Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Concert Regrets

One of the things about learning to brew your own beer from somebody is you better get along with them because that first session takes hours! Thankfully, my first brewing session meant I was able to hang out with my buddy Jeff. Killing time in his garage on a brisk Saturday afternoon in early October, sitting around the kettle as my winter spiced ale brewed, the conversation wandered at that nice, familiar pace that only comes from having been friends for over 20 years. Of course, considering our history, music was a big topic of the day, including concert regrets. I have two concert regrets – not shows I wish I’d never seen, but shows I missed.

My Number One with a Bullet is Roger Waters’ Radio K.A.O.S. tour stop
at Blossom Music Center in August of 1987.

It was the summer before my seventeenth birthday, and I was working a couple of jobs, including mowing the lawn at the local community park and busing tables at a crappy restaurant. Up to that point in time, I had only attended two concerts – David Lee Roth the previous fall, and Mötley Crüe earlier in the summer of ’87. I seem to remember it being a combination of my own money management issues and my parents not being all that comfortable with my concert going activities yet as the main reasons I was unable to attend the show. I’m sure the normal teenage notions of independence and arguing with my parents about “freedom” and “space” came into play, too.

I don’t remember who I was even going to go to the show with, but I knew even then that this was a show I really needed to see. And, by all accounts, it was a spectacle. Radio K.A.O.S. wasn’t a huge hit, but it was and still is one of my favo
rite albums. (I did an in-depth piece on it back when I wrote for PopMatters. You can check that out here.) Waters took DJ Jim Ladd on tour with him, and the show was staged as a giant radio show, complete with phone booths set up around the venue for audience members to “call in” and ask questions. Of course, it was never filmed and the likes of it will never be seen again, but, man, I think it would have been amazing.

Of course, a month or so after the Roger Wate
rs show, I did see Boston at the Richfield Coliseum. I’m sure my parents’ fears and my money woes were cast aside because I saw the concert with my older sister, my health teacher (who my sister was dating at the time), and my best buddy Mark. I wouldn’t attend my first concert at Blossom until a year later when I saw The Beach Boys, Roy Orbison, and John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band on a triple bill the next summer. And, for what it’s worth, I did see Pink Floyd on their Momentary Lapse of Reason tour in the fall of ’88, so I guess that’s something.

My other concert regret is a little different and much more recent, so the wound is still fresh. Jack has been taking private drum lessons for just over a year now, and he just started up with fifth grade band this school year. He loves percussion, and I’m always eager to share anything I think he’ll appreciate – like The Black Keys, The Who, and Rush.

So when I saw Rush was touring to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of Moving Pictures, I knew I was going to take Jack. I was able to get in on the presale and get us some amazing seats in the lower bowl, stage right, near the stage. I was ridiculously excited. Then, after purchasing the tickets, I realized that there was a good chance we were actually going to be in Hawaii the day of the show.

This was a trip Tracy was trying to earn through work, and you don’t turn down free airfare, five-star hotel accommodations, and all food and entertainment included. I get that, and I was not then, nor am I now, ungrateful for the opportunity to return to the islands and enjoy a fantastic family vacation. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there is a tiny little part of me that is still disappointed that Jack and I didn’t get to share that concert-going experience.

I have seen Rush numerous times throughout the ’80s and ’90s, but this was different. The band was playing Moving Pictures in its entirety, I was taking my kiddo with me, we had killer seats from the pre-sale, and the band was taping the show for release on DVD and Blu-Ray. I have never, to my knowledge, attended a show that has been officially released like that, and even though we weren’t at the show, you damn well better believe that Blu-Ray is on my Christmas list this year!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Living Large

Tony Bennett
29 October 2011: State Theatre at Playhouse Square, Cleveland, Ohio

So for the third time in ten days, I found myself at the State Theatre in Playhouse Square Sunday night. Playhouse Square is made up of five primary theatres: the Allen, Hanna, Ohio, Palace, and State. Combine those v
enues with all the other options in Northeast Ohio, like the Akron Civic, House of Blues, and EJ Thomas, and it’s pretty remarkable that I would end up at the same place for all three shows.

While not the quite the 3 Shows In 3 Nights endurance marathon Tracy and I embarked on in early 2010, the events I attended this month were certainly as varied. Duran Duran the previous Wednesday with Tracy kicked things off, continuing with the Kathy Griffin show Sunday night with my buddy Alan, and concluding with Tony Bennett Saturday night.

The night began, fittingly, in Little Italy at the Trattoria on the Hill, an institution in the neighborhood that Tracy and I have been to numerous times over the years, just not often enough because of proximity. Located east of downtown Cleveland near University Circle and Case Western Reserve University, Little Italy is a great place to stroll and dine and soak in atmosphere. Unfortunately, it’s not really close enough to be convenient enough to just pop over for an afternoon. It is a destination location for us when we have a show or special night out, and we had both Saturday night. The Tony Bennett tickets were a gift to my in-laws for my father-in-law’s birthday.

The in-laws had never been to the Trattoria, so it was fun to share this unique bit of Cleveland with them before heading down Euclid Avenue to Playhouse Square. Bennett’s show was scheduled to start at 8, and a few minutes after the hour the house announcer welcomed us to The Tony Bennett Show and asked us to first greet Antonia Bennett. I don’t think Antonia would be singing professionally if she weren’t opening for her dad. Her short set was disappointing in that it was unexpected and because she clearly did not inherit her Father’s vocal chops. Unremarkable is the nicest way to describe Antonia’s voice. Thankfully, she worked her way quickly through a half-dozen or so standards and brought her dad on stage without an intermission.

Bennett, the elder, has not missed a beat. He perfectly nailed every song through the nearly hour-and-a-half long set. His rendition of “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret was simply stellar, probably my favorite of the night. But matching his song selection was Bennett’s easy banter with the audience. Following his run through of “Cold, Cold Heart”, he told the story of songwriter Hank Williams calling to give him a hard time for “ruining” his song. And Bennett introduced an amazing rendition of Charlie Chaplin’s classic “Smile” by talking about the handwritten note he received from the songwriter thanking him when he recorded the cover.

There was a dedication to Lady Gaga, who performs with Bennett on his Duets II album, and at one point Bennett’s daughter returned to perform a duet with her dad. There were age-appropriate jokes about how the 85-year-old crooner and Rosemary Clooney were the first American idols, and pop music trivia history lessons delivered through tales of his being discovered by Pearl Bailey and how (Clevelander) Bob Hope came up with his professional name.

The crown jewel of the evening, however, was Bennett’s show closing “Fly Me to the Moon”, performed without a microphone while his band quietly backed him. I have extolled the virtues of Playhouse Square’s SmartSeats in the past. Most shows at all of the Playhouse Square venues tend to offer the $10 cheap seats tickets for the last row or two of the theatre, and Tracy and I take advantage of the offer anytime it’s available for a show we want to see. The Tony Bennett Show was no different. You get what you pay for, and we were appropriately seated in the very last row of the auditorium. However, as testament to both Bennett’s vocal ability and the amazing acoustics of the venue, we heard every word, every note, perfectly. The man can sing. Period.