Saturday, August 26, 2017

Welcome to Paradise: A Green Day Night at the Friendly Confines is Quite a Blast -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Green Day
w/ opening act
Catfish and the Bottlemen
Wrigley Field, Chicago
August 24, 2017

It would be easy to be cynical about Green Day's show at Chicago's baseball shrine, Wrigley Field.

The once plucky trio who cut their teeth in bona fide Bay Area punk clubs are now middle-aged Rock 'n Roll Hall of Famers, playing perhaps the most iconic and populist of ballparks as a 6-piece touring band.

...without quite the drawing power to sell out Wrigley, even as the venerated venue summons more casual fans.

And while I have been an avid Green Day fan since Dookie exploded in 1994--it was actually their third album--and found 2004's American Idiot to be a brilliant reinvention that still stands as one of the best albums of the 21st Century, their output since has been largely hit or miss, including on 2016's Revolution Radio.

Having seen Green Day seven times prior, I consider them one of the best live bands ever, but also recognize their penchant to endlessly recycle the same old shtick.

This includes hyperkinetic singer Billie Joe Armstrong's propensity for shouting out "Chicago, Illinois!"--or whatever locale may be apt--bringing audience members onstage to sing and (separately) play guitar, and turning the mediocre "King for a Day" into a long production number complete with costumes, props and a segue into "Shout!" that also includes famed cover song singalongs (in this case "Satisfaction" and "Hey Jude").

For those who don't like the band, or even those who do, it might be easy to call: "Spinal Tap!"

I disagree with the overriding sentiment of this Consequence of Sound review of Thursday's show--that the sameness made it subpar--but think the critiques it makes are pretty fair, and actually similar to my common complaints about Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.

For all his verbose topical politicism--including jabs at President Trump--I felt Armstrong, who clearly seemed jazzed at playing Wrigley Field, missed chances to pay fun homage to the Cubs, whether in spoken word or song.

The setlist was filled with songs I enjoyed--including 5 tracks from Revolution Radio--but didn't feature anything special for the occasion, hewed exactly to that at prior tour stops and, as Consequence of Sound points out, stuck to the usual suspects without digging deeper into Green Day's terrific catalog.

Yet while I feel such points are legitimate, and would agree that Green Day hasn't continued to advance their art--on record or on stage--as much as hoped since American Idiot, the concert was such fun from beginning to end that not to award @@@@@ would belie my enjoyment in the moment.

As well as the universal feelings of at least a dozen friends, who were effusive in praise.

Like playing Madison Square Garden or headlining Lollapalooza/Bonnaroo/Coachella, performing at Wrigley Field has--over the past 10 years, since concerts have been permitted--become something of a rite of passage for the biggest rock and country acts. (Save for ones like U2 or the Rolling Stones, who can readily fill Soldier Field.)

Along with Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, James Taylor and other classic rockers, Green Day's alt-rock brethren like Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters have filled the Friendly Confines in recent years.

And while the upper deck was a bit undersold, Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool--along with three tour musicians--proved they were up to the task.

The sound mix was a bit problematic on the opening "Know Your Enemy," but two new songs ("Bang Bang," "Revolution Radio") sounded strong leading into an early highlight, "Holiday" off American Idiot.

It was during this song that Armstrong yelled, "No racism! No sexism! No homophobia! And no Donald J. Trump," to a roar of the crowd.

Though its guitar intro sounds an awful lot like that of Oasis' "Wonderwall," "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" came off well and I was glad when "Longview" finally started digging into Dookie, from which 5 songs would be played.

One of these, "Welcome to Paradise," had actually appeared on the preceding Kerplunk!, from which Green Day also performed "2000 Light Years Away" as Armstrong recalled playing a club in Elmhurst in 1991.

Looking at the Wrigley setlist now, which matches that of all recent shows, it's easy to wonder why Green Day completely ignores the fine Insomniac, which follows Dookie, or why the "King for a Day" / "Shout" medley gets such prominence.

Yet I think it's to the band's credit that they stick to the tried and true, and still sound sensational.

And I'd be lying to say singing the "Na na nah-nah-nah na" part of "Hey Jude" with the vast crowd, a few weeks after seeing Paul McCartney do so yet again, in a storied venue where I saw Sir Paul in 2011, didn't give me goose bumps.

Especially as I have a bit of a head cold, I think I can really just end this by saying Green Day at Wrigley Field was a great concert by a--still--great band on a great night.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

An Admirable Project: 'Trevor' Impressively Engages as a World Premiere Musical, but Needs to Hit Harder -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Trevor: The Musical
World Premiere
Writers Theatre, Glencoe, IL
Thru September 17

Most musicals able to be seen in Chicagoland are ones that already ran on Broadway in New York, which along with London's West End, can be considered the Major Leagues of the theater world.

Certainly, this isn't entirely the case, as the Windy City has long attracted "tryouts" of shows en route to the Great White Way (or with such ambitions).

Simply in the 21st century, Broadway in Chicago has hosted world premiere runs of The Producers, Spamalot, The Pirate Queen, The Addams Family, Kinky Boots, Big Fish, The Last Ship, On Your Feet and The SpongeBob Musical, among others, some going on to huge success & acclaim, some not. 

The Goodman Theatre debuted The Visit, Bounce, The Million Dollar Quartet, The Light in the Piazza and War Paint, while musicals such as The Last Five Years, The Adding Machine, Hero, The Beverly Hillbillies, Shining Lives, October Sky, Beaches and Hazel were seen first--or early in development--at suburban venues such as Northlight Theatre, Next Theater, Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire, Drury Lane Oakbrook and Theater at the Center in Munster.

Photo credit on all: Michael Brosilow
But even though this may sound like a substantial number of musicals that play Chicago before Broadway, most Broadway in Chicago offerings come after NYC runs, whether current, recent or long ago (e.g. the presently or soon slated Hamilton, Aladdin, School of Rock, Les Miserables, Wicked, Beautiful).

And works staged by Marriott Lincolnshire, Drury Lane Oakbrook, Paramount Theater in Aurora, Music Theater Works in Evanston, Theo Ubique in Chicago, other local professional troupes and community theaters across numerous suburbs even more commonly come from the canon of classic "Broadway musicals."

As an avowed musical theater buff, I relish the opportunity to see World Premiere and/or Pre-Broadway musicals, and have enjoyed several of these more than some lowlights that ran on Broadway before hitting the touring circuit.

There is something thrilling about watching the gestation process, but while musicals can always be tinkered with--even years after highly successful Broadway runs--shows that play on Broadway tend to feel more finalized than ones trying to get there.

Which is all a long way of saying that while I found Trevor--a new musical with clear Broadway aspirations and talent getting its world premiere at Writers Theatre in Glencoe--to be terrific in many regards, I think it needs considerable work.

But that is par for the course, and I didn't want to begin this review by noting the issues I had with Trevor, for that would shortchange the compelling storyline--more on the origins in a moment but the book & lyrics here are by Dan Collins--a highly enjoyable score by Julianne Wick Davis, some excellent songs and superb performances led by 14-year-old Eli Tokash in the title role. 

Even in its current form, Trevor: The Musical is really good, and well-worth getting to Glencoe.

Explained in more depth in this Chicago Tribune article by Chris Jones, Trevor originated in 1994 as a monologue by actor James Lecesne, which was turned into an Oscar-winning short film the same year.

I have not seen the 12-minute movie but per Jones it chronicles "a boy with a crush on the wrong friend at school. In the film, Trevor wants nothing more than to be accepted by his friends. When they reject him, he tries to kill himself."

When the 12-minute movie was slated to air on HBO in 1998, those involved realized it might--again to quote Jones--"connect intensely with gay or questioning kids sitting at home. There might be a need for a phone number for them to call. So everyone went looking for a national service for these teenagers and found that such a service did not exist. So they had to start their own. And thus the Trevor Project--now a national nonprofit suicide prevention service for LGBTQ youths with some $6 million in revenue, more than 1,000 volunteers, some 200,000 callers a year, a 24-hour phone lifeline, new TrevorChat instant messaging, new TrevorText, new TrevorSpace and major financial support from Daniel Radcliffe, among other famous names--was born."

Until hearing about Trevor: The Musical a few months ago and reading up on it before seeing the show Wednesday night, I was not at all familiar with the movie or the Trevor Project, but unabashedly laud support being provided for gay teens, those beginning to explore and question their sexuality and anyone considering taking their own life.

Per the Trevor Project: The rate of suicide attempts is 4 times greater for LGB youth and 2 times greater for questioning youth than that of straight youth.

So although there were very few kids in the audience on Wednesday night, supposedly matinees are drawing school groups. And it's not impossible to imagine Trevor: The Musical might one day be hugely important as much more than entertainment for millions of teenagers, whether gay, different or prone to bully those who are.

But while I applaud the origins and potential benefits, and give credence to the truth that it is still a work in progress, simply as a musical that I devoted 2 hours to watching, I more liked than loved it at this point.

As Trevor Nelson, a junior high school student in 1981 who loves Diana Ross, isn't smitten like his friend Walter (Matthew Uzarraga) by a women's underwear catalog and shows a penchant for choreography, Eli Tokash--who has appeared on Broadway in Finding Neverland and Pippin--is delightful.

And so too is the character of Trevor largely delightful, showing spirited verve and surprisingly little self-consciousness as he befriends the pretty-boy jock of Lakeview Junior High, Pinky Faraday (a fine Declan Desmond).

After a stanza of Diana Ross' "Do You Know" by Salisha Thomas in her guise, an early trio of songs sung by Trevor, Walter and other students--"On With the Show," "Underneath (Turn the Page)" and Everyday (On and On)"--serve to inform that not only are there incredibly talented kids on hand, but that Trevor is a formidable musical enterprise by the largely unknown composer/lyricist tandem of Julianne Wick Davis and Dan Collins.

Other original songs--notably "Weird," "Can't Wait" and "What's Wrong With Me?"--are stellar, Ross gems like "It's My Turn," "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Remember Me," "Endless Love" and "I'm Coming Out" can't help but bring a smile and the title character handles adolescent individuality, insecurity, peer pressure, etc., with such aplomb (mostly) as to be entirely endearing.

Everyone who ever walked a school hallway feeling out-of-place, fearful of bullies, uncertain about their hormones, etc.--which means essentially everybody--should find Trevor: The Musical quite resonant, meaningful and likable, unless entirely turned off by musical theater.

But while I highly enjoyed the production directed by Marc Bruni--who likewise helmed Beautiful: The Carole King Story on Broadway--I found it far too amiable to yet call it truly phenomenal.

For as a tale of a kid with gay tendencies who is pushed to attempt suicide, Trevor seems to have far too little edge or anxiety.

At one point, early in Act II after Trevor is terribly betrayed and humiliated, it even resorts to what feels like uneasy campiness.

I haven't yet seen current Broadway hit and Tony winner Dear Evan Hansen, but simply in listening to the Cast Recording and watching some clips, that show--which also deals with teenage misfits and suicide--is clearly darker than Trevor, and seemingly appropriately so.

Another comparable musical, Billy Elliot, benefited from tying the story of a boy who wanted to dance with the labor strife of his British mining town, but there was far more complexity to that title character--and the musical numbers--but also to Billy's gay best friend, Michael.

As Chris Jones points out in his likewise positive review with similar reservations, in desiring to reach a teen audience, Trevor understandably doesn't want be too dark and difficult.

But plenty a musical has been made about young people struggling to find solid footing amid daunting surroundings--including Hairspray, Spring Awakening, Wicked, Kinky Boots, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, etc., etc.--and the best of these don't dance around difficult truths or cruel realities.

In its first public production--augmented at Writers by an outstanding set design by Donyale Werle--Trevor: The Musical is already quite admirable and enjoyable. 

Now it just needs to hit harder, dig deeper and become a good bit more daring.

Trevor's message of overcoming adversity--and embracing one's individuality--is to be universally applauded, but the show itself must toughen up.

Or to put it another way, my own memories of junior high are filled with considerably more angst than anything depicted onstage, except for Trevor's darkest moment, and even that is less harrowing than it should be. 

Treasure Trevor for what it is now, but I'm already looking forward to it becoming even better.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

If I May Saith So Myself: Past Blog Posts You May Enjoy Anew

I've maintained Seth Saith since September 2004 and quite steadily & voluminously since December 2009. With over 1,400 posts comprising several million words, even I've forgotten much that I've written. And while the vast majority of posts have been theater and concert reviews, there have been several pieces on a variety of topics.

Here are a few--some randomly selected, some not--that hopefully still have some relevancy and make for good reading. (Some photos may have dropped off and time doesn't allow for me to resurrect them at this point.)

The Commonality Conversation, or One Small Suggestion Toward How To Stop Bullying (May 11, 2012)

The Socio-Cinematic 70s: When the Movies Had Something to Say (March 23, 2014)

In Exhibit of Big Name Impressionists, Federico Zandomeneghi Makes a Surprising Impression -- An Art Exposition (January 5, 2012)

The Erosion of Associative Learning (and Its Detrimental Effects) (Sept. 8, 2013)

It's the End of the World as We Know It and I Feel Sad ... and Appreciative ... and Fine -- A Tribute to R.E.M. (Sept. 23, 2011)

London Beyond the Werewolves, Again: An Updated Travel Guide (July 18, 2014)

The Beautiful Oeuvre of Catherine Deneuve (May 31, 2014)

At 85, Life is Still But a Dream for Mr. Canoe, Ralph Frese (October 9, 2011; Mr. Frese passed in late 2012)

Guest Post: In His Old Neighborhood, Nelson Algren's 105th Birthday Party Celebrates a Chicago Gone By (April 7, 2014)

Show A Little Faith, There's Magic in the Night - Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Detroit / Auburn Hills (April 14, 2012)

The Chicago Dining World Tour: An Exceptional Evening of Eating Like an Ethiopian (October 12, 2013)

Citizen Kane vs. Casablanca, a classic debate (April 9, 2010)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Pithy Philosophy #34

Seth Saith:

Spending your money on wonderful experiences and lasting memories can only make you richer.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Ours Go to 11: Volume 25, My Favorite Alfred Hitchcock Movies (on his birthday)

I haven't seen every movie the great director made, but most of the major ones.

Some of these were last seen far more recently (or more often) than others, but here's what I remember most fondly:

1. Rear Window
2. Psycho
3. Rebecca
4. Vertigo
5. Strangers on a Train
6. Notorious
7. North by Northwest
8. To Catch a Thief
9. Rope
10. Dial M for Murder
11. The Birds

And a few more

Shadow of a Doubt
The 39 Steps
Foreign Correspondent


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Ours Go to 11: Volume 24, Unforgettable Travel Sights Seen

1. Eiffel Tower, Paris

2. Petra, Jordan

3. Pyramids of Giza & the Sphinx, Cairo

4. Leaning Tower of Pisa

5. Sydney Opera House
6. Colosseum, Rome

7. Piazza San Marco, Venice

8. Big Ben, London
9. Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

10. Dome on the Rock, Jerusalem

11. Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg
A few more:

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

Bryce Canyon, Utah

Fallingwater, Mill Run, PA

Teotihuacan, near Mexico City

The Alamo, San Antonio

All photos by Seth Arkin. Please do not repost without permission and attribution.

Additional photos can be seen in an online version of Touristry, a travel portfolio I published in 2014.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Presenting Bill Graham: Impressive Exhibit Chronicles Rock Impresario, Holocaust Survivor -- Museum Exhibition Review

Exhibit Review

Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution
Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center
Skokie, IL
Thru November 12

Though not for lack of trying, I am not the marketing director for the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, nor ever employed there in any capacity. (I once interviewed for the role and was told I would continue to, but it didn't happen.)

So questions about the propriety of showcasing rock 'n roll memorabilia within a museum devoted to chronicling the genocide of 6 million Jews and millions of other victims in hopes of preventing such horrors from happening again aren't really mine to answer.

I live 5 minutes from the Skokie museum and have viewed its permanent collection multiple times, and in availing myself of Bank of America's generous Museums on Us program to cover the $12 general admission fee I was able to dedicate a visit strictly to Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution, a special exhibit costing $5.

As I will detail, the exhibition was superb, as it reflects on the late rock promoter fleeing Nazi Germany--unlike less fortunate members of his Jewish family--while also exhibiting an impressive array of artifacts tied to his career and the rock legends he booked into his San Francisco and New York City venues.

I'm not sure that I could have mentally digested the exhibition--in which the premature deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Duane Allman, Jerry Garcia and Graham himself unavoidably factor in--right after experiencing the harrowing permanent exhibit.

And as a thorough viewing of the Graham exhibit can take up to 2 hours, seeing it first may well create museum fatigue not allowing for proper intake of the main collection.

So although it's not really my concern, I'd advise those drawn to Skokie by the rock show yet required to pay $17 for a one-day-only visit arrive as the museum opens around 10:00am, view Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution, head to the nearby Old Orchard Mall (or Portillo's, Culver's, etc.) for some lunch, and then return to give the Holocaust exposition proper attention. (I've been told it's permissible to leave & come back within the same day.)

With an extravagant butterfly costume Bill Graham wore to one of the Grateful Dead New Year's Eve shows he promoted displayed just outside the actual exhibit, the well-curated show--organized and circulated by the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, in association with the Bill Graham Memorial Foundation--occupies the entirety the museum's downstairs exhibition hall.

The first several panels--though I would have welcomed even a few more--chronicle Graham's early life, beset by considerable trauma and tragedy.

He was born Wolfgang Grajonca in Berlin in January 1931, and his father died that same year. After members of the Hitler Youth Movement came looking to recruit him, his mom first put Bill--not yet his name--in a home for Jewish children, which the Nazis shut down. She then put him on a transport to France, and with other refugee children--including this man I wrote about in 2015--he eventually sailed to America on the Serpo Pinto.

Graham's mom Frieda died on a train headed to Auschwitz, and one of his sisters perished there at just 13. Four other sisters survived the Holocaust, either within concentration camps or by escaping the Nazis.

The early part of the exhibit features a trio of compelling video accounts by Graham's childhood friend, Ralph Moratz, with whom he escaped and later met up with in New York.

There are few video clips of Graham himself, who died in a helicopter crash in 1991 at the age of 60, but several of the placards accompanying photos and memorabilia feature quotes from him.

I was struck by this one, pertaining to his early experiences in the United States after fleeing Nazi Germany:

After noting that the name "Bill Graham" was picked out of a Bronx phone book, the focus of the exhibit rather abruptly--and quite predominantly--shifts to his career as a rock concert promoter, initially in San Francisco in the mid-1960s.

After having gotten into the entertainment world as the manager of a mime troupe, for whom he organized a benefit upon a member's arrest, Graham first promoted concerts at the Fillmore Auditorium, a Frisco venue that already existed by that name--and still does.

Displayed in the exhibition is a basket of apples that greeted patrons at the auditorium's entrance. (One presumes the apples aren't originals;)

By 1968, Graham was more heavily utilizing a different space in the city, which he dubbed the Fillmore West. He also famously ran the Fillmore East in New York, and the larger Winterland in Frisco, all of which have long since closed.

But they hosted some phenomenally gifted and influential artists, and along with several beautiful psychedelic posters promoting Fillmore shows, the exhibition showcases some prime artifacts, including:

- A guitar belonging to Carlos Santana, whom Graham had seen at a jam session and encouraged to form a band
- A cowbell Graham played with Santana at Woodstock
- A microphone and tambourine Janis Joplin played at the Fillmore West
- A guitar belonging to The Who's Pete Townshend
- An amplifier belonging to the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia
- A Les Paul guitar Duane Allman played at the Fillmore East in 1971, as recorded for the famed Allman Brothers' live album.
- An outfit worn onstage by Jimi Hendrix
- An outfit worn by Peter Frampton at Winterland, which is depicted on the Frampton Comes Alive album cover
- A wizard costume worn by Graham at another New Year's Eve party/concert by the Grateful Dead
- Boots worn by Keith Richards

See below for photos of most of these objects. (The exhibition allows and encourages photography.)

Although the exhibit only briefly mentions Graham's notoriously fiery temper, it conveys how his personal tempestuousness belied not only the horrors he had lived through, but a rather charitable man who organized many benefit concerts.

Bill Graham coordinated the slate of Live Aid acts who performed in Philadelphia--on hand is a guitar plate signed by Mick Jagger and David Bowie, and a microphone autographed by Ozzy Osbourne, although I don't recall the latter performing at Live Aid--and put together shows for numerous causes, including raising money for San Francisco after-school programs. 

Notably, as a Holocaust survivor, Graham took out an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1985 to address an open letter to President Ronald Reagan, asking him not to visit the Bitburg concentration camp. 

To no avail.

Shortly thereafter, the San Francisco offices of what had become "Bill Graham Presents" were firebombed.

Charred remnants of the Chronicle ad and office equipment are also on display.

Sadly, after attending a concert by Huey Lewis & the News on October 25, 1991, Bill Graham, his girlfriend and the pilot were killed when their helicopter crashed into a high voltage tower.

As the exhibition had begun with a collection of photos showing Graham with family & friends prior to the Holocaust, it ends with a nice wall of pictures depicting him interacting with his kids and other loved ones.

And while the musical instruments played by rock immortals made for the biggest "oohs" and "ahs" and likely the best photos, the exhibit's merits are amplified for the way it depicts how a Holocaust survivor not only came to thrive, but to quite frequently give back.

As noted above, you'll do well to figure out how Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution best meshes with a more holistic visit to the Illinois Holocaust Museum, but on a variety of levels it is very much worth your time and attention.