decent upper deck seat, but folks on the field paid up to $500 face value; kind of steep for a band who in another rousing-yet-vapid anthem exhorts "Who's going to work for the working man?"--expecting Jon Bon Jovi to have transformed into Bruce Springsteen nor his band to have become Guns 'n' Roses (when they were all together, grimy and great).

Although I didn't absolutely love every song they played, I very much enjoyed myself on a beautiful, breezy night in Chicago (fortunately, forecasted rain held off despite cloudy skies) and have to give the show @@@@ because Bon Jovi did an excellent job of doing what they do. Professional and well-paced, the generous 2-1/2 show was highlighted by "You Give Love a Bad Name" (my abbreviated video below), It's My Life, Runaway, an acoustic duet with Jon and guitarist Richie Sambora on an unfamiliar song called Diamond Ring and a cover of Bob Seger's Old Time Rock & Roll, along with opener Kid Rock and members of his band. (Not even one of Seger's very best, this rousing crowd-pleaser again showed how Bon Jovi pales against true rock greatness, but this was meant to be a complimentary paragraph.)

After opening their encore with a cheesy ballad called Always, which sounded slightly better earlier in the night when it was called I'll Be There For You, the band let the enthusiastic crowd sing the first verse of a pleasing Wanted Dead or Alive and then, in a move too obvious to avoid but cheered by me and everyone else, Jon donned a Blackhawks jersey that had been thrown onstage earlier in the show as the band delivered a rousing rendition of Living On A Prayer.

To his credit, Jon, who certainly doesn't look 48, comes off as an affable and appreciative performer and though more solid than technically sensational, the band long ago acclimated well to playing football stadiums (although only Jon & Richie had any real visibility, even on the video screens). So after the curfew-breaking performance, which followed a fun but clichéd hourlong set from Kid Rock (who in covering/riffing on many classic rock hits, also demonstrated his relative inferiority) and a not awful but inconsequential show-opening set from Chicagoland rockers called 7th Heaven, I went home happy, as I imagine did most of the much more adoring crowd.

In a line hackneyed enough to perhaps make its way into a future Bon Jovi anthem, sometimes it's more than alright to be great at just being good.

(Photos from the Chicago Sun-Times and; video below shot by me of the opening of You Give Love A Bad Name)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Providing a Bit of Ogre Analysis

Theater Review

Shrek: The Musical
Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago
Thru September 5, 2010

Shrek the Musical is an entirely enjoyable show, sure to provide a fine evening of entertainment to people of all ages. Derived mainly from the first Shrek movie, it adapts the tale of Shrek, Donkey, Fiona, Lord Farquaad, etc., to the stage quite enchantingly.

Composer Jeanine Tesori, writer & lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire and co-directors Jason Moore & Rob Ashford all have first-rate pedigrees and they've done a nice job of keeping the movie's charm and humor intact while incorporating several fine songs and production numbers (there is only one holdover pop song from the movie, but I'll let it surprise you). Broadening the show's appeal to adults, the creators pay homage to many previous Broadway musicals through several sly references.

I never saw Shrek on Broadway, where is got solid reviews but didn't become a huge hit, and I understand that it has been revamped a good bit for the road. Chicago is the first stop of the national tour and the performances--led by Eric Petersen as the green monster and Todd Buonopane who gets inventively diminutive as Lord Farquaad--are all strong, though only a few struck me as especially noteworthy (there is a dragon scene that's really well-sung by Carrie Compere, although she's unidentifiable in it). 

While the show likely won't disappoint anyone who cares enough to go see it, and is better than many other musicals I've seen, it also isn't nearly as good as the very best musicals and therefore doesn't fall into the category of "must see."

Although this is Dreamworks' first foray into live theater and the Shrek character was pretty original and unique when the initial movie came out, the musical milieu of late (if not forever) has been strewn with shows about how those who are a bit different should be championed, not scorned (Billy Elliot, Wicked, Hairspray, etc.). So at least in terms of its central theme, Shrek the Musical doesn't seem all that novel, and while songs like "Freak Flag" are appealing, their ilk has been done a bit better elsewhere.

Even in terms of musicals that fall into the category of family fare, Shrek doesn't measure up to Billy Elliot, Mary Poppins, Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King (which roars back into Chicago in September). But it also clearly isn't a dog like 101 Dalmatians.

In sum, if you had no prior inclination to see Shrek the Musical, there's probably no need to rush out and get a ticket. But if you already have one or have been considering going, the show is certainly worth your while. Even if not a classic, Shrek is still awfully imaginative, engaging and enjoyable as a stage act.

And after all, it's not easy being green.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Fabled Reconstruction

Album Reissue Review

Fables of the Reconstruction
25th Anniversary Digital Remaster

I don't relish buying the same thing twice, especially at a time when money isn't exactly rolling in. Although I now own a Blu-Ray player and have appreciated the far superior quality Blu-Ray discs offer over standard DVDs, the improvement will likely never be enough to compel me to replace the hundreds of DVDs I already own, especially as another even-more-advanced technology is likely always just around the corner. And having bought numerous new release DVDs over the years, it always has rankled me when an "enhanced version" with additional features (such as director commentary, deleted scenes, etc.) comes out just a matter of months after I have been pushed to buy the original version.

But in moderation, I have found it worthwhile and justifiable to invest in "newly remastered," often deluxe (i.e. extra songs, spiffy packaging) reissued versions of some of my favorite albums, usually released in commemoration of a milestone anniversary of the original release. I have done so for Springsteen's "Born To Run," "Who's Next," U2's "The Joshua Tree," the Stones' "Exile on Main Street," R.E.M.'s "Reckoning" and a handful of Beatles' albums.

In all cases, I had owned the original CD for more than 20 years, dating back to the just about the introduction of CDs, when, despite promotional claims, they did not really sound significantly better than LPs and could very much become scratched (although at the time, my music collection had already transitioned from records to cassettes, which were inferior to CDs). And whether because of the original recording, mixing and/or mastering of the music or the methodology for transferring records to CDs, the sonic quality of many early CDs was especially poor (I have a nice, but not high-end stereo system, do not consider myself an "audiophile" and now do most of my listening via mp3s).

For all the albums cited above, hearing the newly remastered versions--even if only in mp3 form--has been a treat, as the music I have long loved now sounds even better. But still, more than 90% of the joy in listening to the upgraded versions is in the brilliance of the original music. Modern engineers can make all kinds of sonic improvements, but they can't write Baba O'Riley, Backstreets or A Day in the Life.

Having recently downloaded the newly remastered, 25th anniversary edition of R.E.M.'s third album, Fables of the Reconstruction, I can hyperbolically say that I have never heard an album reissue that has so greatly enhanced the pleasure of hearing its source material.

Not that 'Fables' wasn't good to begin with; I have always found there to be much magnificence in the moody collection of tracks that the then still-nascent Athens, GA band struggled to record in London (from Wikipedia: The band members found the sessions unexpectedly difficult, and were miserable due to the cold winter weather and poor food; the situation brought the band to the verge of break-up.) But when the the gloominess of the music sounded even more so given the muddled production, among R.E.M.'s amazing first five albums (Murmur, Reckoning, Fables, Life's Rich Pageant and Document), their third album has long ranked a clear fifth, in terms of the frequency of my listening, my opinion and that of reviewers (such as 

While the songs themselves are still quite dark, the remastering that eliminated hiss, added clarity & volume and brought Michael Stipe's murky vocals a bit more to the fore, has made listening to them a whole lot brighter. To the point that I now find Fables to be very much the equal of any of their first five albums, all of which rank among my favorite albums by anyone (several of their subsequent albums are also quite worthwhile).

Unlike the reissues of Murmur and Reckoning (I only own the latter), the second disc of the Fables anniversary package does not include an R.E.M. concert from the period, but rather demo versions of the songs that made the album, plus two that were on subsequent releases and one--Throw Those Trolls Away--heretofore unreleased. These don't excite me much and thus I only chose to download the remastered 11-song album and not splurge ($26.98) on the full physical package.

As such, I imagine the CD version might sound even better than the downloads, but as I was apt to just import it to iTunes and then put it on my iPhone, even in digital form I'm extremely enamored with how well Fables has been reconstructed. Its abundant merits should now be a whole lot clearer to just about anyone.

In addition to hearing snippets of all the songs through the Amazon product page, there is also a customer video that includes several full songs. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

'Salt' a Thrill If Taken With a Grain Of

Movie Review

Directed by Philip Noyce
Starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor

Last week, I saw, liked and lauded Inception, not just for being quite good but for being entirely original at a time when most big budget summer movies are sequels or based on pre-existing properties.

While 'Salt,' isn't nearly as novel nor rewarding, it is--much to my surprise when Roger Ebert raved about it--a really well-done and suspenseful summer action movie that is similarly fresh (i.e. not a known-franchise film, although it clearly aspires to become one).

Angelina Jolie looks great, supposedly performed many of her own stunts (and got hurt doing so) and excels at keeping the audience guessing, to a degree, about the allegiances and motivations of Evelyn Salt, a spy with exceptional physical abilities, not so unlike Jason Bourne. The script, written by Kurt Wimmer & Brian Helgeland and to my knowledge not based on a comic book hero or character from a string of hit novels, was originally penned with Tom Cruise in mind to star as Edwin Salt. But according to Wikipedia, Cruise passed on the project because Edwin Salt wasn't a whole lot different than Ethan Hunt, his character from the Mission: Impossible franchise.

Although Salt opened with a $36 million weekend box office take, trailing Inception in its second week, I think Cruise's decision and Jolie's inclusion turned out to be a good thing for the movie. Jolie plays the role with a sleek power--though if this photo to be believed, perhaps she may be a bit too thin in real life--not so unlike the action heroes she portrayed in Wanted and Tomb Raider, but with a bit of vulnerability and a at-times subdued approach that helps sell the suspense about Salt's loyalties.

Certainly, as in most high-action films, there are chase sequences that extend plausibility and even the plot line's realism is more than a tad tenuous, but never to the point of being laughable or too detrimental to one's enjoyment. Unlike Inception, Salt isn't a film with legitimate Academy Award aspirations, and history won't mention it in the same breath. But for a tasty popcorn flick, Salt has just the right flavor.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Goodman's 'Sor Juana' Victimized by Its Sins

Theater Review

The Sins of Sor Juana
A play by Karen Zacarias
Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Run Ended

The best thing I could say about the Goodman Theatre's new--but now completed--production of Karen Zacarias' The Sins of Sor Juana is that it wasn't awful.

Given the terrible review it received in the Chicago Tribune, a friend's lackluster take on it and my disappointment with much of the Goodman's 2009-10 season, I didn't have great expectations going in, and at least for the first act, Sor Juana exceeded them.

If nothing else, the show--and the accompanying program materials--educated me about Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a 16th century Mexican poet who is revered in her homeland to the point of being on Mexico's equivalent of a $10 bill, but was heretofore unknown to me and presumably to many north of the border.

Seemingly, at least based on Wikipedia, there were three central parts of the real Sor Juana's life: 1) teenage years spent within a royal court, where she began to demonstrate illustrious writing skills and intellectualism frowned upon for a woman of her time; 2) her decision to join a convent for the educational freedom it provided, followed by 30+ years in which she freely wrote about woman's pursuit of liberty, knowledge, education and self-sovereignty; and 3) a few years near the end of her life in 1695 during which her self-expression was quashed for its controversial content and tone.

Zacarias opened her play--originally written in 1999 but largely reworked for its presentation as the central work in Goodman's Latino Theater Festival--by focusing on #3, with Sor Juana's "voice" being silenced by the church, much to her chagrin. This worked rather well in introducing the talented writer's battle with her oppressors. Almost entirely skipping #2 and only briefly alluding to her prior ability to write freely within the convent, the play then focuses primarily--at least in terms of stage time--on #1, the period Sor Juana (played by Malaya Rivera Drew) spent in a Viceroy's court.

Wikipedia doesn't delve deep into what really happened to prompt Sor Juana to join the convent, but I presume that Zacarias largely fictionalized a tale in which the Viceroy manipulates Sor Juana into falling for a suitor under false pretenses and losing face after already agreeing to marry a nobleman. Whatever the realities, this whole scenario played out like a silly opera plot, devoid of music. It did nothing to elevate the biography of a seemingly rightly revered woman and felt more like a bad soap opera than a substantive docu-drama.

By the time the action returned to Sor Juana's time in the convent, challenged by--and somewhat challenging--authority, I found myself no longer much caring about what started as a worthwhile conceit. Even so, I was disappointed that Zacarias, director Henry Godinez and an inconsistent devotion to historical accuracy obliged Sor Juana to submit to her silencing. It's a shame that such a fertile mind had to go meekly into the night and a sin that her back story was turned into a romantic farce.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Best Album of 2010 (So Far) and More Reasons to Still Believe in Rock 'n' Roll

Album Reviews

The Len Price 3
(Listen in Full | Buy on Amazon)

Although the third album by this British trio--cheekily comprised of nobody named Len Price--has quickly become my favorite album of the new decade, I was completely oblivious to the band and their January 2010 release until I saw this interview with Steve Van Zandt, posted on the Bruce Springsteen fansite

Strange how you have to learn about new music these days. But Little Steven really championed the Len Price 3 both in the interview and through airplay on his Underground Garage Sirius-XM radio channel; not incidentally the band is signed to his Wicked Cool Records label. I was able to find a few songs of theirs on YouTube and really liked what I heard, so I ordered the album from Amazon and have been playing it non-stop for the last month.

Clearly reminiscent of mid-'60s Who and Kinks, but good enough not to come across as blatantly derivative, Pictures features 13 wonderfully ebullient power-pop gems. None are quite as singular as I Can See For Miles or Sunny Afternoon, but hold up quite well against the output of acclaimed, lesser-known '60s Anglo acts like The Creation, Small Faces and Pretty Things. I know that's saying a lot for a largely unknown band, but if I'd been given this album under the guise of being something from the '60s, I would be apt to consider it a lost classic from the era. 

That's not to say the songs have the depth or verve of the best of the Who, Kinks, Beatles, Zombies, etc., and even today, there are many bands doing much more progressive things. But if you're looking for an enjoyable collection of new tunes with a classically-infectious sound, you won't find anything much better than Pictures by The Len Price 3. (After enjoying it so much, I ordered their previous album--the second of three--called Rent A Crowd. It is also filled with great songs, but isn't quite as accomplished as Pictures. I'd give it @@@@).

Although you can listen to the album in full through the link above, and this may not quite be the best song on the album, here's a video for their single, Mr. Grey, that should give you a good indication of their sound.


Alejandro Escovedo
Street Songs of Love
(Listen in Full | Buy on Amazon)

I've enjoyed nearly everything I've heard from this Texas rocker since coming across his With These Hands album around the time of its 1996 release. This includes some preceding solo work and music with one of his earlier bands, The True Believers.

Almost all of Escovedo's solo records have been very positively reviewed by and elsewhere, but while I've enjoyed most of his output, there have been some albums I've liked a good bit more than others. His new release, Street Songs of Love, is clearly one of his best. Filled with straightforward rock songs and a few ballads, though not quite as diverse in texture as some of his early solo albums, Street Songs of Love is a high quality collection from a seasoned & skilled songwriter who's paid his dues (and also overcome a brush with death from Hepetitis C).

Although his collaboration with famous fan Bruce Springsteen on "Faith," is an obvious album highlight for me, the four tracks that open the album are equally good, with several other fine cuts among the 13 songs. You can see/hear a live rendition of the powerful album opener, Anchor, by clicking here.


The Gaslight Anthem
American Slang
(Listen in Full |  Buy on Amazon)

I guess it says something in itself that although I enjoyed The Gaslight Anthem's last album, The 59 Sound, not only couldn't I name a song besides the title cut, I didn't feel particularly compelled to explore American Slang until research into acclaimed albums of late revealed that it had a pretty lofty composite score on MetaCritic.

Correspondingly, while the new album from these Jersey rockers who combine punk influences with Springsteenesqe themes is worthwhile listening, even after several spins I can't say it's particularly earth shattering. Nice straight ahead rockers from a band that would make for an enjoyable opening act, but certainly not the stuff of superstardom or even major cult acclaim. A few free listens through MySpace Music (link above) may well suffice.

Click here to hear/see the video for lead track, American Slang, probably the album's best.


Paul Weller
Wake Up the Nation
(Listen in Full | Buy on Amazon)

As the principal singer, songwriter & guitarist of The Jam--my pick for the all-time best band many people have never heard of--Paul Weller has been making brilliant music since he was a teenager. Still quite productive in his early 50s, he is nonetheless a member of my allegorical Trinity of Paul.

Like Mssrs. McCartney and Westerberg, Weller has enjoyed a solid, and at times quite stellar, solo career (I'll include his stint in the post-Jam combo, Style Council, in this), but has never reached the level of brilliance that he regularly achieved as a prime force in the band that made him famous (to whatever degree, in the case of the Jam and Replacements).

Pretending the iPod didn't render the concept of "Desert Island Discs" obsolete, I would take any of 10 studio, live or compilation Jam albums before casting away with any of Weller's solo stuff. That said, much of his individual output is quite good, with the last 5 years being especially fertile. Although not as immediately accessible as the best of the Jam, or even Weller's great As Is Now album from 2005, Wake Up the Nation is an excellent record (talk about obsolete!), with reviews on MetaCritic and loving it even more than I do.

Written in a more collaborative and immediate fashion than Weller's previous works--well explained in this recent OnMilwaukee interview--Wake Up the Nation features 16 songs yet clocks in under 40 minutes. There is no wasted space as Weller bristles with creative energy. On the title cut he implores, "Get your face off the Facebook and turn off your phone," while his first collaboration with Jam bassist Bruce Foxton in 28 years, "Fast Car / Slow Traffic" surges forward as it harkens back to their glory days. 

I'm sure there are a few other folks like me still hoping for a Jam reunion, but other than making peace with Foxton and pulling out a few classics in his live shows--sadly, he's seemingly only playing New York & LA on his "American" tour--Weller doesn't appear to have any interest in revisiting the past. But he deserves your attention in the present tense and though he will never be as famous as Sting despite being equally deserving, the music he's putting out these days is inordinately better.

This link takes you to YouTube for a video for "Wake Up the Nation."


LCD Soundsystem
This Is Happening
(Listen in FullBuy on Amazon)

As though to prove--mainly to myself--that I'm not completely turned off by music with a more modern feel, I decided to check out the newest album by LCD Soundsystem, particularly after hearing good things about their performance at Chicago's Pitchfork Music Festival.

Actually, I have and like--but don't often revisit--LCD's 2007 album Sound of Silver, and I've enjoyed the fusion of rock and dance beats by The Killers and Franz Ferdinand, among others. Although I have yet to actually purchase This Is Happening, I've listened a dozen times to the entire album through MySpace and think it's really good.

Though its sound is not as much in my ballpark as any of the albums above, and feels more like music to play in the background rather than something to listen to while driving, This Is Happening is sonically adventurous while firmly rooted in melodic songcraft. Although the lead single, "Drunk Girls," seems to be getting more attention, along with another more accessible number, "I Can Change," I find the more obtuse opening tune, "Dance Yrself Clean" to be the album's best.

I didn't pick up on it, but a customer review on Amazon suggests that This Is Happening is largely influenced by Bowie's Berlin triptych (Low, Heroes and Lodger). Though I don't hear anything quite that brilliant, LCD wunderkind James Murphy certainly could do worse for sources of inspiration. Click here for the video for Drunk Girls, and then look up Bowie's "Boys Keep Swinging." Not close enough for a lawsuit, but I can certainly hear some similarities. So I guess even things that sound quite new aren't necessarily all that novel. But This Is Happening is certainly worth checking out.


That'll do it for the album reviews for now, but the big upcoming release is Arcade Fire's The Suburbs on August 3rd. I haven't been blown away as some by their first two albums, but have read good things about the new one and enjoy the two songs I've heard, especially "The Month of May." For Arcade Fire fans--and the Canadian band is poised to become exponentially bigger than they already are--be aware that they will be streaming their August 5th Madison Square Garden gig live on YouTube at 9:00pm Central.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

New Twins Stadium on Target, Not Above & Beyond

Ballpark Review

Target Field
Minneapolis, MN

For those keeping track (namely me), after a weekend expedition to the Twin Cities with my friend Dave to see a Twins/White Sox game at the new Target Field, I have now attended games in 38 major league ballparks, including 27 of the 30 currently in use. The only ones remaining for an initial visit are the new Yankee Stadium in New York, Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg and Sun Life Stadium in Miami.

While there are certainly stadiums that I have found better than others, in terms of design, special quirks, amenities, food, local flavor and various other criteria, now that all newly-built stadiums feature natural grass, open air (or a retractable roof) and asymmetrical dimensions, virtually all of them are great places to see a game, especially on an enjoyable day or night.

More than anything having to do with its appeal to tourists, a good ballpark should first & foremost serve the needs of its home team and fans, while fitting well into the fabric of its city (and hopefully not gouging local taxpayers too heavily).

In that regard, Target Field is a terrific success. It's well-situated in the western part of downtown Minneapolis, close to an active shopping, dining, music & theater district and next to the Target Center arena (home of the NBA's Timberwolves). It is easily accessible as the new last stop on a clean & comfortable light rail system that stretches to the Mall of Airport (and the airport). And although the "small market" Twins were well-supported and quite successful during their time playing indoors at the Metrodome--noted for its deafening din--Target Field seems to be a huge leap forward in terms of fan and player comfort.

Although economics that quelled a proposed retractable roof may be rued in Aprils to come--though I think the Twins have only had to cancel one game this year--the open air park is attractively clad in Minnesota limestone and looks good from a variety of exterior angles, particularly when seen across the adjacent expressway underpass.

Dave and I had some nice box seats and watching a close-knit game--fortunately completed in a blazing 1 hour and 52 minutes, before a tempestuous thunderstorm, including hail, rolled in--was perfectly pleasant, except for the Sox losing 3-2. And when I took a photographic stroll up to the top deck, I was pleased to see how nice the city skyline looked as a backdrop to the ballpark.

Although as I write the Twins are 50-45 and 2.5 games behind the White Sox, they seem to be acclimating well to their new home and rank 3rd in the American League in home attendance (well ahead of the Sox in that regard). Their fans should be quite pleased and the team rather proud of the new park.

All that said, there are a number of aspects that, at this point, keep Target Field from being considered exceptional.

First of all, there was nothing particularly unique about the interior scenery, other than perhaps the limestone-covered dugouts and the Twins logo within a Minnesota-outline in center field. Although I fully respect why money isn't wasted on "gimmicks" in these economic times, I like each ballpark to have something that makes it instantly distinguishable on SportsCenter, other than a team logo. Not every park can have a water landing like San Francisco's AT&T (which along with Pittsburgh's PNC stands out because of it), but I like the giant Coke Bottle & Glove in San Fran, the Train and Center Field Flagpole Hill in Houston, the fountains in Kansas City, etc. Maybe my tastes veer to the crass, but wouldn't a big Home Run Target (as in the Target logo) make sense?

Also, although Twins history is nicely conveyed in a variety of ways outside the ballpark--statues of Killebrew, Carew & Puckett, a display of oversized Twins baseball cards, championship banners on the park's exterior--there was nothing I saw inside the stadium that saluted the past or even provided some nice team-related decorations. I had read about a Minnesota Baseball Hall of Fame being built into the park, but perhaps this was nixed, as I saw no signs of it.

As you may have discerned, I'm an oddball who takes pictures of everything, and was disappointed that there was really very little to document within the stadium itself. But perhaps this will be remedied in years to come.

Finally, and I admit that this is more the complaint of a tourist than a local ballpark regular, but I found nothing special to eat. Not that I can readily name any foods the Twin Cities are particularly known for (a la Chicago's Italian Beef, the Philly Cheesesteak, even Fish Tacos that are served at Angel Stadium, etc.), but except for a Walleye at one stand for $11 that I passed on (don't know if it's fried, sandwiched, on a stick, etc.), there wasn't much fare that you wouldn't find at every other ballpark.

Dave's brother and his wife, who live in St. Paul, recommended a Polish Sausage from a local proprietor called Kramarczuk's, but even in seeking this out it was hard to find. Most stands seemed to have sausages by Klement's--a Milwaukee brand--and I only came across the Kramarczuk's stand (possibly the only one) as it was shutting down. But one thing I really like about Minnesota is that people aren't so hard-ass up there and I didn't even have to break out my sob story about having driven all the way from Chicago and not finding anything to eat yet at the game. Simply getting in line and staying there after I was told they were closing caused a server to let me get the last Polish of the night.

It was damned good.

And all in all, I'd have to say that Target Field is a ballpark that readily cuts the mustard, even if there isn't a whole lot special to relish. And that's being frank. From one who sausage better ballparks in Baltimore, Cleveland and Detroit, among other places (including Chicago, where Wrigley Field remains my favorite baseball venue anywhere). 

But, given the long ride (Dave did all the driving), foreboding forecasts and the nasty weather that followed, more than anything, I'm just delighted the game didn't get Purple Rained out.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Soggy Mess of Biblical Proportions

Theater Review

Not Wanted on the Voyage
A New Musical
American Music Theatre Project
Northwestern University
Ethel Barber Theatre
Thru August 8, 2010

I am not going to spend much time, space or rancor bashing Not Wanted on the Voyage as it gives me no pleasure to do so and even feels a bit wrong. Although written and directed by musical theatre creators with Broadway pedigrees, it is being presented for the first time as a project of the American Music Theatre Project at Northwestern University. Talented and enthusiastic students comprise the cast and I saw the very first public performance of the show while paying only Goldstar's $7.00 service fee to do so.

But despite a couple of promising numbers that opened the show--which tries to tell a story assimilating the Biblical tales of Adam & Eve, Abraham and Noah, among others, through characters with a bit more modern sensibilities--the first act quickly became a hard-to-follow hodgepodge. And while a theater-clearing fire alarm, caused by a fog machine, may be hard for any show to overcome (and the young actors deserved a round of applause for their aplomb), nothing that followed it was any more worthwhile than the 20 minutes spent standing outside.

I know much time will be spent on trying to improve the show, which certainly serves as a valuable learning experience, but I'm afraid there may not be much worth salvaging. The story was bad, the songs bland and the show way too long--even discounting for the unexpected interruption.

I applaud the aims and efforts of the AMTP, whose past works I've seen--Dangerous Beauty, In the Bubble and The Boys are Coming Home--have ranged from solid to stellar, but sadly, this was just one undesirable 'Voyage.'

It May Only Be a Dream, but Hollywood Gets It Right

Movie Review

Written & Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Wantanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine

Sheer originality is in strikingly--yet in large part intentionally--short supply among major Hollywood motion pictures, particularly those expressly made & marketed to clog megaplexes and rake in megabucks (primarily as summertime releases).

As this article does a fairly good job of explaining, the reason that most "blockbusters" are either sequels, franchises, movies based on existing properties (superheroes, comics, bestselling books, video games, toys, old TV shows, etc.) or blatantly derivative of other hit films is that pre-branded movies are surer box office bets. Given the relative short attention span of teenagers (the prime moviegoing audience, especially for summer films), the fact that reporting of weekly box office receipts has become a form of sport, the sparsity of movie stars who can be counted on to "open" movies to big box office returns and the $100+ million that many major movies now take to make and market, it is understandable why studios would rather invest in works with sizable built-in audiences than develop new, daring and possibly more worthwhile pictures aimed at mainstream success.

While Hollywood deserves to be taken to task for often recycling the same old tripe and largely forgetting that people besides teenagers like movies and will see & spread the word about good ones, as has been often said, it is called "show business" and Broadway producers, museum curators and other arts promoters have taken Tinseltown's cue by preferring to serve up the tried & true. Though disheartening to those who value artistic merit--for which originality can be a major ingredient--this kind of thinking seems to make fiscal sense.

Which serves to make a movie like Inception--and Warner Bros. investing $160 million in it--worth celebrating, even before you get to whether it is good or not. Sure, WB wants to stay tight with Christopher Nolan, director of The Dark Knight and the next Batman installment, and thinks he can become a name-brand, movie-opening director such as Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Peter Jackson or M. Night Shyamalan (whose The Last Airbender is up to $115 in box office take despite some of the worst critical and composite fan reviews in recent memory). But the studio is to be commended for putting summer blockbuster support behind Inception, a wholly original script that Nolan supposedly worked on over 10 years, going back to when he was finishing Memento.

It's also nice to note that Inception had a $60 million opening weekend. While this is less than Iron Man 2, Shrek Forever After, Toy Story 3 or Twilight: Eclipse, it was "better than estimated" and extremely strong for a film not based on a known property. Inception did benefit from particularly strong reviews, advance word-of-mouth and Nolan's impressive track record, but its complex storyline didn't lend itself to particularly accessible trailers.

The plot--which in a nutshell involves a guy (DiCaprio) with the ability to invade people's dreams to extract private information for duplicitous gains now being hired (along with a heist-caper-like team) to plant information--probably will require DVD viewings with Director's Commentary to really understand all that is going on. Maybe then I will up my rating to @@@@@ as upon a first viewing there were parts where I was getting lost and the 2-1/2-hour movie began to feel a bit long.

It wasn't flawless or even quite the best new movie I've seen this year (that would be the Argentinean Foreign Language Oscar winner, A Secret in Their Eyes), but I highly recommend it. Nolan, whose low-budget Memento was my second favorite movie of the '00s and who made what is possibly the best superhero movie ever in The Dark Knight (though I might argue Spider-Man 2), is to be applauded for the audacity of his vision and the ability to bring it to many screens at a theater near you.

In the realm of live-action, blockbuster-type Hollywood movies--and therefore excluding the many imaginative Pixar films, Avatar and indie/small-budget/foreign films--Inception is the most satisfyingly original movie since The Matrix (from 1999, the year that also brought the similarly novel The Sixth Sense).

Again, it might be too good to fully appreciate on a first viewing (or it may well become more flawed the deeper one looks), and while I have no problem with well-done popcorn movie franchises--last year's Star Trek re-imagining was quite stellar and Watchmen had some nice visual verve--not only was Inception a great movie to watch, it is a great movie to know can still get made.

However infrequently and if seemingly only in a dream.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Newest Reacher Novel an Empty Thrill Ride; Lisa Gardner Cop Combo Satisfies

Book Review (other books reviewed below in same post)

61 Hours: A Reacher Novel
by Lee Child

Lee Child is my second favorite author of what I'll call "fast fiction," meaning mysteries, suspense novels and other books that are enjoyable page turners rather than great literature. But fast fiction is my favorite type of reading and behind only Harlan Coben, I'll put Lee Child's output--all featuring the main character of Jack Reacher--above John Grisham, Dan Brown, Carl Hiaassen as my silver medalist in this category.

Having read all 14 of Child's Reacher stories, I know that I liked some better than others, but can't recall specifics that readily distinguish one from another. None took more than a few days to read, so I would heartily recommend any of them if you need a great quick read on an airplane, beach, etc.

Given that the latest, 61 Hours is still in hardcover, is far from the best book of the Reacher series and ends in a cliffhanger to be continued in Worth Dying For (due out in October), I would not recommend that this is the one you start with, especially if you can't get it from your local library just yet (I waited about 3 months on the Reserve List at the Skokie Public Library).

Still, as Jack Reacher is a good bit like another mortal superhero named Jack, that being Mr. Bauer of TV's '24,'--about which I said that even at its worst it never made me not want to watch--I would say that if you have read and liked other Lee Child's books, there is no need to pointedly avoid 61 Hours. The action moves fast and you find yourself wanting to see what happens next. It definitely counts as a decent thriller.

But even in comparison with other Reacher novels, or even fast fiction in general, the plot line,  characterizations and twists in this one seem particularly slight and subpar, as the nomadic Reacher happens to land in a small South Dakota town that has a secret meth lab run by a Mexican drug lord. As far-fetched as this setup might sound, it's not the problem so much as the fact that I had one of the main wrongdoers pegged about 200 pages before the supposedly super-keen Reacher and kept waiting for the obvious to reveal itself. And while Reacher's typical need to fall in bed with an attractive woman in each book a la James Bond is somewhat frivolous, 61 Hours suffers from the lack of a counterpart for Reacher, except for a long-distance interaction that may develop in the sequel.

So go ahead and read 61 Hours if you already like Child/Reacher, but don't expect it to be awesome, and probably skip it in favor of any of the first 10 works in the series if you don't yet know Jack.


Book Reviews

by Lisa Gardner

by Lisa Gardner

I'd never read anything by Lisa Gardner, who seemingly started as a romance writer but subsequently moved into the thriller space, until I picked up paperback versions of Alone and Hide at the recent Little City Used Book Sale. Originally published in 2005 and 2007, respectively, the two books both feature the same two main crime-fighting characters, though Hide works as a sequel to Alone more so due to the crimes depicted and similarities of the victims involved.

Both books worked well as satisfying suspense thrillers, with Alone being a bit more engaging throughout--as state trooper Bobby Dodge struggles to prove, not in the least to himself, that he was justified in killing the supposedly abusive husband of a beautiful woman with a tortured past. But though Hide was slower to get rolling, its twists in the end made it just as good if not better, as Dodge and detective D.D. Warren are on the trail of a serial killer who may or may not be connected to events that surfaced in Alone.

A bit strangely, while I felt that the two Gardner books were of higher quality than the latest by Child, I still look forward to reading the next Reacher installment much more so than another book by Gardner. But if you're looking for something to pass the time, you won't go wrong with Alone and Hide.

Old Hits Sound Just Fine Out on the Lawn

Concert Review

Cheap Trick and Squeeze
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, IL

Both Cheap Trick, from Rockford, Illinois, and Squeeze, from London, England, technically date back to 1974, and while Cheap Trick especially has remained consistently active and has released a pair of solid albums over the past 5 years, it's fair to say that both bands' classic periods were pretty much over by the early '80s.

And I feel pretty safe in assuming that it is the hits from 1977-82 that the folks who packed the pavilion and lawn at Ravinia on Saturday night came out to hear--and speaking as a lawngoer--most appreciated.

For while I respect the fact that both bands went a bit beyond their greatest hits, from the lawn the new and otherwise unrecognizable songs all kind of sound the same. Or more correctly, they get lost among the chattering, eating, drinking, Scrabble games, etc. That's how it is at Ravinia, and with due deference to the bands and the fans who ponied up for pavilion seats, the open air, non-sloped lawn environment--i.e. no stage visibility unless you stand at the outskirts of the pavilion, which I did for a few choice tunes from each act--isn't exactly the place where an adventurous set list goes over real well.

So while both Cheap Trick and Squeeze, by virtue of their careers and the 75-minute set each played, deserve to be judged individually, based on being one of the laissez-faire on lawn, I am awarding @@@@ as a sum review of the evening--a completely beautiful night--and the performances of both bands.

Though neither act sounded quite as they did in their prime, both Cheap Trick's Robin Zander and Squeeze's Glenn Tillbrook did nothing to embarrass themselves vocally. And while both bands played a number of songs that seemed to meander to those of us on the lawn, when it came to the hits both bands delivered in quantity and quality, with Up the Junction, Tempted and Pulling Mussels from a Shell highlighting the Squeeze set and I Want You To Want Me, Surrender and Dream Police being CT nuggets. I also savored Cheap Trick pulling out "Voices" (off the Dream Police album) as their first encore, before closing the show with Dream Police.

All in all, a quite enjoyable evening, with enough great music to more than justify my $22 Lawn admission. And to the two people who told me that longtime Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos didn't perform with them because he had died, happily you are wrong. According to Wikipedia and all other sources, Bun E. is still alive and still a member of the band; he's just been replaced on this tour by Daxx Nielsen (son of guitarist Rick) because of back problems.

Friday, July 09, 2010

LeBron's on the Heat, and vice versa

As if the world needs another two cents on LeBron James and "The Decision" he announced on ESPN to join the Miami Heat alongside Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, I find my opinion on the matter is--surprisingly even to me--a bit different than what I'm reading and hearing. It seems that from everywhere other than Miami, a highly rancorous revolt is rising up against King James and, while especially in Cleveland I understand why fans are miffed and the media perplexed, a lot of the diatribe seems unwarranted, unfair and even duplicitous.

For while I feel no compunction to defend LeBron, praise his decision, extol his virtues or ignore some unseemliness in his persona and the way he went about announcing his intentions, the truth is that there was no decision he could have made that wouldn't have been condemned, or at least questioned, by a whole lot of people. And had he decided to stay in Cleveland or move to the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks or New Jersey Nets, people in each region would be singing his praises while happily disregarding some of the same reasoning they're now deriding.

Consider that in 2002-03, the year before LeBron landed with the Cavaliers, they were 17-65. The next year they won 35 games, then 42, then made the playoffs for 5 straight years. Though they never won it all with him and made the NBA Finals only once, LeBron was predominantly the reason for their success and IMHO, the Cavs never had anyone else really good to complement him, never a Scottie to his Michael. This year, the Cavs won 61 regular season games, but were soundly trounced by the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

LeBron took some criticism for not being as great in that series as the Cavs fans had hoped, but once again, he really had no help. So when the Free Agent circus started, most of the pundits I heard & read were indicating that the one certainty was that LeBron wouldn't re-sign with Cleveland, as they didn't provide him with the best chance to win a championship anytime soon.

At first, it seemed to be suggested that the Bulls were the front runner, because they had the best pieces in place, including Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Then there was strong sentiment that he would stay in Cleveland. Then people seemed to suggest he might be leaning towards the Knicks. And finally, after Dwayne Wade stayed with the Heat and Chris Bosh joined him, LeBron decided he wanted to go to Miami as well, taking far less money than Cleveland could have offered and likely even a bit less than he would have gotten with anyone else.

Now LeBron is getting slammed far worse than Tony Hayward (the CEO of BP, anyone remember that issue?) or Lloyd Blankfein (CEO of Goldman Sachs, who help exacerbate the world's financial crisis) ever did.

People in Cleveland were shown burning his jersey and the Cavs owner, Dan Gilbert, wrote a scathing, ugly Open Letter to Fans deriding LeBron's "cowardly betrayal" and saying "I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER 'KING' WINS ONE."

Yeah, good luck on that, Dan, who today was quoted as saying LeBron quit in the playoffs, this year and last. So I'm wondering why Gilbert, who undoubtedly would have been kissing LBJ's butt if he had re-signed with the Cavs, even wanted such a scourge on his team. Shouldn't he be glad to see him go?

I do somewhat agree with Cleveland Plain-Dealer columnist Terry Pluto who berated James for making his announcement to leave his hometown team in a "self-serving ESPN special." The TV thing did seem untoward, but guess what, it was appointment-TV for me and likely millions of others, so how hard can I blast LeBron for the idea? And while I have long perceived LeBron's persona to be one of excessive ego, hubris and arrogance, and have read intimations of his being less-than-gracious in dealing with the little people, keep in mind that this is someone who was called "The Chosen One" on a Sports Illustrated cover as a high school junior. I imagine in the Akron-Cleveland era, he was a local legend long before that.

So if people, particularly in Cleveland, have been calling Lebron a god since he was 15, it's hard to completely blame him for being excessively self-enamored. And for whatever faults LeBron may have, I've yet to hear him referenced in regards to domestic violence, nightclub brawls, DUIs, guns, drugs of the illegal or performance-enhancing variety, gambling or other issues that have plagued many athletes (and everyday citizens) of a much-lower profile.

I also think it's worth noting that there are very few athletes I can think of who have more fully fulfilled such highly-publicized predictions of greatness from such a young age. Perhaps Tiger Woods, but look at his issues now, and maybe the Williams sisters and likely Wayne Gretzky in Canada, but compared to the Jennifer Capriatis and Todd Marinoviches of the world, LeBron has met extremely lofty expectations pretty admirably on most fronts, even if he's far from perfect.

Now back to the bashers. Last night on NBA TV, former superstars Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller slammed LeBron for leaving Cleveland--where he would've been the greatest hero ever if he led the Cavs to a championship, the city's first of any major sport since 1964--for partnering up with Wade and Bosh for a seemingly much easier road to a title in Miami. Sports Illustrated's Michael Rosenberg and CBS's Gregg Doyel, among many others, have criticized LeBron along these same lines, with part of the thinking being that even if he does win multiple rings with the Heat, LeBron's legacy won't be as great as Kobe or Michael or Magic or Bird because they didn't join up with mercenary millionaires to pave a smoother road to glory.

I think there's some truth in this, but then, weren't a bunch of pundits saying he should go to the Bulls because with Rose, Noah and now Boozer, they offer the best chance at winning? And as a Chicagoan and longtime Bulls fan, I can tell you without question, that if James came to the Bulls--especially alongside Wade and Bosh, which once seemed a possibility--I would be celebrating, not crying about Cleveland's loss.

So I can't comfortably be two-faced and blast LeBron for picking a different team and collection of players that give him "the best shot at winning." And while I would assuredly feel mad and betrayed if I were from Cleveland, the truth is that the Cavs never surrounded him with the players he needed to win and seemingly still wouldn't have anytime soon. I know the city's sporting hearts have been broken many times, but LeBron can't be held responsible for Art Modell, "The Drive," "The Shot," the Indians not winning when they should have or anything else.

Plus, it's kind of hard to call someone selfish and ego-driven (as many common rants seem to be doing) when the truth is that he took a lot less money to leave Cleveland than to stay, and even beyond this backlash, he's gotta know that his brand won't blossom quite as much in his sharing the stage with Wade and Bosh. Plus, as even the Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard said yesterday, Miami is a lousy sports town, filled with bandwagon jumpers. If all LeBron cared about was ego, adoration and/or money, Cleveland, Chicago and New York would have been far more clear-cut choices.

So while I wish LeBron would've come to the Bulls (and therefore can't deride him for leaving the Cavs), I wish him well. Not necessarily basketball wise, where I think if the Bulls add a couple pieces, they along with the Celtics, Magic and Hawks will give the Heat a good battle in the East and the Lakers remain the team to beat overall, but in general.

And at a time when the U.S. is still fighting two wars, the economy remains in the crapper, the Gulf Coast is in dire peril and I along with many others remain jobless, there are a lot bigger things to get up in arms about than LeBron James and his "Decision."

So cut the King some slack and stop with the hypocrisy.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Spending A Day in Chicago's Past

I love history, not so much in terms of wars or rulers, but in terms of people, how they lived and what they created. I am particularly fascinated by much of Chicago's rich history, and in the past have learned about and/or explored the works of Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan, old movie theaters, the Essanay Studios, classic hot dog stands, the Columbian Exposition of 1893, Graceland Cemetery and much else. (I also value the Chicago History Museum, but as I wrote here, feel they greatly need to enhance the modernity of their exhibits).

A couple weeks ago, I noted with interest--via this Tribune article--that it was the 30th anniversary of the Blues Brothers movie. I rewatched the film and also spent some time exploring this website, which is a handy guide to the movie's shooting locations in and around Chicago.

In doing so, I became curious to know more about Chicago's old Maxwell Street Market, which I'd long heard about but had never gone to (although the original marketplace still existed for the first 25 years of my life). Combining what I already knew with what I learned on Wikipedia and by watching an excellent documentary called Cheat You Fair: The Story of Maxwell Street (not even available on Netflix; try your local library), Maxwell Street is one of the Chicago's oldest residential districts. Its famed market existed from the late 1800s until 1994, when expansion of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) displaced the market--according to the documentary, in part because of some shady deals and dubious reasons (i.e. self-interests of those involved).

Though the market still takes place Sundays along Desplaines St., north of Roosevelt Rd., it is but a fraction of what it used to be. Back in the day, it was supposedly a socially vital, inter-racial gathering place where people of myriad statures and backgrounds sold their wares. The market was also the birthplace of Chicago Blues and the "Maxwell Street Polish."

So, motivated as I often am by my taste buds--though in trying to diet I ate nothing else that day--as well as a sense of curiosity, last Thursday, I drove down to visit Jim's Original, said to be where the Maxwell Street Polish (sausage sandwich) was created in 1943. Now located about a block from its original location at Maxwell & Halsted and next to another surviving old Maxwell Street Polish sausage purveyor, Express Grill, Jim's Original remains a blast from the past.

Although both Jim's and Express are surrounded by newfangled UIC buildings and new commercial developments--some with old facades of Maxwell Street buildings affixed to their fronts--the two 24-hour stands, devoid of seating areas, comprise a delightedly utilitarian island in a bourgeois-sea.

And--I say this as a long-time devotee of Polish Sausages throughout Chicago, including my beloved Poochie's in Skokie--I think the Polish at Jim's was the best I ever had. Plus, with a hefty portion of fries that accompany all sandwiches, the Polish was only $3.25! (Monday, July 12, Jim's is having a Founder's day celebration, with Polishes only 75 cents from 2-6pm, but as someone there said, the line will be down the block).

After also grabbing a regular hot dog at Express--it seemed appropriate as I was taking pictures--I drove around the corner and parked momentarily near Maxwell & Halsted just to say I was at the location of the original marketplace (although I've been to the newly developed area before).

Sadly, there really are no remnants of the past in the old location, other than the old building facades and perhaps some sculptures I didn't notice (but later read about).

Continuing my magical history tour, I drove up to Taylor Street, had a Blue Raspberry Italian Lemonade at Mario's (which as the sign says, has been there since 1954), took a photo of my long-loved original location of Al's #1 Italian Beef and drove past the stately St. Ignatius High School and the church with a beautiful tower next to it. 

I then headed southeast, where I was able to drive into the grounds--and even enter the main building--of the South Shore Cultural Center, which used to be the ornate South Shore Country Club, has a still-in-use 9-hole public golf course and is where Barack and Michelle Obama were married in 1992.

But for me, the main draw for the South Shore Cultural Center--which in getting to at 71st & LSD had me the only white face for blocks on end--was that it was used as the Palace Hotel for the final concert in The Blues Brothers (just the exterior, the interior shots were done at the Hollywood Palladium).

But the interior of what is now the Cultural Center is ornate and spectacular in its own right and is home to the Parrot's Cage restaurant, operated by the Washburne Culinary Institute.

I was also able to walk out back and practically right up to the lake.

Finally on my day of exploring some of Chicago's storied--and cinematic--past, I drove to Jackson Park, scene of the Columbian Exposition, aka, The Chicago World's Fair of 1893.

It has always fascinated me that what looked like a huge old Roman city existed in Chicago over 100 years ago and then disappeared (except for the Museum of Science and Industry building, which was the Palace of Fine Arts at the Fair). As I understand it, most of the structures of "The White City" were meant to be temporary, so even if a fire hadn't burned them down in 1894, they likely wouldn't have survived until today.

But in addition to enjoying the MSI and seeing photos and even virtual interpretations of the Columbian Exposition, I also love the beautifully gilded--albeit 1/3 scale--1918 replica of Daniel French's Statue of the Republic (also known as Columbia) that sits in Jackson Park on the former site of the fair's Administration Building (the current statue is atop this post; the original stands across the Grand Basin from the Administration Building in the 1893 World's Fair photo at left).
I wanted to explore a bit more of Jackson Park, including the Wooded Island and the bridge that was used for the Nazi rally scene in the Blues Brothers, but it was getting late and there seemed to be some potentially shady dealings going on in the park's parking lot, so it didn't feel too prudent to be wandering around snapping photos.

But all in all it was a great day (re)discovering part of Chicago's wonderful history and I look forward to similar future excursions.

And of course, having another Polish at Jim's.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Rush Still Giddily (Geddily?) Rocking to the Power of 3

Concert Review

July 3, 2010
Marcus Amphitheatre, Summerfest
Milwaukee, WI

I love Rush. If that makes me uncool, not hip, musically deficient, nerdy or anything else, so be it. Nothing I haven't heard before.

Mind you, I am not nearly as hardcore as many of the Canadian power trio's famously rabid fans. There are a number of Rush songs, both old and new, that I don't particularly enjoy and while I respect the band's right to indulge their own tastes by playing a healthy dose of obscure tunes in their concerts, this tendency has made their shows of late rather hit-or-miss affairs.

But given how much I like their 1981 album, Moving Pictures, as well as 1980's Permanent Waves--I still recall getting both on vinyl upon release--and other concert staples like 2112, when it was announced that Rush would be playing Moving Pictures in its entirety on their current Time Machine tour, I jumped at the chance to see them at Milwaukee's Summerfest (for a good bit less than tickets and parking cost for their shows tonight & Wednesday at Chicago's Northerly Island).

While there were a good deal more women at the show than might be expected--even Rush joked in a post-show video that seven is a record--and a good smattering of people under 25 or so, most of the audience were presumably longtime devotees, as indicated from the vast assortment of old concert tees on display. And from the response of the crowd (not quite packed, but well-sold), it would appear that most in attendance enjoyed Rush's performance as much as I did, if not more.

The first set of two was a bit heavy on lesser-known songs (see the setlist here), but once notoriously high-voiced lead singer and bassist Geddy Lee got past a bit of screechiness that opened The Spirit of Radio--the first song of the show, which followed a cheeky video showing that the band really does have a strong sense of self-deprecating humor--he settled in nicely to his now a-bit-lower register and everything sounded good.

As Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart are all fantastic musicians, the music itself was note perfect and when the Moving Pictures play-through kicked off the second set, the show really kicked into high gear.

Perhaps not for everyone's taste, but I loved it. Unapologetically.

Here's a bit of video I shot of Free Will, followed by a video on YouTube of Camera Eye, which I found to be a surprise standout (the video is actually from their Albuquerque show a few days ago).


In conjunction with going to see Rush, I also made a point of watching their just released documentary DVD (it also has been playing on VH1 and Palladia), Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage.

Featuring plenty of music and interviews with the three band members, their associates and famous fans like Trent Reznor, Billy Corgan, Les Claypool, Gene Simmons and others, it really was a fascinating look at the band's career. While seemingly devoid of the drug-infused drama that made for the best Behind The Music episodes, the band's beginnings and long run offers more than enough of interest, including how they dealt with the death of Peart's daughter and wife.

If you are a Rush fan like me, this is certainly worth your time. And if not, perhaps even more so. Available on Amazon and elsewhere, I heartily give it @@@@@.