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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Steely Dan and Elvis Costello

Last night at Pine Knob (technically the DTE Energy Music Theater, but I try to avoid that terrible corporate name as much as possible), My wife and I saw Steely Dan with opening act Elvis Costello & the Imposters.

It was a pairing that would've been unthinkable in the '70s and '80s. Of course, Steely Dan didn't perform live back then, so for that reason alone it wouldn't have happened. But back in those days, the two would have been seen as incompatible: Elvis the jittery, angry pub/punk rocker and Steely Dan the kings of sophisticated (though sardonic and subversive) jazzy pop/rock.


But really, the two have a lot in common: intelligent and often acerbic lyrics, great ears for melody, and catholic musical tastes embracing everything from rock to blues to jazz. I'd say that as the years have gone on, Elvis Costello and the Dan have converged artistically and their fan bases are now comprised of many of the same people--including me.



Now about those fans. They're old geezers, at least the ones at Pine Knob. I don't know how I should feel that I was one of the "kids" at this show, at the youthful age of 47. Practically a teenager compared to most of the other folks at this show.


I'll get back to this post again when I'm not so tired and can go into some detail about Elvis and the Dan's sets. Both were great and genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves despite the hot summer night.

I'm back now to try and fill in some gaps and elaborate on Elvis and the Dan.


Elvis Costello hit the stage at exactly 7:00 PM. Since Pine Knob has a strict 11:00 curfew, there's no time for musicians to dilly-dally.


I have to admit that, though I'm a fairly big fan of Costello's music (though I haven't paid much attention to anything he's done since Spike in 1989), this was the first time I'd seen him live. That's really almost an embarrassing admission, but I suppose better late than never to finally correct this. The Imposters feature original Attractions members Steve Nieve (keyboards) and Pete Thomas (drums). Guitarist Davey Farragher, according to Elvis' Wiki site, has been playing with Mr. Costello since 2002's When I Was Cruel album (coincidentally one of two post-Spike albums I have in the music collection. That and the Burt Bacharach collaboration that I never listen to, to be perfectly honest).


So, anyway, Elvis and the Imposters hit the stage at 7:00 and bashed out a no-nonsense one-hour set that played pretty much like a greatest hits album: "Accidents Will Happen," "High Fidelity," "Alison," "Watching the Detectives," "I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea," "Everyday I Write the Book," and closing with a rousing "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding." The latter is a song that never fails to choke me up with emotion. Yes, I know that Nick Lowe wrote it and not Elvis, but Elvis Costello's version is definitive (much in the same way that Jimi Hendrix's version of the Bob Dylan-penned "All Along the Watchtower" has to be considered definitive).I'll be back later to rehash Steely Dan...


Finally back to discuss Steely Dan. I hope at this point I can remember enough almost two weeks after the fact.


At this point in their careers, Walter Becker and Donald Fagan could be mistaken for a couple of tenured English professors on summer sabbatical. Becker, looking casual in t-shirt and running shoes, started off with a rambling, colorful monologue/rap that had most of the crowd in stitches.


More later...


...I'm back again. This has to officially be the most drawn-out blog post I've ever had. I really need to just put this thing to bed. Look, what more can I really say, Steely Dan was excellent and I greatly enjoyed seeing them. No, they don't have dynamic stage presence, but nobody should ever expect that with these guys, particularly now that they are in their late 60s. It's all about the musicianship, and Becker/Fagen along with the rest of Steely Dan (2015 edition) have it in spades. Jon Herington, on lead guitar, played with meticulous precision, and drummer Keith Carlock is an excellent player, and particularly extraordinary on the intricate title tune from Aja. The Dan's touring band also featured a tight three-piece horn section and three honey-voiced back-up singers, who offered the only choreography of the show.


I have not always been a Steely Dan fan. I remember their hits from the late '70s and early '80s and they made little impression on me at the time. It wasn't until a chance encounter, in the early '90s, with "Rikki Don't Lose that Number" played over the PA during a late-night visit to a grocery store that I finally "got it," and fell through the Dan rabbit hole. I've been an addict ever since and it was a joy to finally see these old curmudgeons in concert.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

De La Soul is very much alive, my belated take on Charleston, and my evening at Comerica Park (and crotchety complaints about the ballpark)


Working at the library, I make a point of going downstairs to the basement to check out our "Book Burrow" from time to time. That's the store that our Friends of the Library runs, and they sell books, CDs, LPs, cassettes, magazines, and a few other sundries that are donated mainly by people trying to unload crap out of their houses. For this reason, there's not usually anything there that I can't live without, but every once in awhile I find something good.

On Friday, I poked around the $1 CDs and found De La Soul's Three Feet High and Rising, the original release on Tommy Boy Records. I've had this on cassette for many years, but I barely listen to cassettes anymore so it's been languishing in my basement for years.

I'm happy to report that Three Feet High and Rising is still a great album, and about the most perfect summer listening I could imagine. Not that I'm any kind of rap/hip-hop expert, but it's definitely part of what has to be considered a golden era for the genre, which I'd say spanned from about 1987 to 1993. (However, people out there with a greater knowledge of hip-hop may dispute this).

In any case, it was a real score. Great to find this for only a buck.

***

I may be the last person to jump on the whole "national conversation" (that's an expression that I'm growing tired of hearing, since these "conversations" are more like "shouting matches") about the Charleston church murders and the subsequent debate over the Confederate battle flag. First of all, it's obvious that these murders were all about racism. Pure and simple. Anyone arguing that it had anything to do with "anti-religion" is delusional.

But now the debate has morphed into one about the Confederate battle flag, a little like when you're in a conversation with someone and the subject suddenly changes from one topic to another. In all the back-and-forth over the Confederate flag, I hope we don't forget the most important issue: we don't live in a "post-racial" society. Racism is still alive and well and there is still much work to do.

As far as the Confederate flag goes, I'm happy that South Carolina had the good sense to remove it from the grounds of the state capital. If has no business being officially recognized by any government entity in the United States. However, I'm concerned with the knee-jerk reaction to get rid of the flag entirely. We can't and shouldn't erase our history, no matter how unsavory it may be. So though I am for removing the flag from flying in front of government buildings, I'm not in favor of outlawing it entirely or taking it out of museums or national military parks (Gettysburg, Antietam, Vicksburg, etc.). Now having written that, I don't want to sound as if I'm minimizing what the flag represents to many people: intimidation, hatred, and racism.

And as for TV Land's decision to stop broadcasting Dukes of Hazzard re-runs. Really? Dukes of Hazzard was, besides being a ludicrously silly and goofy show, about as apolitical as it came (at least as I remember it. Then again, I was not much of a fan even when it originally aired). It's the ultimate in impulsive reactions.

Off the soapbox now.

***



On July 3, the family and I went to Comerica Park to see the Tigers play the Toronto Blue Jays. I'm almost embarrassed to say that it was only the third game I've ever attended at CoPa since it opened in 2000. (For those keeping score, I saw the Tigers play the Reds in 2000, and didn't return again until last year when--with a group of people from my wife's work--went down to see the Tigers play the Yankees in a memorable game won in the bottom of the ninth by an Alex Avila RBI single).

The game itself was interesting--two games in one, really. Anibal Sanchez pitched 8 1/3 innings of no-hit ball and the Tigers looked to be cruising with an 8-0 lead. But then all hell broke loose as Sanchez got tired, was left in the game too long by Brad Ausmus, and then the train wreck of a bullpen tried its best to lose the game. The Tigers managed to hang on for a nail-biting 8-6 win.

I have mixed feelings about Comerica Park. There's no doubt that its location on Woodward, in the Detroit "Theater District," makes for a more celebratory atmosphere than Tiger Stadium's location in Corktown. Comerica is a more open and inviting ballpark than Tiger Stadium, but the Corner was much more imposing and impressive. Al Kaline once said that when he first saw Tiger Stadium (Briggs Stadium back in #6's rookie season), he thought it looked like a battleship. (As someone who grew up in Baltiimore, I assume that Kaline probably saw his share of big ships in the city's harbors and knew what he was talking about). It's an apt description of The Corner. No matter how many times I went there (which had to have been between 40-50 games from 1974-1999) I was always in complete awe of the place.

I've long since completed the mourning process since Tiger Stadium's demise, and enjoy Comerica with some reservations. On the plus side, Comerica doesn't have any obstructed view seating, though I always found this argument against Tiger Stadium to be overstated. And as I already wrote, Comerica Park's open design is much more bright, airy and inviting. On the negative side, I'm bothered by the architects (or organizations') refusal to include ANY of Tiger Stadium's good qualities in the design of Comerica. This includes: the overhang in right field, seating that was close to the action, roofs over most of the ballpark providing shade on hot summer days and early evenings. I will give the Tigers credit for placing a flagpole in play in centerfield. That was a nice recognition of tradition.

I also find Comerica's exterior design to be a bit too busy. About three dozen too many tiger sculptures outside the ballpark. There may be many out there who disagree with me, but from the outside, Comerica Park looks more like an amusement park attraction than a baseball park.

My biggest problem with Comerica Park is the slope of the stands. No matter where you sit in the ballpark, it feels like you are about a half-mile from the game. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration. If you have seats in the first 20 rows of the lower deck from the left field line to the right field line, it only feels like you're a quarter-mile from the action.

Got that off my chest. Stay tuned for a later post when I complain about the current state of major league baseball and my theories of why they are losing the next generation of would-be fans.