' Cinema Romantico: A Digression: Triple Shot Of Ecstasy (No, No, No! Not THAT Kind of Ecstasy!)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Digression: Triple Shot Of Ecstasy (No, No, No! Not THAT Kind of Ecstasy!)

(Warning: Unbridled enthusiasm ahead.)

As those who know me will attest, I am a sensible, pragmatic person who firmly believes the effect of fate and destiny on our lives to be nil. This, of course, is why it stuns me to write that quite clearly I have encountered a distinct cosmic force. "Sometimes in life the gods smile upon you", as George Costanza once said, and for the next three weeks the gods have chosen to fix their shining faces squarely on me. Why? Hey, mine is not to wonder why, mine is just to saddle up and ride.

I am about to set forth on a whirlwind three week mini-tour of live music involving bands I hold near and dear to my heart with a fervor matching that of the believers who trek to Sedona for the vortexes.

When I first came to Chicago I had a little dream to find a band, a relatively unknown band still at base camp gathering their gear for the ascent up the treacherous mountainside of the music industry, and then stay with them through the entire climb to the peak. I've never experienced that feeling. The bands I passionately love the most are bands I've come to long after the fact (it's difficult to "find" a band in Des Moines, Iowa). You can never predict when or even if something like this will happen. The odds are long. I certainly was not expecting it when I strolled into Schubas that Friday evening in February last year a mere 10 minutes before Ra Ra Riot went on (they didn't go on until midnight - the fourth band on a four band docket - and after downing a few pitchers of Labatt Blue with Daryl and Dave down the street I had briefly, at 11:45, considered not even going - I don't even want to think about the alternate ending to that story) and without any effort ended up five feet from the stage. I didn't know the songs, didn't know the lyrics, didn't know anything about them, and, of course, it didn't matter. Their sound - orchestral, the guitar leaving space for everything else so it all blends together to form an elaborate melodic rum punch - resonated with me in a way most music doesn't (apparently I really like rock bands with strings). When I staggered back out onto Southport an hour later - the 60 minutes happened in about 7 minutes like all the greatest concerts do - I realized my Chicago experience finally had a soundtrack. Everything I've felt in this city before and since that night is contained in their sound - the conflicting emotions, the unyielding horror show in accord with the overwhelming beauty. (Recently their EP version of "Dying Is Fine" became the first song in the four year history of my Ipod to eclipse the 100 play plateau.)

Tonight I will partake in my fourth Ra Ra Riot show, but the first one back at the most intimate Schubas since that first time around nineteen months ago. Is this them at the "Hillary Step"?

Then on Sunday Bruce Springsteen, my hero, barnstorms into Chicago's United Center to play the "Born to Run" album in its entirety. I will not be there.

But Nick, you're saying, he's Bruce, why wouldn't you be there? What's the point of all this if you're not going to be there?

First, I've heard every song but one off "Born to Run" live. I've heard several of them numerous times. In fact, the song "Born to Run" itself really isn't even all that great live. I know the heresy I risk here but, seriously, listen to it on any live album or any bootleg and compare it to the album version. It's not a comparison. Bruce himself has said it was strictly "conceived as a studio production". It was never meant to be heard in concert. It's why the acoustic version of it is better live. I'd prefer hearing, say, "I'm Goin' Down" or "Living Proof" or the rarity "Loose Ends" (Bruce? Are you reading this?) but I digress.

I won't be at the United Center on Sunday to see him because....I'll be in my hometown of Des Moines, Iowa to see him on Monday!!!!!

But Nick, you're saying, you've already seen him in your hometown. No, no, no, I've seen him in my hometown with The Seeger Sessions Band. Great show. No doubt. Not the same. Not even close. This time he's with the - in the words of Bruce himself - "heart stoppin', earth shakin', earth quakin', heartbreakin', air conditioner shakin', history makin' E Street Band". Big difference. Comprende?

Ten years to the day (okay - not quite - ten years and and then another twelve days to the day) I first saw him live in the Motor City my idol is bringing his best friends to the place where I was born and raised. Oh sure, it's not the same E Street Band I saw ten years ago. Of course, it's not. How could it be? Danny Federici has passed on. Clarence has to sit most of the show because he's had both hips replaced. (Actually if Bruce did play "I'm Goin' Down" I'd be kinda worried Clarence would miss the cue for his solo. That happens now, I'm afraid, though I imagine it's like the Pope messing up a prayer. You just shrug and look the other way.) Max doesn't even play some shows (in which case his son Jay - who by all accounts is tremendous - fills in for him) because of his duties for The Tonight Show. And Little Stevie is now more like Big Stevie (rimshot!).

But you know what? I'm not who I was ten years ago. A road trip straight to Detroit to see him and then straight back home could not happen. We'd have to get a hotel. There would be far more pit stops at the rest area and we'd eat bad food which result in a sour stomach and by the time we got there I'd be so worn out after the drive....I mean, I'm probably going to have to take a nap the day of the show to be ready. They're older but I'm older, too. I like it. It's comforting. And it doesn't matter. Like the commentator for Backstreets.com wrote after a recent show in Bilbao, Spain:

"Three hours and 29 songs later we all filed out at 1 a.m. My friend, who was with me tonight at his first ever Bruce show, was shaking his head in disbelief that any band is able to do what they did tonight — to have the energy and the stamina to play their hearts out for three straight hours. 'Exactly how old are these guys,' he asked? 'And how many shows do they play like this over the course of the tour?' 'Just four more this week,' I responded, 'then back to the U.S. for another 25 or so. Just un otra dia en el vida.'"

It's what Bruce & The E Streeters do. It's what they've always done. Night after night after night after night. They put it on the line for us, regardless of age and aches and pain. We have to give back. It's why I was out there at Lollapalooza in August to see Ra Ra Riot at high noon in 100 degree temperatures knowing full well my decision to do so would result in a total bodily breakdown for the next 48 hours (which it did). Ra Ra Riot lays it on the line for me, I lay it on the line for them. It's communion, mo-fo's, and it's Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band in my home-frickin'-town. (Note To Anyone In My Section: I'm standing up. Deal with it.) It's enough to make you dance like you're at a Kylie Minogue show and the most chic chanteuse in the natural world is kicking it to "Got To Be Certain". Know what I'm sayin'?

You don't? Oh. Sorry, loyal readers, my bad. I suppose I don't know what it's like either but....wait, I thought I mentioned it. I could have sworn I did. I must have forgot. How did I forget? Ah well, no matter, for three weeks after seeing my current favorite band in Chicago and my all-time favorite band in my hometown I'll be back in Chicago to see live and in concert for the first time....(breathing into a bag....breathing into a bag)....Kylie Minogue.

I say again, Kylie Minogue.

Did you hear me? I'M GOING TO SEE KYLIE MINOGUE. LIVE. IN CONCERT. Enough costume changes to fill three seasons of "Sex and the City". A stage full of "beats that are hard, beats that are funky, beats to get you hooked like a crackhead junkie" (to quote Q Tip). Five feet of super-duper-uber-mega-Australian coolness....in person. It's the reason - honest to goodness - why I finally got to the eye doctor to renew my ancient prescription. If I'm gonna see Kylie Minogue, I'm gonna see Kylie Minogue. Understand?

And as enormous as my affection is for both Ra Ra Riot and Bruce, it's only appropriate that Kylie is the acte de caractéristique and not just because I have never been afforded the opportunity to witness a Minogue musical manifestation (no one in the States has until now) but because her music makes me so unbelievably happy. No music puts a smile on my face faster or relieves my stress quicker. (I know the connotations that can arise when a male admits to having "Impossible Princess" in his CD collection but, so you know, twenty-four hours after the Kylie show I'll be drinking cheap beer and yelling at my TV when Nebraska plays Missouri.)

In the wake of her battle with cancer (she won going away) a lot of people expected her next album to get all introspective (why am I here? what does it all mean?). Instead she said "Hey, I just survived cancer and, you know what, I'm kinda happy about it and all I really feel like doing is taking the jams and kicking the ever holy hell outta them" in the form of the flat-out awesome "X" (an album which did minimal business in the States because we would prefer to lavish attention on Reality TV stars and Jessica Simpson). This is an attitude for which I have the utmost respect. Her music is - in her own words - about "reaching that moment of bliss" and, rest assured, by the end of this three week run I will more than have reached it.

In the recently reviewed music documentary "It Might Get Loud" The White Stripes' Jack White was discussing his love for the blues and said "It's the music where my soul rests." Certainly the three bands and/or musicians I've mentioned would seem to have nothing in common. Ra Ra Riot is usually described as being indie-rock or indie-chamber-pop and Bruce Springsteen is rock and roll, maybe heartland rock, and Kylie Minogue is euro-diva-dance-pop but then I've never cared for labels. I like what I like.

This is the music where my soul rests.

(Can someone please just make sure to check on me when all this is over?)

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