Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

Filtering by Tag: 2012

July 2012: What a difference a year makes

A year ago this week the brittle grass had all but given up.  Vegetables that had flourished briefly in the spring clung to life only because of daily watering sessions that both my wife and I were already tired of providing.  Normally, we’d hit a wall by early August, but this year, after having reached the 80s eight days in March, after breaking high temperature records twice in May, and after enduring the sixth warmest and fifth driest June on record, we’d already had it.  And it was just beginning.  Patience was wearing thin.  Tempers were short.

On July 1, I road home on my bike from my Sunday morning gig at Elmhurst Presbyterian Church, and on the way noticed a distinct line of foreboding clouds to the west.  As I neared home, I saw people watering their flowers and I shouted out, “There’s rain coming.”  I made it home, and my son and I took out lawn chairs in the back yard to watch the approaching storm, a welcome sight after such a dry June.

We lasted about thirty seconds.

The violence of our annual Storm of the Century forced my family and me inside and into the basement, where we could hear from outside the cracking of tree limbs, followed by the all-too-familiar sound of our electricity shutting off, as our smoke alarms yelped out a short, high-pitched siren of protest before falling silent.

A half an hour later, the sun was out, and our neighborhood spent that afternoon surveying the destruction, comparing stories and pulling branches to the curbs, careful to avoid those areas that had downed power lines (my house was one such area).  The destruction outside was far short of the images we’ve seen recently from Missouri and Oklahoma, but for the residence of north Elmhurst, this was close enough.  My poor tree in the back yard had shed yet another limb (one a year for the past three years), striking my neighbor's newly installed roof and gutters.  Neighbors across the street had a new hole in their roof, and down the street stood an invisible SUV, fully-encased in the branches of a downed limb.

And then the heat came.  The whir of generators could be heard all around us, a constant drone that only added to our frustration, because none of the sound was to our benefit.  We emptied our freezer and refrigerator and took the contents to our neighbors who still had electricity a block away, and as we put the last of our groceries into their freezer, their electricity went out.  It seemed that saving the chicken we’d purchased at Costco was not to be.

Our son was leaving for camp the next morning, and we’d planned on making a meat loaf for his “Last Supper,” but now we had to improvise.  We got in the car, heading down Roosevelt, expecting to find a restaurant open somewhere.  There was.  One.  Almost seven miles away.  Boston Market experienced what was probably its busiest Sunday evening ever.  From miles around, people had flocked for roasted chicken, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and corn, as the storm had shut down power as far west as Wheaton, through Glen Ellyn and Lombard and into Villa Park and Elmhurst. 

I summarized the mayhem in a text to my brother who was out of town…

Lines down. Transformer on fire.  Poles off kilter.  The works.  No flooding though.  If it weren’t for the heat I wouldn’t really care.

Ah, but there was heat.  That evening our second floor reached 94 degrees, as temperatures outside his 98.  On Tuesday we hit 96 with a low of 77 and still no electricity, and my wife, who was enjoying a day working in air conditioned bliss, texted me at home…

Any progress?

I texted back…

If u consider nothing as progress, then yes.  There’s progress.

That evening I decided to get the hell out of my hell-like home and go to York High School for a community band rehearsal, where we practiced in air conditioning and shared stories of the storm.  I was one of the few left without power.  Then I received the most welcome text ever from my wife…

Power is on!!!!!

I arrived home, and we aborted our temporary sleeping quarters in our relatively cool basement, and returned to our bedroom with the air cranked.  The next morning we took off for New York to see my sister-in-law, and here’s what we left behind:

July 4th, 102 degrees

July 5th, 103 degrees

July 6th, 103 degrees

All three days were records.  We’d go on to have our third hottest July on record, with not one day offering a high temperature of less than 80 degrees. 

Today, July 2nd, 2013, we expect a high temperature of 73.  Our grass is lush and green.  Our vegetables our flowering.  Our power is on.  True, we haven’t really had to use our band new air conditioner much this year, but that was to be expected.  And really, if we could have the summer we’re currently having every year from here on out, I’d be happy to never use our air conditioner again.

Ben Folds Five in Chicago

Ben Folds Five are twelve years older since their last tour, but the trio didn’t miss a beat on Sunday night at the Chicago Theater, filled to approximately 80 percent capacity (the band had just performed in Chicago last June).  Supporting their first album since 1999, the band leaned heavily on material from their first two albums, including several surprises that kept even the die-hard fans satisfied.

Occupying only half the stage, Ben Folds, Darren Jessee on drums, and Robert Sledge on bass, ripped through six songs from The Sound of the Life of the Mind, the most effect being “Erase Me” and “Draw a Crowd,” both of which fit in relatively well with the older material.  Folds admitted that they were in a sense rehearsing “Do it Anyway” for the next day’s performance on The Colbert Report, but despite this being the strongest song from the new album, it fell a bit flat live.

I tried prepping my three kids for the concert by playing songs I expected Ben Folds Five to play, but I couldn’t have foreseen “Missing the War,” “Selfless, Cold and Composed” and “Emaline,” and although the inclusion of these lesser known tracks might have made the show more difficult for the uninitiated, it was highly satisfying for long-time fans.  The most surprising inclusions were the Darren Jessee-penned “Magic,” a heartbreakingly beautiful song from The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, and “Landed,” the only song the band performed from Ben Folds’s solo era.

The distinctive backing vocals that defined the band’s sound in the 90s were tight and on key, so much so that I wondered if some auto-tuning might have been employed at the mixing board.  Either that, or Jessee and Seldge they’ve gotten stronger as singers over the last decade.  It was a pleasure watching Jessee go about his business without fanfare on his minimalist set, though his cymbals were too loud and shrill in the mix, and Sledge, a bit more stocky than back in the day, looked especially happy to be back on stage with the band, and it was hard for the audience not to feed on the good vibes.

When someone from the audience requested “Rock this Bitch,” Ben began an impromptu composition that addressed the request, guiding his bandmates by announcing the chord changes.

The crowd-pleasing “Army” finished the regular set before the band returned with “Best Imitation of Myself” and “Underground,” two of the best tracks from their first album, and “1 Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces” ended the evening to a standing ovation. 

I am not a big fan of the new album, and I think the show highlighted how much stronger and more relatable their first two albums of material are than their second two.  Lyrically, little of the new album makes a lot of sense.  It’ll be interested to see if Ben revisits these songs with any regularity in the future either with the Five or as a solo artist, or if they’re relegated to a 2012 time capsule.

Joe Jackson Wows Milwaukee

In the liner notes of Joe Jackson’s  Live: 1980/86, Jackson reveals his philosophy of live performing: artists should play what keeps them excited because an audience will inevitably see through a half-hearted concert.  It’s a mindset that – for the four Jackson performances I’ve attended in years past – never failed to satisfy.  Currently promoting his tribute album to Duke Ellington, Joe Jackson once again wowed an appreciative audience on Saturday night at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, blending old and new seamlessly, often with surprising instrumentation and arrangements.

Beginning the evening with a solo performance of Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing)” before segueing into his own “Be My Number Two” (but only after a false start after pressing the wrong patch on his keyboard), Jackson then welcomed his stellar band, including violinist Regina Carter, long-time Jackson percussionist Sue Hadjopoulus, Nate Smith on Drums, guitarist Adam Rogers, Jesse Murphy on bass and Allison Cornell on keys, vocals and viola.  The result was a refreshing mix that effectively wove traditional and well-known with eclectic and obscure.

The audience, ranging in age from the very young (a 9 year-old sat in front of me) to moderately old, some of whom may have been there to simply check out a band playing Ellington tunes, were as appreciative of the lesser-known selections as they were of hit songs like “Steppin’ Out,” “You Can’t Get What You Want,” and “It’s Different for Girls.”  The set list that spanned over a half a century never stalled, indicating that even alongside the classics of Ellington, Jackson’s catalogue contains examples of well-crafted songs.

The band looked to Regina Carter to tackle many of the improvised solos, though Jackson, sitting down at a keyboard and sporting a tan blazer, proved capable of handling intricate piano runs, especially during the Ellington pieces.   His singing was also surprisingly strong, though he did briefly flub the lyrics to “Is She Really Going Out With Him” and “Real Men” before quickly getting back on track.  

Allison Cornell beautifully sang lead vocals on several songs, and bassist Jesse Murphy – taking place of Jackson’s usual bassist, Graham Maby – played upright and tuba on a few numbers.  The most surprising arrangement was the first encore, when Murphy stood alone with his tuba, leaving the audience to consider the possibilities.  Then he started the familiar opening line of “Is She Really Going Out With Him” with Jackson supplying the harmony on accordion, and the audience sang on cue as if they were hearing a traditional four-piece rock group.  There aren’t many artists who could get away with the dismantling of familiar arrangements with such well-received results.

The show’s highlights, which stirred the audience into a mild frenzy, were the tracks from 1982’s Night and Day, including “Another World,” “Target” and Jackson’s long-time ending number, “A Slow Song.”  Jackson nailed the high note on the latter perfectly, and at various points throughout the song, band members exited the stage, leaving Jackson to finish the concert the way he began – as a solo artist playing the piano.  During the final standing ovation, Jackson bowed and appeared to be genuinely moved, grateful to still be performing after so many years for such open-minded audiences.

Rush Mixes it Up (to a point)

I imagine that being in a band with twenty albums of material is burdensome at times.  With that much history behind you, pleasing all of your fans while attempting to please yourself has got to be a daunting task.  For years, Rush has fallen into the routine of playing whatever album they’re promoting, along with what I like to call “the first song on the album syndrome.”  If they played an album from Signals, it was “Subdivisions.”  If they played a song from Power Windows, it was “The Big Money.”  Hold Your Fire?  “Force Ten.”  Roll the Bones?  "Dreamline."  It became very predictable, and I often wondered why they didn’t allow themselves to dig a little deeper into their extensive repertoire.

On Saturday at the United Center in Chicago, Rush mixed things up to a degree that undoubtedly left some people beside themselves with joy and others scratching their heads at yet another missed opportunity.  I was somewhere in the middle, but ultimately I have to applaud Rush for finally shaking the dust off of some tunes that hadn’t seen a live performance in over a decade.  Rush has always thrown a surprise or two in their setlist – “Presto” on the Time Machine tour, “Between the Wheels” on the R30 tour, “Circumstances” on the Snakes and Arrows tour – but this time around they performed at least six unexpected tracks.

If you liked 80s Rush – not their crowning back-to-back albums Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures – but from the subsequent synth-heavy releases, you were a happy camper.

Kicking off the 2 ½ hour show with “Subdivisions,” Rush didn’t leave the 80s until the 8th track, and not before surprising the audience with two songs I’d been hoping to hear for the past twenty years: “The Body Electric” from Grace Under Pressure, and “Territories” from Power Windows.  In fact, PW won the contest for most songs (aside from Rush’s new release, Clockwork Angels).  Who would have figured that one?  “Analog Kid” from Signals was another great addition and a crowd favorite.  Less effective was “Grand Designs” from PW, and why the rock trio can’t perform something other than “Force Ten” from Hold Your Fire is a mystery.  It’s never been a showstopper, so why continue to grind through yet another performance of a tired song?

Geddy Lee was in fine form on Saturday, his voice as strong as it’s been in years, hitting the higher register on most songs – especially those from Clockwork Angels – consistently.  Sure, he can’t sing “Temples of Syrinx,” but who can?  Geddy couldn’t even hit those notes twenty years ago.  Neil Peart made the wise choice of performing three mini drum solos this time out rather than one extensive solo.  The result was an effective interlude between songs, rather than an extended piece that – to my ears at least – had sometimes grown tiresome.  Especially effective was Neil’s electronic solo prior to “Red Sector A” (yet another surpriing choice).

Still early on their US tour, Alex occasional forgot to lip-synch the prerecorded vocal tracks he’s supposed to pretend he’s actually singing, but the result was the same.  He also forgot to press his acoustic simulator at the beginning of “The Garden,” so the first two or three chords came blazing out of his guitar before he recognized his mistake.  Still, he and his bandmates were – as always – masterful at their instruments and a pleasure to watch.

Equally masterful was the addition of a seven-piece string section that accompanied the band throughout the Clockwork Angels selections as well as three other songs.  The highlight for me, aside from a beautifully pulsating introduction of the “The Garden,” was the addition of strings on “YYZ,” in which they doubled the guitar parts at key moments, lifting an already unbelievable song to new heights.

Some of the new material went over very well.  “Caravan” has already become a fan favorite after its introduction during the Time Machine tour, and the driving “Headlong Flight” electrified the audience.  Other songs went over less enthusiastically, and it wasn’t hard to conclude that Rush probably played two new songs too many.  Nine was a lot to digest.

Ending the set with the typical trio of “The Spirit of Radio,” “Tom Sawyer” and a medley of selections from “2112,” Rush left the audience on a high note.  But it’s easy to understand some of the disappointing posts I’ve read on-line.  Of Rush’s twenty albums, ten had no representation whatsoever.  Furthermore, they performed only one song from the 70s, (2112), one song from Permanent Waves (The Spirit of Radio) and two songs from Moving Pictures (Tom Sawyer and YYZ).  It would have been nice to have heard “Free Will,” “Limelight,” “La Villa Strangiato” or a track off of Presto (“Superconductor,” anyone?).

Nonetheless, my son, my brother and I left the show happy to have heard a great band playing at a high level after all these years.  In fact, I attended my first legitimate concert with my brother back on October 9, 1982, when we saw Rush perform at MECCA in Milwaukee.  The Brewers were in the World Series, and Geddy and Neil both came out sporting Brewer garb during the opening number of “The Spirit of Radio.”  When Geddy was supposed to sing, “one likes to believe in the spirit of music,” he substituted “music” with “baseball.”  A more auspicious introduction to concert viewing in the eyes of a fourteen year-old boy there has never been. 

Now, almost exactly thirty years later, and I saw Rush with my ten year-old son.  How cool is that?  And who the heck would have thought back in 1982 that the Canadian trio would still be pumping out solid material to well-attended concerts?

Arbitrage: movie review

I remember almost nothing about business school, but I remember this: arbitrage is the exploitation of inconsistencies in the market.  In debut director Nicholas Jarecki’s “Arbitrage,” Richard Gere looks to exploit not only his business dealings, which are quickly crumbling, but his personal life, which isn’t much better.  Half the fun is watching to see if he can pull it off.

Gere is a hedge-fund billionaire attempting to sell his business for reasons that don’t make sense to his daughter and CFO, Brit Marling, but we soon learn what Brit doesn’t: Gere’s company is cash poor, and he’s cooked the books so that it can pass muster with a prospective buyer.  The screws are turning from all sides: a friend who loaned him hundreds of millions wants payback, mistress (Laetitia Casta) demands more of him than he can provide, and the auditors are dragging their feet.

And then things really start to go bad.

To divulge more would be unwise, but suffice it to say that what ensues will require an investigation by the incomparable Tim Roth, a showdown with wife Susan Sarandon, and several pleadings from attorney Stuart Margolin to confess before things get worse.  Margolin (Angel from “The Rockford Files”) was particularly fun to see after all these years.

“Arbitrage” could just as easily be called “The Ides of March 2,” as it shares not only the same cynicism portrayed in the Oscar-nominated movie of last year – in which human beings are little more than moveable parts – but also the fall off a naiveté’s pedestal.  Both films are expertly-done thrillers, and both feature a seasoned veteran whose character attempts to juggle all the pieces before they crash as headlines and prison terms.

I hadn’t heard a word about Arbitrage until yesterday morning, but the theater I attended on Friday night was packed (at $10.50 a ticket!), indicating that adults are starved for entertainment and are willing to shell out cash for grown-up entertainment.  Hollywood take notice.

Copyright, 2017, Paul Heinz, All Right Reserved