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SWAGGER, NOT STYLE

The worldwide headquarters and hindquarters of freelance writer Chris Klimek

Face 2 Face with My Beloved Readers

Chris Klimek

[gallery columns="2"]In RE: the latest iteration of Elton John and Billy Joel’s Face numeral-two Face Tour, which played Washington last weekend, the commentariat has spoken. Fifty-three postings when the board shut down, and nine or ten of them actually agreed with my review or spoke up in my defense.

The majority, of course, believed I’d called it wrong.

I suppose we’re never going to see Eye 2 Eye on this one. It seems that most folks willing to pay a C-note-plus (before fees) to see these two relive their glory days are seeking something different from a concert than I am. For many of them, that "something different" seems to be something exactly the same as whatever they got the last time they saw one or both of these guys, in 2003, or 1994, or 1972.

Well, fair enough. For what it's worth, one of the best music critics in the biz, the Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot, reviewed last night's Face 2 Face date at Wrigley Field, and made many of the same observations I did. He even broke out the epithet "mook," which one particularly overstimulated commenter came after me for using. Kot had more love for Sir Elton's band than I did, but maybe you could hear them better in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.

But to get my back to my review, respondents achieved broad consensus on a few things. In decreasing order of prevalence:

    1) The sound at Nats Park was lousy.

    2) Even Sir Elton’s most dedicated fans don’t want to hear his recent music – and by “recent,” we mean “anything written in the last quarter-century.”

    3) Concerts should be reviewed by the performers’ avowed followers.

    4) Concerts should be reviewed by the performers’ contemporaries.

    5) The show evinced an “electricity” and a “magic” that, while not discernible from my admittedly pretty sweet vantage point down on the field, was apparently quite evident from the nosebleeds. (I actually find this quite plausible.)

    6) There was a plentiude of twentysomethings at this show. Tons of them! A stadium-load! Lots, anyway.

But to reduce this potpourri of righteous indignation to mere generalities would be to neglect those who made known their grievances with such wit, pith, and erudition. And CAPITAL LETTERS. Where would the Interwebs be without those?

Herewith, some of my favorites, sometimes edited for length and clarity; more often, presented intact. You can revisit the original comment thread here, though comments are, at long last, closed. So if you’ve got something more to say to me, you can say it to my post. kldynes wrote: Perhaps someone with a little more musical experience under their belt should write these reviews. Geez! Did you even take a look at the fan base at this concert? The majority of us did not come to hear anything recorded in the last ten to 15 years - we were there for the oldies! And get a clue - we were on our feet for Joel a majority of the time.

Oh, that message was delivered clearly and often: We love you guys, just don’t waste our time with any music you wrote during the second half of your lives, or that you haven’t been playing in exactly the same way for at least 15 years.

As for the suggestion that I would have realized that what struck me as a sleepwalk of a gig (except for Joel’s ad libs when Sir Elton’s piano broke down, which I’ve already praised) was actually extraordinary if only I were a little bit grayer, I’ll just refer any interested parties to the raves I’ve penned within the last year of shows by John and Joel’s contemporaries or elders: Randy Newman (aged 65), Bettye LaVette (63), Bruce Springsteen (59), Elvis Costello (54) and the granddaddy of them all, 82-year-old Mr. Tony Bennett.

simplejessy wrote: This was an amazing show. It will always be a memorable experience for me. It is frustrating that you think that after 40 years of being incredible artists and composers that they would alter the way they deliver their most loved music hits to a crowd. These are two amazing men and bands and they are far from the mediocre caliber that you have made them out to be.

Hmmmm. Lots of folks cited the “40 years of being incredible artists and composers” while making it clear that they weren’t at all interested in hearing anything written in the latter half of that span. So wouldn’t that imply that they had 20 years — max — of incredibility, followed by 20 years of meh?

As for altering the arrangements, that’s what musicians do to keep their audience and themselves interested in pieces they’ve been playing for years or decades. Plenty of old-timers do this, and you’re going to get as tired of reading this list as I will of typing it: Springsteen, Robert Plant, Elvis Costello, David Bowie, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan to name just a few, though Dylan surely does it more than many of his followers would like. Their insistence upon vitality, upon giving the audience something new each time they come out is, to my mind, what separates the brilliant from the — to use your word — mediocre.

julietteborum wrote: You are obviously NOT a fan, therefore should not be reporting on this most amazing of shows. I saw the last Face to Face tour, and I thought this one better than the last. If you attended this concert, the crowds response to the show on stage speaks for itself! You, sir, should be OUT OF A JOB! Let people who appreciate true musicians write a better article than this.

Again, the idea that only avowed fans of an artist should review them is contrary to the whole purpose of criticism of any kind of art. If you're looking for a pre-judged report of the show by a booster, I'm sure there are plenty of Joel and John fan sites that can help you with that. In performing as in politics, the test of your mettle isn’t how well you play to your base — it’s whether you can persuade the swing voters.

I’ve reviewed concerts or recordings by something in the neighborhood of 150 different bands and artists in the last three years. I wouldn’t call myself a fan of even a third of them, but that doesn’t mean I panned the other two-thirds by a long shot. What’s the definition of a fan, anyway? Does that you mean you own more than one of their albums? That you would pay $30 for a souvenir T-shirt ? Let’s agree on terms.

When someone impresses me, I say so, whether I’m a self-identified fan of theirs or not. When we’re talking about any kind of live event, performance almost always trumps material for me. I wouldn’t choose to listen to Michael Buble, Usher, or Slayer on my own time, but each of these acts brought the heat in concert, and I said so.

Damn, I just let fly with another baseball metaphor.

teamohall wrote: Obviously if one is going to see Billy Joel and Elton John in concert, you are expecting to hear their hits. I'm really not interested in any of Elton's recent stuff.

Don't think this review capture the electricity of the evening. Both performers were fantastic and the crowd seemed thoroughly entertained. Face it, the show rocked!

I wasn’t picking up much electricity on the field, but that’s a purely subjective thing. I’m glad you dug the show.

Maybe I’m weird like this, but I don’t go to a concert hoping only to hear the hits. I go hoping to discover something new about the artist. I can’t tell you how many songs I’ve come to love only by hearing them performed live. If the performer delivers a set devoid of any lesser-known material, like both Sir Elton and Joel did (with the exception of “Zanzibar,” I suppose), I miss out on all those opportunities. It’s always a good thing if I come away from a show with a list of albums I need to buy. I doubt anyone left the Sir Elton Joel gig feeling that way — for both headliners, a greatest hits collection’ll do ya.

I trust the artist to come up with a setlist that communicates what he or she wants to say, and that he or she isn’t bored to tears to play. After the initial excitement of the broken piano and Joel’s admirable efforts to keep the show on track had subsided, both men seemed like they were punching a clock to me, though Joel was more awake then Sir Elton was.

eomcmars wrote: as one who seldom attends concerts, I'm always amused when I see letters to the editor complaining about a reviewer's take on the event, but after reading Klimek's article, I fully understand. For starters, he was totally contradictory when he claimed, right after bemoaning the fact that they played all their old stuff, that "neither artist ventured a solo take on one of his countless hits during a combined 3 1/2 hours onstage." Huh? What, pray tell, did he think each of them was doing during their hour-long solos, playing the Beatles' greatest hits? Apparently, Klimek was more interested in trying to sound cute than in accurate reporting. Great show even if the sound was a few decibels too loud.

Solo = unaccompanied by a band. John and Joel are both supposedly world-class piano men, so why did neither of them attempt even one song relying just on his voice and his piano? Both Joel and John played with ersatz ensembles who had apparently been instructed to make the songs sound as close as possible to their original album versions. I’m sure most of the people who attended the show would say “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but for me it was another missed opportunity for reinvention.

oldwiseman wrote: I can't remember a crappier review in the Post. Thankfully, I note that Klimek is "special to the Post", which I guess means that the Post didn't think the concert was worth sending their own people, despite the largest crowd for a concert in DC. Are they purposely trying to get rid of subscribers? I’ve been assured that I am very, very special to the Post.

hckelly wrote: I was at the concert first in the 30th row. (you can see me in the picture in the black shirt to the right of the guy holding up the beer bottle)

I call foul on the author of this article for trying to play on Elton’s stereotype. As a straight 50-something male, I think Elton always has been fantastic and Saturday’s concert was no exception! Don’t get me wrong, Billy is a consummate showman and pop star – but Elton is a classic rock star! Just seeing Elton and his band play much of the same set as when I saw them at the Long Beach arena and the Forum in LA in the early 70’s gave me goose bumps (more on that later).

Sadly, I wasn’t at that Long Beach Arena show 35 years ago, so I had no choice but to review this one, minus the benefit of residual goose bumps.

I’m not sure what you mean by “Elton’s stereotype.” Thanks for volunteering your sexual orientation, though. I'm sure that's relevant to this discussion somehow. RestonMusicMom wrote: The 7/11 concert at the Nats Stadium was EXCELLENT, with Sir Elton John & Billy Joel being in top form. They should have shed their suit jackets halfway through because it was very warm & sweaty.

I’m not gonna lie: This one made the cut just on the basis of the commenter’s screen name, which I find to be EXCELLENT. As a profuse sweater myself, I applaud RestonMusicMom’s concern for the comfort of the talent.

BobbyO wrote: When we found our row and then our seats, we were so far left of the stage we could not see the main performing area! The seats were not representative of the seating chart that was online and the others arriving to the show in this area were all visibly upset also!

The show was excellent, from what I could hear. As far as seeing a “live” show, most of the crowd in the left section of seats were limited to watching a large screen performance of the show and could not appreciate everything that was happening on the stage, only what the camera man chose to show you! What a ripoff! We should have just waited for the concert DVD to come out, watched from the comfort of our own living room and saved $500 (tickets, parking and food). Never again.

See, not every fan in attendance had a great time.

mister8tch wrote: It's not so much that Joel "saved" the concert. He simply carved out the metaphor for this tour (so poignantly played out in the finale)...his blue collar approach to his audience and his music was far more appealing than Elton's rather aloof , and occasionally, pretentious performance. . . . John's opening two songs, Funeral/Love Lies Bleeding and Saturday Night were highlights. It was mostly downhill from there...his riffs, especially on Rocket Man, showed his musicianship but went on too long, and to no purpose other than to shut out other material. And can he give Philadelphia Freedom and Crocodile a rest??

I'd also say they need to hone the playlist on the together songs....My Life did not work...and sorry, Billy can't carry the lyrics in a song like Candle...he's not that sappy....And weren't we all waiting for George Michael to come out and save Don't Let the Sun?

Here’s someone who seems largely to agree with my take on the show. But I say that any performance waiting to be rescued by George Michael is unsalvageable. DCsportfan3433 wrote: Even with the Elton John's piano technical issues or because of it, the show was tremendous. I thought Billy Joel with his improvising during the sound issues was tremendous. The way both of them could bang on the piano keys was great. It was a great summer concert with songs that remind me of the beach from the 70's and early 80's.

I suppose the reviewer is going to complain that the voices of a couple of 60 + men doesnt sound as good as the original tracks.

I’m more likely to complain that the songs sounded too much like the album versions. As for banging the piano keys, hell, Rolf the Dog can do that.

I need to take a deep breath before we hear from the very imaginative and verbose Kdarienzo:

Kdarienzo wrote: I feel bad for Mr. Chris Klimek (of the Dcist). He was way out of his depth in this piece. Tragically, he is unhip.

Actually, I’ve been writing for the Post for about a year longer than I’ve been writing for DCist. (No “the” there, by the way, but the "C" is capitalized.) I concede that I am not hip, but I do not find this particularly tragic.

Oh, wait. The Tragically Hip is the name of a band. You're making a joke. I know this because you submitted a second post to clarify. Nicely done. But forgive me for interrupting.

The review should have been directed at people who read The Washington Post AND care that Billy Joel & Elton John were in town doing a show. Instead he catered to a group whose first music-related memory is about three guys from 1991 that shunned bathing, mumbled a lot, and had a penchant for plaid shirts. And those guys deserve to be famous, btw. But if you formed your first music opinions by sneaking downstairs at midnight to watch 120 minutes back in middle school, then you’re probably not the guy who should critique last night’s show.

Are you talking about Nirvana here? Truth be told, I already had a fairly extensive cassette and CD library by the time Nevermind exploded. This collection may or may not have included Billy Joel’s Storm Front, but I prefer to retain plausible deniability on that point.

While I blame Klimek for going after the wrong readers, I blame the post for putting him at the show. Personally, I like to assume that the Post called him: The young writer sits on a mildewy sofa at Tryst, sipping an iced-grande-decaf-soy-chai, when the thundering refrain of Party Hard forces him to dig into his cargo shorts and exhume his iPhone 3Gs. Klimek is shocked to hear the Post’s A&L editor ask if Chris would like to review tonight’s Face 2 Face concert for the paper. Visions of Matt Pinfield fill young Klimek’s head as he thinks, “This is my chance!”

This is good stuff. It’s like I’m there.

I mean, I could quibble about the details: I tend to drink real coffee, and I tend to drink it at home, and I don’t have an iPhone, and Matt Pinfield isn’t one of the many music journalists whose work I admire. But I wouldn’t dream of denying you your artistic license.

That said, I will cop to wearing cargo shorts on a regular basis. It’s like you’re inside my brain! Or at least my dresser.

K-dar continues:

Too bad I can’t blame them for the actual writing of the piece. Klimek wields words with all the finesse of a toddler hammering at a pipe organ.

Ouch. But who lets a toddler go toddling around in the vicinity of a pipe organ? I hope you're just using a colorful literary device here, and that you're not actually the parent of a young child.

The article gets a bit embarrassing when pushing for trendy vocabulary, e.g. using, “mookish” to describe Billy Joel’s comments to the audience. PBS’s “Merchant’s of Cool” architect Douglas Rushkoff, reintroduced the word into pop culture with the definition, “the ‘mook’ is a perpetual adolescent: crude, misogynistic--and very, very, angry.” The term is actually about 40 years older than that, but I could have lived with it, if Klimek had been even 25% right. The guy can’t even use his own Buzz Words correctly!

I've read some Rushkoff -- Media Virus, plus various essays and whatnot -- but I’m 90 percent sure it was Martin Scorcese’s Mean Streets that introduced the word “mook” to my lexicon, and I’m 100 percent sure I used it appropriately. That film is from 1973, by the way -- the same era Elton John was making exciting, relevant records -- so I’m not sure why you think it’s a buzz word. Or why you capitalized Buzz Word. But again: It’s your license. Do what you feel.

But the thing that showed real immaturity was the article’s pervasive application of baseball metaphors.

Oooh, objection sustained! I figured the occasion of the first pop concert at Nats Park (neither Post Rock nor, apparently, the Washington Nationals remembered that Opera in the Outfield thing, so sorry ‘bout that, folks) would be a reasonable occasion to get those baseball metaphors out of my system, but there are probably two or three too many of them. I’m gonna wash them off and give ‘em all back to Malitz.

Worst of all, Klimek’s writing wouldn’t have been considered acceptable in 2005. His last 8 pieces aren’t great, though they’re almost all better than this. Now, I wouldn’t know what constitutes, “good music” if it bit me on the butt (I have Britney Spears, The Beastie Boys, and Jackson Browne on my iPod, “Run” playlist) but good writing I can speak to.

You went back and read eight of my stories? Are you including the Jeff Tweedy interview and the Patterson Hood feature and the Rorschach Theatre preview in that total, or just concert reviews? Ah, it doesn’t matter: With enemies like you, who needs friends? Thanks for reading.

By the way, I like to work out to the Beasties, too. See? We’re not so very different, you and I.

asav78 wrote: It is almost impossible to translate and condense the power and emotion of a concert into a written review. This was no exception.

They rocked our collective tuchas off for three and a half hours! Tell me what acts can muster that kind of stamina, let alone have the catalog of brilliant songs to sustain a crowd's enthusiasm for that amount of time.

I think I may have covered this already, but any list of age-50-and-older artists who have rocked my tuchas off, wholly or in part, in the last 12 months would include Randy Newman, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, X, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Leonard Cohen, David Byrne, Roseanne Cash, The Pretenders, Bettye LaVette and Elvis Costello. In the cases of Cohen, Cash, and Newman, I would use the verb “rock” with caution, but jeez, you’re the one claiming it applies to the “Uptown Girl” guy.

Chasmosaur1 wrote: I'm going to wager that Billy Joel's Grammys are older than Mr. Klimek (though I'll concede he's older than the Grammy Legend award, and much older than the Tony Award).

Most readily do I accept thy bold wager, Mr. Chasmosaur!

The research dept. reports that I am, in fact, older than the oldest of Joel’s Grammys — the pair he collected for “Just the Way You Are” in 1978. But only by a couple of minutes. What’d you lose, anyway?

dre0251 wrote: How old is Klimek? I have a feeling he (she? sorry) wasn't born when I saw Elton live in 1975. The review does sound petty. Chasmosaur1 appears to have it pegged. And I have a feeling that “Chasmosaur appears to have it pegged” is one of those phrases that’s going to make camp in my vocabulary whether I want it to or not.

It’s true: I missed out on every single cool thing that happened in 1975, which is a shame. I’d love to have seen James Brown, Springsteen, Bowie, Zeppelin, Lou Reed, The Faces, Tina Turner, and yes, Elton John, back then. Not to mention Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue. And Prince, The Clash, The Talking Heads and The Buzzcocks would’ve all been just a year or two in my future instead of a generation in my past. And Michael would still be alive, with a decade-plus of good tunes yet to come.

I'm making myself sad now. Chasmosaur1 wrote: Hmmm - so we'll wait and see how many current artists are still playing their instruments at the level Elton John and Billy Joel can play piano when they are in their 60's.

What, do we need to do this again? Newman. Young. Townsend. Springsteen. Tom Waits. Emmylou Harris. Levon Helm. Bettye LaVette. Keith Richards and Charlie Watts. Etc.

exPostie wrote: Ouch. This entire review reads like a huge back-handed compliment. Maybe someone who actually *likes* Billy Joel and Elton John should have reviewed this.

I was not at the concert last night, but would frankly rather see these two perform than watch a lot of the new [expletive] that passes for music these days.

Agreed. New [expletive] sucks. Especially when it uses too much Auto Tune.