Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

Filtering by Tag: concert

The Wall DVD: Waters Mucks it Up

I recently considered writing a review of Elvis Costello’s self-indulgent, smug and laborious book, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink (a conclusion in stark contrast to that of The New York Times and other reviews), but decided not to dwell on a man who when I last saw him told the audience at the Chicago Theater to “fuck off,” thereby ending an era during which I shelled out good cash to finance his illustrious career.  He hasn’t made a dime off of me since. (I borrowed his book from the library.)

Then there’s Roger Waters, another self-indulgent musician, who just released the long-awaited DVD of The Wall, recorded on Waters’ worldwide tour that I completely missed and have been kicking myself for ever since.  I know Pink Floyd fans who think very little of The Wall, but for me it’s among the greatest achievements in rock history and it was a hugely important album for me when it came out in 1979.  So why didn’t I see the show?  I don’t know.  It was a weeknight, I didn’t know anyone who wanted to go, my wife was traveling and I had three kids at home.

In other words, I was being a lame, old suburbanite.

So it was with eager anticipation that I opened the DVD last night, turned off the lights, put on the headphones, leaned back and pressed play.  And look, it was good.  But @@leave it to the ever self-important Waters to muck up what could have been a terrific vicarious concert-going experience.@@

I knew that the film wasn’t only a concert and that it included scenes of Waters talking about his father who died in World War II.  That’s cool.  I get it.  But he didn’t just include these scenes at the beginning and ends of the film (or better yet, as a completely separate film), but rather interjected the scenes throughout the concert!  He’s not the first to commit this sin (Paul McCartney’s In Red Square, Joe Jackson’s 25th Anniversary Special), but interrupting the flow of concept album like The Wall completely detracts from the experience, akin to playing the album in shuffle mode.  It utterly misses the point.  Other bands have released remarkable concert DVDs that include a documentary in the extras, and that would have made much more sense for The Wall.  At the very least the menu should have given the viewer the option of watching the concert with or without the documentary footage. 

So, yes, I’m glad the DVD was released.  Yes, I teared up during various tunes.  Yes, I loved being able to finally witness the technological advances Waters added to the production since last performing the show in Berlin in 1990.  And yes, I even didn’t mind the highly staged scenes in which Waters visits the graves and/or memorials of his father and grandfather.  I just didn’t need to see them between songs during one of the most spectacular tours ever staged.

What a bummer.

Stevie Wonder in Chicago

@@If Stevie Wonder ever begins to look his age and lose some of his ridiculous vocal range, take heed: the end is nigh.@@  Fortunately, neither has come to pass, as witnessed by a huge crowd at the United Center in Chicago on Friday night.  I was expecting to enjoy the show but ended up loving it, partially for the Man himself and for his amazing ensemble of backing musicians, but also because of the diverse and enthusiastic fans that left me leaving the arena feeling positive about the status of American racial relations.  Music can indeed bring people from different backgrounds together, something I learned back in 1987 when I attended Paul Simon’s Graceland tour, but in light of recent events and seen through eyes that are almost three decades older, Friday night’s concert was even more special to me.

Wonder came on stage first to talk to the audience – something I am not a fan of as it detracts from the thrill of the opening number – but quickly charmed the audience with what was for me a surprising sense of humor along with his well-known appeals for peace and love.  When he introduced the first song of his magnum opus Songs in the Key of Life, one certainly couldn’t argue that “More than ever, love’s in need of love.”  Six vocalists began the haunting opening phrase of the 1976 release, and Stevie followed with the familiar opening line, “Good morn or evening friends…” 

I thought Arcade Fire crammed a lot of musicians on stage last year, but Wonder put that band to shame, as six horns, six backup singers, two drummers, two percussionists, two guitarists, two keyboardists and a bass player graced the stage.  During peak numbers such as “Pastime Paradise,” an eight-piece string ensemble and approximately ten-piece choir joined the crew, and along with a harmonica player and conductor the total number of musicians exceeded forty.  Wonder highlighted just how thrilling it is to play with “real musicians” and allowed each to shine at various points throughout the evening, most notably a playful competition with his backup singers at the conclusion of “Knocks me off my Feet.”  While all the backup singers naturally held their own, I was amazed at how Wonder’s range continues to defy human physiology; he sounds as strong at sixty-five as he did at twenty-six when he recorded Songs in the Key of Life.

Stevie’s mastery of keyboards and the chromatic harmonica is well known, but during the second set he displayed his chops on an instrument that I thought was a stick but have learned since is actually a newer tapping instrument called a harpejji.  A cross between keyboards and guitar, it offered a terrific accompaniment to several songs, including what appeared to be the only off-the-cuff track, a Buddy Guy tribute of “Hi-Heel Sneaker.”

I always thought Songs in the Key of Life had some filler tracks on the second two sides, or at the very least some filler minutes of some otherwise decent tracks, and I stand by my conclusions after hearing the album in its entirety, but when you have kick-ass musicians on stage performing for a full three hours, it hardly seems to matter.  After the album's completion, Wonder’s alter-ego DJ Chick Chick Boom took over, playing snippets from a series of songs including the crowd-pleasing “My Cherie Amour” and “Superstition.”  Had he been able to find room for “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” I would have been beside myself.

Wonder’s creative output since 1976 has been sporadic, and – at times – embarrassing, but no one can deny that from 1972 to 1976 he was one of the best, if not the best, composers.  Forty years later, there’s no denying that he remains one of the best performers, and one of the few who can attract an audience of equal parts black and white, a special ability in a culture that so often separates itself along racial lines whether by circumstances or by choice.  It felt good to buck this trend, if only for evening.

A special thank you to my kids who bought me and my wife the tickets for our twentieth anniversary!

Record Night Returns

Record Night returned with a vengeance last Friday at a new venue and with an addtional medium, as five of us met in Wauwatosa, where – in addition to music – a half an hour of Zeppelin’s 2007 reunion DVD made it into the mix, along with a turntable that jumped the groove if one stepped in the wrong location of hardwood flooring.   It was a minor hurdle to overcome in the name of Record Night.

The themes: Kevin’s was “Concerts I would have liked to have seen or that I would like to see again.”  Paul’s was “Stuff I’ve purchased in the past three or four months.”  JB, Pete and Frank had no theme and generally grabbed a selection from one of two boxes of LPs, though the miracle of wifi allowed us to tap into a few Youtube videos and mp3s.  In this sense, it was our first 21st Century Record Night.

And away we go… 

Paul       Hall and Oates, Bad Habits & Infections

Pete       Rickie Lee Jones, Weasel and the White Boys Cool

Kevin     Sly and the Family Stone, A Simple Song

Paul       The Shins, A Simple Song

Pete       Cheap Trick, Ooh La La La

(JB was busy getting the record player moved, a more technical task than one would think).

Kevin     Andy Gibb, Shadow Dancing

(Kevin’s first concert, 1978, Wisconsin State Fair)

Paul       Badfinger, Without You

Frank     Bad Company, Bad Company

(Interlude – white JB works on turntable, we watch Zeppelin’s DVD from their ’07 reunion concert.  Fantastic!  WAY better than I expected).

JB           Honeydrippers, Good Rockin’ At Midnight

Pete       Spinal Tap, Big Bottoms

Frank     The Firm, Satisfaction Guaranteed

Paul       XTC, Great Fire

Kevin     KC and the Sunshine Band, Who do you Love

(his second concert, 1979, Wisconsin State Fair)

(JB remarks, “I have no theme!”  It’s okay, man.)

JB           OMD, Forever Live and Die

Frank     The Kinks, Conservative

Pete       Joe Walsh, The Confessor/Rosewood Bitters

Paul       Big Country, Wonderland

JB          Paul Westerberg, Silver Naked Ladies

(Frank departed at this juncture.  Something about a job, kids, a life…blah, blah, blah).

Kevin     X Cleavers, 18 (Unprotected)

(a band from Milwaukee!

JB           Tin Lizzy, Romeo and the Lonely Girl

JB           Ian McLagan, Mystifies Me

(in honor of the maestro who recently passed away)

Paul       Harry Nilsson, One

Kevin     ELO, Sweet is the Night

Pete       Shooting Star, Last Chance

JB           Neil Young/Stills, Long May You Run

Paul       David Bowie, Diamond Dogs

Kevin     Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Paul       Beck, Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime

Pete       Macklemore, Thrift Shop Feat

JB           Grateful Dead, Terrapin Station/Estimated Prophet

(The Dead - a first for record night!  Kevin is still not sold on this band.  Nor am I)

Paul       Geddy Lee, My Favorite Headache

(Pete was forced to stay for one last song before exiting)

Kevin     The Kinks, I took my Baby Home/Stop Your Sobbin’

(I still don’t get this band.  Always sounds like an out-of-tune garage band to me).

 JB           Beck, Paper Tiger

Paul       The Call, Let the Day Begin

(Another dead guy!)

At this point things are getting ugly, as Paul attempts to discredit The Who due to their meager output.  Several beers have made their way into our systems, and it seems like it’s a race to the finish – i.e. sleep – at this point.

Kevin     James Gang, The Bomber/Bolero

JB          The Who, The Seeker

(JB attempts to discredit Paul's discrediting of The Who.  Fairly successfully too, I might add.)

Paul       REM, Gardening at Night/Finest Work Song

Kevin     Bee Gees, Ordinary Lives

JB          Faces, Cindy Incidentally

Paul       Elton John, Honky Tonk Woman

Kevin     Duran Duran, New Religion

JB           Eddie Vedder, Hard Sun

Paul       The Alarm, Deeside

Kevin     Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Welcome to the Pleasuredome

John       The Jayhawks, Straight Face Can’t Hide 

And there you have it.  It’s true, JB managed to finish the evening without having played a Replacements’ song, but only succeeded on a technicality, as Paul Westerberg made the list. 

Next up?  We shall see, but I’m leaning toward a secret theme that attendees have to guess throughout the evening.

Review: Jackson Browne in Chicago

At sixty-six, Jackson Browne could easily phone it in and play concert after concert of the certified hits that came with regularity during the first decade and a half of his 40-plus year career, but on Tuesday night at the Chicago Theater he went a different route, playing deep cuts and new material along with a few crowd-pleasers for a balanced and effective show. 

Beginning with 1996’s “Barricades of Heaven,” 1972’s “Looking into You,” and two songs from his new album Standing in the Breach, it was apparent that this wasn’t going to be a greatest hits show, and the evening was all the more rewarding because of it.  Browne stitched his new material seamlessly with his older tunes, which you could take one of two ways I suppose: 1) his new material is as strong as his old material; or 2) his new material explores the same territory he’s been exploring for decades.  It’s probably a little of both, but when you have an absolutely stellar band with equally stellar sound backing you up, and you’re reciting lyrics like: The seeds of tragedy are there/In what we feel we have the right to bear… well, I’ll take a little familiarity with my new Jackson Browne.  All told, he performed seven songs from his new album.  If you had asked me beforehand if that was a recipe for a successful evening, I would have demurred, but to my ears many of the new tunes were as strong as the old ones.

After being assaulted at several arena shows lately, I was thrilled to be able to hear every instrument on stage without reaching for the earplugs, and I spent much of the evening admiring the guitar work of Val McCallum and Greg Leisz (who played dobro, guitar and lap steel), both absolute monsters at their instruments, and one got the feeling that Jackson Browne had as much fun watching these guys display their craft as he did singing his compositions. 

Alternating between guitar and piano throughout the evening, Browne sported an all-black outfit (as did the rest of the band), and the stage lighting bathed the musicians in shades of violet, with occasional splashes of color to enhance various songs, most notably the desert shades of “Leaving Winslow,” a song Browne introduced with a childhood memory of playing on a trestle bridge with his buddies and flattening pennies on the railway.

Early in the second set, Browne asked, “What would you like to hear?” and after a deluge of requests, he answered, “Yeah, I thought so.  But after that what do you want to hear?”  But as far as I could see, the request resulted in only one audible, the 1980’s hit “In the Shape of a Heart,” and the rest of the evening proceeded much as his previous concerts in Philadelphia and New York. 

I knew I could leave a happy man after Browne performed 1993’s “I’m Alive,” albeit a whole tone lower than his studio recording.  It became apparent during the show that keys had been adjusted to accommodate Brown’s aging voice, but that said, his signature mellow tone still sounded excellent, and I got the feeling that he could have hit the high notes consistently had he been forced to.  If there was one complaint about the evening, it’s that the band played on a similar energy level throughout with little in the way of dynamics; even some of the rockers came off sounding country.  But this is a minor quibble, and for the last selections of the concert, Browne broke into crowd favorites and rocked a bit with “Doctor My Eyes,” “The Pretender,” “Running on Empty” and “Take it Easy.”

As I was buying junk food at Walgreens after the show, a woman behind me said to her boyfriend, “I was hoping for ‘Late for the Sky.’”  I was too, but I give Browne a lot of credit for playing so much new music that was actually worth playing and worth hearing.  He continues to sing about the stuff that matters, from the Haiti earthquake, to politics, to the Gulf oil spill.  We need guys like Browne to continue to fight the good fight and to be willing to put new music at the forefront.  I'll take that over a greatest hits show any day.

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?

Copyright, 2017, Paul Heinz, All Right Reserved