It’s a good show, not a phenomenal one. Of course nothing could live up to the hype. It’s great that it’s bringing new people in to see musical theatre (as long as they’re rich enough to spend a ridiculous amount of money on tickets!)

The cast was wonderful. Their voices were clearly better than on the original cast album.

Act 2 is better than Act 1. I’m not a big rap fan, so factor that in, but Act 1 just seemed like a mixed bag, trying to fit in a LOT of lyrics without any real high points. 

The songs in Act 2 are really good. The songs here are in a wide variety of styles from patter songs to jazz.

The problem is that while the show is an excellent history lesson, there is no story structure. Hamilton is rash, but the show never confronts that fact in any way, so it’s not clear that’s why it is a tragedy.

The relationship between Hamilton and Burr is a bit like Jesus and Judas, but unlike in Jesus Christ Superstar, you don’t have an emotional attachment to either of them, so their fates feel empty in the end. There is no equivalent to the “So long Judas, poor old Judas number,” just Burr’s one line about how he has become the villain in the story, which could have been the most powerful line in the show, but is lost in other business.

Eliza becomes the central character in the last number, but it feels like an epilogue full of exposition, because her character wasn’t developed earlier.

All that said, it’s a rousing show, an excellent history lesson, and was staged, sung, acted and danced brilliantly.

Paul McCartney

For the first time, Linda and I both were able to spend a month in Chicago together this summer. It was fun to kick back and chill in River North. A bum left calf and foot kept me from walking all around town like I love to do, but we were able to use Lyft to explore many new restaurants. Our favorite discoveries were the Cherry Circle Room, BLVD and Mexique. Biggest flops were mfk, Tavern on Rush and Proxi.

The highlight of the trip, and the event I planned the schedule around, was Paul McCartney playing at Tinley Park. It’s a bit of a hassle to get to Tinley park, which is in the suburbs about an hour away, but we rented a car and it was definitely worth the trip.

It was hard to believe Sir Paul is 75 years old! He played an energetic set without a break for two and a half hours, then came back and did a thirty-minute encore. The sound and staging was great, and often spectacular:

McCartney played nearly forty of his best songs, ending with my all-time favorite Beatles suite from Abbey Road:

Full setlist for Paul McCartney at Tinely Park Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, July 25, 2017:

A Hard Day’s Night
Save Us
Can’t Buy Me Love
Letting Go
Temporary Secretary
Let Me Roll It
I’ve Got a Feeling / Hendrix Jam
My Valentine
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
Maybe I’m Amazed
We Can Work It Out
In Spite of All the Danger
You Won’t See Me
Love Me Do
And I Love Her
Here Today
Queenie Eye
The Fool on the Hill
Lady Madonna
Eleanor Rigby
I Wanna Be Your Man
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Band on the Run
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Let It Be
Live and Let Die
Hey Jude


Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Hi, Hi, Hi
Golden Slumbers
Carry That Weight
The End

War Paint at the Goodman Theatre


Last night Dani and I saw War Paint at the Goodman Theatre. It’s an excellent show starring Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole about the rivalry between Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden. It opened in Chicago a couple of months ago, and we were lucky that it extended its run by two weeks allowing me to grab two front row seats of what was a sold out house.

The show is presumably in tryouts for a Broadway run, because the sets and lighting were quite extraordinary, and couldn’t possibly have been paid for with the revenues from a limited run at the Goodman.

The central cast of four characters were all Tony nominees, and the stars had four Tonys between them, so the talent was top notch.

I really liked the score, which has many songs, all very accessible, some quite complex, and which was rendered by the largest pit orchestra I’ve heard in some time.

As with most shows in tryouts, changes are being made. I understand 20 minutes has been cut already, which was a good thing because the show was the right length.

The problem the show faces is that the two main characters, Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden⏤who are on separate sides of the stage almost continuously for the whole show⏤never actually met in real life. The show invents a scene at the end where they do meet, and it works surprisingly well. However the number at the end of the first act sets up the idea that they think maybe they should meet, and another almost 30 years elapses before that last scene. That’s a long time to wait for the payoff. I would probably cut that number from the end of Act 1, and find something to cut from Act 2 to speed it along, perhaps the number with the two costars, which didn’t really advance the story.

I would probably cut that number from the end of Act 1, and also find something to cut from Act 2 to speed it along, perhaps the number with the two costars, which didn’t really advance the story. I’m sure it’s difficult to decide what to cut when you have so much good material, and such great talent performing it.

Although makeup isn’t a topic that interests me, The show is really about starting with nothing and creating a successful business. The show’s challenge will be to find a way to connect with a mass audience, as younger people have never heard of the two women who were literally the first female titans of industry.

Chicago Museums

We picked the right weekends to visit Chicago. The weather was perfect. We originally scheduled this trip for our Next season tickets. The Alps-themed meal turned out to be lackluster, but we had a lot of fun anyway.


We visited the  Art Institute of Chicago, which is HUGE. We even bought a season pass so Dani can go back with friends.

IMG_1624The next weekend we took the “L” to the west to Oak Park to see the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studios and take a very interesting walking tour of the other houses he designed.

IMG_1533We also got to see a bridge stuck up during the annual Chicago boat migration.

Speaking of museums, last year Dani and I also visited the nearby Museum of Broadcast Communications.


Back in 2014 Linda and I visited the Field museum.

And Dani and I visited the Chicago History Museum (which was quite good) and the International Museum of Surgical Science (which was… memorable).

And way back in 2007 we made Dani’s first visit to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry while on her college tour.




Waitress Preview Day 2




This anniversary trip to New York City features a lot of fine dining, but it started because of Waitress, a new musical based on the movie, and with a score by Sara Bareilles. Dani asked for tickets for Christmas, and I was able to get them prior to opening night.

Sara tells the story of how she became involved with the show in her biography, Sounds Like Me. At the time she didn’t know the director, Diane Paulus, was quite famous, and she hadn’t seen the movie. But when offered the job she went home and watched it, and immediately wrote the first song for it.

That song and most of the others are on an album, What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress, that she released last year, and which Dani and I have been listening to in heavy rotation. It’s a great album, but it’s very, um, Sara-ish. So it was with some trepidation that we went to see the show, since not many people can sing—or even play—a song the way Sarah Bareilles does.

I’m pleased to report that: 1) this cast—and especially the lead, Jessie Mueller—can sing them that way; 2) the onstage band is on top of it; 3) this is an amazing Broadway show, not just some pop songs set to a movie. In fact, the songs fit so perfectly that, having not seen the movie, I can’t really imagine it without the songs.

What’s remarkable is how polished the show and cast are given that we saw it on the second night of previews. There might have been one song in act 2 that I would have cut, but other than that I wouldn’t change a thing. The audience agreed, and was wildly enthusiastic from the moment the lights dimmed. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a more enthusiastic audience.

I was struck by how much of Sara’s album made it into the show, although one great song, Door Number Three, didn’t make it in recognizable form. But for the most part her album will give you a great idea of what this show sounds like, even if you can’t exactly figure out who will be singing what number.

Needless to say, we loved the show, and if I could see it again tonight, I would!

Chicago Museum of Science and Industry

Linda flew in to Chicago for a long weekend and to escape her Disney projects. Dani and I met her at Midway with Korean Barbecue tacos from the nearby Dos Ricco’s Mexican and Asian Cuisine. I like the Korean taco, but with a corn tortilla. These were a bit spicier than the last time, with a big squirt of Sriracha on each!

We had  four hours to kill before our dinner theatre tickets, and Linda wanted to visit the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, where she hadn’t been since our visit in 1986. When we got there we discovered their featured exhibit was… wait for it… Disney!

For some reason the museum was closing at 4pm, so we only had two hours. Still, we made good use of our time, booking tickets for the Disney exhibit, the WWII sub and the coal mine.

I’m pleased to report that the museum is in excellent repair, a vast improvement from Dani’s an my visit a few years ago. Further more, the employee morale is amazing. We encountered five cast members — ticket seller, Disney tour host, two different guides at the sub, and the mine tour guide — who were all incredibly enthusiastic and helpful, going out of their way to make sure every guest had a great experience. This was better-than-Disney guest relations, and we left feeling very impressed.

MSI2014-1  MSI2014-3



Dinner was a The City Winery. We didn’t know the group playing, Jackopierce, although they’ve been around for 25 years. But I picked it because Dani and I had been before, and loved the ambience, great acoustics, interesting small plate food, and wines.

We spent an hour on the outside patio having appetizers and wine. Linda discovered that in addition to their own wines they have a 400-bottle list. Wow! Wines from just about every country, and some real gems at pricing only slightly higher than retail. We started with a Sea Smoke Chardonnay, and finished with a 2005 Morey Saint Denis that was really smokin’. I can’t believe that bottle was just $80. And all the glassware is Riedel, with each matched to the type of wine. Those glasses cost more than our wine!

Jackopierce was very talented, although no particular song stood out for me. But I really liked the opener, a local guitarist and singer named Phil Jacobson.






Bottles and Bottega


Last month Dani and her friends visited Bottles and Bottega to drink some wine and paint a picture. It looked like so much fun I suggested we go there on the evening I arrived in Evanston, and Dani eagerly agreed. A bottega, as we learned, is an artist’s studio where students learn by doing.

The long, narrow space is divided into a painting area where a dozen people can work simultaneously, a lounge, and a party space at the rear. The evening begins with a half hour to enjoy any wine or snack you’ve brought, and then you sit at one of the tables where a canvas, paints and brushes have been provided.


Everyone works on basically the same picture, but it’s amazing how much variation occurs because of individual styles. Some useful but light hearted instruction is provided throughout the evening, and there are plenty of breaks for more wine.

I hadn’t really worked with acrylic paints before, and really liked the way they dried in minutes, and one color could cover another; quite the opposite of oils, were your colors keep mixing on the canvas for days.


Dani and I were both pleased with the way our masterpieces turned out.

by Dani
by Dani


by Steve
by Steve




Alexander Sage Oyen is a young composer of Broadway-style music. He first came to my attention when a few of Dani’s friends sang on his debut album, released shortly after his graduation for Dr. Phillips High School. Since then I’ve purchase two more of his albums, which include many excellent numbers that could easily come from a musical in the style of Songs for a New World or The Last Five Years.

Last year Dani, Linda and I attended a revue of his songs at The Abbey, and the year before that, Hunter and I saw a reading of his musical, Moneyshot! It’s about a girl who goes to Los Angeles to be an actress and ends up as a porn star.

That reading of the show had a number of good songs, but the plot and pacing didn’t quite work. I sent Alex a couple of pages of notes about it, and he sent me unreleased recordings of the score. So it was with great interest that I went last night to see the opening of the show at the Orlando Fringe Festival.

The first thing I noticed on the poster was that the book had been rewritten by a different author, so I expected a different approach to the story. Indeed, that was the case. The previous slow start, prior to going to LA, was completely cut, as was a drawn out chase scene in the ending (which would never have worked onstage).

The middle part was less changed, although the plot is advanced more through songs and less through dialogue, a good move. The show still has two fundamental problems, though.

The first problem is that it revolves around a love story between the lead and a guy she meets on her first day in LA and moves in with. Their relationship is never developed, and just doesn’t ring true. In fact, since his part has been pared down and his roommate’s part bolstered, I kept expecting her to fall for the roommate instead.

The second problem is that this is a show about a girl who becomes a porn star, but to avoid any nudity (not a requirement of the Fringe, but appropriate for a show rated PG13) her entire career has been skipped. She goes for an interview, and then, except for a couple of arguments, we skip forward five years and she’s thinking of quitting. This simply doesn’t work. We don’t see why she likes the job at first, why she grows tired of it, or why it causes the arguments. And since the arguments are about a relationship that never developed, it leaves the whole thing looking for a convincing story line.

That said, Alex’s music is excellent. I noted many of the songs had changed. I wish he’d left in a couple of the catchier ones, but there were also some good new ones.

The talent was top notch. All three leads were excellent singers and actors, and the choreography and pacing were terrific. Clever use of rolling chairs, tables and couches made for lightning fast set changes.

Music was prerecorded, and very well produced, and the main cast members had fairly good radio mics. At times it was hard to hear the ten or so person chorus.

Four lighting towers topped with robotic lights provided a stunning light show during the overture. I wish this had been saved for a big finale, because the show sort of trails off at the end. It could have used that final boost and a bigger production number to finish off, but that’s going to depend on yet another try at finding a compelling story.

It’s really impressive how quickly they load in these shows, as Fringe has the same theater scheduled back to back to back.

The audience was large and appreciative. Given the care with which this production was put together, I’m sure this is one of this year’s top Fringe shows.

Four Concerts, Seven Bands, Five Days

It’s been a busy few days in Chicago. I originally booked this trip for the Vienna Teng concert and launch of her new album, but as the timing worked out I was able to also fit in the Hart Davis Bordeaux tasting, a fantastic new production of Evita, and several other concerts by favorite bands. The musical odyssey began on Saturday with the first of three concerts at SPACE, the wonderful performance venue just down the street from Dani’s condo. Ari Hest at SPACE We had dinner at the Union Pizza company and then saw Ari Hest, who did a great job. His music works particularly well as a solo performance, and the place was packed with fans. We continued on Sunday with a Dar Williams concert at City Winery. We hadn’t been to this venue before, which is down on Randall Street not far from Dani’s office and the Girl and the Goat restaurant. CityWinery It’s a massive space, with a working winery (grapes shipped in from California and Europe), restaurant, bar, and large performance venue where they serve dinner before and during the show. The wine offerings were extensive, and the food, mostly shared plates, is terrific. The warm up act was Nina, an 18-year-old who had an interesting playing style. We would have bought her CD, but her mom took her home before Dar’s concert ended! Dar Williams at City Winery Dar was great, talking a lot with the audience, and really funny. She played all our favorites, and a few others we didn’t know, although I think we have all of her CDs. While at the Ari Hest concert Saturday we saw a poster for Theo Katzman (who we’d seen before) but discovered Jillette Johnson was warming up for him. So we had to return to SPACE on Monday to see both of them. Despite the late booking and a packed house, somehow we ended up with our usual front row center table. That was a pleasant surprise! Jillette Johnson at SPACE

Jillett’s music is great, but she seemed tired, perhaps due to an early morning television appearance. Theo, on the other hand, has realy amped up his act since we last same him. This might be the tightest band I’ve ever heard, and the crowd, as they saw, went wild.

The Katzman at SPACE

After a day off to recuperate, we returned to SPACE on Wednesday for the grand finale, Vienna Teng. This new tours is in support of her album Aims, released the day before.  In addition to show tickets, we’d bought admission to the sound check, and it was great fun watching them rehearse.

ViennaTengRehearsal Since this was the first concert on their tour, they were still working out lots of stuff, which made it very interesting. After the sound check there was a meet and great in the green room, and about 15 of us got to chat with Vienna for close to an hour.


The warm up act was Barnaby Bright, another favorite of ours, and it was great to see the audience response to them. I think they’ll have a lot of new fans as a result of this tour.

ViennaAlexJordan Vienna, Alex Wong, and Jordan put on a great show, playing our favorite songs, and some great stuff off the new album. Since Dani and I particularly like two obscure older songs, it was pretty neat that they were the two Vienna chose to do solo: Whatever You Want and Recessional. They finished with the raucous Level Up from the new album, and then an acoustic number (unamplified) and finally Vienna sang a cappella. A great concert, and a wonderful start to her tour.

10 Million Words


From the time Dani was a baby until she went off to college, I read to her every night. As the years passed, our reading material became a lot more sophisticated, but we never tired of the routine. Here are the books (that I can remember) that we enjoyed over the years.

The Shy Little Horse and hundreds of other stories
But Not the Hippopotamus and hundreds of other picture books
Pony Pals (many)
RL Stein books (Many)
The Cat in the Hat
The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins (many times)
To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street
Yertle the Turtle
Horton Hears a Who
Horton Hatches the Egg
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
The Lorax
Madeleine (and its sequels)
Howliday Inn
Alice in Wonderland
Tom Sawyer (twice)
Huckleberry Finn
The Hobbit
The Lord of the Rings
The Silent Storm
Walk Two Moons
The Cave
The Princess Bride
The Dragon In the Cliff
A Bone From a Dry Sea
Letters From Felix
The Princess and the Goblin
Where the Wild Things Are
The Wind In the Willows
The Willows In Winter
Peter Pan
Peter Pan in Scarlet
The Lion’s Paw
The Phantom Toll Booth
SOS Titanic
Night Tree
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (about ten times)
Wolf Story (many times)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Horse and His Boy
The Magician’s Nephew
The Last Battle
The Indian In the Cupboard
The Return of the Indian
The Secret of the Indian
The Mystery of the Cupboard
The Key to the Indian
The Westing Game
Chasing Redbird
Sarah Plain and Tall
Dealing with Dragons (and its sequels)
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Island of the Blue Dolphins
A Cricket In Times Square (and its sequels)
The Wheel on the School
Mary Poppins (the original novel)
101 Dalmatians (the original novel)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (the original novel)
Misty of Chincoteague (and its sequels)
Hank, The Cowdog (and many sequels)
A Night to Remember
Back to Titanic
Back to Lincoln
Back to Paul Revere
Goodnight Moon
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
The Wizard of Oz
Green Eggs and Ham
The Polar Express
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
If You Give a Moose a Muffin
The Napping House
The Little Engine That Could
Curious George
Arthur series (many books)
Berenstein Bears series (many books)
Clifford series (many books)
Linnea in Monet’s Garden
The Boxcar Children series (many books)
Charlotte’s Web
A Wrinkle In Time
The Secret Garden
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh (and its sequels)
The Trumpet of the Swan
Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Stuart Little
The Borrowers series (many books)
The Pearl
Walker of Time
Tag Against Time
Walker’s Journey Home
She Flew No Flags
Watership Down
The Call of the Wild
White Fang
The Shipping News
The Crystal Cave
The Hollow Hills
The Old Man and the Sea
To Have and Have Not
Myst: The Book of Atrus
Myst: The Book of Ti’Ana
Myst: The Book of D’ni
On a Pale Horse
Bearing an Hourglass
With a Tangled Skein
Wielding a Red Sword
Being a Green Mother
For Love of Evil
And Eternity
Perry Mason (several)
Shutter Island
Void Moon
Chasing the Dime
Harry Bosch novels (four or so)
The Doomsday Book
To Say Nothing of the Dog
Lincoln’s Dream
Three Men in a Boat
Three Men on the Bummel
A Confederacy of Dunces
The Mirror of her Dreams
A Man Rides Through
The Lincoln Hunters
Harry Potter And the Sorcerer’s Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The Black Dahlia
The Clan of the Cave Bear
The Valley of Horses
The Mammoth Hunters
The Plains of Passage
The Shelters of Stone
Empire Falls
Straight Man
Nobody’s Fool
Bridge of Sighs
The Seventh Scroll
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
Round Ireland with a Fridge
Ring of Diamonds
A Matter of Justice
Everything In Its Path
Cider House Rules
The World According to Garp
Snow Falling on Cedars
East of the Mountains
The Blind Assassin
Oryx and Crake

And Many, Many More

Lang Lang at Ravinia

Chinese pianist Lang Lang rose to fame with his first performance at Ravinia in 1999, when he was just 17, as a last minute substitution. He returned this year for his 12th Ravinia appearance. It was a cool night for late July, with the temperature dipping into the low 50s. The program was mostly in C Major. It was Dani’s first classical concert, and I think she liked it. My favorite was the incredibly demanding Prokofiev concerto. Lang Lang also debuted a piano-only performance of the Tiger Overture, which he played from sheet music. We had almost identical seats to the ones we were blown out of by the One Republic concert. How refreshing it was to hear instruments without amplification!



Verdi   Overture to La forza del destino (“The Force of Destiny”)
Beethoven   Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15Allegro con brio
Rondo: Allegro scherzando
Britten   March from Matinées musicales, Op. 24
Prokofiev   Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26Andante—Allegro
Tema con variazioni
Allegro ma non troppo
Wagner   “Ride of the Valkyries” from Die Walküre


Why Are Concerts So Loud?


I’ve never been to a concert that wasn’t too loud. But last night’s One Republic concert set records. Even though we always wear earplugs, our front row edge seats were right in front of the sub woofer, and we were literally driven from them the moment the music started. In fact the music throughout the entire pavilion at Ravinia was so loud that it was unbearable. And unintelligible.

I guess that’s the real sin: even if sound mixing people feel they need to make the music incredibly loud in order to generate excitement, they’re doing it at the expense of being able to even hear what the music sounds like.


As it turned out the music 200 feet outside of the pavilion, where you could no longer see the act, was far better  than what the people in the pricey seats were hearing.

And it sounded just fine on the train platform where, 40 minutes into the concert, several hundred people had gathered to leave for the same reason.


It’s a shame, because I think one Republic is really good in concert. They had an amazing set, a lot of dramatic staging, and they played all the complex parts–even the cello and violin parts, plus a complex flamenco guitar number. But what’s the point of going to a concert where you have to choose between seeing or hearing?

Oil Painting Class

I took a one week break from my sculpture classes to attend a five day oil painting class taught by Ken Minami. Each day we spent the morning drawing and he afternoon painting. I leaned to use gray paper and conte crayon and to try to see the solid shapes (as opposed to my other drawing classes, which were about outline and shadow). In the afternoon we made color tests and then used the colors we discovered to do oil paintings. There were quite a few models for this class. We had three different morning models during the week, and in the afternoon there were two models to choose from, with one pair for the first two days of the week, and another pair for the remaining three days. So overall, seven different models, which gave us a lot of varied experience. Here are a pencil sketch, charcoal drawing, conte, and my two oil paintings.






Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox Twenty at Ravinia

For the Fourth of July Dani and I took the Metra up to Ravinia Park for dinner and a concert, rather than watch the Evanston fireworks from her balcony. The timing on the train worked out pretty well, because we got out of town before the crowds, and returned after everything was cleaned up. That’s not to say the train wasn’t busy, especially on the way back. But we found a seat both ways. In the past we’ve always taken the first train back, but this time we missed it by about 100 people. There are a lot more drunks on the second train!

We had dinner at Park View, the upstairs restaurant. It had been a couple of years since we’d been there, and it was a bit better than we remembered. The restaurant is run by Levy Restaurants, and they borrow chefs from Spiaggia and other places within their organization. It must be weird to run a restaurant that is only open a few months a year, and the slightly amateurish service is a telling detail. But for the most part things run efficiently, and the food is good if not great. It’s certainly a stunning setting, with lovely paneling, and a glass wall that overlooks the dazzling green of Ravinia Park. Best of all is being high above the sea of colorful people blanketing the lawn.


We dined through the opening act, Kate Earl, who everyone seemed to be ignoring, and arrived just in time for Goo Goo Dolls. There are three guys in this band: a drummer, singer/guitarist, and singer/bass player. I had been warned by Jeremy that you wanted to go get drinks when the bassplayer took the lead, and that is accurate. Dani described him as a baritone on helium, and his songs are not the hits. Actually Goo Goo Dolls doesn’t have a lot of hits, but the ones they did were competently delivered, and they didn’t outlast their welcome. It’s one of those bands where if you look really carefully you realize that almost all the music is being created by the two session players standing in the back: a lead guitarist, and someone on keyboards/guitar/sax.


After a long intermission for setup, Matchbox Twenty took the stage. They are a six piece band, with a lead singer, Rob, who does all the heavy lifting. They’re really good live. Their stage was an interesting, multi-tiered staircase with cool lights in the risers. I was amazed how many great songs they have. The set list was:

She’s So Mean
How Far We’ve Come
3 A.M.
Real World
Girl Like That
If You’re Gone
Long Day
I Will
So Sad So Lonely
English Town
Bright Lights

Back 2 Good

Some of my favorites are off their new album, North, including I Will and English Town. The band did a great job of playing through technical difficulties including a complete fail of their video cube for most of the show. There were also instruments missing from the mix in some songs. This was surprising since this was their third show in a row played at this venue. I think it’s time for a new tech crew (more on this later).

Like Goog Goo Dolls, Matchbox Twenty didn’t spend any time talking with the audience, which to me is the reason to see an act live. But perhaps they felt that with three acts on the bill and a hard cutoff of 11:00pm mandated by the nearby housing, they needed to fit in as many songs as possible.

Both acts suffered from the worst lighting design I have ever encountered. Fully a third of each show was unwatchable because of blinding lights–both automated spots and fixed LED panels–aimed directly at the audience. WTF? I’ve seen this used at the ends of songs to get people to respond, but it is incredibly annoying when they are flashing in your face every few seconds. If I could find out the name of the moron who designed this I would be happy to start a petition to find him another line of work.

In all it was a fun evening, but I wish we could have gone the previous night, because I missed seeing the Evanston fireworks from the balcony, our Fourth of July tradition.


Sculpture Class at the Evanston Art Center

This summer while Dani is at work I wanted something to do, so I went up to the Evanston Art Center  It’s in the three-story house on the lake, next to the lighthouse north of the Northwestern University campus. I intended to enroll in the Monday morning figure drawing workshop, but it’s in the evenings during the summer, so they suggested I take figure sculpture. I’d done that once before, about ten years ago, and enjoyed it, so I signed up.

The classes are in the basement of the Noyes Community Center, west of the Northwestern Campus. (This is the same building that houses the Piven Acting Workshop that Dani used to attend.) The model holds the same pose for three weekly sessions of three hours each. However, because of my schedule I won’t ever have more than two sessions to complete a sculpture, so I have to work fast.

I really like the instructor, Sheila, who is very good at working individually with each student, and making sure you understand how to implement her suggestions. She’s much better than my previous Orlando-based instructor. The next few sessions are by another instructor, Barbara, so it will be interesting to see how she compares.

I liked the class so much I also signed up for the Wednesday session, which is similar, but there is a different pose. So by the end of the summer I should have six sculptures total. Hopefully there will be time for them to dry so they can be fired in the kiln.

Both of these photos are works in progress, before the proportions were quite right. I thought it would be interesting to compare them with the finished products… or at least to have a photo in case they explode in the kiln!



Jackson Browne at Ravinia


We have a full summer of concerts planned, mostly at Ravinia, the wonderful outdoor venue north of Evanston. We usually sit in the pavilion, but for this concert we could only get lawn tickets, which turned out to be lots of fun. Rather than eat at one of the restaurants, I packed a picnic lunch and we rented chairs and tables. I met Dani on her way home from work aboard the Metra train.

It had poured early in the day, but there was time for the lawn to mostly dry, and the ambience of relaxing outside and watching the show on the big screen was great. It reminded us of the Open Air Theater in London’s Regent Park.

Jackson Browne was very gracious, and actually introduced–and sat in for part of–the opening act, Sara Watkins, an accomplished fiddle player and singer. Calling what she was doing fiddling is really understating it. Then she played during his set.

The main concert was very good. I heard quite a few songs I liked but wasn’t familiar with, and of course he played most of his hits.

I haven’t heard the new sound system from inside the pavilion this year, but the lawn sound was certainly better than anything I’ve heard at Ravinia before. The concert energy is much lower on the lawn, because people are relaxing and chatting a bit, and the sound level is much lower, but that’s not a bad thing, just different.


Broadway Shows


This trip we fit in four shows: three new ones and one favorite.


This Disney show is based upon a movie from the 90s that flopped but became a fan favorite. The Alan Menken score was resurrected and Harvey Fierstein added story, including a love interest, in what was to be a touring company show that could later be offered to school productions. But its out of town opening was so well received they decided to take it to Broadway. On broadway it received two Tonys, and has been playing more than a year.

With that build up, I was expecting more. The plot was extremely trite, shallow and formulaic, there was no character development, and the songs are only passable. The dancing and energetic (and large cast) was great, though. But it’s definitely not a show I’d sit through again.

Lucky Guy

Norah Ephron’s last project was this dramatic play about Mike McAlary, the New York reporter and columnist. I don’t usually go for contemporary dramas, but this one featured Tom Hank’s Broadway debut, so we gave it a try. It’s a great production, with a wonderful cast, and surprisingly interesting material. The New Yorkers who comprised the audience obviously good even more out of it than we did. Hanks is an amazing actor, especially in person. It was also neat to see a Broadway show where the performers had to actually projects, as they weren’t miked.

The Book of Mormon

This is the most disgusting, irreverent, profane abomination I’ve ever seen. We loved it. I’d already listened to the soundtrack album and envisioned how it would be staged, and it was pretty much as I’d imagined it. Basically, it’s South Park about Mormons with music. If you think a show about female circumcision would make a good musical… well, you need help. But it does.



I think this was my 15th time seeing this show, so I’ve seen strong and weak performances in every role. The Broadway version is usually best, since the sets are bigger and better, and it often attracts the best talent. Not tonight, though. It was like watching a high school production. Glinda was being played by the standby, and she threw away every one of her funny lines. But she wasn’t the only problem. Fiero also seemed like a high school student, with no depth of character, and extremely awkward dance movements. Elphaba had a beautiful singing voice, but no chemistry with the other performers. I wouldn’t have said it was possible for this show to contain so little humor and so little emotional impact. The audience still loved it, but it left us bemused. Thank goodness it’s not always like this!


The Phantom of Westminster Abbey and Clos Maggiore

Linda and I spent today on our own while our friends were off doing other stuff. We slept in and then found a nearby teeny tiny Japanese restaurant, Ichi-Ricki, for lunch. I’m glad the reviews I’d read warned me it was nothing but a door with a paper sign, because otherwise we’d have missed it. The restaurant is actually in the basement, and has only six tables. The sushi was very good.

After lunch we visited Westminster Abbey, which somehow we’ve missed in all our trips to London. There are a lot of people buried here who spent their lives living off public funds. There are also a few people who actually did something useful.

Outside, we walked through the cloisters, the museum and the garden. One of the more interesting sights was England’s oldest door, which apparently dates from 1050 AD, and appears to still be functional. I looked for a Home Depot sticker, but didn’t see one.

In the evening we walked to Her Majesty’s Theatre to see Phantom of the Opera in its original venue. God, I hate that show. Great music, good staging, completely ineffective story telling. My third time seeing it, and I like it a bit less each time, I guess because it seems like such a missed opportunity to tell a great story. The original movie with Charles Laughton is actually much more moving. It paled next to BIlly Elliot, that’s for sure. Not helped by the fact the audience was full of drunk Chinese who couldn’t follow it. The downside of going to a famous show, I guess.

After the show we cabbed it to Clos Maggiore, three times voted London’s most romantic restaurant. My third visit, and it always wows. Not terribly expensive, great wine list, great food and service. Everyone loved it.

We had a 2007 Ramonet Gevrey Chambertin Blanc and a 1999 Pommard by Ferdinand Laurent Pillot. Both excellent. Martin also had a 1995 Rieussec by the glass with his foie gras. But the 1965 Castarde Bas Armagnac I finished with blew them all away. Great meal.



We’re off to London for a few days before heading out of Southampton on a twelve night wine cruise. This was Linda’s first experience with the airline beds that recline all the way, and they certainly make a difference; we both got about five hours of sleep, and arrived in London already on schedule (although the afternoon nap always helps, too).

Linda claims the food on Delta was the best she’s had on a plane, but I skipped it, except for the salad and pumpkin soup (which I admit was exceptional). We were lucky to make our connection in Atlanta. The only reason we did is because the receptionist in the Delta lounge bumped us to an early flight out of Orlando. Unfortunately his attempt to bump our luggage failed, and it didn’t show up until after dinner.

We used Eddie Manning Limo to pick us up at the airport. We’re traveling with Audrey and Emilio, and Martin, none of whom have been to London before, and the three parties all had different planes distributed between two airports. Eddie was able to react to a 5-hour delay and put another limo on the job with just one email. I used them before and will use them again because they’re so accommodating.

I’m very impressed with our hotel. It’s The Sanctuary House in Westminster, just south of St. James Park. The rooms are spacious by London standards, and everything is brand new or freshly painted. The only downside is extremely creaky floors. For $240 a night it is a steal. We had lunch in the Fuller’s pub downstairs.

Before dinner we showed our friends how to use the underground by taking a ride from the conveniently close St. James Park station to Embankment, and from there walked up into Covent Garden and through the theatre district. The area around Leicester Square has become quite the casino district now that you don’t need to be a member to go into the casinos. It’s lit up like a mini Las Vegas.

Our destination was l’Atelier, one of our favorite restaurants in the world. Because of our large party (and possible our inability to dress for dinner, having no luggage) we weren’t able to sit at the counter, but instead ate upstairs in La Cuisine, which offers the same food but without the interaction with the people behind the counter. The multi-course tasting menu and matching wines were superb, and everyone enjoyed the three-hour experience.

After dinner, Audrey and Emilio were more than ready for bed (as they were the ones with the five hour flight delay) but Martin was game to stroll back through Piccadilly Circus and have a midnight Champagne cocktail with us at a trendy looking Italian restaurant and bar.

On Wednesday we met at 11am and headed for the British Museum. Near the museum we found a little Korean place called Han Kang that had good reviews and indeed we had an excellent lunch.

The British Museum was just a few blocks away, and we spent a pleasant three hours looking at dead people and the things they used to own.

After resting up back at the hotel it was time for the evening’s entertainment. The underground stairs are hard on Audrey’s knee, so she and Emilio took a cab to the Victoria Palace Theatre, but Linda and Martin and I walked, a pleasant half mile stroll.

Billy Elliot is one of my favorite shows, and it’s better here in London than anywhere else. Great, as always. It was fun for Martin to see how much better a show is in its original theatre, and a treat for Audrey and Emilio to experience it for the first time.

After dinner we took a cab to Kensington to an Indian restaurant we like called Zaika, where a snippy receptionist informed us that because we were 15 minutes late the kitchen was closed. I guess it would have been the bum’s rush anyway, so we instead had a nice dinner at the nearby Strada Cucina Italiano, a well-disguised member of a massive chain that is much nicer than the website suggests.

A busy couple of days to start off our trip, but we’re on-schedule and ready for more.


Wynton Marsalis

We decided to check out the downtown venue used by the Chicago Symphony, but since they are playing opera at Ravinia, we went to a jazz concert by the Wynton Marsalis Quintet.

Before the concert we had lunch at one of the oldest restaurants in the country, The Berghoff, which serves a unique and flavorful take on German food, with a few other cuisines thrown in.

Then we visited the Museum of Contemporary Photography, an exhibit space at Columbia College, one of the half dozen colleges lining the area between Michigan Avenue and State Street. The exhibition was more about politics than great photography, but it was interesting. The most engaging exhibit was actually a film where talented and well-rehearsed performers acted out a domestic drama constructed from excerpts of political interviews.

Next we walked over to Millennium Park and had a look at the bean. I think the popularity of this simple sculpture caught everyone by surprise. It’s really neat to be able to see the whole Chicago skyline, wherever you stand.

Across the street we had dinner at The Gage, another fairly old restaurant. Linda, Dani and I had eaten here before and were underwhelmed, but this night Dani and I had a terrific meal of grazing small plates at an ideal, quiet (unique for this place) corner table, and capped off by a stunning glass of 1968 D’ Oliveira Bual Madeira.

Then it was time for the concert. Man, can those guys play! We had box seats on the side that offered a perfect view. And what a delight to hear unamplified music in a space with great acoustics. The two hour concert offered lots of opportunities for each musician to solo, so we heard some of the best trumpet, sax, piano, upright bass and drum work ever. I don’t know how Wynton Marsalis coaxes some of those sounds from a trumpet, but in his hands it’s like a living thing. He also proved to be quite a personable host, stopping to explain some of the unexpected turns the group took in each piece, and why they were occasionally laughing. We really enjoyed the whole afternoon, and especially the concert.


Gotye and Missy Higgins

Last night we went to Chicago’s other outstanding outdoor performance space, The Charter One Pavilion near the Field Museum, to see Missy Higgins and Gotye. Charter One Pavilion offers a great view of the city, and you can walk along the lake past the planetarium while you’re waiting for the show.

We’ve long been Missy Higgins fans, and she is a top star in Australia, but has had trouble generating traction in the US. So it’s a bit ironic that she’s now playing bigger arenas as a warm-up act for a guy with one Internet hit video.

For this all-aussie show, the first act was a solo performer named Jonti who fiddled with various electronic boxes, played a bit of guitar and tried to sing. Since it was his first concert, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume the sound guy wasn’t providing him with a monitor mix.

The sound guy and lighting guy also weren’t giving Missy Higgins any help. In fact she played the first half of her set in the dark, before he managed to finally turn some low level background lights on. Missy played mostly songs from her latest album, which is a strong release, but she also played a few older tunes, and at the request of an audience member played Scar, one of our favorites. I think this replaced River, a much more downbeat song she played the night before in Colorado. I like the song, but Scar was a better choice. About a fourth of the crowd seemed to know who she was, and she held everyone else’s attention much better than when I saw her at House of Blues as the headliner, and everyone was drunk. I think this was her set list: Secret, Everyone’s Waiting, Scar, Hello Hello, Unashamed Desire, Watering Hole, Where I Stood, Warm Whispers.

After a very long set change out, and when it was truly dark, Gotye came on about 9:30pm. The reason for the darkness became apparent when the rear stage video projection came on, and ran through virtually every song, playing somewhat abstract and usually abstruse videos. I actually like Gotye’s music much better live than on his CD. It’s complex and varied, and his singing voice is much stronger than you’d guess if you’ve only heard his big hit. During the show he moved between various percussion, keyboard and effects stations, some of which were expertly reset by a swarm of roadies. He used a tremendous amount of technology. The downside was that, since everything was choreographed to the videos, it was impossible to tell that it was being played live. When something was obviously live, it was usually impressive. And his backup musicians (drums, bass, guitar, keyboards) were excellent. When it came time for his big hit, Somebody That I Used to Know, the women in the audience did a credible job of singing the female part. I believe Gotye’s set list was: The Only Way, What Do You Want, Easy Way Out, Smoke and Mirrors, Thanks for your Time, State of the Art, Backseat Driver, Don’t Worry We’ll Be Watching You, Dig Your Own Hole, Eyes Wide Open, Save Me, Somebody That I Used to Know, Heart’s A Mess, Giving Me a Chance, Bronte, Night Drive, The Only Thing I Know,  I Feel Better.

All of these performers suffer from a misconception about why people go to concerts. They seem to think the audience is there to hear them reproduce their CD. But in fact the audience is there to get to know them. A little more talking between songs–stories about how the songs were written, or anecdotes about their careers–would build a much stronger following. This is a lesson that was admirably demonstrated by Train, who have weaker material than these acts, but a much stronger fan base and a well-deserved reputation for putting on a great concert.


Donald Fagen (Steely Dan), Michael McDonald (Doobie Brothers) and Boz Scaggs at Ravinia

For our final Ravinia concert of the year, Dani and I went to see The Dukes of September, a twelve piece band headed by Donald Fagen (half of Steely Dan), Michael McDonald (lead singer of the Doobie Brothers), and Boz Scaggs. They played hits from all three of them, sharing vocal duties, and also performed some of their favorite oldies. Top notch horn section and backup singers. Donald Fagen does indeed move like a muppet. Lead guitarist Jon Herington was awesome, particularly on my favorite number, Reelin’ in the Years.

Train, Matt Kearney and Andy Grammer

I’d always heard that Train was a very fan-friendly band, and they certainly demonstrated that last night at Ravinia. Through constant interaction with the audience, including inviting guests up on the stage to help them perform, they kept everyone excited and on their feet for most of the two hour concert. This personal touch led Dani to conclude it was the best concert she’s seen. I have to agree that’s why people go to concerts, more than to hear a recitation of a CD. I just wish Train’s material was a little stronger. But the fans sang along with every song, and the band played all their hits and much of their new album. My favorite of their songs is the melodic Marry Me. Apparently their drummer is ordained through an online church and has actually been marrying fans on stage, but there was no wedding last night.

I actually preferred the music of the two warm up acts. Andy Grammer writes catchy pop tunes, and has an amazing interactive video of Keep Your Head Up you can watch at http://www.andygrammer.com/videos

We saw Matt Kearney with Owl City in Orlando, and I was looking forward to seeing him again. Unfortunately his new album has taken a rappish turn, and his band was only moderately proficient. But his album City of Black and White is definitely worth checking out.

Caleb Hawley and Theo Katzman

SPACE is definitely the best concert venue I’ve been to. And when you have the front center cocktail table it’s even better. Last night we saw Caleb Hawley and Theo Katzman there. They’re part of a four-piece band that reconfigures itself by changing shirts between Theo’s and Caleb’s sets. We encountered Caleb at the Johnny Mercer Songwriter’s Festival; his song, Little Miss Sunshine, was one of our favorites.

This was the first concert on the band’s tour, but they were incredibly tight. And they were having a great time. It was easy to see that they were delighted with the way they sounded, and the enthusiastic audience response.

Here’s a panorama I shot.

A little bio info:

Caleb is originally from Minneapolis, but now lives in New York. He received top honors it the New York Songwriters Circle Contest (2008 and 2009), the John Lennon Songwriting Contest (2009), the Telluride Festival (2010), the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival (2010), and Rocky Mountain Folks Fest (2011), and placed in the final fifty on the 2011 American Idol Season.

Theo Katzman was a guitarist in the electro-pop group My Dear Disco. He is also a drummer and bassist. Theo’s songs  are particularly melodic and catchy. We particularly liked Emily, which is unfortunately not on his album. He’s the only drummer I’ve seen who wears a big grin most of the time. It’s clear he loves what he does.



Coldplay put on quite a show last night at the United Center in Chicago. The show started two hours after the time on the tickets, due to a warm up act we (probably mercifully) missed and one we didn’t miss, but might as well have. With six people, Marina and the Diamonds couldn’t create as much sound or summon as much enthusiasm as Coldplay did in their first ten seconds.

Coldplay was on for almost two hours, and sounded great. In addition to playing all their best songs, there were also great laser effects, a ton (literally) of confetti, hundreds of bouncing balls, and a few other effects. Everyone was issued a radio-controlled wristband made by Xylobands that lit up in different colors. There were red, green, blue, white and yellow ones; they could be commanded to either turn on or to blink out of sync with each other. Interestingly, they pulled out all these effects in the first few numbers, rather than the finale. The last few numbers were played from a small platform at the other end of the arena, and then they ran through the crowd back to the stage to finish up.

I knew Coldplay’s music, but wasn’t familiar with the band, so I was surprised by a few things:

  1. I figured it took more than four people to create that lush sound. Although they might have cheated a few times, for the most part it was bass, drums, lead guitar and either piano or rhythm guitar.
  2. I didn’t realize one guy (Chris Martin) does almost all the heavy lifting; he did all the lead vocals, all the important keyboard parts, and most of the rhythm guitar.
  3. Despite all the synchronized stuff happening, the show is very live. Chris attempted a song requested by some people with a sign, and stopped and restarted another song with no need to reset anything.

In addition to excellent musicianship, the band’s rapport with the audience was great, which really highlighted why they make the big bucks, and Marina and the Diamonds don’t.

Crosby, Stills and Nash at Ravinia

This was one of the best shows I’ve seen at Ravinia. I liked the band’s 1969 and 1970 albums, and their individual solo albums, but haven’t really followed them. So it was a pleasant surprise to discover they are a terrific live act. In concert they sound great, with the distinctive harmonies that make them unique. Stephen Still’s guitar playing was impressive, particularly when he tackled the Indian-influenced instrumental from Carry On (their final number) as a guitar solo. The backup band was also terrific, and included David Crosby’s son, James Raymond, on keyboards (they also played two of his songs, including the haunting Lay me Down). Several songs were better than the album versions, including Guenevere and Cathedral. The only hit missing was To the Last Whale, a favorite of mine. I was particularly impressed at the group’s range, which spanned folk to rock quite effortlessly. Given that Nash is 70 and the others are 67, it was impressive that the were energized for all of a nearly three-hour performance. If you have a chance to see them, I highly recommend it.

Ravinia: Santana

Santana was good, but of course they couldn’t compare to last night. They were very generous with their time, playing all their hits, and as near as I could tell every song from their second and third albums. In fact, they outlasted us, and were still playing encore numbers as we boarded the train for Evanston.

Ravinia: Marvin Hamlish, Idina Menzel, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Idina Menzel performing Defying Gravity with volunteers.

Tonight we went to a concert I was expecting to just be so so, and it was fantastic. It was in the open air stage a Ravinia. The hundred degree weather of the past week had abated, and it was a lovely evening in the mid 70s. The concert grounds were packed, with people picnicking on all the lawns. It looks a bit like Coney Island. We had great seats in the pavilion, thanks to being a donor this year.

I’ve heard several concerts there, but I never realized what fantastic acoustics it had until tonight. The Chicago Symphony sounded incredible in the space (and was the best sounding orchestra I’ve ever heard).

Marvin Hamlisch opened the show, and even in his late 60s is as good as ever. He conducted medleys from A Chorus Line and My Fair Lady, and played the piano for several parts, plus a solo of The Way We Were. His commentary–much of it adlibbed and related to a bad mic–was hysterical. Then he conducted the orchestra to back Idina Menzel.

Idina was extremely sick, which had the effect of getting the audience rooting for her, and the show was quite magical. I think she was really touched by how great the reception was.  She spent a long time telling stories (stalling, as she put it) which were very funny (and sometimes quite salty). And then she drafted members of the audience to help her sing some of the songs. I’m not sure how she did it, but all five people she selected had terrific voices. The crowd went nuts when the volunteer for Defying Gravity managed to hit all of the high notes perfectly. It was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen, and an unexpected surprise to everyone, I think even including Idina.

For her encore Idina performed a new song that I loved. Here’s a youtube video of a previous performance, not nearly as good as what we saw tonight, but it gives you the idea. And here are the lyrics:

“You Learn to Live Without”

You learn to take your coffee black
You learn to drink your whiskey neat
You learn to take your shower cold
And sleep on tired feet
You learn to order dinner in
You learn to send the laundry out
You learn to amuse yourself
You learn to live without

You tell yourself you’re rich at last in money and in time
You draw a bath and then unplug the phone
You pour yourself a pinot from 2003
You sit a spell, a queen upon her throne
You go to bed alone

You learn to fall asleep alone
You learn to silence ticking clocks
You learn to turn the shades at night
And double check the locks
You learn to speak so calmly when
Your heart would like to scream and shout
You learn to smile and breathe and smile
You learn to live without

You find the coat and tie you thought you’d given to Goodwill
You stumble along a long lost set of chess
You see him there in corners and in closets and on shelves
And truth be told you’d like to see him less

You stumble through the morning but you waken for the day
You tell yourself that all is going well
But now and then a sense of loss just slams you in the chest
You know that no one else can really tell
You make it all seem swell

You learn to count the quiet winds
An hour with no unprompted tears
And not to count the deadly days
As they fade into years
You learn to stand alone at last
So brave and bold and strong and stout
You learn somehow to like the dark
You even love the doubt
You learn to hold your life inside you
And never let it out
You learn to live and live and die and live
You learn to live without
You learn to live without
You learn to live without