Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

Filtering by Tag: concert review

ELO in Chicago

An early morning email from a friend opened the door for me to attend Jeff Lynne’s ELO concert at the Allstate Arena in Chicago on Wednesday night, a show I’d toyed with going to until I saw the ticket prices, but leapt at the opportunity to attend last-minute for a more reasonable price.  ELO's music was a significant part of my childhood, and while I kept up with the band through the early 80s, I certainly can’t be labeled as anything other than a casual fan, unlike many of the thousands who attended last night’s show, which ran a little over an hour and a half.  The number of recognizable songs performed in such a short span was amazing.  Just when I thought, “I think that about covers it,” the band would break into yet another gem from the mid-70s.

Dressed in dark pants, a black shirt and grey blazer, 70-year-old Lynne masked his age with a beard, curly hair and sunglasses, and while his mid-range voice sounded strong and pure, he wisely relegated much of the higher vocals to his stellar backup singers, who added the animation that Lynne lacked and enabled the band to stick to the original keys for most (if not all?) the songs.  Twelve musicians joined Lynne on stage, including three string players and three keyboardists, one of whom spent the entire show doubling the string parts, allowing the arrangements to cut through the mix and sound much fuller than three strings could accomplish as a trio. 

The nineteen-song set strayed none-too-far from ELO’s first greatest hits album, including nine of the eleven tracks from that LP and only one song post-1980, “When I was a Boy,” a 2015 recording whose strong melody and nostalgic lyrics fit in nicely among the evening’s other songs.  There were a few other surprises, including the debut song off the band’s first album, “10538 Overture,” and “Wild West Hero,” among my favorite tracks from Out of the Blue and one that I played incessantly thirty years ago.  One song that was surprisingly absent was "Fire on High," which surely would have brought the house down and to me would have been a far better opener than "Standin' in the Rain."

Lynne didn’t engage his audience with storytelling the way James Taylor, Jackson Browne and other aging rockers do, but he still gave off an appreciative vibe for the audience, thanking them several times in a way that appeared heartfelt.  Lynne's music director, Mike Stevens, took the reins to introduce the large cast of musicians.

During the performance of “Handle with Care” from the Traveling Wilburys, the crowd cheered during the second verse, and while I couldn’t see the screen from my vantage point, I knew that they were most likely reacting to a photo or video of the departed members of that band.  The last time I saw this song performed live was at the Vic Theatre in 2003, when Tom Petty dedicated it to those who had gone.  Though Roy Orbison had died a long while back, it had only been a year and half since the death of George Harrison and a still-raw two months since Petty’s long-time bass player, Howie Epstein, succumbed to heroin addiction.  Here we are a decade and a half later, and it’s comforting to see Lynne and Bob Dylan still standing and still playing music.

As fans of aging rockers, we need to embrace these moments while they last.  Last night at the Allstate Arena, the fans of ELO surely did.

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.

Did You Not See James Taylor at Ravinia? Me too! (a critique of Ravinia)

Last Friday night, I and about 15,000 of my white, upper middle-class brethren (though most of them decidedly better looking) congregated on the well-manicured lawns of Ravinia in Highland Park to not see James Taylor.  Mind you, I could have not seen James Taylor for free at home while simultaneously watching the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics.  Instead, I paid good money to not see JT, and managed also to not see the opening ceremonies (though at least that part was free).

I already knew Ravinia was a lame excuse to not see a show, so I have no one to blame but myself.  About a decade ago, after purchasing tickets to "see" Lyle Lovett, my wife informed me that at Ravinia, lawn seats aren't within site of the stage.  Instead, large speakers hover overhead so you can hear the show. 

No fricking way, I said. 

Way, my wife said.

We didn't go.  My inactive social life was going to have to plummet even further before I agreed to hire a babysitter and drive through rush hour traffic on a staggeringly hot and humid weekday evening to not see a show.  There were dozens of other ways I could enjoy not seeing a show, like...oh, watching reruns on MeTV.  Schlepping to Ravinia didn't even make the list.

This year I caved, because James Taylor is one of the few acts residing on both my wife's and my circle on the Venn Diagram of our musical interests.  Also, the reserved seats sold out before they went on sale to the general public (not joking).  I thought: what the hell.  I'll get lawn seats.  It'll be a nice evening.

On the day of the event, after an hour and a half trip through the north suburbs of Chicago, a free shuttle dropped off my wife and me at the venue, where we found a shady patch of grass and laid out a blanket and chairs to enjoy a picnic meal prior to the show. 

Then the people came.  And the new arrivals constructed picnics so elaborate they required blueprints.  Men in Ray-Bans and polo shirts and women in full-length dresses attached legs onto wooden tables from Restoration Hardware, set out champagne glasses, cutting boards, cheese spreads and fruit trays, and revealed candelabras whose bases fit snuggly into the neck of a wine bottle.  It was all very impressive.  All around us, beautiful people raised their glasses, bantered and laughed heartily.

And then a funny thing happened.  A concert began, right on time, and while JT began singing, "Hey Mister, That's Me Up On The Jukebox," the people around us continued their banter, only louder.  Each syllable that spewed from their lips was annunciated with great import...all of it was apparently so VITAL to the evening, that it needed to be conveyed NOW and with as much gusto as humanly possible.

So not only could I not see JT, I couldn't hear him either. 

The ticket printouts I have from the show read as follows: "These are your concert tickets to see James Taylor."

False advertising?  You bet.  But even if they had corrected their mistake and had written, "These are your concert tickets to hear James Taylor," they'd still be open for a lawsuit.

Next time, I'm going to picnic in my backyard and put the iPod on shuffle.

Copyright, 2017, Paul Heinz, All Right Reserved