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.