Monday, June 27, 2011

Liz Phair: October 19, 1998

Liz Phair has had one interesting career. A critic's darling after the release of her first album, Exile in Guyville, she appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone and was widely hailed as one of a new breed of female artists bringing a sexual frankness and indie-rock sensibility to the confessional singer-songwriter role. But her reign was short-lived as her follow-up album, Whip-Smart, failed to sell as well as the debut, in part because Phair didn't tour in support of the album, instead marrying, having a child, and going on hiatus.

Phair reemerged in 1998 with Whitechocolatespaceegg, in my opinion a vastly underrated release that found her exploring the ups and downs of "settling down" in her usual quirky way, but as a vastly improved singer and guitarist. Unlike with her previous album, Phair embarked on a full-fledged tour to support Whitechocolatespaceegg, and this ticket is from one of those shows.

On a personal note, I remember it was windy on the night of this concert. I handed my friend her ticket as we left the parking lot to walk a block or two to the venue. When we got up the street a bit, she asked if I'd given her the ticket, because she couldn't find it. We hurried back to the parking lot where, amazingly, the ticket was still on the ground where it had fallen, untouched by the breeze or a lucky pair of hands.

We watched the show from the balcony of the very strange, identity-confused Clutch Cargo's. I don't recall who opened, but Phair was really good. Because she'd shot to fame without honing her act in clubs as most artists do, she'd previously been known as an erratic performer. By this time, though, her voice and confidence had improved considerably and she was solid onstage. She ran through songs from all three albums, made jovial chit-chat between songs, and looked fantastic.

What a surprise it was, then, that she dropped from the limelight again soon afterward. Her next album wouldn't be until 2003 and featured a shiny, commercial sound that alienated much of her original audience. It would also give her a Top 40 hit with "Why Can't I."

Monday, June 13, 2011

Buzzcocks: October 30, 1999

I notice this was another Devil's Night show in Detroit -- but well past the time when I had to worry about teen curfews. This was a particularly exciting evening for me, because I interviewed Pete Shelley beforehand for the now-defunct All Music Zine. It was my first big interview, but it turned out pretty well. A friend and I had dinner in Detroit, met Shelley at the venue, then stayed for the show.

This was my second or third Buzzcocks gig; I'm pretty certain I saw them tour for All Set in 1996, although I have not come across that ticket yet. (I'd first seen them in 1994 in Brighton, England.) This show was in support of the album Modern, which had the band tossing in a few electronic flourishes before returning to a more basic guitar-bass-drums sound.

The set was a mix of classic songs and tracks from the band's (at that point) three "post-reunion" albums. The crowd seemed so genuinely happy to see the band, and were really well-behaved, unlike some of the  Buzzcocks shows I'd later see in Chicago. One guy excitedly asked us, "Do you think they'll do 'Fiction Romance'? I love that song!" When the song started up a little later, we looked over and saw the guy sporting a giant smile.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Chuck Berry & Little Richard: October 21, 2000

This will be unique among my blog entries, because I actually have a record of what I thought about the concert at the time. The following text is from my long-defunct first blog, written a few days after the show in 2000.

Last weekend I experienced something very strange indeed. Joe and I saw Little Richard and Chuck Berry ("The Kings of Rock 'n' Roll," so their posters declared) perform at a horse racetrack in Cicero, IL. It was like something out of a movie, with the betting counters everywhere you turned and the sound of the announcer talking about horses with names like "Holy Conflict" and "Mary Had a Little Wolf." 

We sat on plastic chairs in a Plexiglas-enclosed room facing the track. We actually saw part of the races and the tractor going around the track smoothing the dirt. At the bottom of the rows of chairs, someone had unceremoniously plopped a stage for The Kings of Rock 'n' Roll. Alice Cooper had just played there a few days earlier. Welcome to my nightmare indeed.

Little Richard was surprisingly good, but poor Chuck Berry was another story. First off, his band was wretched. He actually remarked that they were rehearsing and would let us know when the show really started. Sometimes they were so out of time that he would signal for them to stop and perform the song with just guitar as accompaniment. Sometimes he was so out of time that he'd stop the song altogether. He only managed to get through a couple of complete songs -- "My Dingaling" unfortunately, and "Reelin' and Rockin'," which, I'm certain, benefited from the fact that Chuck had some big-breasted women dancing onstage to inspire him.

If the show was a mixed bag, my feelings about it were even more mixed. While it's great that these guys, who surely are legends, are still entertaining people after all this time, there is something maudlin about seeing senior citizens trying to rock and roll. While there are plenty of artists growing old gracefully -- Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Marianne Faithfull, etc. -- they generally do so by coming to terms with their age, not by rehashing the past.

Morris Day & the Time: August 8, 1997

Was this a fun show? As Morris Day might say, "Yaaaa-esss!" When I first saw Purple Rain as a kid, I thought Day completely upstaged Prince. Think about it: You might quote that Minnetonka line every now and then, but the ones that really stick with you are Morris' one-liners (my favorite: "Ain't that a bitch? And I just got this coat outta the cleaners!").

Oddly enough, Prince was also in town around this time (I think it was the same week). Tickets to his show were $80. Check out the price of this ticket: $5. That was one easy decision to make.

Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, famed producers and important members of the original, pre-Purple Rain version of the Time, were sadly not involved in this reunion, but it was a great show all the same. Jerome Benton was there, bringing Morris his mirror and joining him in some smooth moves just like in the old days. At one point, Day said, "Did ya'll think I was too old to dance? Well, fuck ya'll!"

Morris and Jerome weren't the only ones dancing. The crowd was dancing in the aisles to everything from "Cool" to "Ice Cream Castles." Definitely the best $5 I ever spent!