Monday, July 28, 2003

Concert Recommendation:  Por Vida, Thursday, July 31, Abbey Pub; Friday, August 1, Fitzgerald's

When Ben Vaughn more or less retired from touring to focus on film and television music, he noted that there's no pension plan for a touring musician. There's also health plan, a situation with unfortunately consequences for Alejandro Escovedo. The Texas singer/songwriter collapsed after a show in Phoenix on April 26, the result of complications from Hepatitis C. Escovedo has cirrhosis of the liver caused by the Hepatitis. And he has no health insurance.

Fortunately, he does have a lot of friends in the music community, who are staging benefits for him. Two such shows, under the moniker Por Vida, are in the Chicago area this week. The Chicago Tribune ran an article on the situation and concerts. has more details on all the charitable efforts, including the means to donate if you can't make it to one of the shows.

POR VIDA: A festival to benefit and honor Alejandro Escovedo happens at the Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773.478.4408, at 8 p.m. on Thursday, July  31 with Frank Orrall & Susan Voelz & Poi pals, Robbie Fulks, Frisbie, Jane Baxter Miller, Dollar Store, Nora O'Connor, Danny Black and Puerto Muerto; and at Fitzgerald's, 6615 Roosevelt Rd., Berwyn, 708.788.2118, at 8 p.m. on Friday, August 1 with the Waco Brothers, Sally Timms, Paul Burch, Nick Tremulis, Kelly Hogan, Mr. Rudy Day, Devil In A Woodpile, Deanna Varagona and Stolie, Scott, & Lee.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

I haven't heard any reports about it, but I'm hoping that at the Dixie Chick's show tonight in Vegas Natalie Maines announced that Lance Armstrong makes her proud to be a Texan.

Saturday, July 19, 2003

Concert Review: Fountains of Wayne with Ben Lee, Metro, July 17

I'm in love with "Stacy's Mom." The new Fountains of Wayne song opens with sharp exclamation points of sound, practically lifted from the Cars' "Just What I Needed." The new wave nod was appropriate given that the song, written from a high school boy's point of view, harked back to an era when "Stacy" was a popular name among teenage girls. And it could be about a subplot in Valley Girl, although in the movie, it was Suzi, not Stacey, whose mom was an object of adoration.

"Stacy's Mom" is the highlight of the new FOW album Welcome Interstate Managers, but it was just one of a myriad of perfect pop songs in their show at the Metro. Lead guitarist Jody Porter gives the songs just enough muscle to prevent pop from being a dirty word, merely kids' stuff. (As for my comments in my preview about FOW being unlike Lollapalooza white guy bands in that they aren't using their guitars to assert their manhood, Porter was approaching that line, which could be an issue for a guy named Jody. But he was more than counterbalanced by lead singer Chris Collingswood, who looks like he got beat up a lot in high school.) Their songs had the audience enthralled because they were meant for singing along, with lots of catchy choruses and harmonies.

For "Radiation Vibe," they went off onto a bunch of musical tangents, including the Cars (and I thank them for validating my continued love of their skinny tied tunes) and ZZ Top. When they branched to Boston's "More Than a Feeling" and much of the audience started singing the lyrics, Collingswood chastised them as losers for knowing the lyrics by heart.

As an epilogue to my comments on Ben Lee and Evan Dando, apparently Lee is doing his best to save Dando from obscurity. He played a song he wrote that appears on Dando's latest album. Lee was a giddily earnest performer, and his covers ranged from Cheap Trick to Smiths.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Concert Recommendation: Fountains of Wayne with Ben Lee, Thursday, July 17, Metro

The return of the Lollapalooza tour has generated little interest. According the Tribune, the Chicago-area stop only half-filled the Tweeter Center. While this could be chalked up to what a horrible venue the Tweeter Center is, with poorly-planned logistics and outrageously priced refreshments, it could be that the Gen X public has grown tired of the Lollapalooza formula. Even after a six-year gap, it's exactly the same: a token black act, a token female act, and a bunch of macho white guys trying to prove their manhood by waving their guitars around like dicks. It's not like there aren't alternatives to hard rock within the alternative genre, but Perry Farrell never bothered to seek out anything like jazz absurdists Soul Coughing, proudly nerdy They Might Be Giants or the totally fey Belle & Sebastian.

Case in point for a band comfortable enough with their masculinity that they can just get on with the business of writing damn catchy songs: Fountains of Wayne. They are clearly a pop band, not a rock band, because it's all about the hooks. Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger write precise songs of being lovelorn and outcast in suburbia. And they don't milk the affectations like Weezer. They're coming to the Metro in support of their new album Welcome Interstate Managers.

Opening up is Ben Lee, who first made a name for himself in 1993 with his former band Noise Addict with the song "Wish I Was Him," expressing his (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) jealousy of Evan Dando. At the time, Dando was the premiere alt-rock pin-up boy, although he was overrated as both a musician and pin-up. Dando had a public off-and-on relationship with the equally overrated but even more irritating Juliana Hatfield, who also had a guest appearance on My So-Called Life. Lee has been involved with MSCL star Claire Danes for years, while Dando and Hatfield are so out of fashion that the press no longer care about their love lives. Between Lee's cute, talented girlfriend and the support slot for Fountains of Wayne, maybe it's time for Dando to pen a new version of "Wish I Was Him" about the song's original writer.

Fountains of Wayne and Ben Lee play the  Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., Chicago, on Thursday, July 17 at 9 p.m.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Shania Is a Punk Rocker?!

Q Magazine ran a story on the trend of pop stars "going rock," donning leather and such as either a fashion gimmick or an attempt to gain more credibility. It doesn't get any more laughable than the photo of Shania Twain in the Chicago Tribune ads for their ticket giveaway for her upcoming Grant Park concert. Along with her artfully torn jeans, she's wearing an artfully torn t-shirt. Just barely legible are a bat-wielding bald eagle and the names Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee. Yes, the semi-country pop star who lip synched at the Superbowl is wearing a Ramones t-shirt. As a credibility builder, it's a failure. Most of her fans won't recognize the logo, and anyone who recognizes the logo won't be fooled for a minute into thinking she knows "Teenage Lobotomy" from "I Wanna Be Sedated." Or "Blitzkrieg Bop" from "Anarchy in the UK," for that matter.

A mere listen to the background music at their respective web sites, and, tells you all you really need to know about where Rocket to Russia fits into her record collection.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Concert Review: Elvis Costello and the Impostors, Taste of Chicago, Sunday, July 6

First, I must acknowledge the miracle that there was a very dry hour and a half for Elvis's set between torrential downpours for the outdoor concert. Second, I must acknowledge my mixed emotions about the free show. I would have rather paid $50 for an experience more like the show at the Chicago Theatre last October. Instead we got muddy sound, no direct view of the stage, a camera crew that wasn't aware that Steve Nieve was the second most interesting person on the stage, not bass player Davey Faragher (Although I did get to see enough of Nieve to guess that he did indeed really need to go to the bathroom during the show last fall; my other theory for his jittery mannerisms was that he found the best job for an ADD adult.) Even worse, the camera crew seemed to mistake the concert for a baseball game and thought that shots of the crowd could possibly be more interesting than the band. Because it was more of a general audience than one specifically of fans, they played more old songs and not enough material off last year's When I Was Cruel. The pointedly acerbic "Alibi" was the most frustrating omission. But the worst part of it was the lack of collective appreciation by the audience for the talent presented. Most people were there hanging out because it was a fun, free event, but they weren't paying attention. Songs such as "Pump It Up" and "Allison" were perfect for singing along, but it was like singing along to my Walkman, to music that only I was paying attention to since so many around me were engaged in other conversations.

But then there's the flip side, the fact that Elvis got to reach an audience that wouldn't have necessarily ponied up 50 bucks a head to see him. For one baby, Elmo and Elvis were all the same, as she played with and chewed on a Sesame Street book for much of the set. But at other times, her mom bounced her on her knee in time to the music, much to delight of mother and child.  A girl of about 7 danced in the uninhibited way that only little girls do, with an absolute purity to her joy. A rail thin teenage punk boy in an Exploited t-shirt perhaps came to appreciate that punk once had a much broader scope than just hardcore. So for the dedicated Elvis fans, it wasn't the best show, but it was definitely beneficial for the city of Chicago as a whole.