MUSIC REVIEW | New Kids on the Block at the Xcel

On the surface, one would not think there would be a lot of overlap between fans of Nelly, TLC, and New Kids on the Block. While all three are essentially a sort of danceable ’90s pop, there’s something about the mental image each group conveys that makes it difficult to put them together. Take that gritty, sexy, maybe a little vulgar, club sound from Nelly, mix it up with the smooth almost R&Bish sound of TLC, and throw in the, well, straight pop sound of the prototypical boy band that inspired all those knock-offs in the ’90s, and you’d seem to be on the right track to make about the most indigestible musical smoothie you could ever fix up. Really, the only common thread I can think off for all of this is “songs I had to listen to on the school bus growing up because the driver wouldn’t change the station from KDWB.”

But given the audience reaction throughout the evening, this trio of 90s superstars (for the sake of ease we’ll lump them in there, even though NKOTB had a bit of the ’80s in, too) were a perfect match. The crowd was electric all night for this eclectic mix of talent, which delivered a very, very good show last night at Xcel Energy Center. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Chicago at the State Theatre

Chicago came into the State Theatre on May 19 loaded to the teeth with a full catalogue of hits and classics that span over 40 years, and they unleashed a wide variety of those hits, from the funky and jazzy to the slow jams and ballads, upon a largely energetic and enthusiastic audience. Right from the get-go, trombonist James Pankow, one of four founding members of the act still with the band, was into the show, moving with a swagger and energy that maybe one wouldn’t expect from the guy who is rocking the trombone. … Wait, did you expect me to say a man his age? Oh no, let me tell you, there was no sign of age on Pankow, nor really any sign of age or rust on this lot. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Billy Joel at the Target Center

There is something wonderfully refreshing in seeing a performer on stage who is completely at ease with himself, his band, and his surroundings. A performer who is simultaneously at ease with himself but ultimately controlled and professional, who knows when to play and when to reel it in for the big moments. And that was definitely Billy Joel on May 16 at the Target Center. There were moments in between songs where Billy Joel just did not seem to care, but in a good way. His talk was loose, his demeanor friendly and playful, and his banter sharp. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Rush rocks hard at the Xcel Center

It wouldn’t take a detective of Holmesian skill to immediately notice upon entrance to Xcel that Rush draws a die-hard crowd. Even ignoring overhearing a gentleman letting a total stranger know that he has been to “every Rush show since I was 14, and I’m 52 now,” it was clear by the sheer amount of Rush merch that the majority of those in attendance were rocking that this was really not anyone’s first rodeo. These folks knew exactly what they were into. Any by God, were they ready. Aside from the upper level, who can be forgiven for not standing because that can be quite a vertigo-inducing situation, there was not a fan in attendance who wasn’t on their feet from the time that curtain rose to the time that show finished. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Damien Rice nails it at Northrop Auditorium

If there was a single line or moment that perfectly captured last night’s performance at the Northrop Auditorium, it was towards the end of the show when Damien Rice said with a smile after a particularly light-hearted moment, “We’re not supposed to be laughing, it’s a sad concert.”Anyone with a particular interest in Rice’s music could likely see how a “sad concert” is what a Damien Rice show would be on the surface. There really aren’t a lot of upbeat tracks in the Rice collection, a collection overflowing with heartache and longing, the audial equivalent of a rainy day. Rice’s songs are raw, emotional, and terribly intense. They are beautiful, but they are rarely, if ever, “fun.”It is a testament to Damien Rice’s strength as a performer, then, that for almost two straight hours he could work his way through those tracks, bringing to life that illusion of emotional openness that makes you believe that there is a man in terrible pain on the stage right in front of you, sharing something secret and personal, while also managing a wit and charm in between those tracks that allows a large audience to laugh along.Rice’s musical performance throughout the night was fantastic, intense, beautiful, heartbreaking, the list can go on and on. While it seems there is much in music that loses something in the translation from recording to live performance, Rice’s songs are better live, are better with proximity to the performer. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | “Annie” timeless at the Orpheum Theatre

Stop what you’re doing right now and get all expectations of cliches out of your system. Sure, go ahead, say something along the lines of “I’ll see the production ‘Tomorrow.’” Make a few cracks regarding what a “Hard Knock Life” you’d experience if you missed this show. Go ahead and make reference to the barely related Jay-Z track. Just work it out of your system quick. We can wait.Good?You sure?It figures you had one more in you.Alright, with all that said and done, let’s get down to business: This production of Annie is wonderful. Vibrant and full of energy and optimism, this production feels surprisingly fresh for a play that is almost 40 years old that is based on material from almost 90 years ago. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Stevie Wonder a marvel at the Target Center

The very moment that Stevie Wonder was lead out to the stage by India Arie, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand.The nearly sold-out crowd in the Target Center rose to their feet for an extended standing ovation before even a single song was sung, before even a single word was spoken, a grand tribute to a musical legend who decades-long legacy has left an incredible impact on the industry. This crowd knew who this man was, and from the start were aching to show him both respect and appreciation on a grand (and very audible) scale.For his part, Stevie Wonder did not disappoint. Accompanied by a massive supporting cast of musicians and singers, Wonder displayed an incredible vocal range for his age as he guided the audience through the ups and downs of his Songs in the Key of Life album. The setlist was wonderfully arranged, maneuvering deftly between the slower, more soulful tracks, tracks like “Village Ghetto Land” and “Love’s in Need of Love Today”, and those fast, upbeat, and infinitely danceable tracks that brought the crowd to their feet again and again to dance like no one was watching, tracks like “Sir Duke” and “I Wish.”Wonder was more than just on point with his music; his playful stage-banter was a sight to behold. In engaging with a bit of improvisation with his backup singers, Wonder simultaneously showed off a very warm personality while giving those folks in the background a chance to shine.If there was really any criticism to lob at this performance, it would have to be levied at a rather long and ponderous jam session that seemed to drag a touch. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Fleetwood Mac packs the Xcel Center

There is no arguing that Fleetwood Mac’s performance at Xcel Energy Center on Jan. 16 was stellar. The crowd was completely into it, the band was playing well within their limitations incredibly well, Lindsey Buckingham was shredding all night, Stevie Nicks was as haunting as ever … it was a display of fantastic musicians playing very well to a crowd that was eating it up.There was genuine excitement in the air for Fleetwood Mac’s performance, and the pop that the band received when they took the stage was one of the loudest I have ever heard. Xcel was packed to the roof with grateful fans who were on their feet almost the whole time, singing along in unison to practically every track that the band performed, and it was clear that the band had these people’s attention and admiration from the moment they stepped on the stage.As stated before, the band played at a ridiculously high level, firing off very tight and satisfying renditions of some of their best works and bringing the crowd along for the ride on a wave that put them just within touch of the band’s high water mark years before, bringing you glimpses into that iconic act that has been so very successful for so very long.But in spite of how fantastic everything was, and how I, as a complete and total junkie for historic bands and popular music, and as an individual who very much enjoys Fleetwood Mac, knew how I should have been responding to it, I could not shake this overall feeling of boredom the entire time I was there.Regardless of whether it was one of their all time classics, like Rhiannon or The Chain, or even an incredibly moving performance of Landslide, moments into any given song my brain would start to wander into what the rest of my evening would look like, and I would wonder what other people were doing. Nothing felt genuinely captivating. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Wrestlepalooza V packs a punch at First Avenue

I could write a big article about the technical prowess of the likes of the North Star Express, Zero Gravity, and the other performers involved in Jan. 9th’s Wrestlepalooza V event at First Avenue.I could give a long list of results, giving detailed recollections of the cartoonishly ridiculous number of high-flying and amazing moments involved in each and every match right down the card.I could tell you Metallagher’s setlist, and run down how their gimmick fit the show.I could tell you how Queenie Von Curves continued to fit right into the Wrestlepalooza world, and how Musette killed in an Optimus Prime themed burlesque act uniquely catered the the folks in attendance.But none of these things, not a one, would accurately describe or do justice to how amazing Wrestlepalooza V was. And by God, it was amazing.It would seem that Wrestlepalooza is no longer the best-kept secret in wrestling, as the event finally sold out First Avenue, packing almost a thousand strong into a space that was barely able to hold the rowdy and energetic crowd. The place was hot all night for virtually everything that was going on, but particularly the wrestling, as chant after chant burst from those in attendance to spur on the performers in the ring.With each passing Wrestlepalooza it seems clear that the folks running the show are drawing closer to the perfect formula, honing in on complementary acts to the fantastic mix of wrestling, of both the pure athletic and the fun, comedic sort, in the ring. Metallagher more than any previous act fit the bill for the over-the-top action in the ring, although the mess they made probably made things a bit difficult for the wrestlers who followed.Wrestlepalooza deserves a gross amount of gushing praise that is more suited to Twitter or a comments section than should be delivered in an actual article. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | GWAR resurrect mythos at Skyway Theater

To say something was missing in regards to this GWAR show may be a little on the nose. After all, this is their first tour minus frontman Dave Brockie, who for years played the role of Orderus Urungus, and who died of a heroin overdose earlier this year, so that “something” that was missing should seem fairly obvious right from the start. But there seemed to be a sense of enthusiasm missing from the act, an act that, while still very entertaining, felt at times that it was going through the motions emulating the sort of vile, grotesque, and offensive stage show that GWAR has come to be known for rather than sincerely committing to it.Now, this is not at all to say this was a bad show. Let’s get that really clear. As said before, it was entertaining, and overall it was well paced and well performed. Continue Reading