Sunday, July 24, 2011

U2 Magnificent!

Bono waves to the fans below
Magnificent is the only word that comes to mind when describing last night's outdoor U2 concert at the University of Minnesota's TCF stadium. Having already experienced the U2 360° Tour at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland back at the start of the tour in 2009, I thought it would be an interesting experience to get General Admission tickets and attempt to get close up to the  spaceship/claw-like stage. I had to wait over a year to use these tickets as last year's concert was postponed due to Bono's back surgery. Well, it was worth the wait and we certainly got up close—smashed into 8 sweaty, standing-room-only rows from the front of the main stage and two rows from the catwalk stage behind us. We were inside the Inner Circle!

Inside the Inner Circle stage
Storms skirted around the stadium and cooled us off with gusts of cool air while the opening band Interpol rocked the crowd. By the time U2 took the stage, 60,000 fans were crammed into the stadium; so far the storms were holding off. The massive spaceship stage lit up and the 360° screen revolved with images of U2 walking onto the stage. The place exploded when Bono strode up to his mike and belted out Even Better Than the Real Thing. And it was even better! Such an amazing encounter being so close to U2 during the performance. The lights, smoke, music, stage, Bono, and crowd all interacting together really was unforgettable.

Bono and Adam
The Claw stage includes a catwalk stage that loops around the Inner Circle audience (where I was standing), and the band accesses it by one of two bridges that are on wheels that move over the crowd. At one point during Mysterious Ways, Bono and The Edge sang and played on the catwalk stage directly behind me. I felt like I could just reach out and touch them. The moment was electrifying!

Adam in the deluge
What made this show even more memorable was the rain. It started as a sprinkle halfway into the show and grew to a deluge that soaked everyone including the band. But U2 went on without a single pause. They played their guitars and sang in the pouring rain while we screamed along with them. Adam  Clayton stripped off his soaked shirt and played his bass bare-chested. We were amazed at how they could play their guitars so perfectly in the pouring rain. The experience was amplified by the fireworks going off at the nearby Aquatennial, the constant pouring rain, and the lightening illuminating the sky. A surreal experience that I will never, ever forget. Best of all I got to live this with my husband and our next-door neighbors . . . Jen and Greg thank you for sharing this with us!
Soaked but still smiling

I've attached links to reviews of this show if you'd like more details as well as my short snippet of video. The set list is in the first link. For those of you who haven't yet experienced the U2 360° Tour, you really missed out as only two shows remain. Given the energy level of Bono and the boys, I have no doubt that they will be back with another album and spectacular tour. I intend on finding myself inside the Inner Circle for that concert as well!

Bono Singing In the Rain


Rio Girl Finally a Duran Duran VIP: Part Two

The Wild Boys

Finally the conclusion to my epic Duran Duran tale. (I've attached the link to Part One of this article if you'd like to refresh your memory: I left off, the crowd of mainly ladies-of-a-certain-age and gay men are going wild with anticipation of seeing the Fab Five.   
The John Taylor smirk

Then Nick Rhodes sneaks onto the tiny stage and hides out behind his keyboards, synthesizers, and Mac laptop where he remains for the entirety of the show, randomly snapping pictures of the crowd with his Canon camera. His personality, very much sly and catlike, came across as he started the first strands of Planet Earth. Then Roger Taylor strides across the stage and takes his place with his head and drumsticks peeking out from behind his drum kit. Dom the lead guitarist slides into his place as John Taylor glides onto the stage right in front of my sister and I. We are screaming out how much we love him along with everyone else. He just smirks his trademark John Taylor Smirk right back at us. He knows he is loved and he LOVES it! Finally Simon LeBon is in his spot, also directly in front of me, at his mike, belting out Planet Earth as only Simon can. Completely UNBELIEVABLE!

For a lifetime and true die-hard Duran Duranie like myself and my sister, Linda, we are in Duran Duran heaven for the next 90 minutes. This is the band that we grew up with, whose life-sized posters were plastered all over our bedroom walls, and whose songs we've memorized for life. If you don't have a band like Duran Duran in your life, you may never relate to this epic experience.

Simon LeBon never sounded better at this concert. A crystal clear and beautiful voice with an amazing range. Simon was just mesmerizing to watch as he's so animated and truly lives these songs. I just stood there watching him while his drops of sweat rained down on me. Yes, Simon sweat!  That's how close we were to the band. His black sequined shirt started off buttoned up but as the show progress those buttons came undone. Hot!

They played all of the favorites: Hungry Like the Wolf, Notorious, The Reflex,  Ordinary World as well as a bunch of new songs off their latest album that is now their number two bestseller after 1982's Rio album. A friend asked me if I thought they ever tired of playing all of their old hits. Duran Duran showed no signs of boredom with any of their material. They showed no signs of fatigue either. Like the rest of us, they shed layers of clothing as the club heated up. Duran Duran concluded their set with an inspiring and heartfelt Reach Up for the Sunrise that had the entire club reaching and dancing!

After a very brief break, the emerged for their encore and the club nearly imploded with Rio, which just happens to be my FAVORITE Duran Duran song EVER. I had to just  stop dancing and snapping pictures to take in the moment. To have Simon sing a line from Rio as I gazed into his eyes . . . something about "I see you on the beach and I see you on tv". A moment to watch and listen to John Taylor as he expertly played his Rio bass solo or to flirt with the incredibly flirty and suggestive Dom the guitar player who replaced Andy Taylor. (That's ok. Linda and I really didn't like Andy anyway. Sorry Andy.) Unfortunately A View to a Kill was a bit disappointing, but they more than made up for it with their classic closer Girls on Film.

That was it. Suddenly the show was over. The band always meets at the middle of the stage for a wave and a bow. Nick came out from behind his wall of synthesizers and Roger Taylor emerged from his drums with his drumsticks in hand, meeting up with Simon, Dom, and John. They are smiling and waving to the crowd while I'm screaming out ROGER,  ROGER, obviously at Roger Taylor, at the top of my lungs. Guess what? He heard me. Roger turns, looks me in the eye with a sweet smile on his face, and hands me his drumsticks. Thank you I mouth while he smiles back and leaves the stage. I'm left holding Roger's drumsticks triumphantly over my head. Does it get any better than this? Not for me as a true Duran Duran fan. An unbelievable ending to an epic concert. I don't think I can ever see Duran Duran live again unless I'm in the front row between Simon and John. 
Elated!!! Moments after receiving THE drumsticks

About a week after this Minneapolis show, Simon LeBon went up for a high note in All You Need Is Now and that note wasn't there. He lost his entire upper range. Duran Duran has canceled the summer leg of their European tour and hope to resume sometime in August. After visits to many doctors and not really know what went wrong, Simon is undergoing physical therapy on his vocal cords.

I keep my drumsticks alongside of my printer by my Mac. All I need to do is look up and remember that Roger Taylor gave me his drumsticks and all is right with the world.

I still listen to Duran Duran nearly every day much to the annoyance of my children.

Thanks to you Linda, my beloved sister for joining me on this crazy lifelong ride of epic proportions. A dream come true. 

Concerts As Different as Night and Day: The Black Keys and Elvis Costello

One thing I love about living in the Twin Cities is the incredibly diverse musical acts and bands that come through Minneapolis and St. Paul. Case in point . . . two other concerts I attended nearly back-to-back this summer: the alternative band out of Akron, Ohio The Black Keys and the eclectic Elvis Costello.

The Black Keys: Live On Stage
The Black Keys

On a hot July night, I dragged a friend along with me to see The Black Keys at the Roy Wilkins Arena in St. Paul. Just the venue sight should have given me a clue about this band and the warm-up band Cage the Elephant. We went out for wine and appetizers before the concert which proved to be our civilized start to a wild musical evening. As we walked over to the Wilkens, we noticed more and more kids decked out in ripped jeans and leather, sporting multiple tattoos and piercings all over their body. We wondered if they could possibly be going to the same show as us. They were. Talk about an incredibly diverse crowd. Punkers with mohawks, middle-aged yuppies, gothic teens decked out in black, college kids, and a few women of a certain age like us. However, watching the crowd in no way prepared us for Cage the Elephant.

Lucky for us, we had missed most of this opening act. My poor friend Leslee was probably wondering what I had talked her into! It was like walking into a black sound tunnel with a cacophony of loud electronic noises and screaming vocals bouncing off of the walls and reverberating inside my skull. By the time we found our seats in the dark arena, we were treated to a couple of clearly headbanging tunes by Cage the Elephant. Loud doesn't even begin to describe the sound. At the end of the set, the lead singer finished off by jumping backward into the crowd and surfing around on the outstretched arms of the fans. I'd never seen or heard anything quite like Cage the Elephant

Everlasting Light
The Black Keys were quite different and down-right refined in comparison to the Elephant. This crowd clearly loved The Black Keys and most were on their feet for the entire show. This bluesy duo started off with their older favorites then launched into their most recent album Brothers, adding a couple more musicians to back them up. Everlasting Light featured a massive strobe light that pierced the darkness and Howlin' For You drove the crowd wild! The Black Keys play an intense show, and I really was most impressed with drummer, Patrick Carney, and guitarist, Dan Auerbach. The gave it everything and put on a spectacular show!

For more about The Black Keys July 3rd show in St. Paul, take a look at this link:

Elvis Costello: An Icon For the Ages

Let me start off by saying that no one except Elvis Costello can carry off wearing a shiny gold jacket and a fake leopard fur hat with his large black-framed glasses of course! As you can imagine, this crowd was quite a bit different than those attending The Black Keys concert. Still diverse but I felt much younger at this show.

Elvis Costello's Big Spinning Wheel
On the way to the State Theater in downtown Minneapolis (the venue for Elvis Costello), I was trying to remember how many times I'd seen him perform live. I think it was four times with the best show being at an outdoor amphitheater in Dallas, Texas back in 1994. This fifth show was still pretty good, but a bit long. I guess when you're Elvis Costello and you have a ton of songs stretching from the 1970s to 2011 you can play a long gig. Also if you're Elvis Costello, you can create a huge spinning wheel with songs and song themes written on it. Members of the audience were invited up to give it a spin, have a glass of champagne on stage while Elvis crooned, and could even take a turn dancing in the cage. This made for a somewhat comical and interesting show as you never really knew what would happen next.

He played a lot of unconventional old songs and just a bunch of long songs that he really liked to play. I particularly loved his bluesy version of Pump It Up as well as Veronica. You had to stay well into the second hour to hear all of the favorites. As I fan, I got my money's worth for the show and spectacle all wrapped up in Elvis Costello.
For an additional review on the June 29th Elvis Costello show and his set list for the show:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

America—Home of the Free, the Brave, and the Sometimes Stupid

Now that it's finally summer here in the American Upper Midwest that means one thing—motorcycles and lots of them. Summer for me means spending extra time driving around on the roads, encountering single riders or packs of motorcyclers.

I realize that you motorcycle enthusiasts will correct me that technically motorcycle season starts as soon as the snow melts but you are all out in full force this July. I'm not blindly writing this article because I do have some (very limited) experience with motorcycles. My uncle not only repairs motorcycles but also races them. Yes, I have ridden on a motorcycle while wearing a helmet. Like the majority of us who drive cars, our major experience with motorcycles is while we're out driving.

Now who hasn't been passed by the aggressive young motorcyclist, driving his racing bike at about 100 mph in traffic. Zigging and zagging around cars as if they were standing still. Of course he's not wearing a helmet. Then there are the gangs of Harley Davidson riders clad in leather or sometimes bare chested, doing their staggered speedy drive along the highway as they roar by in a pack of 20 fearsome riders. Usually most of these riders are also not wearing a helmet.

While they were in medical school at the University of Virginia, I remember my sister and brother-in-law coining a term for motorcyclists who choose not the wear a helmet—organ donors. True enough. I don't see the thrill and enjoyment of riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Do you like bugs in your teeth or butterflies smeared across your sunglasses? Is it the thrill of cheating death that prompts one to leave the helmet at home? I realize that in some states, motorcycle riders do have the choice NOT to wear a helmet, and it seems like a whole lot of people here in Minnesota exercise that choice.

I guess I don't see the joy in riding a motorcycle at 70 mph, knowing that if I crash or a car doesn't see me I'm probably dead. And at times motorcycles are very difficult to see. Especially the ones cruising along who sneak up behind you, pass you on the right, and then cut across another two lanes of traffic at lightening speed. If you drive a motorcycle like this with or without protecting your head, how to you expect to live? To me, it would be an easy choice. Helmet = life.

I applaud those motorcycle riders who opt to wear a helmet and their full leather gear even in the throes of summer heat. Perhaps a blurb I spotted in the newspaper a few weeks ago sums it up best. A motorcyclist was killed during a road rally in support of not wearing helmets in Wisconsin. While exercising his freedom of choice to not wear his helmet, he was thrown over his handlebars and landed on his head. The state trooper at the accident scene was quoted saying, "he would have survived if he was wearing a helmet."

Door County Favorites

Ephraim Beach
Having just returned from an extended stay in Door County, Wisconsin and since this is peak tourist season up there, I've compiled a little list of my favorites. Just in case you happen upon a visit to the Door.

Ephraim Beach. My perennial favorite. This sandy, shallow beach located along Highway 42 on the south side of Ephraim is perfect for kids. Lots of beach for sand castles and you can nearly walk right out to the boats anchored outside of the swimming area. With views of the village of Ephraim and Eagle bluff, this beach is the perfect place for hanging out on a hot summer afternoon.

The Red Putter. Home to the cheapest and best round of mini-golf in Door County. This challenging and fun course is fun for the whole family. If you get a hole-in-one on holes 3 or 6, you get a free round of golf!

American Folklore Theater. I've been going to this Peninsula State Park theater since it was 3 guys and a guitar back in the late 1970s. It's grown and improved since then with 2 of the 3 guys still involved in productions. For nightly original musicals performed under the stars in an outdoor amphitheater, you cannot beat AFT. I took my parents and the kids to a performance of Lumberjacks in Love last week. My boys, who were convinced they would hate it, laughed throughout the whole hilarious show and gave it a standing ovation. The outdoor season runs from Memorial Day through mid-October.

View from the top
Eagle Tower. As long as we're already in Peninsula State Park, don't miss a climb up the Eagle Tower. This 75-foot tower soars above Eagle Bluff and gives you a birds-eye view of the peninsula, Green Bay, and Ephraim.

Cana Island Lighthouse. As a child, I remember having to nearly swim out to this Lake Michigan lighthouse. Not anymore. Thanks to receding waters, you can now walk out to the Cana Island Lighthouse. This is a great little morning trip or you can make it a day trip by biking out to the island along quiet County Road Q outside of Bailey's Harbor. There is a slight fee but worth it to explore the lighthouse and walk around the island. My kids love climbing around on the rocks and throwing an obscene amount of rocks back into Lake Michigan.

Crystal clear waters on Rock Island
Rock Island State Park. This little island is my favorite place in all of Door County. It's beautiful, historical, and remote with the most beautiful sandy beach that is usually deserted. This 912 acre state park is located off the tip of Washington Island. Only foot traffic is allowed on the island. Getting to this park is half of the fun. First you must take the ferry from Northport to Washington Island, make your way to Jackson Harbor on Washington Island, and board the tiny ferry named "Karfi" out to Rock Island. If you have your own boat, there is a dock. You can explore the stone boathouse, the lighthouse overlooking Lake Michigan, the sandy beach, or stay the night in the campground. This park is a true gem.

Dining on the bay at Fred and Fuzzy's
There is so much more to see and do in Door County, which is loaded with shops, galleries, fishing excursions, and restaurants. Here are just a few of my favorite restaurants:

Ephraim: Good Egg, Leroy's Coffeehouse, Wilson's
Sister Bay: Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant (of course), The Inn at Kristofer's, Fred and Fuzzy's, The Waterfront Restaurant
Fish Creek: The Cookery
Egg Harbor: PC Junction