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

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.






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.

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?

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.


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.


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

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

Kinky Friedman

One of the funniest authors I know is Kinky Friedman. He began his career in the 60s as a folk musician with the band The Texas Jewboys, and also played backup for Bob Dylan and many others. His biggest hits were Sold American and They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore.

Then, in the 1980s, he reinvented himself as a mystery novelist. His detective, named Kinky Friedman, was a lot like him, and most of the characters in the books were his real friends. Willy Nelson even appears. It’s impossible for me to read a page of one of his novels without laughing out loud.

In the 2000s Kinky began writing non-fiction, and ran for governor of Texas. He also has a line of tequila.

Last night Dani and I walked down the street to SPACE, our favorite performance space, and listened to Kinky play his songs, tell jokes, and read from his latest book. He also graciously signed a couple of first editions I brought with me. He’s a nice guy, and I’d definitely go to see him again.

Johnny Mercer Songwriter’s Showcase

My favorite entertainment event of the year is the Johnny Mercer Songwriter’s Showcase. It’s held a Northwestern University’s Theatre and Interpretation Center. Each year Master Teachers Craig Carnelia (Tony Award-nominated composer and lyricist), Andrew Lippa (Grammy Award-nominated composer and lyricist) and Lari White (Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter) host sixteen student musicians.

On Friday night they each perform a song, often with the help of some of the other students. The neat thing is that these songs have been written during the last few days–often within the last few hours–before the performance. And yet they are almost without exception simply wonderful. The songs tend to be about one third musical theatre pieces and two thirds what I call singer/songwriter (because they’re not shallow, like pop music tends to be).

Then on Saturday the students become part of the Johnny Mercer Celebration Concert, where they are joined by a well-known star. In past years we saw Stephen Schwartz (Wicked) and Charles Strouse (Applause), who both sat at the piano and told stories about writing their shows. This year it was Tony-nominated performer Ann Hampton Callaway, who is also a lyricist and pianist. In the best segment of the show, she sat at the piano, backed by a small orchestra, and she and the sixteen students improvised a (quite good and very entertaining) song on the spot.

The audience for these show is the typical geriatric musical theatre audience, so I’m always impressed by how enthusiastic they are for the new, often edgy, music created each year. Friday’s event is held in the intimate Josephine Louis Theater, which has superb acoustics and crystal clear sounds reinforcement. Saturday’s event is in the larger Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, which ironically has terrible acoustics and a sound system that renders even speech nearly unintelligible. Needless to say, Friday is the best event.

This year’s group of students were better pedigreed than usual, with many of them making a living from music, and already self-published. So as you might expect, the songs were even better than usual. In fact, among the sixteen numbers, it was hard to pick a favorite.

The event is funded by the patrons who attend, and by the Johnny Mercer Foundation, which in turn is funded by the royalties from his songs. What a wonderful project!

Here are the bios of this year’s students:

Matilde Bernabei will be graduating next year with a BFA in Musical Theatre from Texas State University.  She has been honing her craft as a vocal performer for eight years and is ready to hone her craft as a songwriter. She has been composing music and playing the guitar for five years, performing her songs for school functions and local groups.  Matilde is grateful for the opportunity to work with talented, professional artists and collaborate with other songwriters.

Jeff Bienstock was born in Santa Monica, California.  He began his musical career as a clarinetist, but became interested in composition at college.  In 2006, he moved east to earn a Masters in Composition at NYU; there, he began work on what would eventually become his first full-length musical, the award-winning The Morning After/The Night Before.  The show was produced in 2010 as part of the NYC Fringe Festival, and had a sold-out run at the Off-Broadway Lortel Theater.  Jeff has been participating in the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop since 2008.  He currently lives in Brooklyn.

Kayley Bishop is fresh out of the Boston Conservatory where she graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in musical theatre.  She’s from Fort Myers, Florida, although her childhood was spent in Tennessee and can surely account for her love of bluegrass music and cowboy boots.  She’s new to songwriting, having only spent the last year working the craft, but she’s been singing ever since she could talk.  She feels very blessed to be accepted into the Johnny Mercer program amongst so many talented musicians and looks forward to the music she’ll get to make with them during this special week.

Cassie Boettcher (pronunciation: cass-ee betcher, like “betch your bottom dollar”) is a Milwaukee pop singer-songwriter whose music showcases unique lyrics and catchy melodies.  Having been compared to Sara Bareilles, Colbie Caillat, and Ingrid Michaelson, she has received positive attention from industry professionals and fans around the world.  Cassie has opened for Rosi Golan, Kate York (writer of Jonny Diaz’s “More Beautiful You”), Natalie Hemby (writer of Miranda Lambert’s “White Liar,” “Only Prettier,” Carrie Underwood’s “Play On”).  She has been acknowledged nationally as one of 50 upcoming acts by the Aloft Hotel chain and currently is an artist ambassador for the Supercuts ‘Rock the Cut’ campaign.

Andrea Daly’s soulful voice and clever lyrics make her a dynamic performer to hear.  Although she garners frequent comparisons to Sara Bareilles or Fiona Apple, Andrea is inspired by a melting pot of influences, from Broadway and classical composers to indie songwriters like Ben Folds and Regina Spektor.  With creativity and subtlety, she crafts refreshingly honest songs. Andrea lives in NYC and has performed solo at Lincoln Center’s Bruno Walter Auditorium, The Bitter End, Googies Lounge, and National Underground, among other venues.  Her EP “Moving Through This” was released in 2010, and she is currently working on a full-length album.

With his laid-back vocal delivery and acoustic songwriting, John Gurney draws much of his inspiration from the music of 1970’s Chicago folk scene, which his mother was at the center of as a singer-songwriter and performer.  It was during his time at the University of Missouri (2011) that songwriting and performance became his focal point. His first album City Of Strangers was released in February 2012.

You might recognize NYC-based artist Caleb Hawley from season 10 of American Idol, when he had the Aerosmith icon Steven Tyler singing along and jamming out, while recognizing him as “Something new and something different”.  In addition to his stint in reality TV, this Harlem based blue-eyed soul singer has toured the country along with his “merch-dog” Fargo, playing nearly 1000 shows over the past four years.  Along the way Hawley has received top honors in the prestigious New York Songwriters Circle Contest (2008 and 2009), the John Lennon Songwriting Contest (2009), the Telluride Festival (2010), and most recently took first prize in the Rocky Mountain Folk Fest (2011) for his songwriting.

Patrick Lundquist is a Singer/Songwriter residing in Los Angeles, California.  He began his career working for the singer Al Jarreau.  Patrick’s musicality intrigued Mr. Jarreau and soon they were writing songs together.  Eventually, Patrick was singing backup for Al in the studio and in concert.  In January 2011, Patrick branched away, co-writing an EP for his vocal group Embassy Tide.  The EP debuted at #9 on the iTunes vocal charts. Patrick’s voice has been heard on numerous studio releases, including Adam Lambert’s For Your Entertainment and the soundtrack of the movie Easy A.

Rebekah Greer Melocik is a proud graduate of NYU’s Musical Theater Writing MFA program, and has been lucky enough to study with Rachel Sheinkin, Jason Robert Brown, Sybille Pearson and Michael John LaChiusa.  Rebekah was part of the inaugural season of the Rhinebeck Writer’s Retreat in 2011, and has had her work performed in Los Angeles, New York and Sydney.  Current projects include two musicals with Jacob Yandura: Dogwood Days and The Disillusionist.  She is a co-founder of PVBLIC BATH, an artist collective that strives to provide points of access between members of the local and global community.

Gregory Nabours works as a musical director, composer and pianist in Los Angeles, California.  Classically competitive as a child, Gregory grew up with music.  In college, he branched out into choral, jazz, pop/rock, and film score, but never truly escaped his passion for theatre.  Gregory is the proud resident composer for the Courage Theatre Company, and his band, The Anix, has toured both nationally and internationally.  In 2011, he wrote and debuted The Trouble With Words, a full-length song cycle.  Public response was extraordinary, and Gregory received one of Los Angeles’ most prestigious theatre awards, the “2011 Ovation Award for Original Music and Lyrics”, as well as “Best Musical” at the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

A little bit gritty, a little bit country, and all heart, Sarah Nisch’s debut EP, By Heart, was released on February 14th, 2012.  The album was fan-funded via Kickstarter and written entirely by Sarah and her talented friends in Brooklyn, NYC.  Listeners are taken on a roller-coaster ride from Sarah’s modest, mid-western upbringing to the angst-filled passion of survival in the city, and back down again to the tender melancholy of many a broken heart.  (Jewel meets Taylor Swift for coffee at Avril Lavigne’s Brooklyn loft.)  Sarah is eternally grateful for the Mercer experience.

Jennifer Sanchez is from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the state question “red or green” has always made her happy to have taste buds.  She grew up all over the country as an Air Force kid and now lives in NYC where she can be seen in the Broadway musical Ghost.  She began writing songs as a girl to help with the constant moving and replacing of friends/pets/schools.  She is overwhelmed to join this group of creators and would like to thank her father for teaching her guitar, her mother for teaching her to harmonize, and her sisters for keeping her out of trouble.

Peter Seibert is a composer, conductor, and producer based in Los Angeles.  Additional music and/or arrangement film credits include One for the Money, Footloose, Alice in Wonderland, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Disney’s Prom and Dear John.  Peter was one of 25 composers (alongside legendaries such as Marvin Hamlisch and Dave Grusin) to contribute music to Haiti: A Symphony of Hope.  The collaborative piece debuts in Los Angeles August 2012.  Peter is a recipient of ASCAP’s Harold Arlen Award for Film and TV Music.  He currently writes additional music for the television series Drop Dead Diva.

Shaina Taub is a New York-based performer, songwriter and Ars Nova’s 2012 Composer-in-Residence. Her band has been playing in the city for three years, with a regular residency at Rockwood Music Hall, and her EP, What Otters Do was released last summer.  Taub’s original opera, The Daughters, was produced at CAP21 Theatre Company and the Yale Institute of Music Theater.  She’s currently writing the score of a new musical with playwright Kim Rosenstock, commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is developing music for Walt Disney Imagineering, and recently received a 2011 MacDowell Fellowship.  Shaina recently performed with Karen O in her alt-rock opera, Stop the Virgens, at St. Ann’s Warehouse and the Sydney Opera House.

Becky Warren is the Washington, DC-based songwriter and lead singer for the alt-country band The Great Unknowns. Their first record found its way to Indigo Girl Amy Ray, who declared it “Excellent songwriting in the Americana tradition-really one of the best things I have heard this year” and released it on her independent label, Daemon Records. The songwriting quickly attracted accolades.  All Music Guide wrote: “Warren’s voice and lyrics perfectly flow together, conveying longing and hope with a sense of tough pride…It’s the highlight of a terrific debut that shows tremendous potential from Becky Warren.”  The band’s new record, Homefront, proves that Warren can pick up right where she left off -the album has earned several songwriting awards, including the grand prize in the Mid-Atlantic Song Contest.

Jacob Yandura holds a B.A. in Music Composition from Kenyon College and an M.F.A from New York University’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program.  In 2009, his musical, Morning’s Song, was premiered at Kenyon College.  His current projects include Dogwood Days and The Disillusionist (book and lyrics by Rebekah Melocik).  Most recently, Jacob was a part of the inaugural season of the Rhinebeck Writers Retreat and the Broadway’s Future @ Lincoln Center concerts.  His work has been performed in various cabarets around New York, Nashville and Florence, Italy.  Jacob is a founding member of PVBLIC BATH, an artist collective, with Rebekah Melocik and Lexa Freshwater Burton.

Hall and Oates at Ravinia

Here’s a trivia question for you:

What is the biggest selling musical duo of all time?

Awww, you peeked. Yup, it’s Hall and Oates. Don’t bother to try to guess who’s number two. (It’s The Pet Shop Boys.) Clearly, there are not a lot of musical duos.

When we were at Ravinia for Deep Purple last week, I thought it was sold out. Turns out, though that the lawn can hold a lot more people. I mean, a LOT more people:

Basically, Hall and Oates is mostly Hall (the blond with the personality, who sings almost every song). Of the eight piece band, the sax player and lead guitarist do most of the heavy lifting. They put on a good show, but were hampered by audio problems that kept the crowd from really getting into it until the end of their less than 90 minute set.

Before the show we talked our way into the Park View restaurant, although our reservations were really for the Mirabella buffet downstairs. Really impressive food for a seasonal restaurant staffed by college kids.

Leaving the concert during the second encore was a good move, as we rolled home on the Metra train as thousands of people gathered to wait for the next one.

Songwriters Showcase

Last night we attended the Johnny Mercer Songwriters Showcase, where 16 incredibly talented young songwriters show off the songs they’ve written during the past week’s workshop. Last year it was the highlight of the summer shows we saw, and it didn’t disappoint this year. Every song was a winner.

Tonight we attended Applause! Applause! where the best of those songs were presented to a larger audience, along with professional performances from the songbook of Charles Strouse, who was honored with an award. Strouse wrote Bye, Bye Birdie, Applause, Annie, and quite a few other musicals, as well as the theme song from All In The Family. At the end of the evening he received his award and entertained at the piano and told some hilarious stories; he’s quite the card for an 83 year old.

Earlier today Dani and I walked through the closed streets of Evanston, where there was an art festival, and then walked up to Central to buy some spices at The Spice House and some cheese and bread at the gourmet market. All together it was a five mile walk, and her ankle held up well, its first real outing since taking her cast off and starting physical therapy.

During our walk we revisited some of the fallen trees from last week’s storm, which have now been cut up and cleared. It’s not hard to figure out why this large branch—that I photographed previously—broke off:

Deep Purple at the Ravinia Festival

Ravinia is an outdoor music festival founded in 1904. It’s a few miles North of Evanston.

Dani and I went to see Deep Purple with the Ravinia Festival Orchestra and opening band Ernie and the Automatics.

Dinner at the upstairs restaurant was quite pleasant. It’s amazing to have to kick start a fine dining restaurant every summer.

It was an unexpected treat that two members of Ernie and the Automatics were the guitarist and drummer from Boston, who played a Boston medley.

Deep Purple was excellent– very talented guitarist and keyboard player– and it was fun to hear them with an orchestra.

Owl City

Dani and I went to see Owl City at The House of Blues. The first warm-up band, Unwed Sailor, consisted of a talented drummer and three people who stared at the floor.  In the absence of any melody or words (no singer) all of their songs sounded like the first five seconds, repeated for five minutes.

The second act was Mat Kearney, who was quite good.

But the audience was clearly there to see Owl City. This was a very different audience than I’d ever encountered at House of Blues, which normally attracts—how can I put this—drunk Gen Xers. Owl City attracts ages 8 to 60, but the average was probably 14. We also noticed the audience was essentially 100% Caucasion. The place was packed, upstairs and down.

I was afraid Owl City would turn out to be one guy (Adam Young) with a Macbook, but there were actually six talented musicians, and an assortment of instruments: two drum sets, many keyboards, cello, violin, bass, vibraphone, xylophone, and many guitars.  Since there is almost no guitar in their music as first I thought the guitars were just props, but they did play a couple of songs where Adam demonstrated excellent guitar proficiency.

It was surprising that the music sounded completely different when played live. They used almost no auto-tune on the voices, and there was much more acoustic stuff. Definitely more complex than the typical tween band. They played two hours, which was great, but it meant we were standing for four hours. House of Blues is still the worst venue in town, but this was an excellent concert.

The 5 Browns

The 5 Browns is a classical music group of five siblings—Desirae, Deondra, Gregory, Melody and Ryan Brown—who play piano. Five pianos. All Steinways, all at the same time. They put on a great show last night at the Plaza, playing a combination of classical and more modern “classical” music, plus several film scores.

I hadn’t been to the larger of the two theaters at the Plaza before. The concert wasn’t well attended, with only about 150 people there. I blame that on poor marketing, because the Browns certainly put on a great show. The day before the show, Martin sent me a special offer to see them at the Plaza theater last night, and I ended up with a $45 fifth row ticket for $10! That hardly pays to move five Steinways around the country.

My favorite moments of the show were:

  • The opening number, Holst’s Planets, where the orchestral parts were divvied up amongst the pianos.
  • A suite of music from Star Wars. Apparently they also recorded this at LucasFilm.
  • Reflections On “Shenandoah,” a modern piece composed for five pianos.
  • A solo performance of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. I’d only ever seen Daffy Duck perform this, so it was pretty impressive to see how a human accomplishes this near-impossible piece!

The Browns were extremely professional at what must have been a difficult time, given the events of the previous day. I’m really glad Martin alerted me to this show.


Rachael Sage

Martin and I went to see Rachael Sage, one of my favorite performers. It was no small feat finding this concert, which was inexplicably part of the monthly Orlando Folk Music meeting. It was originally advertised as being at a diner in Osteen (wherever that is) and then at Lieu Gardens, but it turned out to be at a private home on Lake Ivanhoe. The home featured an upstairs art gallery which proved to be a good performance space. About thirty people showed up, which was basically a full house. As far as I could tell, three of us knew who Rachael Sage was (including Martin, who didn’t know two days ago). The rest seemed to be the regular folk music society members, who, surprisingly, seemed to mostly be retirees.

The afternoon began with a guitar duo who played mediocre folk/bluegrass/blues for a half hour. I presume this is the usual fare for this club. Then Rachael Sage came on, solo, and played piano and sang for two 45 minute sets. I was concerned that her music–which is certainly not folk, but rather complex contemporary alternative–would not be well-received, but the crowd was very enthusiastic. She has a great personality, and shared lots of stories about herself and the songs, and didn’t take things too seriously, interspersing her lyrics with comments to the audience, and also the owners’ dog, who kept strolling through!

Her set list was a dream. Essentially she played my entire five-star Rachel Sage playlist, drawing upon, as near as I could tell, all nine of her albums. At intermission I asked for my favorite, Jane’s Demitri, and she noodled around with it, but couldn’t quite remember the details, but she told my that next time, if I posted the request to Facebook, she’d practice it in advance. Wow.

This was a wonderful concert, and I felt guilty that it only cost $12, and that I already own all nine of her CDs, so couldn’t buy anything.

Barry Manilow

Barry Manilow rarely leaves Vegas these days, but last night he kicked off a new tour at the Amway Center in Orlando. This is the second concert I’ve seen there, and the jury is still out on the acoustics, but Barry’s sound man definitely didn’t have a handle on it. I’ve never heard so much feedback in a major concert production. Since this was the first stop on the tour, hopefully they’ll get it straightened out by the next show.

But Barry did a great job. We saw him thirty years ago at the Greek Theatre in LA, and he still has the voice and puts on a great show, even in the face of adversity, which the sound mix certainly created.

My favorite moments were the ballads, but I also really enjoyed seeing four guys play one piano at the same time!

Some excerpts from the Sentinel’s unusually on-target review:

Although Manilow will tell you that the road show doesn’t aim to copy the glitzy production of his Vegas act, there was a decent amount of that showroom pop Thursday at Amway Center, especially in the oversized opening moments and the thunderous, confetti-adorned finale.

The orchestra, about 70 members strong, looked to be having a blast, waving instruments in the air in the opening moments to a pounding drumbeat…

The sound mix was a blaring, muddled mess, especially in the monster crescendos … in the early going. Equally frustrating, Manilow’s voice almost disappeared when he dipped into the lower register in the understated moments…

And the man was working the room. He prowled the stage energetically, if awkwardly, belting out songs to the back row with crazy arm gestures that might have been showbiz semaphore decipherable only to veteran casino patrons…

If Manilow likes things big, it’s not because he can’t do a ballad. One of the night’s most captivating moments also was among the most delicate. Seated on a stool, the singer tenderly offered “When October Goes,” a song that he adapted from unfinished lyrics by the iconic Johnny Mercer.

Of course, Manilow himself has no shortage of songs…

“You didn’t think we’d let you go home without doing this one,” he said, launching into the obligatory “Copacabana.” Like most everything he does, it was over the top.

Elton John

Elton John has devoted this year to resurrecting the career of Leon Russell, his early inspiration. At Daytona Beach last night Sir Elton even came out first to introduce Leon’s half hour set. Leon’s long white hair and beard make him look like Santa Clause wearing a white cowboy hat. He’s frail, and shuffles onstage with the help of a cane, but his piano playing is undiminished, and his style is so similar to Elton’s that it’s often hard to tell who is playing.

Leon’s opening set ran 30 minutes, and included only two songs we knew, Tightrope and Song For You. Then he took a break and Elton took the stage, perking things up with Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting, and a half hour of other hits.

The center piece of the concert saw Leon return and the duo plus large backing band played nearly all of their new album, Union. Listening to the album on the way to Dayton, Linda and I found it slow and somber, but at the concert they performed a complex, uptempo version that was better. As Elton noted, “It’s hard to listen to new music,” but the crowd was enthusiastic. Elton was clearly delighted that the two of them had an album at number five, their first top ten “in decades.” The best song is probably Shilo. The final number, a gospel solo by Leon, is a song he wrote to thank Elton for being his “angel.”

The album complete, Leon headed for bed, and Elton played his hits for more than an hour. The audience was on its (overweight, middle aged) feet after every song. For me the highlight is always his improvised introduction to Take Me To The Pilot. If you haven’t experienced his phenomenal piano improvisations, check this out on youtube.

Well past the three hour mark, Elton returned for an encore of signing autographs and finished where he began his career, with a heartfelt Your Song, dedicated to the audience.

As we filtered into the parking lot we reflected on how nice it was to see a concert by someone who clearly wanted to be there, sharing his music with the audience, completely the opposite of our experience with The Eagles.

This concert was extraordinarily loud. Even with earplugs I’m still a bit deaf in one ear. I feel sorry for those who didn’t have them. It’s a shame they insist on cranking the music so loud, because it creates echoes in the arena. The sound was much better on the softer numbers.

Before the show we had dinner at The Cellar, a favorite restaurant in Daytona Beach. It’s in the basement of Warren G. Harding’s home. No kidding.

The Eagles

The Eagles played the first big concert at the new Amway Center. The event was actually rescheduled from an earlier date because Don Henley was sick. At nearly the last minute we decided to get tickets and were surprised at being able to get seats right next to the stage, although a side view.

Since it was Martin’s birthday, we took him to Shari Sushi Lounge for dinner before the show. The sushi was quite good, and the place has a nice vibe. And we were there so early that all the sushi items were $3.75. Such a deal.

The new Amway Center is bigger than the old Orena, although the major difference is lots of skyboxes and club space. There are supposed to be restaurants and bars, but these weren’t open. I don’t know if that’s because they are only for Magic games, or if they aren’t ready yet. There’s also a lot of bars on the club level that you can only get to if you have seats in that area, which is weird, since they aren’t really great seats.

For the most part the facility is quite nice, but there are a few things that need to be worked out. There were lines for the restrooms — even the men’s restroom — and the causeway to the parking garage is an obvious bottleneck. For the most part, though, it’s a fine facility.

When we went to our seats we found out why we’d been able to get them at the last minute. One of them didn’t exist! Fortunately, they knew they’d made a mistake, and the usher had replacement tickets for us, even closer. In fact we were in the second row. This was the view from our seats:

Unfortunately, there was a hyper active druggie — a middle aged woman with enormous fake boobs — next to us who continually bounced in her seat, rocking the entire row, even between songs, until we thought we were going to be sick. This was worsened by the fact that our section was a movable scaffold, rather than concrete. So, before the whole thing collapsed or she blew out a boob, for the second half we moved to the empty nose bleed section behind the stage. This was the view from our new seats:

As it turned out, they were pretty good seats, because we could watch the video, and the music wasn’t deafening (mostly). I found that watching everyone play guitar left-handed from behind the rear projection screen didn’t bother me, but the piano playing was a bit weird!

The band is really tight, and they can still hit those high notes, after almost 40(!) years. For some reason, though, they seemed to have no energy during the first half, and things really dragged. But, mysteriously (energy drinks? wink, wink), they came out after intermission completely energized, and the second half was excellent. They have about ten backup players, four different keyboard stations with at least seven keyboards, two drum sets, nine spotlight operators, at least five HD camera operators, and a mixing area that occupied the space for 100 seats. This is not a small operation. The video wall behind the band is one of those RGB LED curtains (I think) about 30 feet high and 40 feet wide. While my favorite songs are by Don Henley, the Joe Walsh numbers really got the audience excited. The country songs, performed by Glenn Frey and Tim Schmidt, seem light years away from the newer material.

The band was very generous with their time, and played for 3-1/2 hours. Definitely an excellent concert.  And yet… it’s funny. I go to concerts to get to know a band. It’s the stories and interaction that make them interesting. If I want to listen to the music I have an iPhone. While they expended a great deal of effort and were generous with their time, I never really felt like they were there onstage. I suppose I’d have trouble with that, too, if I had to play the same song and go through the same patter every night for forty years.

An Evening With Stephen Schwartz

I made orange rolls for breakfast, in my ongoing effort to clear out the fridge for vacation. Then for lunch we walked down to Addis Abeba and had a platter of mostly vegetarian offerings — very tasty. On the way back we passed the interesting chair sculptures in Raymond Park and stopped at Vinic to buy some chardonnay.

Tonight was the final program in the summer season at the Northwestern Interpretive Center, An Evening With Stephen Schwartz. It was definitely the highlight of the series. In a half hour interview before the show, Mr. Schwartz played and sang two of his songs, and discussed the development process. Then there was a two hour review put on by the NU orchestra and six musical theatre majors. It featured songs from all of Mr. Schwartz’s shows.

A highlight was a segment where Mr. Schwartz discussed the development of the song The Wizard and I from Wicked, and played and sang the two versions of Making Good that preceded it in the development process. Shoshana Bean, the second Broadway Elphaba, was a special guest, and performed a half dozen numbers, ending with Defying Gravity.

We were also delighted that the fifteen songwriters we saw last night had an opportunity to perform four of the songs we enjoyed most, and this time I got them on video.

One lasting impression was that each of the fifteen student songwriters, their three mentors and Mr. Schartz are all talented musicians and singers in their own right, which is contrary to my previous concept of musical songwriters.

It’s been interesting that the only two programs we would have skipped during this summer theatre series were the two that were theatre! All three concerts have been terrific.

We had a late night pizza at Lou Malnati’s, closing the place up at 11pm.

Songwriter’s Showcase

Dani had her chemistry midterm this morning. It sounds like it wasn’t as hard as it could have been, but in any event she’s glad it’s over and she can enjoy the weekend. She’s looking forward to being done in two weeks, while I have mixed feelings, because I’ll miss Evanston.

For lunch we went to Kansaku and had some excellent sushi rolls, especially the salmon ceviche, which is like Aji’s heaven roll, and the spicy tun, which is fat and cheap, and has a touch of mayo.

On the way back from lunch we stopped at Barnes Noble, where we learned something about Teen Non-Fiction.

Tonight’s program at the Northwestern Theatre and Interpretation Center was Songwriter’s Showcase, an annual event where fifteen young musicians from all over the country come together for a one-week workshop directed by three Broadway composers (including Andrew Lippa, who wrote The Addams Family musical). At the end of the week, they perform a song that each of them wrote during the week. The styles range from musicals to pop. Some of them were still working on their songs this afternoon, yet they came out fully arranged, often backing each other with several instruments and harmonies.

Wow! What a delightful surprise it was. This was a free event included in the season tickets, and it was far and away the best. I would buy every one of those songs.

The Doobie Brothers and Chicago

I walked up to Windy City Garden Center on Green Bay Road. It’s basically a fenced lot with some tables of flowers. My goal was to find some flowers to put into the two planters where the seeds I planted are doing nothing (the third planter now has little sprouts coming up). So I bought a flat of impatiens and carted them back in the wheeled shopping basket and planted them. It’s nice to have a bit of color on the porch. I asked the guy at the garden center if anything I could plant would come back after the winter. He just laughed.

Dani felt good about her chemistry midterm.

In the evening we went to The Stained Glass (superb, as always) and then caught a limo to the Charter One Pavilion on the shore of Lake Michigan to see The Doobie Brothers and Chicago. The important members of both bands are still kicking, and it was a good show, and we had excellent seats, fifth row center (ear plugs required). The best part was the last half hour, when all sixteen members of the two bands came on stage and played non-stop hits.