Friday, January 28, 2011

My Favorite Concerts

You are at the point of creation. The audience can't wait for the next song to begin. The air is charged. It’s one of those nights.

I’ve been lucky-enough to experience over seventy of those nights; the kind of where the band is on fire and notes hang in the air, making music so tangible you can practically reach out and touch it.

It’s better than sex or great food or the best movie you ever saw. You drive home with the radio off because you don’t want to disturb the afterglow.

The concerts that follow represent about one-fifth of the three-hundred forty-nine concerts I’ve attended. Shows are listed in chronological order. Support acts are listed when they contributed to the vibe.

And if you’re wondering about the deficit of post-1995 shows, let’s just say I moved to a state that was enchantment-rich but concert-poor.

The Outlaws/The Doobie Brothers 9/19/75 The Chicago Stadium
Natural Gas/Gary Wright/Lynyrd Skynyrd/Peter Frampton/Yes 8/15/76 Hawthorne Racetrack
Jeff Beck 2/19/77 The Auditorium Theater
The Michael Stanley Band/Nazareth/REO Speedwagon 4/22/77 The Auditorium Theater
The Climax Blues Band/The J. Geils Band/Foghat/Emerson, Lake & Palmer 6/4/77 Soldier Field
Pink Floyd 6/19/77 Soldier Field
UFO 10/13/78 The International Amphitheater
Louisiana Leroux/REO Speedwagon 11/4/78 The University of Illinois Assembly Hall
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band 11/20/78 The University of Illinois Assembly Hall
The Rockets/Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band 12/1/78 The Chicago Stadium
Graham Parker & the Rumour/Cheap Trick 6/16/79 The International Amphitheater
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers 6/18/80 Poplar Creek Music Theater
The Rockets/REO Speedwagon 8/24/80 Poplar Creek Music Theater
Moon Martin & the Ravens/Rockpile 11/15/80 The Riviera Theater
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band 11/20/80 The Rosemont Horizon
The Kind/Ian Hunter 10/9/81 Cahn Auditorium
The Neville Brothers/The Rolling Stones 11/23/81 The Rosemont Horizon
Red Rider/The J. Geils Band 12/19/81 The Uptown Theater
Defunkt/The Clash 8/13/82 The Aragon Ballroom
Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul 2/13/83 Park West
The Talking Heads 8/14/83 Poplar Creek Music Theater
Los Lobos/The Blasters 7/5/84 SummerFest
The Dream Syndicate/REM 7/7/84 The Aragon Ballroom
The Fleshtones/Billy Bragg/Echo & the Bunnymen 8/25/84 The Bismarck Theater
The Kinks 12/2/84 The University of Illinois Chicago Pavilion
Lone Justice/U2 3/22/85 The University of Illinois Chicago Pavilion
The Blasters 4/13/85 Park West
Til Tuesday/Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers 6/22/85 Poplar Creek Music Theater
Dire Straits 8/3/85 Poplar Creek Music Theater
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark 9/2/85 Cabaret Metro
Eleventh Dream Day/Green on Red 9/20/85 The West End
The Cure 10/18/85 The Aragon Ballroom
EIEIO/The Del Fuegos 4/21/86 Park West
Big Audio Dynamite 11/28/86 The Riviera Theater
Peter Gabriel 12/5/86 The Rosemont Horizon
Dave Edmunds 2/14/87 Park West
Shriekback 4/23/87 Park West
Cameo 5/2/87 The Holiday Star Theater
Paul Kelly & the Messengers/Crowded House 9/12/87 The Riviera Theater
Barrence Whitfield & the Savages/Dave Alvin & the All-Nighters/Los Lobos 10/16/87 The Riviera Theater
Richard Lloyd/The Replacements 11/14/87 The Riviera Theater
The Silencers/Squeeze 11/27/87 The Riviera Theater
Public Image Limited/INXS 3/11/88 The University of Illinois Chicago Pavilion
Rosie Flores/Joe Ely 11/13/88 Fitzgerald’s
The Ben Vaughn Combo/John Hiatt 11/26/88 Park West
The Primitives 12/2/88 Cabaret Metro
NRBQ 1/28/89 Fitzgerald’s
Cherrelle/Alexander O’Neal 4/30/89 The Regal Theater
The Jayhawks/The Vulgar Boatmen/The Silos 5/18/90 Cabaret Metro
Lisa Stansfield 5/21/90 Park West
Social Distortion/Sonic Youth/Neil Young & Crazy Horse 1/29/91 The Rosemont Horizon
The Picadors/Trip Shakespeare 7/13/91 The Cubby Bear
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark 9/22/91 Cabaret Metro
Superchunk/The Mekons 11/8/91 Cabaret Metro
The Ocean Blue/The Psychedelic Furs 11/13/91 Cabaret Metro
My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult/Siouxsie & the Banshees 12/8/91 The Central Park Ballroom
The Wallflowers/Cracker 5/9/92 Cabaret Metro
Big Audio Dynamite/Public Enemy/U2 9/18/92 The World Music Theater
Ike Reilly & Community #9/The Mekons 11/14/92 Cabaret Metro
David J/PJ Harvey 11/26/92 Cabaret Metro
The Mekons 11/24/93 Cabaret Metro
Seam/Fig Dish/The Flaming Lips 12/10/93 Cabaret Metro
Throneberry/Tina & the B-Sides/Tommy Keene 2/11/94 The Cubby Bear
Cynthia Plastercaster/The Mekons 7/22/94 Lounge Ax
The Vulgar Boatmen/The Silos 4/13/95 Cabaret Metro
Susan Voelz 5/17/95 Schuba's
Kitchens of Distinction 5/22/95 The Double Door
Bjork 8/4/95 Cabaret Metro
PJ Harvey 10/7/95 The Riviera Theater
Marcia Ball/Aaron Neville/John Fogerty 9/1/00 The World Music Theater
Gavin DeGraw/Maroon 5 11/16/03 The Sunshine Theater
Lavender Diamond/The New Pornographers 9/22/07 The Sunshine Theater

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Revenge of the Tailgated

At first, I thought it was the second coming. That I was being bathed in the light of redemption. Either that or I was being abducted by aliens. Such was the flood of bright white light that engulfed my car.

But there was a stop light at the intersection up ahead. And however limited my experience with second comings and alien abductions, I am positively resolute that traffic signals don’t play a role in either.

A little background.

You see, I was headed south along a two-lane street renown for being a speed trap. With the understanding that driving is a social activity, I motored along at what I assumed to be a cooperative five miles over the speed limit.

I reasoned this would both appease the overscheduled folk who are so frequently behind me, yet at the same time, shield me from unwelcome attention by law enforcement authorities.

And that is when The Light appeared.

I flipped the rear view mirror to nighttime. But my puny efforts were overwhelmed by a glare that made it feel as if I were driving on the surface of the Sun.

Perhaps this was the second coming. My brain was suffused with questions. Had I comported myself in a manner consistent with redemption? Had I sinned in the last twenty-four hours?

Without answering either question, I made a desperate attempt to adjust the exterior mirrors. But The Light would not be denied. I gamely continued towards the strip mall, where it had been my intention to purchase a bag of road salt and some washer fluid.

Unfortunately, this also seemed to be The Light’s destination.

As residential neighborhoods gave way to commercial ones, the ambient light helped lessen the intensity of The Light. It was at that point I discerned the visage of a vehicle—a pick-up truck to be exact.

While relieved that final judgment had been delayed until I could at least procure some windshield washer solvent, I was also highly agitated. What did The Light want? Why was it following me? Was it too much to hope for a break in the solid yellow line that would indicate a passing zone?

It was New Year’s Day evening. It was unlikely The Light was rushing to work. Or picking up its kid from soccer practice. I cursed the construction budget shortfalls that consigned me to this two-lane, halogen hell.

Just as The Light seemed poised to attempt some form of vehicular sodomy, the mall came into view. I turned in and hoped The Light would bypass it and continue on its merry way.

Wrong.

The Light slash pick-up turned in also. It was look-at-me obnoxious, standing about three-feet off the ground with several dozen lights mounted on the front bumper and above the cab. The tires appeared to have been borrowed from a river rapids outfitter in Grand Canyon National Park.

It parked across several spaces, and I watched as the driver climbed down. A baseball cap gathered in a headful of wiry, longish hair. He was slender. Stood about 5’8”. He was wearing a Blackhawks jacket and dark sweatpants.

I remembered an expression I had heard in New Mexico: The bigger the truck, the smaller the man. I smiled. He probably needed a stepladder just to wash the hood.

I got out of my car and followed him in.

The store’s white tile floor was crisscrossed with muddy footprints and shopping cart tracks. A voice on the PA was excitedly informing shoppers of the values to be had in the seasonal close-out section. The fluorescent lights glared.

I caught up with the truck driver at the display of rock salt. I parked my cart and stood very near him as I pretended to inspect the various bags. Within seconds I detected a face turned briefly in my direction. A sigh. And then the sound of a cart being suddenly and forcibly moved.

I loitered near the rock salt for a moment, selected the five-pound bag I needed and continued on.

The truck driver was now in aisle 1—canned fruits and vegetables. I followed, suddenly fascinated by the array of canned goods. A smiling woman holding a wicker basket full of ripe, red tomatoes beckoned from a can of Contadina.

While reaching for her, I brushed the truck driver. I pretended not to notice, but could feel him looking at me. I nonchalantly replaced the can and continued down the aisle.

After locating a bottle of windshield solvent, I encountered the truck driver again, this time by the deli.

I stood directly behind him as he ordered a quarter-pound each of olive and pimento loaf. Upon receiving his packages, he turned to put them in his cart and ran into me. There was another exasperated sigh. He was irritated.

“Excuse me” I said brightly and stepped up to the counter. I could feel him attempting to stare a hole into me.

I debated whether to continue. If I didn’t tell him I was the driver of the car he had been tailgating, the entire exercise would be for naught. A decision needed to be made. Our last encounter would be at the cash registers.

Unbelievably, the old Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway duet “The Closer I Get to You” was playing as I joined the line. I wanted to laugh.

I again stood within inches of him as he stooped to retrieve the jug of milk from beneath the cart. We bumped. His eyes betrayed an anger his face struggled to contain.

I looked at him. “It’s not very nice, is it?”

“Huh?” The truck driver stood there, staring. His body was cocked in a pose of expectation.

I studied his pale face. The watery blue eyes and the half-formed pimples near his chin. He was young.

“Being tailgated.”

“What are you talking about, dude?” It didn’t quite come off as a question.

“I’m just sorry I don’t have a bunch of spots to blind you with. Let’s see. By your rules, I should just shove you out of the way and check out first because I'm bigger than you. What do you think of that?”

“You’re trippin’, man.” He turned to face the cashier. His denial provoked a torrent of self-righteous rage.

“You mean you’re not the guy who followed me down McHenry Road? Really? You’re not the guy who tried to blind me because I wasn’t going fast enough? Because I watched you get out of your fucking truck. You are the asshole who was tailgating me. And you know what? I should beat your scrawny ass to a pulp.”

The truck driver anxiously waited for his change. His outstretched hand was a dictionary entry for the word urgent.

In contrast to the portrayal my kindergarten teacher had offered my parents that I wasn’t an oral child, I now found myself in the position of not being able to keep my mouth shut.

“You’re not so tough outside your truck, are you? Tell me something—how should we handle this? What do you think is fair?”

He quietly collected his bags and hurried from the store. I set the rock salt and washer fluid on the counter.

I felt good.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My Favorite CDs of 2010

Musically speaking, it was a good year for old guys. It was the year of re. As in resurgent. Reinvigorated. Renewed.

Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Robert Plant (Band of Joy), Jimmie Vaughan, Los Lobos, Ron Wood, Neil Young and the late Solomon Burke all released their strongest work in years in 2010.

Which followed on the heels of last year’s compelling live album from Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood and 2008’s Robin Trower collaboration with Jack Bruce.

I’m tempted to say an impending sense of mortality has these guys digging down deep. That the realization that life isn’t an endless stream of twenty-something days has brought their priorities—like the face of death itself—into sharp focus.

On the other hand, it could be mere coincidence.

Of course, the young-uns were active, too. Best Coast, Plants and Animals, Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice (Jenny and Johnny), the New Pornographers and Robyn all released albums that require the warning Caution: May become habit-forming.

Lest you feel an eyeroll coming on at having to slog through yet-another year-end review, know that mine is the only one which doesn’t list Kanye West at number one or mention Nicki Minaj, pop-hop’s hook girl of the year.

Oh wait—I just did. Shit. So much for originality.

Several highly-anticipated disappointments (you know who you are) nonwithstanding, here are my ten favorite CDs of 2010.

1. Robyn Body Talk

I’m tempted to say this is the guiltiest pleasure I’ve ever installed at number one. But that would be damning Robyn’s tough, brainy dance pop with faint praise.

The irresistible beats lure you to the dance floor while Klas Ahlund’s brilliant production colors Body Talk with bits of electronica, hip-hop and sound effects that elevate the hook-laden songs into the realm of pop-art.

Translated, that means it’s dance music you can stand to listen to even when you’re not dancing. Besides, when was the last time you heard Snoop Dogg drop a memorable cameo? Sexy, smart and the year’s best.

Check "Fembot" and the single, "Indestructible", which features the hottest, most reckless lyric of 2010. (I’m guessing you won’t need that Snuggie any longer.)

2. Robert Plant Band of Joy

Say what you want about the Led Zep-era posturing of Robert Plant, the dude takes his music very seriously. Instead of settling for a huge paycheck by endlessly recycling Zeppelin, Plant has spent the better part of the last fifteen years exploring the folk and Middle Eastern music that first inspired him.

With the stellar support of Patty Griffin and Buddy Miller, Band of Joy recasts songs by Low, Los Lobos and Richard Thompson into something that sounds like they’re wafting from a high plains jukebox, circa 1952.

Check "House of Cards" and the haunting "Silver Rider".

3. The New Pornographers Together

All this Canadian indie all-star band did was turn out another album filled with tuneful songs, inventive arrangements and sparkling harmonies with the same regularity that Robert DeNiro makes crappy script choices.

Were they anything but Canadian, egomania would have split them long ago. But like the joke says, all you need to do to clear a hundred Canadians from the pool is say please. And thank god for that.

Check "My Shepherd" and the epic album-closer "We End Up Together", which contains the faint trace of Magical Mystery Tour-era Beatles that runs through much of Together.

4. Los Lobos Tin Can Trust

Back in the mid-eighties, I tried to hip everyone I knew to Los Lobos by dragging friends to their rollicking live shows and making listening to …And a Time to Dance and Will the Wolf Survive? mandatory in exchange for the pleasure of my company.

I never figured I’d still be forking over cash for their latest and greatests a quarter-century later.

Tin Can Trust continues the twenty-first century revival begun by Good Morning Aztlan, and as the smoldering "Burn It Down" and the sober title track make clear, the 2000 box set was just a bit premature.

Los Lobos’ seasoned melding of rock, folk, blues and norteno is multi-cultural soul music. Check both of the aforementioned tracks.

5. Ron Wood I Feel Like Playing

Ron Wood solo albums happen like weird planetary alignments every decade or so. And when they do, they’re usually worth noting. Recharged after a bout with alcoholism, Wood brings his well-worn Dylanesque croak to this set of twelve songs that display the same rough-edged sense of groove that propelled his first (and best) effort, 1974’s I’ve Got My Own Album to Do.

Check "100%" and "Tell Me Something", which are the sort of mid-tempo crotch grinders the Stones don’t make enough of anymore.

6. Jenny and Johnny I’m Having Fun Now

This low-key gem, a collaboration between the Rilo Kiley lead singer and her longtime boyfriend Jonathan Rice often finds itself exploring the relationship dynamic with tart (but never bitter) results.

It doesn’t hurt that their voices go together like peaches and cream, or that the album is rife with sublime production touches applied with restraint and intelligence.

But like last season’s surprise playoff team, Jenny and Johnny won’t sneak up on anyone next time around. Which might take some of the fun out of the sequel—assuming there is one. So enjoy this while it lasts.

Check "Switchblade" and "Big Wave".

7. John Mellencamp No Better Than This

Like the former Led Zeppelin frontman, the former Johnny Cougar knows a bit about aging gracefully. Substituting intimacy for arena-sized bluster, Mellencamp proves a whisper is just as powerful as a scream. And that multi-tracking and overdubbing don’t necessarily give an album depth.

It’s stark, spare beauty is recorded in monaural, giving No Better Than This an emotional heft that falls somewhere between a nineteen-fifties Elvis Presley EP and Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl Ballads LP.

Do yourself a favor and check the title track and "Save Some Time to Dream".

8. Plants and Animals La La Land

Montreal’s other band, Plants and Animals describe their music as post-classic rock. Imagining a less-bombastic Muse is probably a good place to begin.

As a result, La La Land is a bit like seeing an old girlfriend with a new haircut—the same, but different. Their melodic, textural pleasures are a treat, and mark Plants and Animals as a band to watch.

Check "American Idol" and "Game Shows".

9. Neil Young Le Noise

I’d love to see the look on people’s faces the first time they hear Le Noise. Yes, it's a Neil Young solo album. But no, the guitar that accompanies him isn’t a softly-strummed acoustic.

The combination of voice and electric guitar may seem off-putting, but it provides stark relief. The quiver in Young’s voice has never sounded more ghostly.

You’ll be so absorbed by Le Noise you won’t even care that "Sign of Love" nicks the riff from 1975's "Drive Back". Or that it’s technically not a solo album. (Producer Daniel Lanois added some post-production electronics.)

Check "Angry World" and "Love and War".

10. Best Coast Crazy for You

This L.A. trio isn’t doing anything revolutionary here; just executing classic forms like girl group pop and surf to sunny, lo-fi perfection. But it’s enough of a wrinkle that Crazy for You frequently finds its way into my CD player.

Check the title track and "Honey".


Honorable Mentions:

Solomon Burke Nothing’s Impossible

If there’s a silver lining in the cloud of Mr. Burke’s passing, it’s that he ended on the upswing of the good-album-bad-album cycle that marked his twenty-first century resurgence.

Tom Petty Mojo

I haven’t liked a Tom Petty album this much since the eighties, which is totally like all you need to know about Mojo.