29th Jun2012

Soul Rebels Funk it Up at SPACE

by rockchicago

Photo by Neil Rigler

 

The Soul Rebels arrived in Evanston Thursday night fresh on the heels of appearances at Jazz festivals in Ottawa and Toronto, at the end of a month that took them from Bonnaroo to Metallica’s Orion Festival in Atlantic City.  The mere thought of seeing these ambassadors of a proud New Orleans brass band tradition in the intimate confines of Evanston’s outstanding Space had me excited for a rare opportunity.  To say I walked away fully satisfied only begins to tell the story of the joy of music these eight talented musicians represent.

With a 5-piece brass section, one saxophone, and two percussionists, the band worked their way through an impressive range of sounds, and a groove that barely paused over the course of a 90-minute set.  Their opening instrumental set the tone for the dance party that was to follow with up-tempo beats and alternating solos from each of the men on the front line as a way of introducing themselves.  Two trumpets, two trombones and Erion WIlliams’s great saxophone work played melodies and harmonies over the stellar bass grooves Edward Lee, Jr. pounded out on the sousaphone all night.   Many times I found myself looking around for a secret bass guitar helping with the funk, but this was not a night for electronic instruments.  This was all about the physicality and power of brass, sax, and percussion.

Their chant of “ain’t nothin’ but a party y’all” at the start of their second song brought to mind the work of the recently deceased Chuck Brown or Trouble Funk, both masters of the DC go-go scene years ago.  It got the middle of the room dancing – the people seated at tables on the sides would have their turn in an hour or so.  But the Soul Rebels wouldn’t be content with referencing just one type of music or song.  Quite the opposite.  By the end of the night I felt like they took my whole record collection and reworked it, reshuffled it, and made it their own.  So when Julian Gossin and Marcus Hubbard quoted Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” on their trumpets, it just fit right in with the flow.  Songs by turn included Afro-Cuban rhythms, Latin beats, Calypso, Reggae, and, dare I say, all that jazz.

The set included many songs from their widely-praised cd from earlier this year, “Unlock Your Mind” (Rounder).  “Turn It Up,” “My Time,” and “Showtime” were standouts along the way.  As the infectious groove kept rolling along, largely due to the tight and relentless beats from Derrick Moss and Lumar Leblanc, the band wanted the people seated at tables on the sides to join in the party.  They found a perfect solution in a dynamite cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” which segued into Parliament’s “Give Up the Funk,” but only long enough to be the perfect tease.  “In New Orleans we don’t have chairs,” Williams told the crowd, “so get on up,” while the band provided the perfect James Brown quote to go along with the sentiment.

Paul Robertson and Corey Payton’s work on trombone was a thrill to watch all night and  earned a new level of appreciation of its range from me.  Corey and Julian took center stage as the mood turned to hip-hop as the set turned to a close.  It was a daring reach for a group with such deep traditional roots.  I asked him about it afterward and he said their goal is to “touch on every aspect of music” with “no limitations” so they can “reach everyone we can.”  Powerful thoughts – ones they’ve proven by their appearance at Metallica’s 30th anniversary last year.  When asked about how that crowd received them, Corey glowed: “They took to it! It was all about acceptance.”

The set came to a close with an ode to the area code of New Orleans, “5-0-4,” followed by their biggest hit, a cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This.”  By then, the whole room was dancing.  When the band finished their set, people stuck around for pictures and hugs with the band – nobody wanted the love to end.

A quotation from a reviewed posted on the Soul Rebels website speaks of them as “the missing link between Public Enemy and Louis Armstrong” – their music and stunning performance tonight proved that true.  Be sure to catch them when they return to Martyrs’ in late August – they’ll be busy touring Europe and elsewhere in the meantime, converting music lovers into members of their beloved 5-0-4.

Reviewed by Neil Rigler on 6/28/12

28th Jun2012

Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles CAN’T Buy My Love

by rockchicago

 

After a hot day, I thought I’d take a trip with my dad down to the city to catch RAIN: A Tribute to The Beatles. My dad and I are huge Beatles fans and have seen most of the Beatles tribute bands that have come to Chicago. I’ve heard of RAIN before, but I found out they were recently on PBS performing from their concert. My dad caught it when it was on, and said it was outstanding. Steve Landes (John Lennon), Joey Curatolo (Paul McCartney, and he looks and sounds JUST like him!), Joe Bithorn (George Harrison) and Ralph Castelli (Ringo Starr) were the stars of RAIN on PBS. What we got last night was NOT them ufortunately. I was very disappointed.

What we got were Tom Teeley (George Harrison), Douglas Cox (Ringo Starr), Jim Irizarry (John Lennon) and Mac Ruffing (Paul McCartney). After watching the PBS special, I was recently excited to see the guys perform live. Instead, when I got there, alas it was not them. I was really not a fan of Mac Ruffing at all. I don’t think he sounded like Paul McCartney at all. In fact, he sounded like a chipmunk in his high register. Jim Irizarry was pretty bad for the first half as John Lennon. He even cracked at one point during “A Day in the Life.” Douglas Cox really didn’t bother me at all actually. He did a really nice version of “With A Little Help from My Friends,” and throughout the night was an excellent drummer. Even though he’s not Castelli, he did a very nice job. As mentioned earlier with Irizarry as Lennon, I mentioned that he was pretty bad for the first half. For the second half he was really good, and started to sound like Lennon a little bit more and more. Some key songs that he did really well on were “I Am the Walrus,” “Come Together,” “Twist and Shout” and “Revolution.” Mac Ruffing did not do anything for me however. I appreciate him “trying” to sound like Paul but he didn’t do it very well, especially in songs like “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby.” Key props though to the keyboardist Mark Beyer, who is hidden in the back throughout the whole show and deserves more credit than the rest.

Another disappointing reason why I did not like this show is because before the show, there were 2 screens, one on each side that was giving facts about the Beatles and their background. One question they asked was which 2 members of the Beatles were left-handed. The answers were Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. In this show, Ruffing did not play the guitar left-handed like Paul. He did play the bass lefty though, but he should’ve stuck with it throughout.

RAIN has an interesting concept to their show. They went through all eras of The Beatles from their premiere in 1964, to 1969, then through the 70’s Let it Be era. At one point during the show, they did a couple songs acoustic. Irizarry sang “Girl” and “In My Life,” and the best song of the whole night was “I’ve Just Seen a Face” with a killer guitar solo by Teeley.

Throughout the show, when the guys were transitioning sets, the screens on the side of the stage would show classic commercials from the 60’s and 70’s like the old Flintstones commercial when they influenced smoking. I was shocked they had some of these commercials. It really added a cool element to the show.

Overall, it was an ok show. I can tell you it was not my favorite. The only one who looked completely like a Beatles was Teeley as George Harrison. It helps that he played George in the movie Beatlemania the Movie, where all the original members and some of these members derived from. If you like Beatles music, then you might like this show more than me. I just wanted to see the originals. I’ve seen The Fab Four and American English and some other ones, and I have to say The Fab Four gets my vote as the best Beatles tribute band in the country.

RAIN: A Tribute to the Beatles is playing at The Oriental Theatre (24 West Randolph Street) through July 1. Performances are as follows:

Wednesday,Thursday,Friday and Sunday evenings at 7:30 p.m.,Saturday evening at 8 p.m., matinees are Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Tickets range from $25-$75 and can be purchased at any of the Broadway In Chicago box offices,The Broadway In Chicago Ticketline at 800-775-2000, all Ticketmaster outlets and online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com

To see more about this show, visit the RAIN page at www.theatreinchicago.com

or www.raintribute.com

 

Reviewed by Kevin Pollack on 6/27/12

Rating: 2/5

27th Jun2012

Aerosmith Keeps On A-Rollin’ at United Center

by rockchicago

All Photos by Peter S. Sakas 

 

Aerosmith has been referred to as “America’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band” and judging from their concert performance at the UnitedCenterin Chicagoon Friday June 22nd they sure solidified their claim to that title. Aerosmith was formed in 1970 by vocalist Steve Tyler, guitarists Joe Perry and Ray Tabano, bassist Tom Hamilton, and drummer Joey Kramer. Brad Whitford replaced Tabano in 1971 and the line up has remained the same since then, except for a period in the early 1980s. So we are talking longevity; the band remaining virtually intact for over 40 years! It is estimated that they have sold over 60 million records in theUnited States and well over 100 million around the world so they have been wildly popular and judging from the enthusiasm of the concertgoers, their popularity remains strong.

Cheap Trick, another iconic rock band performed a 45 minute opening set and it was obvious they had a very dedicated following in attendance as well. The fans remained on their feet the entire set, singing along, and were really into the music. It was like a homecoming for the band, being fromRockford, and they delivered! Rick Nielsen was a crowd pleaser, playing an inspired guitar, and all through the set was tossing a multitude of guitar picks into the crowd.

There was eager anticipation for the entrance of Aerosmith after the Cheap Trick set. The stage at theUnitedCenterwas a “T” shape with base of the “T” extending into the center of the main floor. There were also two video screens, one a “video wall” behind the stage and another smaller circular screen just above the center of the stage. The lights dimmed the crowd began to cheer excitedly waiting for the appearance of these rock icons. Drummer Joey Kramer came out took a seat behind the drum kit, bassist Tom Hamilton and guitarist Brad Whitford then walked onto the stage. All of a sudden there was a rising cheer emanating from the crowd as a platform at the base of the “T” began to elevate, raising Steven Tyler and Joe Perry up to stage level. There was no doubt the charisma exuding from every pore of Steven Tyler.

When I finally got a good glimpse of these rock gods, I saw that Steven Tyler was wearing a big white floppy hat, white shirt and pants, a full length white coat, with designs I could not identify (almost appeared avian), an eyeball on each sleeve of his coat (which matched the eyeball tattoo I noticed on his arm later in the concert), big sunglasses, and his trademark microphone adorned with a number of streamers. I was surprised he did not have on any boas. Joe Perry was much less flamboyant, he had on a silver bedecked sport coat but what really grabbed my attention was his white guitar with the image of a well-endowed blonde of the body of the guitar. I had never seen one like that before.

They opened with Draw the Line and I could instantly tell we were in for one rollicking experience. I should mention that the crowd stood for the entire length of the concert and encore. They were dancing, singing, gesturing the whole night through, completely enjoying this concert experience. Steven Tyler has gained career momentum with his “American Idol” gig, but watching this man on stage was quite an experience. He was dancing around, kicking his legs, gesturing, teasing the audience, flinging his microphone all over the place, mugging with the band….he displayed boundless energy and enthusiasm. He worked the entire stage and went to all ends, giving all in attendance a great look at a master at work. I was in total awe, as I had just turned 60 years old, I knew he was 64, and I thought how in the heck can he do this! He had star power which was well-deserved.

Joe Perry was much more subdued and let his guitar playing do his talking. He proved to me he is a masterful guitarist and had several outstanding solos all night long.

Tom Hamilton on bass and Joey Kramer on drums were the steadying force of the band driving it forward while the other more flamboyant members were reveling in the spotlight. Brad Whitford played pretty much a supporting role on rhythm guitar, but he did have his moments to shine soloing, as did all the band members.

The set list:

Encore:

20. Dream On

21. Train Kept A-Rollin’

The music was a fine mixture of their hits from all eras of their career. There were two new songs from their 2012 album “Music from Another Dimension” Oh Yeah and Legendary Child. No one could really be disappointed as all their classic hits were covered. What was really amazing to me was that they have probably performed some of these songs a billion times, yet they performed with such great fervor you would swear that these songs were new and fresh to them. It is really a tribute to their professionalism that they gave such an enthusiastic and exciting show.

All during the show they were projecting images on the video screens. There were multiple videographers on stage so audience members who were in the nose bleed sections of the sold outUnitedCentercould still get a pretty good view on the screen. Sometimes they would project images of classic Aerosmith videos to the songs they were performing. What was really intriguing to me was that on a few occasions they had video images of Steven Tyler from years ago performing the song he was currently singing on stage and it was synched pretty well. It was an interesting touch.

As mentioned earlier, the superlative guitar work of Joe Perry was a pleasure to behold. He played some slide guitar, had lead vocals on Boogie Man, and had the audience going nuts when he was playing the Vocoder at the beginning of Sweet Emotion. But I was glad to see the other band members have their time in the spotlight. On the song Lost Child Brad Whitford played lead guitar and had extended soloing, having his moment. Tom Hamilton had an extended bass solo, which the audience really was getting into and as he started to transition into the familiar strains of Walk This Way the crowd went bonkers.

One of my personal highlights was Joey Kramer’s drum solo. After the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to him, with an image of a cake and candles on the video screen, he began his solo. I truly appreciate the skills of great drummers, but usually the solos tend to bore me after a while. Not so here. He played a very rhythmic solo that the audience really got into. Steven Tyler was in the background also adding percussion help and then came up and joined Joey playing the drums. At the end of the first part of the solo Joey ended with a dramatic rapid flourish. The audience rewarded him with a rousing ovation and then Steve Tyler planted a great big kiss on his lips. Joey then threw his drumsticks into the audience and began into the second part of his solo. He began pounding his fists and his head onto the drums, then began accompanying with the bass drum pedals as the solo got more intense while the crowd responded with equal intensity. His solo was a definite highlight for me.

What can be said about Steven Tyler? He was hyperkinetic, charismatic, crazy, entertaining, and a joy to behold. He engaged the audience all night. They were reaching out their hands, beseeching him to touch them. He was mugging with his band mates, sometimes hugging them and hanging onto them during the performance. In a funny moment he pointed to the sign in theUnitedCenterwhich stated “This Is the Madhouse” and yelled the phrase to the crowd.

During the song SOS Too Bad he was asking the audience if anyone had a boa, which someone then threw on stage to him and he wore for a while and kept it in his back pocket for a bit.

The way he was flipping the streamer adorned microphone stand around was a thing to behold as well. One very interesting thing I did notice was there was something written on the underside of the stand. I finally got a good look and saw the two Aerosmith wings flanking the phrase “Lick Me.” Just thought I would pass that piece of information along for what it is worth.

Another amazing Steven Tyler talent is his screaming ability and he displayed that in full force during the concert. In fact, during the encore, someone from the crowd gave him a straw hat that had the phrase “The Demon of Screaming” which he proudly wore for a significant part of the song. During Sweet Emotion he began screaming “Yeah” to the audience and encouraged them to scream back to him. The audience gladly engaged in this. On the final song (before the encore) Walk This Way he was still a dynamo, doing pelvic thrusts and high kicks. He yelled to the audience to “put your hands in the air” and got the wholeUnitedCenter crowd waving their hands in unison.

As they went off stage to a monstrous standing ovation, the crowd began chanting for an encore, but for an old-timer like me who was used to the clapping and chants of “more, more, more” which then over time changed into the holding of lighters I noticed how technology had changed things even more. The vast majority of the crowd members were holding their smart phones up. I noticed some had an image of a lighter on the screen, which amused me and most seemed to have the screen aglow giving an interesting effect seeing the multitude of these phones throughout the United Center. Being the old fogey that I am, I did it the old fashioned way, standing and clapping.

The encore did not disappoint. At the base of the “T” the platform rose once again, as at the start, and a white piano appeared with Steven Tyler playing Dream On. Of course, the already pumped up crowd responded enthusiastically again. As the song progressed, Joe Perry appeared, climbed a small staircase alongside the piano and began soloing, which needless to say, further excited the crowd. As the song was completing smoke started streaming out from around the piano, creating quite a dramatic effect. As I was watching the performance of this song, I was struck by the fact that almost everyone was holding a smart phone or some type of recording device. My, how technology has changed things.

The show closed with Train Kept A-Rollin’ and a confetti shower.

All in all, it was an extremely entertaining show and no one walked away disappointed, I am sure. They covered a wide range of their extensive catalogue and did not ignore any of the big hits. The musicianship was superlative, Joe Perry definitely impressed me with his abilities on the guitar (he is my son’s guitar idol and I can see why). Steven Tyler also truly gained my respect for the way he performed. He was energetic, charismatic, enthusiastic, engaged the crowd, was energized by them, really seemed to enjoy himself, and was the consummate rock star/rock icon. If they are not “America’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band” they are pretty darn near the top and this concert solidified their status!

Reviewed by Peter S. Sakas on 6/22/12

26th Jun2012

Acoustic Alchemy Brings Fresh Sounds to Mayne Stage

by rockchicago

Acoustic Alchemy is every bit as vibrant as they ever were.  They have been at this since 1981 but they still sound fresh and interesting.  Acoustic Alchemy has always been known for their signature sound of using nylon stringed guitars and steel stringed acoustic guitars with electric bass, synthesizer and drums. Nothing has changed and they still remain true to their format.
They have a great chemistry on stage and they perform their music with passion and precision. This band has a tight, controlled, carefully constructed sound.  They also have a great sense of dynamics and can make an impact without becoming overbearing with the overall volume. This is something that is unfortunately rare these days and it is refreshing to see a band that takes their overall sound seriously and takes steps to control it.
The sound and balance of this band was carefully crafted.  The synthesizer sounds were interesting and blended well with the rest of the band. The Bass and Drums were present but never overpowering.  With a well manicured background such as this, the nuance and complexity of the acoustic guitars could be heard. Overall the band sounded fantastic and it was very easy on the ears.
They played with high energy and all of their lines were crisp. They played with a great sense of time and were able to groove while still supporting the rest of the band. Much of this seems to have to do with the fact that Greg Grainger (Bass) and Gary Grainger (Drums) have played together as a rhythm section for many years. They are brothers and have played extensively together.  This shows in their playing and it is immediately apparent that they understand each other’s sense of time. They immediately lock into a groove and have a dialog in their playing.   They play off of each others rhythmic ideas and this keeps things constantly changing and fresh.
Greg Carmichael and Miles Gilderdale (guitar) continually impressed the audience whether it was an ultra clean nylon string guitar lead or a blistering electric guitar solo. These two guitarists showcased each instrument in any of their tunes and provided a great variety of different guitar sounds and techniques.   They both have a serious approach to what they do and their playing has a great sense of feel while always being precise. Each of them looks to push the boundaries of the instrument and they consistently come up with surprising solo material.
Some reviewers have criticized this group of having too much of a “Musak-y” type of sound.   This is somewhat understandable when one considers that this band pioneered this format and very soon many artists jumped on board to attempt similar things. Their success created an entire style that lends itself to applications where easy listening would be an advantage from a production standpoint.
However, to dismiss this band as another one of those “Smooth Jazz – Acoustic Guitar” acts would be a grave mistake.   There is much more going on here than what is seen on the surface.   The musicians are accomplished and technically adept and play with great feel and dynamics.   The interplay between them on stage is interesting and engaging and they seem to pull it off with a sense of ease and comfort this is not generally seen these days.
This band is outstanding and should not be missed.   Anyone that appreciates well executed Contemporary Jazz would enjoy this show. Make sure to catch them the next time they are in town.
Reviewed by Michael Hesiak on 6/24/12
26th Jun2012

Esperanza Spalding “Sings it Loud” at Ravinia

by rockchicago

 

On one of the most beautiful nights this summer, Ravinia was lighting up with some great Jazz by one of its finest up-and-coming performers Esperanza Spalding. Esperanza is only 27 years old, and is already making a big stir on the Jazz scene, already having won a recent Grammy Award for “Best New Artist.” This concert really showed how she won that award.

The night started out as the amazing big-band she had with her started to play. For a 12-piece band all together, they blended so beautifully. The rich texture of sounds that came out of this group really showed. Key members of the big-band that really blew my mind were saxophonist Tia Fuller, trombonist Jeff Galindo and trumpeter Igmar Thomas. Other key members of the group that really stuck out were pianist Leo Genovese and drummer Lyndon Rochelle.

The backup singers were fantastic too. Singers Chris Turner and Leala Cyr really helped Esperanza out by adding that blended vibe that this music really needed. Esperanza Spalding is one of the most unique Jazz singers/bassists I have ever seen. Not since Ella Fitzgerald have I heard “scatting” that good, and not since Stanley Clark have I seen such bass playing. I can see where she gets her influences from, yet at the same time she really stands her ground with her own sound.

You can tell Esperanza is a people person. She loves interacting with the audience. She loves telling stories. But instead of “telling” stories, she lets the music bring the story out, whether it was played by a saxophone or a trumpet, or scat-sung. Either way, she is a storyteller through music. Back in the 70’s, singer-songwriters started to emerge with singers like Cat Stevens, Laura Nyro, James Taylor and Judy Collins. The songs they write tell a story. Throughout the night Esperanza was telling a story of “love” and finding the right person. Through standout songs like “Smile Like That,” “Let Her” and “Crowned and Kissed,” she explained to the audience how men were kings, and it’s the right smile you find in your significant other that keeps you both happy.

Esperanza seems like a free spirited person; very laid back and cool. But she is also a big supporter of “Free the Slaves.” With songs like “Black Gold” and “Vague Suspicions,” she really emphasized how much she appreciates all kinds of races and human beings, like in “Black Gold,” saying “We’re all gold.” There was a point in that song when Esperanza asked how Chris Turner was doing, and he scat-sung so beautifully that he made the whole crowd at Ravinia go nuts.

Esperanza also did some great covers as well like Michael Jackson’s “I Can’t Help It” off of his Off the Wall album, and put words to Wayne Shorter’s classic “Endangered Species.” I have always been a huge Kurt Elling fan, because of his skill to put words to instrumental Jazz classics and his scatting, and now I think we have found the female version of him.

Esperanza closed out the night with a very catchy song about the radio, and how it is the greatest invention ever made called “Radio Song.” With a chorus like, “Now if you want to Sing it loud, with love, with love in your heart. Because you like to, because you need to. This song’s the one.” Everyone was singing that walking out of the park.

Overall, Esperanza is definitely a true talent and should not be missed when she comes in concert again. If you are a Jazz fan at all, or if you’re not and just want to experience some great talent, then you should really check her out. She currently has 4 albums out right now:

Junjo (2006) http://www.amazon.com/Junjo-Esperanza-Spalding/dp/B000F0H4R2/ref=sr_1_4?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1340742263&sr=1-4&keywords=esperanza+spalding

Esperanza (2008) http://www.amazon.com/Esperanza-Spalding/dp/B0014HC56K/ref=pd_sim_m_2

Chamber Music Society (2010) http://www.amazon.com/Chamber-Music-Society-Esperanza-Spalding/dp/B003OFHMKO/ref=pd_sim_m_2

Radio Music Society (2012) http://www.amazon.com/Radio-Music-Society-Esperanza-Spalding/dp/B005VR9C42/ref=mb_oe_a

If you can, pick one of these up, and I’m sure you’ll really enjoy what you hear. I know Ravinia sure did.

Reviewed by Kevin Pollack on 6/25/12

26th Jun2012

Midwest Rockers Reunite with Fans; Styx, REO Speedwagon & Ted Nugent at Charter One Pavilion

by rockchicago

 

The music business is not what it once was. It had seemed to destroy itself, along with technology and greed over the past 20 years. The Recording side of the business does not seem to exist anymore, and live concerts are the way to experience old classics. The one good thing to come out of the business over the last 20 years are double headline and triple bills such as the one this past Sunday night at Charter One Pavilion.

More than a trip down memory lane, it was a prime example of going back to the way outdoor summer concerts were back in the 1970’s – every band on the bill a headliner, every band on the bill with an amazing set to over.

With all 3 bands coming out of the midwest (I went to school with Gary Richrath’s cousin and Dennis DeYoung was my Uncle’s music teacher, both who are not in their respective bands) this was a reunion for the both the fans and the bands. The Anti-Obama preaching, pro gun slinging, animal hunting Motor City Mad Mad hit the the stage first and hit it hard with “Wango Tango.” As much as I cannot stand what “The Nuge” is about – his live set was a foot stomping high energy set that heated up the crowd and would be a hard act to follow.

When REO Speedwagon hit the stage, they came on strong with several songs from the later 70’s, but by the middle of their set, the pavilion was more like a High School Prom from the 1980’s than it was a ‘70s rock concert. The band totally ignored the high energy jams they did (pre-1977), but what would you expect when the only founder member is keyboardist Neal Doughty?

The night closed out with Styx. Their set could have been choreographed due to the flashiness and timing of all their synced moved. Gone are days of Dennis DeYoung (who oddly enough preformed in Chicago at Navy Pier just 10 days before). Singer/guitarist Tommy Shaw is clearly the leader of the pack now. Their set was solid and most familiar ending the night with the high energy “Renegade.” When the lights went up and the show was over, the feeling of looking at old photos and hanging out at a family reunion was over, much like the night of classic music – it was a memory to be cherished for years to come.

Reviewed by Cris Macht on 6/24/12

25th Jun2012

Marillion Melts Chicago at Park West

by rockchicago

 

 

Background: I first saw Marillion with Fish, when they warmed up Rush. I followed them up to around the time of the Brave album, then kind of lost track of them.

The show at the Park West was excellent. The band was technically flawless and the sound was incredible, which, I think, can be iffy at the Park West. I can’t really comment on the newer stuff, because I’m not familiar with it. Invisible Man, Easter, This Town and Man Of A Thousand Faces were all excellent. The new song “Power” was also pretty good. Sugar Mice, from the Fish era, was more of a sing along. When Steve H. sang it, he was very powerful with his voice, but he chose to let the audience sing most of it for him, too bad, he was doing it very well.It also has one of the greatest guitar solos I have ever heard.
Steve H. was also very animated, which is something that I don’t remember from the earlier shows that I ‘ve seen with him. He was very much a “Front man”. He got the crowd moving, clapping & singing along.
I guess I lost touch with Marillion shortly after “Brave” came out. Steve H.’s vocals, while technically excellent, bore me. He has a tendency to sing all of his songs the same. This will probably be the last time I see Marillion. I’ll save my time & money for the next time Fish comes to town.
On a brighter note, Sun Domingo, put out a great set. I’ve never heard of them before that night, but I was very impressed. The only thing they could have done better, would have been to leave out the Pink Floyd. Being new to the band, I would have rather heard more of their original stuff.
Reviewed by Steve Unton on 6/22/12
20th Jun2012

Get Your Tickets Now for Dead Writers Theatre’s Production of Noel Coward’s “The Vortex” Directed by Jim Schneider

by rockchicago

 

Chicago’s newest classical theatre, the Dead Writers Theatre Collective, presents Noel Coward’s rarely produced comedy, “The Vortex,” a play about sexual vanity, narcissism and drug abuse of the upper English classes in the roaring 20s. Nicky Lancaster, a role created by and which made Noel Coward an overnight star, comes home from Paris in 1925 with a cocaine addiction to discover that his middle-aged mother has taken a boy his age as her lover, much to the hurt of his father . Drugs, bisexuality, and sharp comic wit are the hallmarks of this rarely produced Coward classic. Artistic Director Jim Schneider directs, Kaelen Strouse and Bonnie Hilton star.

PREVIEW: Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 7:30pm

RUNS: Friday, July 13, 2012-Sunday, August 26, 2012

Greenhouse Theater – Downstairs Mainstage 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Chicago, IL 60614 Phone: (773) 404-7336 Website: www.greenhousetheater.org E-Mail: maureen@greenhousetheater.org

For tickets click here: http://greenhousetheater.tix.com/Event.asp?Event=453778

16th Jun2012

Penn & Teller Mystify and Enlighten Horseshoe Crowd

by rockchicago

 

Places tend to get even busier during the summer in the Midwest, especially on a warm Friday evening. There was no exception when the world famous Penn & Teller rolled into the Horseshoe Casino in early June.

The Venue is located deep in the heart of the bustling gaming complex.  On this particular evening, men and women of various ages assembled to see the famous Penn & Teller showcase.  I noticed a wide variation of ticket holders.  Some young women wore ravishing dresses while other men and women sported shorts and t-shirts.  There was definitely a mixed demographic, but everyone attending was above the casino minimum age of 21.

Believe it or not, not everybody is familiar with Penn & Teller, my parents for instance.  For those who are not, here is what you have missed so far….

They joined forces in the mid-seventies and began their bid for world domination.  Separately and together, they have performed Broadway, Las Vegas (the longest headliner show), and numerous TV cameo appearances – shows including David Letterman (20+ times), The Simpsons, Friends, Top Chef, Dancing with the Stars, and MTV Cribs.  The tandem has even hosted their own Showtime show called: Penn & Teller: Bullshit!  Critically acclaimed, this intriguing show has received multiple Emmy Award nominations.

Despite all of the recognition, awards, and money (I presume they have made), the stage to begin the show was plain, virtually barren.  Before any human embarked upon the stage, there was nothing to be seen other than a top half portion “&” red symbol.  Then around 8:05 pm, two figures entered the stage.  One was definitely Penn and the other shorter man appeared to be Teller.  However, there was a large, brick block covering/sealing the individual’s head.  Everyone assumed that this was the famous quite sidekick, but was this Teller?

The first magic trick of the evening would reveal the apparent truth.  It required a volunteer from the show who wore eye glasses.  Naturally, Penn selected one of the attractive young women near the front section of the stage.  She had unique, pinkish-red glasses.  After she stepped on the stage, Penn politely borrowed the lady’s glasses and placed them in his top-left suit jacket pocket.

After a series of successful jokes and other distractions, Penn broke the heavy rock block atop the man’s head with a sledge hammer.  It was enough to break the material, but not knock down the man.  When the dust cleared, it was in fact Teller and to everyone’s surprise the one-of-a-kind glasses were on his face!

Throughout the night, the team executed various skits for a strong hour and a-half without any breaks.  There were no “filler” acts, no pink slime to extend the duration, just the juiciest, best cuts for my comrades and me.

I could easily name eight to ten stunts masterly performed, but like good mysteries, it is better to overt the details.  I want to mention I was particularly impressed when certain tricks were revealed to the crowd so that they could see precisely how the “magic” was done.

Penn & Teller are a fantastic combo.  Penn Jilette has written a New York Times best seller: God No! Signs You Might Be an Atheist and Other Magic Tales as well as has starred on the Celebrity Apprentice reality TV show.  Brutally honest and with a high level of charisma, he could sell a show about “nothing” to anybody.

Teller, on the other hand, carries a special spellbinding stage presence.  Without announcing anything aloud verbally, he generates loads of attention and laughs.  As a virtual silent performer, he is an elite craftsman.

Together the two classy artists form an unmatchable combination of comedy and magic.  I found the dedication to the audience outstanding – at the closing of the show, Penn ate fire, burned his mouth and afterwards still volunteered to mingle with the crowd after the show in the lobby!

This premier act that will satisfy even the highest of expectations, regardless of the ticket price paid.  The evidence was apparent as everyone exited the arena – upwards of 75% of the people leaving were engaged in some sort of conversation, none with disappointment. Penn & Teller have set the bar very high for past, present, and future decades in their profession.

Important Links:

http://www.horseshoehammond.com/casinos/horseshoe-hammond/casino-misc/the-venue-detail.html

http://www.pennandteller.com/

Reviewed by Sean Heraty on 6/8/12

Rating: 5/5 stars

16th Jun2012

Michael Firestone Channels Michael Jackson in “Moonwalker” at The Arcada Theatre

by rockchicago

Photos by Peter S. Sakas 

 

As the familiar quotation states, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” If that truism holds, the “Moonwalker Show” featuring Michael Firestone, an outstanding Michael Jackson impersonator, was definitely flattering to the memory of the King of Pop.

First and foremost, Michael Firestone is a spitting image (I almost wrote dead ringer, but I deemed that a bit inappropriate) of Michael Jackson. Amazingly, the look is achieved with make-up and no plastic surgery (as in other impersonators). I know this for a fact as I met him before the show with my wife (a huge MJ fan) and you would swear you were in the presence of Michael Jackson. To top it off, Michael Firestone was very charming and had an engaging personality, no sign of weirdness here.

Merely looking like Michael Jackson is one thing, but his greatness was his talent, manifested by his charisma, singing, and incomparable dancing ability. To his credit, Michael Firestone captured all these facets of the “Gloved One.” Honestly, Michael Jackson was such a phenomenal talent that it is difficult for anyone to truly compare, but Michael Firestone does such a fine impression that you can imagine that you are actually watching MJ in action. It belied the dedication and devotion Michael Firestone had to create a spot-on impersonation of Michael Jackson.

I was prepared to hear some less than stellar singing, but his vocals were surprisingly close to those of Michael Jackson and I was very impressed. He even had Michael Jackson’s trademark shrieks, “ows” and the like as well.

Michael Jackson was such a talented and innovative dancer and in this aspect Michael Firestone once again did not disappoint. He proved to be a very talented dancer himself and captured all the signature Michael Jackson dance moves, the Moonwalk, crotch grabbing, spins, you name it; he did it and did it well!

The “Moonwalker” Show was more than just Michael Firestone doing his impersonation of Michael Jackson, he was backed by a very talented support cast. There were six dancers, two back up singers, and a killer band, consisting of guitar, bass, keyboards and drums, which provided outstanding musical accompaniment. As Michael Jackson’s music is so familiar to everyone, it was critical to have a band that could recreate the magic of his music and they succeeded.

The show encompassed all aspects of Michael Jackson’s long and storied career.

The set list:

Jam

Wanna Be Startin’ Something

Another Part of Me

Human Nature

Smooth Criminal

Remember the Time

Working Day and Night

Off the Wall Medley

Jackson5 Medley

I’ll Be There

(Intermission)

Beat It

Earth Song

Black or White

The Way You Make Me Feel

Billy Jean

Man in the Mirror

Thriller

Finale (Shake Your Body Down)

Michael Firestone went through numerous costume changes in order to represent the different stages of Michael Jackson’s career. He did so quickly and seamlessly. There might be a quick musical or dance interlude as he whisked off stage to change, but there was no dead space in the show. I was absolutely amazed how he could keep his energy level up during the show, singing and energetically dancing through a ninety minute show (with a short intermission). It seemed to me (and my wife) that when he came back from intermission it really appeared that he amped up his performance, was more energetic and engaged the audience much more.

Some of the highlights of the show were theJackson5 medley, when his back up dancers wore 70s era clothing and afro wigs, representing Michael’s brothers. He also performed a very heartfelt “I’ll Be There” to close out the first segment. “Beat It” was a definite winner, culminating in a fine guitar solo, including a Jimi Hendrix-like playing with the teeth portion. I was impressed with the guitarist in this band. He really seemed to be enjoying himself the whole concert. The “Earth Song” has always been one of my favorites and I was not disappointed by Michael Firestone’s version, culminating with a robed choir joining him onstage. He was really hitting his stride when he performed “Billy Jean” however. When the audience saw a stool and a hat that was illuminated on the empty stage, there was eager anticipation as they knew what was coming. Michael Firestone delivered…..very energetic, dramatic, including the moonwalk, and even reaching into the adoring audience, clasping their hands and “feeling the love.” Definitely one of the best songs of the night. The audience really went crazy when they heard the familiar strains of “Thriller” and it was a full blown production, complete with the dancers dressed as ghouls and the classic dancing sequence led by Michael.

All night long the audience was totally engaged in the show. There was dancing, singing, clapping, smiling by the crowd, which encompassed fans of all ages, showing the broad appeal that Michael Jackson and his music had. When he came to the edge of the stage there were eager, outstretched hands endeavoring to touch the hands of their “Michael.” At the end of the show they were on their feet and I could tell that they all had a very satisfying experience. The only way it could have been any better for them was if the real Michael Jackson had been giving the performance.

Unfortunately, I do have one complaint about the show and sadly it did detract from my total enjoyment. The volume of the music was just too loud and overpowering. It led to distortion of the singing and the music, making it difficult to appreciate it. My wife and I even went up into the balcony after intermission hoping it would not seem as loud, but it did not help much. When “Thriller” was performed they increased the volume even higher and it was almost uncomfortable to listen to the music. Perhaps I am getting older and more sensitive, but I am sure others felt that way. I feel to be an effective critic I have to give an honest evaluation. I had seenGregLakeat the Arcada Theater and I thought the sound was superlative. Perhaps someone thought that this music needed to be played loudly, but I humbly disagree.

Overall, it was a very entertaining experience. Michael Firestone is a very talented singer and dancer as well as a superlative Michael Jackson impersonator. The show was well done and quite a production with singers, dancers and musicians. Any Michael Jackson fans who did not attend really did miss something special. What was also a nice touch was that Michael Firestone went out to the lobby after the show, sat at a table, signed autographs and posed for pictures with each and every fan that lined up for him. He was very appreciative of his fans and they appreciated him back. I was very impressed with him as a performer but also as a person.

Reviewed by Peter S. Sakas on 6/10/12

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