1+1=3

There’s a moment towards the end of Springsteen On Broadway where The Boss, after talking about the darkness of our times, the difficulties of absorbing the world as it is right now after making a study of the American soul over the course of his life, and his hope in the youth of our country, plays the mournful Grapes Of Wrath themed masterpiece of a ballad “The Ghost Of Tom Joad,” and the lights go out, as he finishes, and they turn blue as they switch back on, and he plays, “The Rising.” It’s a moment of art and wonder, symbolising the fall and rebirth of the American dream, the inevitability of each generation. It’s a beautifully artistic moment bringing you into the end of an evening where things that were infinitely familiar to me, were stripped down, re contextualized and elevated.

I was born, and I was a Bruce Springsteen fan. I was baptized twice, once with water and Chrism and once in the surf of The Jersey Shore (which, Bruce assures us, he invented, pretty much.) (He also assures us, several times throughout the evening that he’s full of shit.) At fifteen I stood before a bishop and took a new name, confirming my place as an adult in the church, but the year before I’d heard Clarence whale the sax on “Thunder Road,” confirming my life long love of this music.

Springsteen On Broadway is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, and that includes the ten or so times I’ve seen the man perform live before. The stripped down arrangements of the music, the sheer raw intimacy of the thing, is beyond compare. It’s uplifting and emotionally exhausting, and a singularly illuminating look into a mind of artist, who’s work has meant so much to me.

Anyway, the show goes onto Netflix in 10 days, and I’m immensely grateful for the chance to see it live. (Even if my credit card company isn’t.) I’m sure I’ll watch it many more times, because it’s deeply moving and truly special, an essential entry for any Springsteen fan.

Fangirl Concert Series: Flogging Molly & Dropkick Murphy’s at The Stone Pony

I’m seeing a bunch of concerts this summer so I figured that I’d talk about them a little bit, y’all up for it?

Anyway, my summer concert scheduled kicked off with seeing the two most famous Celtic Punk bands in existence. (As these things go, I know it’s a niche genre.) Also, the show was at The Stone Pony, (Well, their outdoor summer stage…not the club itself…) which if you know a lot about Rock history, you’ve probably heard of. (As a primer, it’s the small club in Asbury Park, NJ where Springsteen first assembled The E Street Band.)

I was excited for this show, I’ve been a fan of both Flogging Molly and Dropkick for a while, and hadn’t seen either of them live. This was mostly out of fear, if I’m honest. I like a lot of punk music, but a lot of the crowd action freaks me out. I hate moshing and crowd surfing, so if a venue isn’t big enough that I can hang back, I tend to skip it.

Dropkick’s shows in particular, are notorious for their heavy violent pits, because you know, drunk Irish dudes and angry music.

Anyway. I drove down to Asbury on Sunday, worked my way into the summer stage area (gorgeous, really well laid out.) picked up a Coorrs Lite (Only $6! AT A CONCERT VENUE IN THE TRI STATE AREA! I was floored!) and prepared for the Shenanigans.

Shenanigans were had, friends were made, dancing occurred. I preferred Flogging Molly’s set. I’ve always preferred them though, being more of a Ramones type punk than a Sex Pistols one, and thus I place more emphasis on general songcraft than loud emotion. (There are merits to both) But man, when both bands came out and closed the show with “Shipping Out To Boston” it was such a joyous explosion of musical joy that Dropkick may have won the day. (If this were a competition.) Also enjoyable? Flogging Molly congratulating the Mexican World Cup team on their win, and dedicating their song about parenthood to the separated families at the border, to the general uncomfortable rumblings of their audience. (I had found a lovely group of queer ladies by then, and we all WOOOED and clapped, but it was quiet when they said it.) (Also, I was not like, blown away that discussion on ICE activity brought on uncomfortable grumbling from this audience rather than wild applause, but I’m glad it was brought up.) (For the record, I am staunchly AGAINST ripping children away from their parents and putting them in cages and warehouses.) (I have already called my reps about it and so should you. ALSO VOTE IN NOVEMBER!)

Discussion of human atrocities aside, I also just liked their vibe more. Flogging Molly plays like a prototypical rock and roll group, letting the music largely speak for itself, which I think suited the laid back beachy vibe of the venue. Dropkick puts on a heavier show, which was also fun, but way less my scene for this kind of thing.

I’m glad I went and I’ve broken another “single girl” barrier, by going by myself. More solo concerts to come, I’m sure!

The next concert (that I know of, unless something comes up) is Taylor Swift at MetLife Stadium on July 20.

So…that’ll be different than this…almost entirely.

 

You Can’t Stop The Beat

hairspray-promo-gives-first-look-at-cast-in-costume

 

I love Hairspray.

Like love it, love it.

There were nights in high school where it seemed like the only thing helping me hold on to my sanity was belting “Good Morning Baltimore” in my friend Lauren’s car.

“I Can Hear the Bells,” was a go to audition piece when I needed to show that I could “act.” (I cannot act, I can be cute in “I Can Hear The Bells,” and mildly affecting in “Nothing,” from A Chorus Line.) A theater camp show where a group of us acted out scenes and songs, as though we were girls at a pajama party in the 60’s was a highlight of my career. (The high point was playing Mrs. Paroo in The Music Man.) 

Anyway, this show matters to me in a big way. So, I was excited for NBC’s live version, especially after The Wiz was so fantastic, and Grease Live, upped the ante on what this kind of programming could do.

Hairspray Live, did not live up. It wasn’t actively bad, but it wasn’t anything special, outside of a few really great performances. Overall, I think moving the production to LA and away from Broadway talent was a big mistake. The things that propped up even the weaker points of The Sound Of Music Live and Peter Pan Live were the true blue Broadway vets giving it their all. And the pros pulled it out again for Hairspray.

Harvey Fierstien, Kristin Chenoweth, Martin Short, Derek Hough and Jennifer Hudson were outstanding. Even newcomer Maddie Baillio as Tracy turned in a decent performance, full of vulnerability and she’s got the voice for sure. But with the exception of Dove Cameron’s consumate mean girl Amber, the young cast seemed out of sync with each other and the piece. Garret Clayton and Ariana Grande in particular seemed miscast, neither of them understanding the comedy of their characters and in Grande’s case, a bad fit for the singing too.

This felt like a huge step back. We’ll see how things go next time around with a Jennifer Lopez lead Bye Bye Birdie. (Now, Clayton I could see doing very well as Conrad Birdie, as the swoony “It’s Takes Two” was the only part of his performance that I liked.)

But I’m still happy that this exists. This has been a big couple of years for musical theater, and it feels like we’re not going to get shoved back in our weird little corner anymore, and I’m psyched about that.

But this performance, when Billy Eichner came out at the end, I expected him to start shouting and smashing things, telling them that they were desecrating something beautiful.

He didn’t, but that would have been funnier than “Without Love,” a hilarious song that was played straight.

Born To Handjive: Grease Live

Grease Live

I liked a lot about Grease Live, a lot of it baffled me. But the good 100% outweighed the bad, so let’s start there.

  • Vanessa Hudgens. I was very skeptical about her. But she SLAYED as Rizzo, Mike and I were slackjawed through her performance of “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.” The power of her performance was only amplified by the fact that her father died yesterday morning. Pushing through that kind of pain is incredible.
  • Aaron Tveit, who gave Danny Zuko a sense of humor and an awkward charm that I’ve never seen. There’s only one Travolta, but that didn’t matter here.
  • The direction. By using television as a medium rather than just filming a stage show, and melding the stage and screen version of Grease they created something entirely new. It was exciting and vital and interesting.
  • “Freddy My Love” and “Those Magic Changes” made the cut! I was SO GLAD. “Those Magic Changes” is my favorite song from Grease,  and I’ve always hated it’s exclusion from the movie version. I did miss “Shakin At The High School Hop,” but I get the desire to put the more well known “Rock and Roll Is Here To Stay.” And THANK GOD they went with “Hopelessly Devoted To You,” and “Sandy (Baby),” over “It’s Raining On Prom Night” and “Alone At The Drive In,” which have not aged well.
  • The dancing, costumes and sets, which were stunning. Also wigs. I loved the wigs. They all looked great.
  • Color blind casting! I love that theater does this. A hispanic Rizzo, a black Marti, and countless ensemble members of color. Bless you, Grease Live.  (Also, Keke Palmer, as Marti, more of that please. She was a delight!)
  • Boyz II Men as “The Teen Angels.” “Beauty School Dropout” can, if done poorly can slow a production of Grease to a crawl. Instead, they reinvented it, delivered a killer version of the song and kept me engaged.

Here are the less fun things.

  • Grease is not my favorite musical. I like it. I’ve never loved it. The songs are impossible to resist, but the book has always left me cold. I was in it in high school though and that gives me warm feelings towards a lot of the stuff. It was nice to think about my friends, but it still doesn’t change the more cringey/corny bits of a script I’ve never loved.
  • Julianne Hough. I am a huge fan of hers, and she just, didn’t deliver. Sandy is something of a blank slate, and it’s up to the actress portraying her to give her any sense of a personality and Hough just didn’t. It was wonderful to see her dance again though.
  • The dead studio audience. I was so excited that they were using an audience, but they barely reacted. It was strange, but at least they had applause after the dancing.
  • Mario Lopez’s weird hosting. It didn’t make sense. I loved him playing Vince Fontaine, I thought he was perfect for the part, but the interstitials were just confusing.
  • New Frenchy song. I get that Frenchy doesn’t really get a musical moment, and you have Carly Rae Jepsen, but the song wasn’t good, and felt too contemporary, and just didn’t fit.

Overall I’d say it was great. It was definitely better than Peter Pan or The Sound Of Music, but not as explosive and interesting (In My Opinion) as The Wiz. But I think that it made much better use of it’s medium than any of the others and live audience (even a fairly dead one) is better than awkward silence and cut to commercials. I hope that these events keep growing and learning, because I enjoy them quite a bit.

When The Clock Reads 21:13

When you’re into a fandom, there are often things that you can point to and say, “That! That’s the thing that best explains this thing.” I experienced one of those moments on Thursday night as I stood sweaty and beaten from a mosh pit at Coheed & Cambria’s In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth 3 Neverender concert.

Things had slowed down, the lights had gone down and come back up and Claudio came out and said, “Mr. Light Bright, can I get the numbers please?” And the lit screens behind him lit up with the number “2113” and he started playing “21:13.”

Of course, we all went nuts! Crazy, all over the place nuts.

So this week, I’m exploring my “gateways,” the things that before I identified as a full on fangirl and nerd got me thinking, “there’s something to this,” things that lead me down paths and rabbit holes that have gotten me to where I am now.

I started listening to Coheed & Cambria when I was 15. I’ve never looked like the kind of person that would be into their music and often got very defensive. Showing up at an emo and punk show in a polo dress always kind of got me some weird looks. And I certainly didn’t do it on purpose to be an asshole. I mean, what kind of a teenager would do that?

But the first comic book I ever read was Amory Wars #1, my friend Aley had bought it and we were both reading it. It sparked something in me. It was so weird and cool and interesting. I should note that I didn’t keep reading though. I can’t even begin to explain how insecure I was about my nerdy stuff in high school. I was terrified that someone would find out and I don’t know what I thought would happen, exactly.

This was years before Batman Begins and my friends were only interested in X-Men in so far as one of our Broadway Idols Hugh Jackman was involved.

But Coheed was different. Before The Amory Wars came out, all any of us could do was guess what the hell the story of this album was, based on the songs themselves. And while the music is great context for the story, it doesn’t exactly fill you in on what’s actually going on.

We totally got that there was child murder going on though. That was always pretty obvious.

But it wasn’t until I started going to live shows my senior year of high school that I started to understand how fandom works. See, theatre fandom is a weird little niche. It has some internet and real world cross over, but for the most part you share it just with your friends that you do theater with. But waiting on line to go to a Coheed show you talk about which shows you’ve seen, favorite songs, what you think is next for the story.

Coheed is special to me for a lot of reasons, but mainly because it was one of my first fandoms and because it continues to be a really meaningful bond with my siblings and Joe. And I always have fun at these shows, which is why I keep going.

So how does this link the moment I described before?

Aside from the fact that Coheed fans are some of the most awesome people in the entire world, it’s a really, really, fun positive group of people who’ve all grown up together. We were teenagers when this music started, and now we’re in our twenties. We all remember when the “A Favor House Atlantic” video was actually on MTV2 on a regular basis. But I had a moment on Thursday, where I looked around and thought, “Who are all these grown ups at the Coheed show?” Then I realized, we’re the grown ups at the Coheed show. We’re not drinking warm plastic bottle vodka in the bathroom anymore, we’re ordering beers in the back. We’re still moshing and crowd surfing. (Not me personally, I mosh a little, but I’d have a nervous breakdown if I tried to crowd surf.) And a lot fewer people are being thrown out.

But these fans aren’t just awesome, they feed in a big way off of Claudio’s silliness and positivity. The music itself is pretty angry and violent, but Claudio radiates joy and light from his side of things and the crowd absorbs it.

And that’s a pretty cool thing.

Man Your Battle Stations: One Crazy Night With The Best Fans On The Fence

Hello Apollo…where shall I begin?

At around 2:45 PM, Saturday, Mary, Joe and I hopped in to my mom’s GMC Acadia, with Mary at wheel. We drove for somehwere between two and a half and three hours, and arrived at The Showboat Atlantic City Hotel and Casino. We checked in to our hotel room, I changed clothes (a gesture later deemed almost completely futile), had a glass of wine and we walked across the casino floor to the House of Blues music hall and stood in line.

We were in line for Coheed and Cambria, who, as I’ve said several times, are my favorite band. My sister and Joe give Coheed an enormous amount of credit for their relationship. Their love of the band was one of the things that they bonded over when they first met when they were 18. It’s immensely adorable to watch them get geared up for a show.

Actually, it’s just immensely adorable to watch them…

This show was extra special for all of us, because the opener for the show was The Dear Hunter, another one of Mary’s favorite bands.

Well, they were the second opener. The doors opened at 8 and we made out way to the pit. The first opener, a band called 3 quickly won over the crowd when they went on at 8:45. By 10:30, when Dear Hunter finished, we were all psyched for everything to start, Mike had joined us, and I had had two Miller Lites and peed three times. Then the show started.

There’s an old Irish saying, sometimes attributed to William Butler Yeats, “There are no strangers here, only friends we haven’t met yet.” I feel that way at most concerts but it comes through even more with cultish bands like Coheed. Coheed fans are so deeply passionate about this music. We pushed and pulled in the pit and after three songs I was soaked through with sweat and completely out of breath. However, 3 songs in the pit is a personal best for me, and moshing has never been something that I loved anyway. (Moshing is made much more pleasant by the presence of my six foot five ex defensive lineman brother making sure that no one roughs me up too bad.) I was determined to break out of my comfort zone on this one though and I did just that.

Mike made it a few more songs, but in the end he and I wound up hanging out by the bar, dancing, singing along and me drinking more Miller Lite. (He’d been in the casino, so already had a decent buzz going.) We made friends, danced with them, sang along with them, and we all walked out at 12:30 AM this morning, saying it was the best Coheed show we’d ever been to.

This isn’t a small claim to make. I’ve been to 4 Coheed shows, this was Mary’s eighth, Joe’s seventh, and Mike’s fifth or sixth. Mike also saw them open for Brand New when they were just starting out.

Mike has a lot of emo kid street cred for a preppy jock.

Mary was even at the legendary 10th Anniversary Neverender show. We’ve seen line up changes, (the departure of epic drummer Chris Pennie, now replaced with the lower key but extremely talented Josh Eppard. And last time Joe, Mary and I saw them bassist Mic Todd had just been arrested for armed robbery. He’s not in the band anymore.) We’ve loved all of those shows, but this one was simply impossible to explain. The energy of the room was unstoppable, Claudio was in rare form. I love seeing people enjoy what they’re doing, particularly when what they’re doing is something immensely cool, like playing in a rock band or being a professional athlete. And  last night, Claudio was having fun. He was wailing on both his guitar and vocally, telling goofy stories and laughing.

We spent the rest of the night, drinking gambling and laughing. We didn’t get to bed until 5:30 AM.

I love my family. I love this band. I love that when we found out this was happening it was a complete no brainer for us. This was going to happen. We were going to go. We were going to have an amazing time. And we did.

The Afterman Part 1: Ascension comes out on October 9. You’ll be hearing more about Coheed and Cambria from me in the mean time as bits and pieces leak out.

10 Days!

When I’m Out In The Street

I’m kind of in full on concert mode these days and it’s pretty great. Last night I went to see Bruce Springsteen at Met-Life Stadium.

I’ve seen Springsteen many times. This is in fact the third time this year I’ve seen The Boss live. (We go at least once every time he’s in the area.) If you haven’t seen a Springsteen concert, or you’re “not a fan,” I suggest going. You will be a fan by the time the show is over. You may even be a fan by the time the first song is over. I’ve seen this happen. (April, Madison Square Garden, my sister Mary’s boyfriend, Joe.)

This show I was down in the general admission floor with Michael, Mary, Joe, Katherine and Mike’s friend Jeff. We also ran in to a guy I hadn’t seen since middle school and we all hung out dancing, drinking, laughing and having an amazing time.

Bruce Springsteen is kind of like the Giants, in that it was just always tied up in my family history. My parents met and fell in love while he was starting to break out in the mid seventies, their early marriage, (before the 3 of us kids came in and made their lives so much brighter and more wonderful) was in the early to mid 80’s, when The River and Born in The USA ruled the world. This is music that is deep inside of me.

It was one of the stranger Springsteen concerts that I’ve ever attended. The set list was a bizarre amalgam of new songs (“Wrecking Ball” the title track of his most recent album is like the greatest explanation of how Jersey people think of themselves.) covers, and obscure album tracks.(Anytime he plays “Lost in The Flood” and “Bobby Jean,” you know you’re probably not going to hear “Thunder Road” is what I’m saying.) “Rosalita,” which is usually played last, was played around 10 PM.

I had an amazing time, I really did. It was a strange mix though.

A Heart Don’t Forget Something Like That

I’ve been listening to country music for about seven years. Longer than that if you count Shania Twain (I don’t count Shania Twain). It all started when my brother came home from college in Washington DC, talking about Tim McGraw.

“Who?”

“Tim McGraw. You know him, Reen, he’s married to Faith Hill.” I stared at him dumbfounded. But then, when he would drive me places, we would listen to Tim McGraw. And wow did I like this music.

He also looks like this. And that is appealing to 16 year old girls, for some reason.

It didn’t take long after that for some of my other friends to come out of the woodwork, talking about how much they loved country music. It was like this weird secret that none of us ever talked about, but we all had in common. It’s hard when you live in the suburbs of New York, where there’s no country music radio station (and this is pre Pandora, Spotify and even I-Pods were new and only a few of my friends had them…), and where every teenager is trying to more of a sophisticated New Yorker than anything else, to embrace this kind of music, and to find new stuff was even harder.

My friends and I used to trade mix CD’s (remember Mix CDs?) of country music with our favorite stuff on them. Mine were always loaded down with Tim and Faith, had some Toby Keith (my friend Cha and I started drinking whisky because of Toby Keith…though we hate admitting that) and the occasional Dolly Parton or Kenny Rogers track.

Then one day a friend handed me a CD that started with a song called, “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” I looked at the listing, Kenny Chesney? How had I not heard of this guy? So I went home, went on Limewire (remember Limewire?) and downloaded a whole bunch of Kenny Chesney. I loved how clear it was that yes, he was straight country, but he also seemed to be the clear successor to Jimmy Buffet

“No shoes, no shirt, no problem!”

I’ve been hooked ever since. I was lucky enough to go to college in a place that did have a country station, and met other people who were in to this music.

Last night I went to The Brothers of The Sun tour concert. It’s a dual tour headlined by Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney. I had an incredible time. I was with my immediate family and my cousin Billy, as well as Juli and Kate.

Also, I owe Juli and Kate and apology for not introducing them earlier. Because seriously, they should have been friends for years!