Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Music Box: Live With Rosie & Kylie

It was a whirlwind of a weekend, seeing live performances by Rosanne Cash and Kylie Minogue, plus Carrie Fisher's "Wishful Drinking" on Thursday (which I wrote about HERE). Catching Rosanne and Kylie in concert back-to-back was an interesting experience that kind of left me feeling like I'd just seen a double-feature, one starring Meryl Streep and the other Gina Gershon. They were both enjoyable, but in an entirely different kind of way.

Rosanne Cash is an American treasure, who I feel is easily the most gifted singer/songwriter making music today. Her sold-out shows at St. Ann's Warehouse were the kickoff for her tour to support "The List," her new album of songs based on a list of 100 essential country songs her father gave her when she was 18, after realizing her rock 'n' roll childhood in Southern California had left her deficient in the genre of music that made him a superstar. I had gotten the album three days before the show and prepared diligently, quickly falling in love with her unique interpretations of songs like "Sea of Heartbreak" (The Boss helps out), "500 Miles," "Heartaches by the Number" and "Long Black Veil." But having seen (and loved) her live twice before, I was concerned about her having to pare down 30 years' worth of work to make room for a dozen new songs in her repertoire. Much to my surprise, the change-up made for her best concert to date, as the songs her dad introduced her to helped create a more intimate and personal experience as she explained how she selected them out of 100, and what they meant to her.

Taking on "She's Got You," a song owned by the legendary Patsy Cline, seemed to be the highest mountain for her to climb, and she became visibly emotional when she told the crowd she'd gotten to meet Hank Cochran, the only songwriter alive from "The List," just days before the show. "Girl From the North Country" was a Bob Dylan song he re-recorded with her dad in 1969, "making me the coolest 14-year-old in the world." And before singing “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow,” a Carter Family song, she recalled how she had tried to get members of her dad's traveling show to teach her the guitar the summer she graduated high school, but that Carl Perkins only had the patience to teach her a note and then would get bored with her. It would be Helen Carter -- stepmom June Carter Cash's sister -- who helped her learn to play guitar, backstage over the course of a tour, and it was to Helen she dedicated the sad tune.

The set was sprinkled with Rosanne classics -- "Seven Year Ache," "Blue Moon With Heartache" (goosebumps every time) and "The Wheel," plus a few from "Black Cadillac," her 2006 album that documented the passing of her parents and stepmother -- but it was the anecdotes around "The List" that made the night truly unforgettable, like taking a college course in the History of the Great American Songbook with the coolest teacher on campus. (Daughter Chelsea Crowell, who is releasing her first album next month, asked Mom when she was going to give her "A List." Rosanne says she's working on one now, but I'm already thinking there are still 86 songs on Johnny's that she hasn't tackled yet.)

Monday's Kylie show at Hammerstein Ballroom got off to a bad start, from which it did not ever fully recover. I had never been to the place, but they had a strict (except when they're not enforcing it) NO CAMERA policy, and I was one of the chosen ones who was forced to "check" my camera at the door. That it was actually Michael's new camera for work that I had borrowed instantly put him on edge -- the reassuring sign "MANHATTAN CENTER IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR PERSONAL PROPERTY" didn't help matters any -- which in turn made me unhappy. (Later, of course, the ENTIRE crowd was shooting video and pictures.) From there, our home-printed tickets were mysteriously not being read by the scanner. (Runaround ensued.) Finally inside, we realized all those letters and numbers on our tickets weren't actually seat numbers, which meant standing and being shoved for two hours. (Sorry, but this guy was tired after going out two nights in row, and Michael doesn't do well with pushy crowds, either.)

But then there SHE was, being lowered from the ceiling on a gigantic red-lame skull stolen from Marilyn Manson's Christmas decorations. She looked beautiful and glamourous -- the crowd went wild -- and for a moment it seemed like the night's fortunes were turning around. It was quite an entrance, the first of several elaborate stage effects to come. (The video screens were the best, a nod to Warhol here, a nod to Sprouse there.) More impressive, though, was that the girl can actually sing live. (I had no idea. And if anyone had any doubts, she took a request and belted it out a cappella!)

But as I've mentioned, I'm a casual fan. And although I'd gotten instructions on how to cram for the concert from a Kylie-fan friend, I ended up borrowing the two-disc "Ultimate Kylie" but never got around to the second requirement, "X." This proved to be a big mistake as she did quite a few songs off of it that I was unfamiliar with. And while I thought the fun of it all would be enough to get me through the show, I found that not being able to sing along to every song really did bother me. I'm an OCD freak when it comes to music, and just as I feel most people at Blondie concerts DON'T DESERVE to be there, I was kind of feeling that way about myself. It was at this exact moment that we realized Hugh Jackman was about six feet from us in a slightly raised VIP section. (Kylie WHO?) Suddenly, my entire focus was on him. (And let it suffice to say the security team earned their keep that night.) Who was he with? Was he singing along to any of the songs? Was he reacting to the video screens of Kyle's backup dancers showering and working out? (The cast and crew of "A Steady Rain" plus Alan Cumming; no; not as far as I could tell.) But after a few slow songs I didn't recognize and growing increasingly tired of this fat queen and his fag hags who wouldn't shut up directly behind us, I was actually getting impatient for the whole thing to end. Kylie was adorable and definitely puts on a good show, but it really reiterated what I already knew: I don't like giant productions, precisely why I prefer my memory of The Virgin Tour over seeing Sticky and Sweet. I like a singer or a band just belting it out, no frills. The smaller and more grungy the venue the better.

On a purely critical level, though, I will say this: the awkward pauses during costume changes were a bit off-putting (no video, no music?). And while she did do a bunch of her best-known songs -- "Better the Devil You Know," "Spinning Around," "I Believe in You" and "Light Years" -- when you ONLY have a few Top 40 hits somewhere, you might wanna do ALL of them. While some of her fans might not have been alive when her first album came out in '88, from the looks around the theater most of them were more than familiar with "I Should Be So Lucky." And since it's the ONLY Kylie record I ever bought, I sure would have enjoyed seeing her perform it. Still, all in all it was a fun show that I'm sure I would have enjoyed more had I not been so tired and cranky. Did Kylie make me wanna be more than a "casual" fan? The jury is still out. But I have been singing "In My Arms" all day -- a song I had to learn on the fly at the show -- so there may be hope. But more importantly, will fans have to wait 21 years for a second North American tour?

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nojarama said...

I feel for you & Michael regarding the camera issue. My personal rule is I NEVER bring my phone or my camera to a gig.

As for Ms. Minogue, I am BITTER jealous. I didn't get to see her at the Hollywood Bowl here (hopefully she'll return & eve better, release A DVD of one of her US shows). I adore the 3 live DVD's I have of her already. She IS what Madonna could have been (if her ego & horribly bad music judgements (the entire Hard Candy album (BLECH! Even Duran Duran realized their mistake using Timbaland, yet Madge didn't listen) )& the collaborations with Paul Oakenefold (I'm sorry, but it's 2009 NOT 1999) - she obviously has lost her touch with the pulse of the music scenes)...

Don't get me wrong, Madonna WAS a genius, now she's just a shell (full of Rejuviderm and cheek implants) of her former self who puts out crap (nothing since the Confessions tour has been relevant IMO). Kylie has consistently gotten better with each album/tour she's done.

Long live Queen Kylie!!!

taffy said...

well, i am a bigger (and less casual) fan than you, so i guess i enjoyed it much more from a purely song-selection point of view...i mean, i knew most of the songs, and have owned and enjoyed the X album for a year and a half now (in fact, In My Arms and Wow are two of my fave Kylie songs ever). I also knew she wasn't gonna do I Should Be So Lucky, so wasn't particularly disappointed. I own all the concert DVDs, so the staging of each number was familiar to me; thank god she kept the shower scene! I had a very good place in the middle of the ballroom, about 1/4th of the way back, but even i had difficulty with sightlines - lots of tall guys and way too many fucking iPhones being held up to take ics and videos, blocking my view. Meanwhile, at one point I became obsessed with celebrity sighting, and finally realized that Jake Shears and Rufus Wainwright were in the left box. Jake looked like he was having such fun, while Rufus looked kinda pissy/bored. Boy is he (Rufus) lucky to have such a hot hunk of german boyfriend. I did see Alan Cumming on the right, but it was only about 2/3 of the way into the show when my friend david says - i think thats Hugh Jackman in the box, and we all decided it probably was him, but i honestly wasn't 100% convinced til your text the next morn. I thought the Confide in Me/I Believe in You sequence was particularly gorgeous...I Believe in You is the Jake Shears prodiced new song on the Ultimate Kylie collection - maybe on the disc you sadly didn't get to play beforehand.

Anyway, for me it was a kick-ass nyc wknd. I wouldnt have traded it for a million marches-on-washington. Altho honestly, DC couldnt have been any gayer than the kylie show, right?