Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Petty cache

Tributosaurus, the reigning kings of live musical impersonation, masterfully interpret the catalog of a different rock star every month. They also tackle a different headliner every New Year's Eve, and this year they pay homage to Tom Petty.

It's a good choice. Tom Petty's not the first person you think of when you try to name the superstar pop acts of the last thirty years -- U2, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen come more immediately to mind, or younger stars like Dave Matthews -- but he's quietly put together a nice career on what might be called the B tier of the big time. He was never a matinee idol or a political spokesman type, shunning the spotlight when not on stage. For him it's been enough to be what he is: a good songwriter, respectable guitarist, passable singer, and from all appearances, a profoundly decent and likeable guy.

"Tributo" doesn't just play the hits, they also serve up the deep cuts (he said in his best WCKG "nothing but the classics" Alan Stagg ultra-baritone). And they don't just bang out three chords and yell into a mike, they meticulously prepare note-for-note renditions of every song they play. I mean, these guys bring in extra keyboard players for a Genesis show, hire a horn section to play James Brown, and so on. They're all professional musicians in other bands, they just do this out of love. And on behalf of their many fans, we love them for it.

Due to high demand, they're not just playing Petty on New Year's Eve, they've added two shows tonight as well. Hurry up and get your tickets for this one, because as of January 2 it won't come around here no more.

My Flavorpill preview is here.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Patton in general

The great Patton Oswalt appears live tonight at the Lakeshore Theater. You might know him from his many entertaining appearances on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," as the voice of Remy the rat in Ratatouille, or from the alt-standup road documentary The Comedians of Comedy. He's got a smart, fresh take on more or less everything. My Flavorpill preview is here.

To get you in the mood, here he is summing up the George W. Bush presidency:

And here's his old chestnut about the KFC Famous Bowl:

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy birthday to...

...pretty much everyone but you, Jesus.

Scholars can't even agree on what year J.C. was born, much less the date, but the best evidence suggests that his birthday wasn't in December.

However, quite a number of other well known people were born on what we've come to call Christmas. So happy birthday to Humphrey Bogart, Rod Serling, Little Richard, American Red Cross founder Clara Barton, Sissy Spacek, Sir Isaac Newton, hotel magnate Conrad Hilton (recently played to perfection on Mad Men by Chicago actor and FOBB&B Chelcie Ross), Anwar Sadat, Ken "The Snake" Stabler, Floridians Jimmy Buffett and Larry Csonka, Cab Calloway, Barbara Mandrell, former Chicago Cub Manny Trillo, and newly minted baseball Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson.

And what the heck, to you too, Jesus, whenever your birthday is.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Taming of the Flu

I recently wrote about attending the opening night of the Second City's new mainstage comedy revue, Taming of the Flu, and mentioned that my Flavorpill preview would be forthcoming. It has since come forth.

Get your tickets early. The mainstage generally sells out up to a week in advance, especially for weekend shows, and although they add extra performances at holiday time, demand is high.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Phantom Menace: why it sucked

I was at a party over the weekend with some of my favorite pop culture experts, people who have read every book, seen every movie, played every video game and watched every TV show. One of them even tours with big-time rock bands and is usually good for an entertaining story or two.

Aside from some interesting talk about David Foster Wallace, the decline of Harper's magazine and the poster art of Jay Ryan, which the party hostess and I both collect, I got tipped off to the latest Internet sensation: a scathing 70-minute review of what has to begiven the enormity of its industry-changing franchise and the sixteen long years of anticipation that preceded itthe most colossally disappointing movie of all time, Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace (God, even the title is terrible).

The review takes the time to document the movie's shortcomings in exhaustive detail: its lack of a protagonist, incomprehensible story
, glaring plot holes, cardboard characters, nonsensical moments and overcluttered visuals, among many others.

It also includes footage of George Lucas and his cowering employees as they work on Phantom Menace, making clear that Lucas' immense wealth and complete creative control (plus his underlings' job security concerns and groupthink) prevent anyone from pointing out its obvious problems. Even Lucas himself more or less concedes that the movie is a huge mess, but only after it's too late to undo the damage.

The review is posted to YouTube in seven 10-minute installments that, as more than one commenter noted, amount to a far more entertaining movie than The Phantom Menace.

Here's the first installment to get you started:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The things we do for love

My friend Michelle Carman likes Steve Martin.

Sure, you're probably thinking, so does everyone. And while that may be true, I submit that she is more into Steve Martin than you are. I'm a pretty good Steve fan myself -- I can quote "A Wild and Crazy Guy" with the best of them and even got to meet him recently -- but Michelle leaves us behind.

She not only has his complete movie collection on her shelf, she has twenty Steve Martin books too, not just Born Standing Up but everything he's written, plus everything that's been written about him. She's got out-of-print Steve paperbacks from his 1970s standup days and rare titles from obscure publishers, including a memoir by his high school comedy partner. (Who knew he had one, much less that the guy had written a book?) She even has the thoughtful program guide Steve wrote when his art collection went on display at a Las Vegas museum.

But stuff is just stuff. It's the purity of Michelle's appreciation that I in turn appreciate. To hear her talk about Steve is touching: she evinces a type of deep affection that can only be called love.

Although they've met a few times around New York City, where they both live, Steve might not even remember it. I'm sure he enjoyed speaking with Michelle because she's a charming person, but she keeps a respectful distance and doesn't want anything from him that he's not already giving us via his career. She's simply a true fan in the best sense.

So when Steve recently announced a contest to make a video for "Wally on the Run," an instrumental song about his dog from his new bluegrass record:

...Michelle took notice. She's a top NYC advertising creative and knows her way around a video shoot. In fact, she and I were recently walking through Times Square when she nodded upward at a commercial playing from a huge billboard and mentioned that she'd worked on that spot.

Michelle is also a gifted artist and animator who directs short films in her free time. So naturally she applied her talents to the contest, and guess what happened?

Here's Steve to tell you more:

Way to go, Michelle! You have plenty of fans too, and we're proud of you.

Here's Michelle's prizewinning video:

And here's the other video that won a prize:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Letters to Santa

Missed Second City's big 50th anniversary weekend celebration? Same here, but they've got one more big special show in store, and maybe the best one of all.

Every December, Second City stages a 24-hour marathon benefit for Operation Letters to Santa, an ingenious charitable effort that retrieves and responds to underprivileged kids' actual letters to Santa Claus. In this case, the Second City crew picks up "Dear Santa" letters at the Chicago post office and makes poor children's Christmas wish-list dreams come true.

The benefit helps fund the effort, as do Second City's comedy and rock-star friends who perform during the 24-hour run. Now all they need is you to come out and complete the circle by catching some indie heroes (The Mountain Goats, Will Oldham) and improv grandees (Matt Walsh, Horatio Sanz) playing in a small room.

The Second City That Never Sleeps: Letters to Santa kicks off at 6pm tomorrow and runs for the next 24 hours. Jeff Tweedy takes the stage at 7pm. Tickets are $15, available at the door and good for the entire 24 hours. More information in my Flavorpill preview here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Culture watch

Here's a look at some shows worth your time now playing around town.
  • Taming of the Flu is the new mainstage comedy show at The Second City, opening as the comedy institution spends the month of December celebrating its 50th anniversary. I was fortunate to attend the premiere last night and found it funny and entertaining. My Flavorpill preview is forthcoming.
  • Also at Second City, Studs Terkel's Not Working continues its run in the e.t.c. theater. With a solid cast and sharp writing, there's a lot to like in this show. It runs through the holidays, after which the cast will begin writing and gradually work in material toward a new revue, so catch it while you can. My Flavorpill preview is here.
  • Yet again at Second City, this year's The Second City That Never Sleeps: Letters to Santa comedy and music benefit is set for Tuesday, December 15 through Wednesday, December 16. It's the eighth annual staging of a nifty holiday tradition in which 24 straight hours of big-name rock bands and comedy stars raise money to buy presents for underprivileged local kids in response to their actual letters to Santa Claus retrieved at the Chicago post office. With performers like Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, the Upright Citizens Brigade's Horatio Sanz and Matt Walsh, and The Mountain Goats, everybody wins. My Flavorpill preview is here.
  • Second City didn't produce but its Donny's Skybox Theatre plays host to Ass'09 (pronounced "asinine"), a comedic year-in-revue sendup from impresario and FOBB&B David Facchini. I would have seen it Friday night but it sold out before I could get tickets. Ass'09 runs through December 18; tickets at
  • If it's December it must be time for A Christmas Carol. The Goodman Theatre's annual staging of the holiday classic runs through the end of the month. I liked this year's model and enjoyed the stalwart Larry Yando in the lead role. My Flavorpill preview is here.
  • Missed last night's Broadway premiere of Race, David Mamet's hot new play? Same here. But there's another Mamet opening closer to home this weekend (if your home is Chicago, anyway) when the Steppenwolf Theatre officially premieres its new revival of Mamet's landmark fast-talker American Buffalo. Amy Morton directs her fellow Steppenwolf ensemble members Francis Guinan and August: Osage County playwright Tracy Letts. (What doesn't this guy do? Can he block for Matt Forte?) Previews are now underway; my Flavorpill preview is forthcoming.
  • The Addams Family is a new musical starring two-time Tony winners Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth, now running in an eight-week Chicago tryout en route to Broadway. Officially opens Wednesday but previews are underway. My Flavorpill preview is here. I also attended the show's opening press conference last spring, where I got the skinny on Charles Addams and his macabre characters' New Yorker magazine pedigree. Read about it here.
  • As if playing Grandmama in The Addams Family eight shows a week weren't enough, Jackie Hoffman is also working on her night off. The Second City veteran is playing the Royal George Theatre on Monday nights in a one-woman showcase for her brassy comedic gifts. Whining in the Windy City: Holiday Edition runs through December 21. My Flavorpill preview is here.
  • Want something seasonal? Uplifting? Outdoor? Musical? Participatory? Free? Then check out Caroling at Cloud Gate, the City of Chicago's annual festival of a cappella holiday carols sung live in Millennium Park under the "Bean." A different group of choristers leads the singing every Friday night at 6pm, with free coffee and hot chocolate courtesy of Caribou Coffee. Two more weeks. My Flavorpill preview is here.
  • Prefer your Christmas entertainment funny? Dirty? Late-night? Gonzo? Then get over to ComedySportz Theatre, where the notorious improv group The Hot Karl presents their in-your-face brand of holiday entertainment in Santa Claus Conquers the Nazis. My Flavorpill preview is here.
  • Like Wicked before it, Jersey Boys came to Chicago from Broadway, set up camp downtown and made all the money. The slickly produced and highly enjoyable story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons runs through the holidays and closes its wildly successful two-year run on January 10. My Flavorpill preview is here.
  • The road from Broadway runs in both directions, as Million Dollar Quartet has announced it's picking up stakes after the new year and transferring to the Great White Way. It's the true tale of the now-legendary 1956 all-night jam session when Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis -- oh, and Elvis Presley -- cranked out each other's songs at Sam Phillips' Sun Studios in Memphis. They'll play the hits and you'll love it. Through January 3. My Flavorpill preview is here.
  • If your idea of standup comedy is a middle-aged, middle-class American standing in front of a brick wall on cable television complaining about his wife, there's a whole big world out there you should get to know, creatively and geographically. You can do both at Make Chai Not War, a showcase for some of the best young comedians in the business, several of whom happen to be of Indian or Muslim descent. Local favorite Hannibal Buress, now writing for Saturday Night Live, headlines. Make Chai Not War plays the Lakeshore Theater this Sunday evening in a benefit for Apna Ghar, a shelter for abused women and children. My Flavorpill preview is here.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Don't hassle the Hoffman

She's cranky enough already. But also talented and hilarious.

Working on her Monday nights off from playing Grandmama in The Addams Family, Jackie Hoffman lights up the Royal George Theatre with a one-woman show entitled Whining in the Windy City: Holiday Edition. Buy a ticket and brace yourself.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tricky Jay

The illusionist Ricky Jay is deeply connected to the unknowable mysteries of the universe. One of these, David Mamet, has featured Jay's sleight-of-hand expertise on the silver screen and directed his two previous touring stage shows, Ricky Jay & His 52 Assistants and Ricky Jay: On the Stem.

Jay's back on the road with A Rogue's Gallery, his third Mamet-helmed evening of chitchat and prestidigitation. This time he's bringing a stageful of magical posters and artifacts with him, taking questions about them from the crowd and performing illusions based on the conversation. So the audience chooses its own adventure.

A Rogue's Gallery opens tonight at the Royal George Theatre and plays Chicago all week. My Flavorpill preview is here.