Monday, August 31, 2009

The Summer of Sid

According to the all the Facebook updates I’m seeing from people about their little brats going back to school and how they’ll miss the annoying little buggers, I figured it’s time for my annual How I Spent My Summer Vacation essay. Never you mind that I haven’t done one before. I’m just hopelessly behind on posting and need to start taking some of these post-tit notes off my desk before Big Bird attempts to mate with it.

March 29 – Bob Mould at Old Town School of Folk Music
Husker Du rocked my Walkman in the 80’s so I was intrigued by the opportunity to check out their frontman at a small joint like OTS. However, this was risky as it was an acoustic show, and I wasn’t as familiar with his more recent solo work. I sampled some new stuff and it sounded promising, so I picked up a couple tix. Unfortunately, the show was like watching SNL. Sure there are some nuggets and it’s entertaining, but will never capture the same burn your tongue on a hot slice of pizza feeling of the original. I know it’s unfair to compare his solo career to what I remember from 20 years ago, but I’m pretty much a dick and he should have expected me to do that. Sorry. And another thing – I like a little banter between songs, especially at a more intimate venue. You know, besides hawking your new CD.

April 5 – Alvin Ailey at Auditorium Theater
Yep, while I was at the ballet pretending that I didn’t like pretentious dance events, I came right home and purchased tickets to another pretentious dance event I saw being promoted at the theater. Alvin Ailey isn’t really that pretentious, but it is still a dance show. And a pretty damn good one. I’ve seen this company twice now and I’ll go again. You can’t stop me. So you may as well just come with next time. And being the minority in the audience made me feel hip in a culturally diverse kind of way.

Mid-April included a trip to Orlando. It was hot, I had to wear a suit, there were large people with fat kids in tow on a quest to see a moose or a mouse or whatever the hell is down there, I don’t drink and I was at a conference where the primary activity is drinking. Those were dark days, my friend.

April 29 – Chorus Line at Oriental Theater
Okay, now I even think I need to schedule a night out at an Extreme Cagefighting event to prove that I do more than watch people in tights and attend musicals. Actually, those cagefighter guys wear spandex tights, too. Maybe I have some subconscious fetish. Or, as I tell myself, I bought the tickets as birthday presents for my mom and my wife, both of whom love this production. They talked it up so much that I was sure I would end up quitting my job to become a professional dancer just to garner their approval and live the dream. Didn’t happen. I don’t get it. I wanted it to be over more than my dental appointments.

May 17 – 11th Anniversary
On this day both me and the Mrs. realized that we were both just waiting for the other one to leave. But we’re both too stubborn to be the first to walk out of this loveless marriage, so we appear to be stuck with each other for at least another year.

[Actual quote from this last weekend: “Go eat your lunch before I stab you with this knife.”]

To further torture ourselves, we took a 2,500 mile round-trip road trip at the end of the month to celebrate our tolerance of each other. We rode the famous mountain bike trails of Crested Butte and she didn’t push me off the mountain. And I didn’t sneak any bear urine into her hydration pack. Maybe it’s love, after all.

June 19 – Lovehammers at House of Blues
I finally relented and picked up a ticket. And then woke up the day of the show with a bug that I would happily wish upon my worst enemy. However, I wasn’t totally heartbroken as the opening bands had the potential to be so incredibly annoying that I might have felt worse by going and listening to them. I’ll take my chances with a fever and body aches.

June 26 – Taste of Chicago
I went on opening night so I could be sure to get my sauteed goat. It doesn’t taste anything like chicken. It’s better. And it really gets my goat when people don’t believe me.

June was busy as I also had a trip to Vegas and two trips to Cedar Rapids. I kind of prefer Cedar Rapids. The hookers are less expensive, too.

I already told you about the Folk & Roots Festival. It’s a good thing I have a blog and not a podcast because somebody at work thought I spent the day at the Vulcan Roots Festival. Maybe because I wear my Spock ears to work every casual Friday.

July 26 – Chicago Criterium
Yes, I spent an entire day watching cyclists ride their bikes in circles around downtown Chicago. It’s the NASCAR equivalent for folks who spend more money on their bicycles than they do on Budweiser and who don’t outweigh their refrigerators.

I also already told you about the Dead Weather show, but it was so good I’m going to tell you again. I’m also on the verge of developing a mancrush on Jack White. Especially after seeing the movie It Might Get Loud. Since I mentioned it, how about a quick movie review…

Here’s the deal – the filmmaker gets Jimmy Page, Edge and Jack White together in the same room with a bunch of gear to talk about guitars and play a bit. Sounds awesome, right? Okay, so I guess it was, but it could have been so much better. It would be like having Pee-Wee Herman over to your house and him just wanting to sit on your couch and masturbate. Sort of. That analogy sucks. Gene Siskel could do a better review and he’s dead. Just go see it.

August 2 – The Rhythm Project – Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park
One of many free shows at the beautiful Pritzker Pavilion right downtown. The only problem… free. I am totally and completely against anything and everything free. Devalue anything like that and people treat it that way. While simultaneously going apeshit to get it. Charge a friggin’ dollar if you need to, just to weed out people showing up because it’s free. Regardless, I mostly enjoyed the show despite people hoarding and saving seats, the preponderance of children being forcefully exposed to culture they clearly didn’t give a crap about, and Type II diabetics stuffing their faces with fried chicken dinners because they can’t go without food for 90 friggin’ minutes.

August 15 – Air & Water Show – Lakefront
Show central is at North Avenue Beach. Screw that. For the second year in a row we set up shop about 1-1/2 north at Diversey Harbor. Rode our bikes down at 10:30 a.m. and stayed to the end at 4 pm. All the air show stuff was pretty impressive, but the F-15 stole the show. When it roared by, little kids cried, women fainted and men cheered. I also wondered when we’re bombing the crap out of these poor third world villages, if just for a moment, before the missiles are launched, they think that those jets are pretty damn cool, too. I doubt it.

August 18 – The Pretenders/Cat Power/Juliette Lewis – The Vic
This deserves its own post. How much more awesome could a single show be? The answer is none. None more awesome.

I also saw Moist Rub at the Pretenders show so I can confirm that he’s not dead or anything.

August 22 – Ruthie Foster – Old Town School of Folk Music
Gospel-tinged blues is how I would describe it. Better than a roadhouse. Better than a church. Get yourself some Ruthie – she’s good for your soul. And her stories and stage presence make you wish she was your neighbor so you could order a pizza and invite her over to hang out for a couple hours on the weekend. Whatever toppings she wants.

So that takes us through the end of August. Thanks for your patience. Hope your summer was swell. I mean that.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Afternoon Delight, Pt. II - Beyond Blue

Like a whole month ago I took you on a bike tour of my neighborhood and promised to share the rest of that day. Well, I had a date with my wife that night to see Chicago Tap Theatre’s next production – a one night showing of new stuff called Beyond Blue – and I proposed we make it a bike date. She donned her bike skirt, I rolled up the cuffs of my fancy goin’ out jeans like a true bike geek, we pumped up the tires and hit the bike lane. I was happy she agreed since I nearly killed her on our last bike outing, but her bruises were nearly gone and apparently her memory short.

Our first stop was for dinner at The Art of Pizza, as we obviously had to carbo load for the 3-1/2 mile commute home. Besides having awesome pizza, Art scores by serving it up by the slice, including stuffed. Which means no waiting 45 minutes, and I can carnivore my ass off while the Mrs. veges out.

This time CTT was on the main stage at the Athenaeum Theatre, which is still pretty intimate without a bad seat in the house. Except the one behind me, as I refused to take off my helmet (helmet hair, y’know) which is typically adorned with peacock feathers. Unlike their previous tap dance operas, this was a pure dance show.

Here are my impressions of each piece (please remember I am not a dancer, tap or otherwise, but just a dunderheaded fan):

The piece was included after it won a contest funded by a grant from the Saints Foundation. I don’t think they’re related to the New Orleans Saints because this piece seemed to have nothing to do with football. There was a lot of white color, several ramps set up like a mini skateboard park, and a sheet hanging on a cross. There was dancing, but everyone seemed to get pissed off whenever someone went to play with the sheet. This was too much symbolism or interpretation for my obtuse head, and I feared I would be lost for the evening. It’s much easier to follow superheroes and fairy tale characters.

Same but Different
Okay, this one consisted of four dancers knocking out some decent steps. After the show, the Mrs. asked if I knew why it was titled as such. Of course, I did. This was a statement of how all of us in the world are different, but really the same because dance is common to all cultures except cultures with those religious sects that forbid dancing. You know, teaching the world to sing, buying the world a Coke kind of thing. Everybody getting’ footloose. Wrong. Damn CTT set me up looking for symbolism and stuff, when the Mrs. informed me the dancers were doing the same rhythms but using different steps. Or something like that. I clearly suck at this game.

Next up, the CTT artistic director Mark did some solo stuff accompanied by a banjo player. The banjo player wasn’t as funny Steve Martin, but the tap dancing was way better than Steve Martin’s happy feet.

About Her
I thought this one might be inspired by Beth Hart’s song By Her. I don’t think it was, but I still remember liking it. Maybe because it reminded me of Beth Hart. I should give her a call. She seems to be spending way too much time in Europe and I’m kind of getting annoyed with her. This piece obviously brought out a lot of emotion from within.

The banjo guy came out again and had a little hoe-down with three guys from the company. It was like The Devil Went Down to Georgia, except with tap shoes instead of fiddles. I’m happy to report the devil didn’t steal no souls that night.

Quiet Down
The girls took over again and to be honest I’m getting some of these confused. It was over a month ago, so give me a break. I do have some notes that say I liked the choreography. Hey, this ain’t the New York Times.

The banjo player must have taken offense to my Steve Martin remark, because the next interlude was Mark doing some solo stuff accompanied by a local slam poet. I finally removed my peacock feather helmet and replaced it with the beret I keep in my back pocket for such occasions. I snapped my approval but the usher did not take kindly to my clove cigarette.

Bad Businessman
I think most of the company came out for this one, all dressed up like the bad businessman from Mannix. The piece included props such as business cards and newspapers to show that business sucks and we should all be tap dancers. The less people working on CDOs and other crap like that, the better. All I know is that the taxpayers never had to bail out a tap company.

Speaking of which, go make a donation to the company. I enjoy them and if you’re reading this blog it’s your turn to subsidize my entertainment. Thank you.

The second half kicked off with Siren’s Song, featuring Mark and Kendra. They rock. As long as they’re dancing with CTT, I’ll show up. The same way I’ll keep buying Lucky Charms as long as it continues to be filled with pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars and green clovers.

Mark came back out to dance to some slam poetry about a street musician, and again the usher made me snuff out my clove cigarette. The beret stayed.

A large wooden box was the centerpiece of this one. The girls all hung out around, in and on the box. Then they hit the box. Then they came out of the box and then went back in the box and then got back on the box and hit it some more while this was all going on. This was obviously all a metaphor for the paradigm shift in gender identity and the effects on self-actualization and resulting catharsis within a controlled environment with subthemes addressing the increasing prevalence of agoraphobia in affluent communities of certain Canadian provinces. I think. I’m open to alternative hypotheses. Regardless, I enjoyed this one.

The banjo guy got over whatever was bugging him and came back to accompany Mark. It was swell having him back. I missed him.

This was aptly named, as the dance included tapping each other’s shoes. I get the feeling that would be like trying to give a quarterback a manicure during a two-minute drill. Sorry about the football reference, but I’m bitter about that Saints contest not having anything to do with football. Despite the lack of blocking and tackling I liked this one a lot, but would have like to have seen it on a smaller stage.

Flying Turtles
If you’re still with me on this post, I’m guessing that you must be a member of CTT. Hope my review of the previous pieces didn’t piss you off too much. Because I really did enjoy the show, but you totally knocked my socks off with this one. Seriously. I don’t know Brenda Bufalino and I don’t know who to thank more – her for choreographing something like that or you guys for nailing it. Aurally it was rocking, even to an untrained tap ear like myself. Visually, I had convinced myself that there was no way that chaos was choreographed. When it kicked in toward the end it looked like moths in the light of a streetlamp. Except the moths were flying turtles. Not slow turtles like in the Comcast commercial, but maybe unusually fast turtles named Snappy. Eventually I fell entranced into the rhythm and was sure that I could slip into the mix without anyone noticing. Clearly I’m a moron. There are some outstanding dancers in the company and I like watching them rock out on their own, but when the ensemble is firing on all cylinders like this one it doesn’t compare to anything else I’ve seen. Well, maybe those OK Go! videos. Keep practicing - you'll get there. But I digress.

Keep up the good work boys and girls. If need any help with promo materials, please don’t hesitate to ask.

I was fortunate to catch Flying Turtles a couple weeks later as part of a free show downtown - there's a shaky video here that gives you a feel for the piece.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Assault & Cupcake

That was the title of the play. One of the thirty plays as part of a special Thursday night edition of Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind by the Neo-Futurists called 30 on Thursday! The Neos are reprising 30 plays from the archives to raise money to take their play Beer on the road to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival. I've written about TMLMTBGB and Beer before, so check out those posts if you need a refresher.

So when #6 (Assault & Cupcake) was called, a Neo grabbed the sheet of paper, tore the paper in half, and balled up each half, one in each hand. He went to an audience member stage left and asked him to pick a hand. After choosing, he gave him the balled up paper and asked him to read it. The audience member said "cupcake" and another Neo came out and presented the lucky player with a plate containing a delicious looking cupcake.

It was a small crowd, maybe 15 of us in the theater. So when the Neo started walking stage right where I was sitting, I pretended to look away. It didn't work. He asked me to pick a hand. There was only one hand left. He gave me the remaining balled up piece of paper, asked me to undo it and read it.

I asked him if I had to.

"It says 'assault', doesn't it?"

"Yes, assault."

As soon as I said the word, two other cast members charged toward and gave me a good 15-second soaking with their super-soakers.

I love these guys.

Other plays included full nudity, flying tortillas, sharing some avocado and chips, a monologue from a corkscrew, a sing-a-long, and a near drowning. And much more. In 60 minutes. All for only $15. Come join me some week. I'll buy you a cupcake. Or maybe not.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Back In The High Life

CareerBuilder never seems to have any postings for Drug Dealer. Same for Monster and all the other usual suspects. The job never seems to turn up on those thinly veiled Yahoo features about the best way to earn $50,000 a year while working at home. Or without going to school. Or without having any interpersonal skills. But I did get an offer for such a position many years ago.

After my first year of college I took a summer gig as a roofer. I got dirty, didn’t learn any useful skills, and had to wear jeans and a long sleeve work shirt in hottest part of summer. I also wasn’t very fond of heights. However, it paid a whopping $8 an hour when minimum wage was probably about half that, and I had a killer tan and stayed in pretty good shape.

We did good work, but it wasn’t the most professional company out there. The owner, Al, who spent most of his time on the ground finding the next job, was rarely around but could be reached on his suitcase sized mobile phone if needed. Mike manned the tar kettle at ground level and seemed to spend most of his time avoiding getting dirty or breaking a sweat. I forget their names, but the two supervisor type dudes looked like Joe Elliott and Phil Collen from Def Leppard and were as good at roofing as Joe and Phil were at getting sugar poured on them. Pretty damn good. The crew they were charged with included some characters I mentioned here before. Four guys, probably in their mid-twenties, who all carpooled together in a Dodge Aspen station wagon from parts unknown. Fatboy was bleach blond and fat. How he stayed that size working on a roof in the middle of summer I have no idea, but I’m guessing he lived on blubber and motor oil in the off-season. I found out the Dodge belonged to his mother, and he was the driver because I think the was the only one of the four with a valid license. Every morning Fatboy, Hillbilly, Pat and Earl would stumble out of the wagon like a bunch of hungover circus clowns and we’d haul ourselves up the ladder to whatever roof needed tarring. Sometimes, one of them would be missing, usually due to a meeting with their probation officer.

The only rule at this company was shared on the first day – “Don’t step off the roof.” Fortunately for Al, most of the jobs were complete before OSHA ever came around. About mid-morning, and then again at lunch, since I was the rookie and had a car I was sent to the nearest McDonald’s to get food and drinks. I didn’t mind so much – it got me off the roof, into a air-conditioned McDonald’s for a few minutes and I got to take a leak in an actual bathroom instead of peeing on a rooftop. However, the downside was that I had to climb back up the ladder with an armful of Egg McMuffins and a half dozen drinks. It was a little terrifying at first, but by the end of summer I was rocking that ladder like a Denny’s waitress trained at the Ringling Brothers Circus. As I pulled up they would retreat to a shady corner of the roof and roll their first joint of the day. I was merely providing the munchies.

I don’t remember a lot of stories from them – they mostly seemed busy just trying to keep themselves out of jail and in whatever current living arrangements they secured. I’m not really sure what skeletons they had in the back of that Dodge Aspen, but they seemed like decent enough guys and were certainly friendly to the dorky college kid trying to pick up a few dollars for tuition. In fact, I had expected they might have resented me infiltrating their world for 12 weeks to make a quick buck before scuttling back to the ivy covered halls, but instead they had this romantic vision of college through which they seemed to want to live vicariously though me. University life was clearly a world where beer flowed freely (mostly true) and every guy was up to his eyeballs in pussy and banging the cast of Head of the Class (not completely true for freshman dorks like me). It seemed as if they admired me for having the opportunities before me. You’d think that would have motivated me to be grateful and inspired me to greatness. Instead I got kicked out the following semester.

But I digress. As the end of summer was approaching, “Joe Elliott” ruminated about the profits he could probably make by having a distribution channel in a college town. I’m not talking about tar paper. I never took him up on his offer. I was too much of a chicken, and in retrospect, I’m thinking that was a good thing. But I often wonder how it would have turned out if I had worked out a deal and gave a little competition to Hookah-Man in that little college town.

Probably not good. All these memories were triggered when I read the story of Featherhead.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Dead Weather & Screaming Females - The Vic

Back when I was younger, my nights out would often stretch into the wee hours of morning, and I enjoyed driving past hundreds of homes where the owners slumbered their lives away while was living life. Even if it wasn’t the most productive life, it had to be better than sleeping. One of the girls I dated back then lived near a donut shop and on a good night as we stumbled back to her place the owner would be in there before the shop opened, making up the first batches. On a whim one night/morning, we stopped there and called him over to the door and asked if he could make an early sale. He obliged, and I have to confess we made a habit of these visits. He seemed to enjoy the visits or was at least amused and often refused to accept the cash we offered. I relate this story because somehow the show triggered that memory, but now I can’t remember what analogy I was going for. Oh, well. I guess the lesson here is to eat donuts. They’re good for you and it supports the economy and your donut shop guy is probably a cool dude. He makes donuts for a living. They all aren’t as beaten down as that “time to make the donuts” guy from those commercials a long time ago.

Regardless, Screaming Females opened the show and we got there just as they were coming on stage. Not unlike getting to the donut shop just as the first batch is coming out of the fryer. There’s your analogy. Note that it is not The Screaming Females, just Screaming Females. Makes sense if you think about it since it isn’t a band of screaming females. That would just be annoying.

This was a three piece from New Jersey – a wee female guitarist/vocalist in a Little House on the Prairie dress and her two dirty hipster sidemen. I wasn’t expecting much, but they done brought it. Marissa is a cross between Laura Ingalls, Ally Sheedy from her Breakfast Club days, Johnny Ramone, and perhaps Exene Cervenka. No, make that Kim Gordon. There's a better comparison there, but I'm just not finding it. Her vocals might get her kicked out of a karaoke bar, but they work in the context of this band and keep the music fresh. More importantly she tears the shit up on guitar. Crazy to see it in action. She seems like the kind of person who would be annoying to have as a neighbor, but I would love having her in my band. I’m not sure yet if I’m going to get their latest record; I need to listen to see how they sound in the studio, but I would without a doubt go see them live again if they come through town.

The Dead Weather
, in case you don’t recognize the name, is Jack White’s latest project. Not to be confused with Jack Black. In this case it does matter if you’re Black or White. Instead of paying $30 to see The Dead Weather, you’d have to pay me at least $30 to see Tenacious D. And buy me a chocolate malt after the show. And rub my feet. Mr. White took a break from the White Stripes while Meg recovers from her anxiety attack. He also took a break from the Raconteurs because he wanted to play drums and they already had a drummer who was a fine bloke and he didn’t want to fire him. So for lead vocals he recruited Alison Mosshart from The Kills, who I’ve been promoting for the last two years. I guess Jack was the only guy listening to me, but he owes me big-time because he could not have made a better pick for this band without going on prime-time television and hiring a homeless Canadian. We all know Jack already has some cred, but this show made me want to go out and hang a giant Alison poster on my wall. And when he let a roadie come out and take over drums midway through a song so that he could share a microphone with Alison it was hotter than any porn I've seen in the last 12 months. This band is awesome, especially live. I’d try to describe their music but I’d not do it justice and probably just end up talking about Shania Twain or Pokemon. If I tried I might make a comparison to the same energy and power that Concrete Blonde brought to their shows early on. I watched an interview with the band where Jack was asked to describe their music. “Perfect. Ferocious.” I think he was half-joking, but that pretty much sums it up. It’s the best show I’ve seen in the last 12 months. Looks like they’re headed to the west coast so please check them out if you have a chance. Or go to the west coast to see them. If you’re reading this it’s not like you have anything better to do.