Thursday, February 21, 2019

Remembering Peter Tork

I was sad to hear the news that Peter Tork from The Monkees has died. In a post here last week, I wished him a Happy Birthday and shared a link to a friend’s story about how nice he was to her during a photo op at Wizard World Comic Con in Chicago. When I saw The Monkees perform at the Chicago Theatre in 2012, Tork frequently addressed the audience in a genuinely fun, friendly manner. It was a natural progression from the The Monkees sitcom persona that made him so popular in the 1960s. Rock In Paradise, Mr. Tork.

Here’s a review of that concert that I wrote for the Illinois Entertainer.

One of the first of many nostalgic images that flashed across a big screen at the Chicago Theatre during the sold-out performance by The Monkees last Friday night showed the band decked out in top hats and tails. It drew a huge round of applause and foreshadowed an evening of good-time, almost old-fashioned entertainment. Original members Michael Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz, and Peter Tork, backed by a seven-piece band, journeyed deep into an eclectic catalog of mid-1960’s material. Anyone who came with only a knowledge of the group’s biggest hits was likely left feeling stunned. But in a good way.

Still dismissed in some circles as actors who pretended to be musicians on a sit-com, The Monkees started writing their own material while the TV series was on the air but didn’t hit their creative stride until LPs like Headquarters and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. The current 12-date tour, which reportedly was already being planned before the death of Davy Jones, gives the surviving members an opportunity to showcase just how inventive and talented The Monkees can be. It helps that all three have vibrant voices, and they pretty much play the same quirky roles that made their TV show an instant success in 1966. Dolenz and Tork exude a childlike energy while the more reserved Nesmith prefers a droll approach.

Audience members at the Chicago Theatre could be forgiven for casting a wary eye on Nesmith, who has always seemed to be the most reluctant Monkee to participate in reunions. He has occasionally performed with his mates over the years, but this is his first actual tour with them in quite some time. Fortunately, he seemed in good spirits, even during some technical difficulty with his guitar. There was a good chemistry among the three stars, starting with the opening number, “Last Train To Clarksville.” The band immediately switched to the more obscure LP tracks, “Papa Gene’s Blues,” a country-flavored song that featured Nesmith on lead vocals; and “Your Auntie Grizelda,” which found Tork delivering the silly lyrics while strutting around like a Broadway performer.

From then on, it was an almost equal mix of hits like “She,” “I’m A Believer,” and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” with lesser known fare like “Sweet Young Thing” and “You Just May Be The One.” Dolenz was particularly impressive on the Gospel-flavored workout, “Goin’ Down” and very British sounding rave-up, “Randy Scouse Git.” On several occasions, the live performance was augmented by eye-popping footage on the big screen, particularly during psychedelic selections like “Porpoise Song” and “Can You Dig It” from the band’s 1968 avant garde movie, Head.

The Nesmith-penned “Daily Nightly” from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. (believed to be the first rock song to feature a Moog synthesizer) showed these guys haven’t lost their touch for clowning around. Dolenz introduced it as a song, “That has never been performed before . . . and rightfully so” while adding that the lyrics were completely incomprehensible. Nesmith explained Moog synthesizers were too expensive and cumbersome to take on tour, and then vocally tried to recreate the instrument’s unique sounds. Dolenz, who was singing lead, was barely able to keep from laughing.

There were well-crafted video interludes honoring Davy Jones at various times, but the most touching tribute came toward the end of the concert, when the audience was invited to provide the vocals for “Daydream Believer” and overwhelmingly obliged. It proved to be the defining moment on an evening when The Monkees had been able to reconnect with some of their most loyal fans.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Back-To-Back Brit Bands In Chicago

Procol Harum arrives in Chicago at a time when relentless snowfall has given us a bit more than a “Whiter Shade Of Pale.” Their concert tomorrow at City Winery will no doubt include that magnificent Top 40 hit, along with “Shine On Brightly,” “Homburg” and “A Salty Dog.”
Vocalist Gary Brooker, whose soulful delivery of those cryptic “Whiter Shade Of Pale” lyrics first brought the band international attention in 1967, is still onboard, although other members have come and gone over the years. Procol Harum released it most recent album, Novum, in 2017.

The British Invasion continues on Thursday night when The Kooks perform at The Riviera Theatre. The group’s latest album Let’s Go Sunshine finds them sounding more like the working class lads who first gave us engaging tunes like “She Moves In Her Own Way.” Their previous effort, Listen, dabbled in hip hop and techno with mixed results. Sunshine will give them plenty of good material to showcase, including “Pamela,” “All The Time,” and “Believe.”

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Mod Hippie - Wannabe Nobody

Mod Hippie’s latest album Wannabe Nobody is similar to Sonic Assault, the Jonny Weathers With Paul Cook EP that also came out last year. Cook was the drummer for The Sex Pistols, and Mod Hippie’s lineup includes D.J. Bonebrake, who still drums for X. Both releases create a gritty, off-the-beaten-path ambience via sparse arrangements and intriguing lyrics.

The epic “Saturday Show” on Wannabe Nobody compares a veteran band on tour to a weekly cartoon that’s lost its audience. “The older kids no longer want to hear,” vocalist and chief songwriter Doug McGuire explains over a driving beat. The power behind behind the glam rock fun of “And Everyone The Fashion (So Sorry)” comes from Jason Berk, Mike Schnee, David Marks, and Adam Marsland all playing electric guitars, and Berk’s slide guitar adds a country and western feel to the down-and-out ballad “You Know.”

It’s hard to tell if “Lux” is paying tribute to Cramps singer Lux Interior or mocking him, but either way, the twangy guitar arrangement is a blast. It follows directly after a catchy rendition of Paul Westerberg’s satirical “Johnny’s Gonna Die” that features McGuire and backing vocalist Teresa Cowles. Bonebrake sets the pace for the garage and psychedelic rock of “We Leave It All Behind” and the Schnee-penned “Cricket LaRue” mixes T-Rex with silly lines like, “After party, zing zang, everything, the whole shebang.” Shebang, indeed.

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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Saturday Slumgullion

The Bangles will headline the Like Totally Music Festival On The Beach concert at Huntington State Beach in Southern California on May 11. Public Image LTD; ABC; Kim Wilde; The Romantics; The Smithereens; Animotion; The Smithereens; B Movie; and Greg Kihn are also on the bill. Despite the retro name, most of these acts, especially The Bangles, The Smithereens, and The Romantics, are still going strong.

The critically acclaimed Chicago-based power pop band Frisbie will join Mike and Eric from The Bon Mots for a double bill tomorrow night, Sunday, February 17 at Montrose Saloon. The music starts at 8:00 p.m.

If you missed Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour at the Allstate Arena this past Friday you can still check out the Burn Down The Mission: Songs Of Elton John 1969 – 1975 show at 2:00 p.m. tomorrow at SPACE in Evanston. Alton Smith, Hohn Abbey, Debbie Kaczynski, Peter Manis, Richard Pettengill and Tommi Zender will be the musicians involved with this tribute.

Tickets are now on sale for Beck, Cage The Elephant, and Spoon at Huntington Bank Pavilion on July 31; Andrew Bird at Green Mill on April 2 and 3; Dream Syndicate at Hideout on May 31 and June 1; Fab Faux at Park West on May 10; Heart and Sheryl Crow at Hollywood Casino Amphitheater on July 7; Rodrigo Y Gabriela at Chicago Theatre on May 24; and John Sebastian at City Winery on July 8.

The Chicago Auto Show, billed as the nation’s largest auto show, finishes its 2019 run at McCormick Place this Monday, February 18. In addition to all the cars on display, there will be special events and guests, including local media and sports celebrities.

The Symphony Center Presents Jazz series will offer Jazz In The Key Of Ellison, a multimedia celebration of novelist Ralph Ellison at 8:00 p.m. next Friday, February 22. Roxane Gay will serve as narrator and host, and there will be performances by Will Downing, Nona Hendryx, Quiana Lynell, Nicholas Payton and The Andy Farber Jazz Orchestra. The Symphony Center is located at 220 S. Michigan Avenue.

Procol Harum will be at City Winery Chicago next Wednesday, February 20. The Kooks, whose latest album Let’s Go Sunshine finds them back in top form again, will be performing at The Riviera Theatre next Thursday, February 21. On the next night, Gin Blossoms will be at House Of Blues; and the Bowie Celebration - The David Bowie Alumni Tour hits The Vic.

Chicago’s hard-driving and sharp-tongued power pop band Van Go will be performing songs from their impressive latest album Everyone Loves You When You’re Gone on Saturday March 2 at Gallery Cabaret. Red Wigglers are also on the bill.

A black dress Marilyn Monroe wore at a 1954 press conference will be going up for auction on March 30. Don’t be surprised if you see Famous In The Future performer/writer/Marilyn Monroe fanatic Desiree Burcum wearing it on opening night at this year’s YippieFest in August. Famous In The Future will once again be hosting the three-day festival of theatre, comedy, and music.

The Impostors Theatre Company’s new show Caged - An Allegory at the Pentagon Theater opened this past Friday at Collaboration Studio. Written and directed by Stefan Roseen, the play mixes comedy and horror while exploring questions of identity and the ethics of art.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Happy Birthday To Peter And A Few Other Thoughts

Happy Birthday to Peter Tork! I still remember the great story a friend told me about how nice he was when she paid for a photo op with him at a Wizard World Comic Con in Chicago in 2011. And of course, there are all those cool Monkees songs and their fun TV show. Hope he had a blast celebrating today.

The Chicago Auto Show, billed as the country’s largest auto show, opened last Saturday at McCormick Place and runs through Monday, February 18. In addition to all the cars on display, there will be special events and guests, including local media and sports celebrities. A handful of radio stations will be broadcasting live from the Auto Show. A number of years back, Cheap Trick had a gig at there, but the closest thing I see for 2019 is a pair of School Of Rock concerts next Monday.

The Symphony Center Presents Jazz series will offer Jazz In The Key Of Ellison, a multimedia celebration of novelist Ralph Ellison at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, February 22. Author Roxane Gay will serve as narrator and host, and there will be performances by Will Downing, Nona Hendryx, Quiana Lynell, Nicholas Payton and The Andy Farber Jazz Orchestra. The Symphony Center is located at 220 S. Michigan Avenue.

If you live in the Chicago area, Metra wants to reward you for surviving the recent polar vortex by letting you ride free on its trains this weekend. That’s nice for people who would normally drive to some entertainment venue. But it does nothing for Metra’s biggest supporters—the monthly pass holders who endured delays, unpredictable schedules, and the occasional surly conductor who thought passengers were somehow at fault for the inclement weather. In a better world, Metra would give every monthly pass holder an Apple iPod nano 7th Generation to listen to on our ride each day.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Incoming

Pearl Jam has been chosen as the this year’s Record Store Day Ambassador, an honor that has gone to St. Vincent, David Grohl, Iggy Pop, and other cutting-edge acts in the past. RSD arrives on April 13, with another wide-ranging selection of one-day-only vinyl releases.

Congratulations to director Michael Glover Smith on the successful run of his latest film Rendezvous In Chicago, at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Last Friday’s night’s screening sold out, and when I went on Saturday, it was pretty much the same deal. The 69-minute Rendezvous In Chicago is a comic and easygoing slice of life divided into three separate tales involving relationships. There will be one more screening tomorrow (Wednesday) evening featuring a discussion with Smith afterward.

The Go-Go’s will be the subject of a full-length documentary scheduled to air later this year on Showtime. An extensive press release shown on the band’s Facebook page and across social media describes director Alison Ellwood’s film as a “candid archive-rich biography.” I bought a Stiff Records import single of “We Got The Beat” (probably at Wax Trax! on Lincoln Avenue) in 1980 and shortly after that, saw them perform at ChicagoFest on Navy Pier. I stopped at a record store on Rush Street after the concert and bought their Beauty And The Beat album. Still, I never could have predicted back then how successful they would become.

Chicago Theatre Week continues its 2019 run through this Sunday, February 17 at various theaters around the Chicago area. Discount tickets of $15 or $30 will available for 120 participating shows.

Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour comes to the Allstate Arena this Friday night. Maybe he should hang around a couple days and check out the Burn Down The Mission: Songs Of Elton John 1969 – 1975 show at 2:00 p.m. this Sunday at SPACE in Evanston. Alton Smith, John Abbey, Debbie Kaczynski, Peter Manis, Richard Pettengill and Tommi Zender will be the musicians involved with this tribute.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

Wes Hollywood - Dynamite

When Wes Hollywood recorded Fantasy Arcade back in 2012, it landed in the number three spot on my Broken Hearted Toy Favorite Releases for that year. Dynamite (available from Kool Kat Musik) came out in November 2018, and it feels like he’s never been away. Hollywood still likes to approach an irresistible melody with a bag of lyrical tricks like quick rhymes, putdowns, and witty observations. And along with Tom Shover, Peter Javier, and Spencer Matern, he continues to specialize in energetic power pop.

That said, Wes Hollywood draws from music that arrived at least a decade after the mid-1960s pop and Brit Invasion hits that inspire a lot of his peers. Songs like “Evelyn” and “Dirty Manhattan” evoke Elvis Costello in terms of instrumental style and biting sentiments. “I’ll Take You Back,” a funny tale of a guy who’s unaware of the legitimate reasons his girlfriend dumped him, calls to mind The Cars.

A lot of these tracks deal with crumbling relationships, but there’s also the aggressive “Get It Right,” which finds Hollywood vowing to save the world. “Small Talk,” a slap at an incessant chatterbox, would make a great companion for The Elvis Brothers’ rollicking “Motormouth.” “When Sunday Rolls Around” is another song about a girlfriend departing, but here Hollywood swaps humor for genuine emotions and a soulful arrangement.

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