Tag Archives: Detroit

I think I’m in love but I’m getting kinda nervous to say so: Beck at the Fox

2 Jul

This is going to be the best concert summer EVAH!

While my friend at Every Record Tells a Story revels in seeing every great band under the sun in a matter of days at the Glastonbury Festival, I will be able to spread my joy out from June through September right here in Detroit … and stay quite a bit drier. (What is it about rock festivals that attracts precipitation?) Five concerts in ninety days, plus a couple of Major League Baseball games tossed in, has made me Ticketmaster’s best customer. I, as the kids say, am stoked!

The Fox Theatre in all its gaudy glory (Photo by Lois DeBacker)

My concertpalooza kicked off on June 28 with Beck at the Fox Theatre. For the many times I’ve seen shows at the neighboring Fillmore, I had never set foot in the Fox before – and it is a show in itself. Built as a movie palace in the 1920s, it is in full regalia after being fully restored in 1988. Ornate does not begin to describe the interior; even the festooning has been festooned. Everywhere you turn, there’s something to gawk at: vermilion columns on all sides; a gilded elephant’s head at the center of the proscenium; the glass-jeweled chandelier, which weighs a literal ton and looks like Auntie Mame designed it for her Christmas tree. The elevator still requires an elevator operator; the ushers are black-blazered and helpful. Even the bar – with the plastic cups labeled “$7.00 Wine” – seems to be from a more civilized era.

All of which makes it a strange place to see a rock concert … and the perfect place to see Beck.

beck-scratchedBeck is a musical collage artist, assembling samples, riffs, hooks and lyrics from any number of sources and genres like so many pieces of broken colored glass and scuffed bric-a-brac. He may be best known for the nonsense rap of “Loser” and the jokey soul of “Where It’s At,” but as his current album Morning Phase proves, he is just as adept at creating songs that are rich, melodic and moving. No slouch as a musician, he’s a gifted guitarist and solid vocalist and can play a mean harmonica when he wants to. For this tour, Beck surrounded himself with six equally versatile musicians who moved easily from dreamy country & western to electronic beats to total noise.

About 45 minutes after I and my newly anointed concert buddy Lois settled into our seats in the center of the back of the top balcony, an announcement came over the PA that due to unforeseen circumstances, the (unnamed) opening act was not going to be able to appear. I thought this was just a joke, but apparently not. The opener was to have been Ghost of a Sabre Tooth Tiger, fronted by Sean Lennon, and there were problems at the Canadian border.

Beck: blue and blurry from the balcony

Beck: blue and blurry from the balcony

As a result, Beck opened for himself with a 40-minute acoustic set followed by a second act of his up-tempo pop hits: more songs than he’s played at most gigs on this tour. He was good-natured throughout the evening, dancing like no one was watching when the mood struck and playing and sounding great.

I haven’t been to a fully produced rock show in a while, and it was a treat not only to hear such great music performed so well (while sitting down, no less) but also to bask in the incredible lights and video tailored to each song. “Waves,” a somber song from Morning Phase with a chorus of the word, “isolation,” pinned Beck in a spotlight between columns of red light washing up the gold latticework on either side of the proscenium. I had chills.

If you wrote off Beck as a slacker rapper back in the Nineties because of “Loser,” you’re missing out on a lot of great music, no matter what your musical druthers. Here’s just one of many examples for you to enjoy:

See you on the next stop on the concertpalooza tour: Queen + Adam Lambert at the Palace of Auburn Hills on July 12

Cold Fact

6 Nov

If you saw the documentary Searching for Sugar Man or his interview on 60 Minutes, you know the story of Rodriguez. If you haven’t, consider this a spoiler alert:

Sixto Rodriguez, a promising Mexican-American singer/songwriter, recorded two albums in the early 1970 yet his career went nowhere and he had to make his living cleaning out abandoned houses. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, his music became hugely popular with white, liberal anti-apartheid South Africans, who considered him on par with Bob Dylan. After years of obscurity, Rodriguez connected with his Afrikaans fans for the first time in 1998. Now at age 70, he is reaping the rewards of being a world-famous musician while staying humble enough to remain in downtown Detroit.

Rodriguez played at the Crofoot Ballroom on Friday night to a sold-out crowd, many of whom (judging by their age and attire) probably hadn’t been to a rock concert since Three Dog Night only had two dogs. Venue management knew they were in for an influx of elder newbies because I received an email like none I have never received before in my whole history of concert-going: a step-by-step guide on how to better enjoy the show if you’re one of “our older friends”:

“The Crofoot is a ‘general admission’ venue. We have standing room for 1000 guests. For our older friends who are coming to see Rodriguez, there are lots of spaces to stretch your feet, walk on the patio, talk to your friends, and then – step anywhere into the ballroom. The Crofoot sound system is one of the best sound systems in the Midwest. It will provide great listening – instruments and vocals — everywhere in the ballroom. You do not have to stand in front… guard your place…or worry about getting a special place… it’s all special.”   

Would that I could have received a similar guide for some of my past concerts:

For our truly middle-aged fans (come on, you’re not fooling anyone into thinking you’re 28) coming to see Wilco, please note that others seated behind you would like to view and enjoy the show as much as you do. Please dance – if that’s what you call it – only in designated areas. It’s all special.

For our more mature friends coming to enjoy The Hives  (and we will refrain from asking why you are coming in the first place), please wear beer-proof, steel-toe footwear and attire that can withstand the perspiration of others. You do not have to stand in mosh pit territory in order to see the show, although it does afford the best view of the stage if those sweaty, tattooed meat heads would get out of the way. It’s all special.

And so on.

Rodriguez at the Crofoot

Right on time at 10:00 p.m., Rodriguez was guided to the stage for a 90-minute solo set. The crowd was adoring and the performer … well, he did his best. He doesn’t do a tight show: his vaguely philosophical/ political commentary rambled, and he repeated his best one-liners more than once. His musicianship has been hampered by time and personal health history: while his guitar-playing was essentially strong, his voice was not. By musical standards it was not a compelling evening of rock music. (His albums are a bit of an acquired taste in 2012, too, with the production a bit dated and dusty and the songs hewing a little too closely to Bob Dylan’s meandering style for my taste.)

And yet I heard someone standing behind me telling his companion, “This is the best concert I’ve ever been to … except maybe Sting.”

The experience overruled the music. The thousand of us were there to pay tribute to a man who’s been through a great deal and whose rock-and-roll Cinderella story resonates with many of us of a certain age and artistic sensibility. His current fame taps into our deep well of desire to be discovered. It gives us a subliminal sense of hope that fate might someday smile on us, making us the stars we know we could be if given the chance.

Next up for Rodriguez? Perhaps a trip to the Academy Awards. Only in America.

See you on the flip side …

 

Standing in the Way of Control

18 Oct

This backstage pass is from the show I missed in high school. I should ask the guy selling it on eBay how it was.

Like fishermen, I could go on and on about “the one that got away.” I’m talking about concerts that I coulda/shoulda/woulda gone to had I had more forethought/money/connections/taste.

Like Adele appearing at the Royal Oak Theater soon after her debut album 19 came out. Or Bob Dylan, with Mike Campbell and David Hidalgo backing him up, on the Together Through Lifetour. Even the first concert I was ever invited to go to – Foreigner in 1982 – was a no-go … meaning I missed my chance to hear “Feels Like the First Time” during my first time at a rock concert.

The most recent show to add to this category is one that I actually had tickets to and went downtown to see: The Gossip, who were slated to play at the Majestic on Tuesday, October 2. I assume they played. I don’t know.

My older daughter and I had cooled our heels for an hour when the doors didn’t open at 7:00 p.m. as promised. After another hour standing in the tiny cafe-cum-performance space (the result of downsizing from the main stage, perhaps because they didn’t sell well), we saw band members from the first of two opening acts still folding t-shirts and burning CDs to sell at the merch table. As of 9:00 p.m., The Gossip’s lead singer Beth Ditto was walking through the sparse audience, posing for photos and, uh, gossiping with fans with no indication that they or any other band was taking the stage any time soon.

It was a school night; my daughter and I were exhausted; she had homework and I had a meeting in the morning. So we split.

(I have to hand it to the Fueled by Ramen concert production team: they kept the trains running on time. Three opening acts would take the stage one after the other starting at 7:00 p.m. sharp, each playing for exactly 30 minutes with a 15-minute changeover. By the time the main attraction hit the stage, you knew it was 9:15 without even looking at your watch.)

We had really looked forward to seeing The Gossip, which my daughter and I discovered together via their first couple of albums. Beth Ditto is something of a gay icon: a plus-size young lesbian with a take-no-prisoners voice and a penchant for stripping to her underwear when in the throes of a performance. A large percentage of the audience at the Majestic was out and proud,  a wistful reminder of our days living near the Castro in San Francisco where, as a drag queen friend of mine observed, “Every day is Halloween.”

Some would say the creative process can’t be rushed and if you can’t stay out late, that’s your problem, not the band’s. But they owed us a show starting at 8:00 and they failed to deliver. In Commando, Johnny Ramone’s posthumously published autobiography, he griped about his bandmates’ occasionally lousy work ethic. He only missed a couple of gigs in his life: once due to appendicitis and another because he had been assaulted and suffered brain damage. According to him, all the other Ramones shows started at the time printed on the poster.

The drive home from the venue was quiet, the air heavy with weary disappointment. My daughter felt bad, having given me the tickets as a birthday present. I felt horribly square, wondering how many more concerts I have left in me if I can barely stay up past 10. Then again, I slept more soundly that night than I have in months, perhaps the best birthday gift I could have received this year.

Here’s a glimpse of what we think we may have missed:

See you on the flip side …

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Mixed Tape Masterpiece

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