August 20-21: Some Musical Notes From a Whirlwind Trip to the Big Apple, Including My Review of Jeff Lynne’s ELO at MSG

Today I thought I’d share a travelogue of sorts.  My wife and I just returned from a brief trip to the East Coast, where we visited family in Virginia for a couple of days before boarding an Amtrak with my brother and sister-in-law for New York City.  I’ve been to NYC five or six times in my life, spread out over the last 30 years or so.  I don’t know if I could handle living there, but I absolutely love visiting.

The main event of our trip was Jeff Lynne’s ELO at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, the first of his two shows at the Garden.  But as anyone who has visited the Big Apple can tell you, you don’t have to venture too far before seeing something of historical significance.  Here are some mostly musically themed photos from our trip which took us through Richmond, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia before reaching NYC:

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View from our train of the former Washington Coliseum.  This is the site of the Beatles’ first US concert after their debut on the Ed Sullivan Show.  Footage of that show can be found in the Anthology series, as well as the Ron Howard film.  Today it houses part of REI’s business operations.
After dropping off our bags at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown, we took the subway to Greenwich Village for dinner at an old school Italian restaurant called Monte’s downstairs on MacDougal St.  Just around the corner on Bleeker St. is the Bitter End.  Originally known as the Cock and Bull, the coffee-house hosted folk hootenannies in the early 1960s.  The list of musicians and comedians to grace its stage is too long to type (see link at bottom of page).

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My brother outside the Bitter End.
At the corner of MacDougal and Minetta Ln. is the Cafe Wha?.  We were only 56 years late to catch then-unknown Dylan among many others playing for pennies.

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My wife and me outside the Cafe Wha?
Still walking off our dinner, we made our way through Broadway and Times Square.  As much as I’d love to catch Bruce’s Broadway show, I’ll have to settle for the eventual DVD.

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Yours truly outside the Walter Kerr Theatre.
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At Broadway and 49th I just happened to look up as we passed beneath some scaffolding.  I was standing in front of the Brill Building, home of some of the most famous American songs ever composed.  Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond, Bobby Darin, Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Leiber and Stoller, Laura Nyro, and Neil Sedaka are just some of the famous composers who worked here.

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Having a peek through the front door of the Ed Sullivan Theater.  Knock-knock-knock…”Dave ain’t here, man.”
Tuesday morning we started our day with breakfast at Barney Greengrass, a.k.a. “The Sturgeon King.”  This historic deli opened in 1908, and was the favorite NYC breakfast haunt of Anthony Bourdain.  I had a corned beef and swiss omelette, and it was the real deal.

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“Tony ain’t here, man.” 😦

After breakfast we made our way down to Central Park West.  It was a beautiful day with temps in the high 70’s, so we didn’t feel the need to quickly check out points of interest and then scurry back into the AC.

I’d traveled past 1 West 72nd St., a.k.a. the Dakota, a few times before, but never on foot.  Some of this apartment building’s famous residents have included Lauren Bacall, Leonard Bernstein, Roberta Flack, Judy Garland, Joe Namath, and John and Yoko, to name a few.  Unfortunately, this location is also the site of one of the music world’s worst-ever tragedies.

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The Dakota, as seen from across the street in Central Park.  Paul Harrison photo.
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If only there had been a couple of guards like the ones to my right in that spot the night of December 8, 1980.  Maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference.  We’ll never know.
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My wife Janis at the Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park, across the street from the Dakota.  A nice spot despite the talent-less buskers who harass those they hope to receive money from.
LADIES…AND…GENTLEMEN, THE MAIN EVENT!

After a very nice early dinner at Executive Chef Alex Guarnaschelli’s Butter Midtown, it was off to Madison Square Garden for Jeff Lynne’s ELO.  Last November I was one click away from purchasing tickets to the show in Dallas, but at the last second I called my brother Paul to see if he’d like to fly out and join us.  He had a business engagement in the books for that night, so he asked if we’d be interested in looking for another show and making a vacation out of it.  Nine months later, here we were.

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My big brother Paul and me outside MSG.
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With my better half, heading inside.

In my excitement over seeing Jeff Lynne and visiting MSG for the first time, I’d completely forgotten that Dawes was opening the show.  I’m only familiar with their tunes I’ve heard on the radio, but I like them and I keep telling myself I need to pick up some of their albums.  The house was mostly full and very responsive for their set, and it showed in their performance.  They were full of energy and very aware of who their audience was.  They closed out their set with All Your Favorite Bands, the perfect touch considering who was about to appear on that stage.

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Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes warming up the MSG crowd, Tuesday, August 21.  From YouTube.

Jeff Lynne’s ELO:  What can I say?  One might go to a concert featuring any number of artists from the classic rock era, enjoy the show, sing along, and maybe freak out a little at how old the audience has gotten, then go home and forget about it a day or two later.  But for my family and me, as well as approximately 20k others in the sold out Garden, this was different.  Why so?  For a few reasons.

The first and most obvious explanation is that even though Jeff Lynne has been very active and visible over the past 30+ years as a producer for the likes of Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, George Harrison, and the Threetles, and as a member of the Traveling Wilburys, he hadn’t toured in years.  As he noted to the crowd, he hadn’t performed at MSG in 40 years!  It was great just seeing him standing on that stage after all this time, and I didn’t think I’d ever have this opportunity.

Another factor was that Lynne was in great voice.  There were no cringe-worthy moments at all.  He’s never been much of a front man, but that’s not what’s expected of him.  He composed all this great music, and he delivered it almost completely without flaw (he got one line out-of-order, but I don’t even recall during which song).  Lastly, his group of musicians and vocalists was spot on.  Generally speaking, I’m somewhat of a purist who prefers bands to stay in tact with as many original members as possible.  However, while it would’ve been neat to have seen Roy Wood, Bev Bevan, Richard Tandy (Tandy is still officially a part of the group but not currently touring), and the rest of the classic lineup, in all honesty I doubt they would sound better than this group who clearly had a blast on stage playing those classic songs.  And the audience clearly had a blast listening to them.  That place was electric.

This was, of course, a mostly greatest hits show (see axs.com link below for another review with complete set list).  10538 Overture from ELO’s eponymous debut was a nice surprise to me, as was Wild West Hero from Out of the BlueWhen I Was a Boy from his most recent album (2015) was very worthy of inclusion in the set.  He also did the Wilburys’ Handle with Care, which was the second rendition by a member of that supergroup I’ve heard live – Petty’s being the first a few years back.

The rest of the show consisted of one fantastically performed ELO hit after another.  Sweet spots for me included Rockaria! (Melanie Lewis-McDonald more than rose to the occasion on this one), Telephone Line, and Turn to Stone.  At roughly an hour and a half the show could’ve perhaps been two or three songs longer, but I feel kind of silly even suggesting it.  We were thoroughly entertained, and I’ll never forget it.

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Jeff Lynne’s ELO in selfie mode at the conclusion of their performance at Madison Square Garden, Tuesday, August 21.
Noses were bleeding high up where we sat at the Garden, but it didn’t matter.  The acoustics were very good for an arena show and there were plenty of big screens.

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https://www.axs.com/review-jeff-lynne-s-elo-makes-magical-return-to-madison-square-garden–132786

Cheers, and thanks for reading!

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bitter_End

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cafe_Wha%3F

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brill_Building

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barney_Greengrass

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dakota

 

 

 

 

The World is a Little More Bland Today

Folks, if you’re down, talk to someone.  If you don’t think you have someone to talk to, put away your pride and call a therapist.  If your pain is acute and you don’t know how to find professional help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline:  1-800-273-8255 (U.S.).  The International Association for Suicide Prevention is available worldwide.

Anthony Bourdain, 1956-2018

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