At the NBA All-Star Game this past February, Alicia Keys delivered a mess of a halftime show in which she didn't sound the least bit on her game. "More like Alicia *Off* Keys," one viewer tweeted. (Swisssh!)
So my state of mind going into her show last night at the United Center was one of mild skepticism. It was dubbed the "Set the World on Fire Tour," but given her recent inconsistency as a live performer, would the night go down in flames?
My fears were extinguished, as the Manhattan native showed impressive vocal command and range—whether belting out a big number (e.g., "Empire State of Mind") or delivering a breathy ballad (e.g., "Brand New Me"). And she never strayed noticeably from the pitch.
"Her voice is so soothing," the middle-aged woman behind me said wistfully. "I could listen to it all day."
I was thinking the same thing, as Keys reached into the upper registers of her smoky contralto to deliver the wispy "Like I'll Never See You Again" on a stage bathed in blue light, and when she nailed the melisma-laden "Fallin'," backed by a powerful trio of backup singers.
"Sing it, girl," Ms. She's So Soothing shouted.
But throughout the 105-minute show I couldn't escape the thought that portions of her performance were too languid, not so much setting the room on fire (to overuse the metaphor) as lulling us to sleep. The popular title track from Girl on Fire, and jazzier R&B numbers such as "Listen to Your Heart," might be better classified as Rhythm & Snooze.
That's not to say Keys needs to Beyonc-ify her live act and incorporate complicated choreography, tons of costume changes and other bells and whistles. On this tour, she sticks to the same outfit—a plunging, sparkling red top and tight black pants—until the encore (when she changes into a sparkling red dress). And she doesn't so much dance as kind of slink stiffly around the stage. I just wish Keys stuck to what she does best: singing soulful piano ballads—raw, expressive, just her and a grand piano. Nowhere was that more clear last night than "If I Ain't Got You," from 2003's The Diary of Alicia Keys, which remains as gorgeous as ever.
There are two kinds of people in this city: those who depend on, crave and frequently revisit the Bento Box—and those who've never heard of it. I'm squarely in the former group, but for the latter camp: The Bento Box is chef Rick Spiros's tribute to the continent of Asia, a place that elevates bibimbap with juicy, tender hanger steak; that serves massive bowls of noodles with chili-rubbed chicken (one of the 100 Best Things We Ate last year); and that, as of last week, is bringing a little bit of Chinatown to Bucktown with the launch of Dim Sum Saturday nights.
The menu changes weekly, but if last week's is any indication, expect small plates such as pork-and-rice-noodle spring rolls, barbecue-pork steamed buns, shrimp fried rice, steak-and-mushroom chow fun, mussels in lime-leaf curry, Duroc roasted pork belly, yu choy with oyster sauce, pan-fried pork dumplings, shrimp potstickers and housemade kimchi. Dim Sum Saturday nights run from 5:30–10pm, which seems like a good time to remind any Bento Box loyalists that the shop's spring/summer hours are Wednesdays and Thursdays 5:30–9pm and Fridays and Saturdays 5:30–10pm (closed Sun–Tue).
Other updates: Spiros is renewing his committment to sourcing product as locally as possible and is now making vegetarian and gluten-free dishes, such as okra-and-eggplant Indian-style curry. Check the menu tab on Bento Box's facebook page for daily menu updates. 2246 W Armitage Ave (773-278-3932).
Chicago theater gets busy this week with a number of big new shows opening, including the Broadway-bound Big Fish and Quiara Alegría Hudes's follow-up to last year's Pulitzer Prize winner. Here's a guide to five top new plays.
Big Fish Oriental Theatre Opens April 19. On his deathbed, a father tells his son tall tales about his past that may or may not have actually happened. Audiences can decide for themselves at this new Broadway-bound musical adaptation by Andrew Lippa and John August starring two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz.
The Happiest Song Plays Last Goodman Theatre. Opens April 22. Two lost soulmates find each other through the magic of Puerto Rican jíbaro music in this new drama by Pulitzer Prize winner Quiara Alegría Hudes.
Pal Joey Porchlight Music Theatre. Opens April 23. Porchlight Music Theatre artistic director Michael Weber and music director Doug Peck team up for Rodgers and Hart's Chicago-set 1940 musical, featuring such songs as "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" and "Zip." Adrian Aguilar plays the charmingly caddish title role.
Still Alice Lookingglass Theatre Company. Opens April 20. Lisa Genova's novel about a woman living with Alzheimer's disease is brought to the stage by Lookingglass ensemble member Christine Mary Dunford.
Yellow Moon Writers' Theatre. Opens April 24. David Greig (The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart) tells the story of two teenage Scottish outlaws through lyrical narration in his 2006 drama.
"All I've got is time," Marnie Stern told the crowd at the Empty Bottle on Wednesday night, repeating a line from her bouyant, slightly frantic anthem "Hell Yes" (off her latest effort for Kill Rock Stars, Chronicles of Marnia). "It's really true. I haven't had sex in a thousand years."
The New York–based singer/songwriter/guitarist—whose stage banter is made all the more great due to her high-pitched Coffee-Talk-with-Linda-Richman accent—had a lot to say about her dissatisfying sex life.
Last weekend, the Mac attacked the United Center. Buckingham, Nicks, Fleetwood and McVie (John, that is; Christine hasn't toured with the group in ages) speed-plucked and harmonized through their back catalog of California radio gold. They're sporting a couple of new tunes, too.
In case you missed it: Some of our favorite local musicians selected their favorite Fleetwood Mac songs for us. Check out the deep cuts dug by Kelly Hogan, John Stirratt of Wilco and more. Hogan never fails to deliver a killer anecdote. Love her.
Beginning next week, we at TOC are merging our blogs, Voltron style, into a one-stop superblog, #Chicago.
The staff here is equally interested in music, theater, food, nightlife, film, art and local news, and we know our readers are as well. So, no more pesky blog hopping and multiple clicks to learn about a new doughnut joint opening and the best upcoming weekend club events and a Steppenwolf scoop.
Thank you for reading, and we look forward to serving up more hot, fresh content.
Yes, I'm totally thinking about doughnuts now.
Zabriskie Point Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni. 1970. 110mins. Having diagnosed the sick soul of Europe, Antonioni travels to America. As if discovering a new planet, he gazes on endless highways, crass commercialism, Death Valley lovemaking and comfy consumer lifestyles (the latter memorably exploded in the finale). Dismissed by many on initial release, Zabriskie Point today epitomizes Antonioni's formal mastery. Gene Siskel Film Center. 6pm. $11, students $7, members $6, School of the Art Institute students and faculty $4.
NBC 5 Chicago’s Mary Ann Ahern relays tales of workplace shenanigans, then a Second City improv team reenacts them in Newsprov for the Arts. All proceeds benefit Chicago Lights, a nonprofit org that works with low-income families. Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E Chestnut St (chicagolights.eventbrite.com). 8pm. $20, advance $15.
Local publisher Curbside Splendor launches a new series of readings, discussion and live music at Billy Corgan's Highland Park tea house. James Tadd Adcox, Okla Elliott and Kathleen Rooney read work on the theme of "origins" and Jacob S. Knabb provides live music. Madame ZuZu's. 8pm. Free.
Doughy, pale, lovable oaf Jim Gaffigan has moved on from Hot Pockets to enriched wheat flour for his Wonder Bread Tour. You know the drill: silly voices, the sweatpants lifestyle, junk food. Chicago Theatre. 7, 9:30pm. $39.75–$49.75.
"In here, we are whole." As an extension of the monthly works-in-progress series, "Fraction," four emerging Chicago choreographers—Francesca Bourgault, Ashley Deran, Lauren Warnecke and Jessie Young—present seven distinctive pieces. Links Hall at Constellation. 8pm. Donation $10–$20.
About Face Theatre, the 17-year-old LGBT-focused theater company, has named Andrew Volkoff to succeed the outgoing Bonnie Metzgar as artistic director.
Volkoff, a Milwaukee native, has served as associate artistic director at Barrington Stage Company in Massachusetts and New York's Genesius Theatre Group. He'll be formally introduced at About Face's annual Wonka Ball benefit April 26. In a statement, he indicated intentions to expand the About Face Youth Theatre program, as well as to find the itinerant company a permanent home.
Metzgar, who's stepping down after five seasons, has said she hopes to remain in Chicago. As her final act as artistic director, she'll stage the Chicago premiere of Alexi Kaye Campbell's The Pride, to run June 6–July 13 at Victory Gardens; Patrick Andrews, John Francisco, Benjamin Sprunger and Jessie Fisher will star.
Since a Terrence Malick/Rob Zombie/Tom Cruise collaboration will never, ever happen—although it's fun to envision the hypothetical results—you'll have to make do with the three rubbing shoulders in our just-posted crop of new Film reviews:
In To the Wonder, Malick discovers fast food.
With The Lords of Salem, Zombie becomes a sensitive director of actors. Really.
Cruise destroys the world in Oblivion.
Journalist Juan González serves as a guide to an illustrated version of his book in Harvest of Empire.
A catastrophe in L.A. is only the beginning in It's a Disaster.
No Place on Earth: A caver unearths a Holocaust story in Ukraine.
Friday, Apr 19
One net positive about the imminent Red Line construction south of Roosevelt? No more inebriated White Sox fans clogging up the train. Until May 19, though, you and the rest of the rowdy bunch can hop on the El to watch the South Siders. Today, they take on the Minnesota Twins. U.S. Cellular Field, 333 W 35th St (312-674-1000). 7:10pm; $5–$85.
NBC 5 Chicago’s Mary Ann Ahern relays tales of workplace shenanigans, then a Second City improv team reenacts them in Newsprov for the Arts. All proceeds benefit Chicago Lights, a nonprofit org that works with low-income families. Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E Chestnut St (chicagolights.eventbrite.com). 8pm; $20, advance $15.