Sunday, November 25, 2012

Morrissey: May 14, 1997

I had already been living in Chicago for several years by this point, but went home to Michigan to see this show with a friend. I was fairly young when the Smiths broke up (i.e. no driver's license yet) so I never had the chance to see them. I saw Johnny Marr play with The The shortly after the Smiths' split, and fronting his own group in the aughts, but this was my first time seeing Moz.

We were, um, lucky enough to see Kristeen Young open -- the infamous opening act that got booted a few months later for making unseemly sexual comments onstage about Moz. At our show, she was just as obnoxious, basically moaning about not getting enough applause and saying that the '90s band Morsel (which had an amped-up flute that for some reason seemed like a neat idea at the time) was better than the Stooges, but we were basically too dumb to appreciate them.

Morrissey was good, but his fans were so ardent they made it seem like the second coming. He sang a mix of solo material and some Smiths classics, including a rousing "How Soon Is Now" performed in front of a backdrop of James Dean photos. Some obsessions die hard. The band, as expected, was a bunch of young, good-looking rockabilly boys.

To some extent, giving the people what they want bordered on schtick. Although Moz was still a handsome devil (ahem!), he needn't have taken his shirt off four times. Love him or hate him, Morrissey is Morrissey, but I sometimes wonder how far much farther he could go artistically if no one expected a quiff, hot backing boys, movie idol backdrops, angst, and shirtlessness. Because a lot of those songs are damned good enough on their own.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Graham Coxon: March 25, 2005

Graham Coxon began his solo career while still serving as guitarist for Blur, but really hit his stride after leaving the group in 2002. His 2004 album, Happiness in Magazines, was a widely acclaimed collection of melodic guitar rock that announced his arrival as a fully formed solo artist, and he embarked on a full-fledged U.S. tour behind it.

The set focused heavily on the current album, including the singles "Bittersweet Bundle of Misery," "Freakin' Out," and "Spectacular," with a few older tunes, including the opener "Escape Song." It was a night of good songs in a casual atmosphere, but the venue could have been better. The Double Door's usual crew of meat marketeers was there, more interested in scoping out the talent in the crowd than the talent onstage.

"Do you like Blur?" one drunken soul asked my friend and me. Um, yes, although that hardly seemed relevant since this was a Graham Coxon solo gig, not Blur's. His next line has become a favorite of mine: "Oh. I thought maybe you were here with your boyfriends or something."

Coxon hasn't done a proper U.S. tour since then, and his stateside audience has remained limited although he's continued to release strong albums. C'mon, Coxon: You bring the striped shirts, we'll bring our boyfriends.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Oasis: April 18, 2000

This appears to be my first concert as a Chicagoan! I got tickets to see this show with a friend but ended up reviewing it for a local entertainment paper and they reimbursed me. Ah, the few but nice perks of music journalism.

Oasis were already showing the signs of wear and tear by this point (including significant lineup changes), when they were promoting their fourth album, the grammatically confused Standing on the Shoulder of Giants. Although the album contained much of loping, Beatlesque sound one would expect, it was a bit darker and wearier in tone, particularly on the songs on which Noel Gallagher took the lead. It also contained a Liam Gallagher composition, a saccharine tribute to his then-wife's son.

Back then it would have been logical to expect one of two scenarios at an Oasis concert: They'd be drunk and arguing, or they'd put on a helluva rocking show. In fact, neither scenario transpired. Instead, it was a professional, competent, but fairly boring performance. Liam even politely applauded when his brother sang his trademark "Don't Look Back in Anger."

The set focused fairly equally on the then-current album and the two mega hits, Definitely Maybe and (What's the Story) Morning Glory? but was noticeably short on material from the oft maligned Be Here Now. Travis, at the time the "next big thing" coming out of the UK (boy, that ended fast) opened the show with a cheerfully anthemic set.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Donnas: March 23, 2001

This was my second Donnas show, the first being in Detroit in 1999. On the second date, the female foursome was supporting the accurately titled The Donnas Turn 21. Indeed, they'd begun playing together as middle schoolers and at last were hitting the age at which some of the things they sing about are legal. Bratmobile, an original riot grrl band of the early '90s that had recently reunited and released a new album, opened the show. They were fun, enthusiastic, and aptly enough, kind of bratty.

Despite playing a simple brand of straight-up rock influenced by punk and metal, the Donnas were pretty adept musicians by this point. They played several songs from the current album, including "40 Boys in 40 Nights," which, they explained in their introduction, is about exactly what you'd expect -- a typical rock 'n' roll tale of on-the-road debauchery, only with the usual genders reversed.

Bassist Maya Ford, a.k.a. Donna F., interacted most with the audience. Her non sequiturs, screeched in a fashion reminiscent of Vince Neil or maybe Spinal Tap, were charmingly hilarious. "I had some Krispy Kreme doughnuts this morning!" she yelled at one point. "Does anyone out there like Krispy Kreme? Let me hear you if you like doughnuts!" It was (pardon the pun) kind of sweet.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Bangles: September 26, 2000

When the Bangles first crawled up the charts in 1984 with "Hero Takes a Fall," their lovely all-female harmonies seemed steeped in nostalgia for the 1960s. When the group reunited a decade after their breakup, however, it was 1980s nostalgia that was in full force. 

The foursome commenced their set with a hard-rocking rendition of Simon and Garfunkel's "Hazy Shade of Winter," a big hit for the Bangles in 1987. The Bangles made a career of combining well-chosen covers with original songs, a pattern that was naturally reflected in their live set. In addition to covers they recorded in the '80s, such as "Live," "Going Down to Liverpool," and "September Gurls," the group turned out a fabulous acoustic version of "You Were on My Mind" and a surprisingly ass-kicking "Pushin' Too Hard," one of few reminders that, before they were cute hit-makers, the Bangles were a rock band well-versed in their Nuggets.

Of course, they also performed their crowd-pleasing originals, including "Hero Takes a Fall," "Manic Monday," "Walk Like an Egyptian," "In Your Room," and the sappy classic "Eternal Flame." They also played several tracks from the reunion album that was in the works at the time (Doll Revolution was released in 2003), usually prefaced with an apology to the audience. The crowd's reaction to the new material was generally positive though, even if the cheers became less enthusiastic as the night progressed.

Looking not much older than they did in their heyday, Vicki Peterson, Susanna Hoffs, Michael Steele, and Debbi Peterson seemed to be having a great time and, unlike so many other reunited groups, genuinely enjoying each other's company. There were lots of casual moments, such as when Steele joked that the light crew took a long time to spotlight her because they had no idea which one she was, or when Vicki Peterson announced that the band were about to play a Ricky Martin song as the synthesized backing track for "Going Down to Liverpool" began. A good time seemed to be had by all, including those on-stage. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Graham Parker: June 2, 2007

Graham Parker has covered the bases, from pub rocker to Elvis Costello doppelgänger to alt country crooner. A formidable songwriter enjoying a resurgence on Chicago's venerable Bloodshot label, Parker was supporting his then-newest release, Don't Tell Columbus, with two intimate sets. Unfortunately, I attended the later set and found it to be a bit too intimate, resulting in one of the most embarrassing experiences I've had at a concert.

Despite Parker giving his all to material from his new album as well as classics from his late '70s/early '80s heyday, I kept nodding off. That's absolutely not a reflection of his performance, but my insane, early-bird schedule. The worst part? We were at tables in the front row. Rarely have I felt like such a jerk.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Cramps: October 23, 2004

Rockabilly/horror proponents the Cramps made their way to Chicago's Vic Theatre just in time for Halloween. Their rarities compilation How to Make a Monster had recently dropped and I was somehow involved in giving it some ink (my feeble brain can't recall if I wrote about it or, as an editor, assigned a review to someone) so I was able to score complimentary tickets to the show. I'd always wanted to see the Cramps live, especially since a friend told me about someone breaking a liquor bottle over another person's head at a Detroit show he'd once attended. Now that's rock and roll!

As a matter of fact, that same friend was at this Chicago show, doing some tech work for the opening act, the Gore Gore Girls. And it's a good thing, too. Knowing the Cramps' image and the story about the bottle, I'm not sure what possessed me to show up in a dress and ballet flats, but I did. Here's what I wrote at the time:

"Little did I realize what being up front during a Cramps show entailed. We ended up in the heart of an old-fashioned mosh pit, the likes of which I had not seen since my teen years. We were terrified. When some middle-aged guy offered to help keep people off me, I told him, 'I'm too old for this!' He replied, 'You're too old for this? I saw them play 20 years ago!'

"Eventually [my friend from Detroit] rescued us and got us into a box above the stage, where we could watch the rest of the show in peace. From up there, I could see that the guy whose feet I'd seen sailing through the air as he bodysurfed throughout the show was not wearing pants. It was a fun show, and the Cramps played a lot of old stuff like 'Tear It Up,' 'TV Set,' 'The Way I Walk,' 'Mystery Plane,' etc."

It was a crazy but fun night, and when I heard the band's lead singer, Lux Interior, had passed away in February 2009, I was especially glad I'd had the chance to experience it.