On Tuesday, we trekked northward to see Chicago. While normally that would be an eastward journey, the band-not-the-city was conveniently playing at a state fair not too terribly far from Woodhaven. It was also a great excuse to get some Waffle Fried Bacon with Maple Syrup (disappointingly better in concept than in execution).
Three days after revisiting some favorite memories of the '70s, '80s, and 1990, we headed to Portland and joined a headache* of screaming tween girls welcoming Katy Perry to the Rose City.
*With four hours of direct, personal experience, I have now deemed a group of two or more girls aged 10-12-years "a headache."
So yes, Chicago and Katy Perry in a matter of days. My head is still spinning and my ears are still ringing. Good grief, 11-year-old girls have high-pitched voices.
When Rob and I started dating in March of 1990, we compared our CD and vinyl collections. I give us both credit for being mature (or infatuated) enough to look past the incompatibility of Supertramp (Rob) and The Mighty Lemon Drops (me). There was only one overlap in our collections: Chicago IX: Chicago's Greatest Hits released in 1975.
While Rob introduced me to Eric Clapton (I still remember the dumbstruck look on Rob's face when I said I had never heard "Layla"), and I shared the intoxicating dance beats of New Order, that undisputed Chicago CD quickly became the anthem of our courtship. Every song on that album still makes me smile with the giddiness of new love.
I didn't know until we were leaving the stadium on Tuesday night, but Rob saw Chicago in concert in their heyday in the late '70s. He left that show disappointed because it was the first concert he had seen where the music didn't sound exactly like his records. Oh, bands who insist on jamming, improv-ing, performing without a recording, and going "off script."
So Rob was a bit hesitant about seeing a much older, likely rustier, possibly past-their-prime version of our first mutually favorite band. With four of the original Chicago members still asking on Tuesday night if anybody really knew what time it was, there was indeed a bit of age and experience on stage. But I gotta tell you, these old guys still have it.
The show wasn't terribly fancy. Just a stage, instruments, and standard stage lights that danced and changed color. The stage's backdrop changed once -- from a more modern band logo to the iconic one of the groovy '70s. Otherwise, the focus was entirely on the music. It was pure and simple, simple and free.
Sure, the vintage voices weren't quite as strong as they used to be. Accordingly, the band has some newer, younger members who did some of the heavier vocals lifting. But since Chicago is so well-known for its instrumentals, the vocals weren't nearly as important. The 65-year-olds could still blow their horns like whipper snappers even if the accompanying dance moves looked a little stiff and imminently in search of heating pads.
The concert's opening band was REO Speedwagon. This was news to us; we had somehow missed that until we reviewed our e-tickets for our seat assignments. I ended up recognizing only three of their songs and those songs made it clear REO's lead singer has lost some of his voice quality, too. I still enjoyed those three songs, though.
The absolute highlight of the concert was the final set. The two bands joined together on stage and all 14 of them played a Top 10 hit for each. REO Speedwagon's "Keep On Loving You" sounded richer, deeper, and more complex with Chicago's horns and Robert Lamm's vocals added in.
I didn't notice anything particularly different with the ensemble rendition of Chicago's "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is" but what I did notice was the pure joy bounding all over that stage. The musicians were having an absolute blast. Their mutual respect and affection were palatable.
As they worked their instruments and communicated across the stage with head nods and appreciative smiles, the evening evolved from being a just another concert to being An Experience. I sensed that every musician on that stage would remember this night, this collaboration, this moment decades into career stories that are still being written but are nonetheless coming to an end. I felt part of something very special.
As we were driving to a Portland arena on Friday night, Rob asked to be reminded why exactly we were going to a Katy Perry concert. Quite honestly, I couldn't remember the line of thought back in January when we bought the tickets. We might have been a little punchy on one too many snow days. My best answer to Rob was, "Because you said you would??"
I know probably a half-album's worth of Katy Perry songs. There's one involving cherry Chapstick and one about a melting Popsicle and one she sang with the Elmo on Sesame Street. Oh, and she also likes to ROAR!
In preparation for the concert, I bought Katy's current album. One cycle through and it was clear I was going to owe Rob an apology. While I knew I would have fun bopping along to the kiddy pop, Rob does not easily suffer simplistic, highly commercialized music (hi, Rick Astley!). We were in for quite a night.
While Rob and I blended in rather nicely at the Chicago concert, we stood out like middle aged creepers at Katy Perry's party since we didn't have any kids with us. Yes, there were adults at the concert...and many of them around our age...but they were all toting headaches of young girls.
Thousands of young girls. All shrieking with the pubescent fervor that defines Katy Kats (the official term for Katy's fan base). Girls wearing tutus and pink wigs and blue wigs and green wigs and glitter and tights with cats on them. Girls dressed up like Cleopatra. One came dressed as a birthday cake; another as a banana. It was like a Cirque du Soleil cosplay rave thrown for fans of My Little Pony. Not that I have ever heard of such an offering, but I am pretty sure I can see it from here.
There were so many girls, the arena's management wisely converted most of the men's bathrooms to women's rooms. Naturally, there were still lines. Rob had to walk to the other side of the arena to find a room of his own. He almost made it back to our seats before I did.
|I checked it out. It smelled better than expected but there were only four stalls. |
And the line wasn't moving very quickly.
There were two opening bands for Katy. Again, news to us. The first was a mohawked guy from California who was proudly wearing what he described as "an alien onesie." He was eventually followed by two women who looked like twins and energized the crowd with their biggest hit: "Everything Is AWESOME!!!" Yes, the three exclamation points are part of the title, and yes, it is the theme song from The Lego® Movie. Are we sensing a theme?
Nearly two hours after the stated start time of the concert, Ms. Perry finally emerged from below the stage in a mechanized fold-out prism. Her dress was decorated with neon lights, her shoes were rockin' sparkly heels, and her band was non-existent.
She sang along, danced like a professional gymnast, and made full use of a stage with ego ramps that went clear out to the middle of the arena's floor.
There were strobe lights and laser beams and smoke and videos. There were horses and cars and flying tacos and balloon swings. There was a birthday party for Colette and a free pizza given to Owen since he was a lone little boy with a gaggle of females.
|We don't know which birthday Colette was celebrating, but she got the full treatment|
There was neon and confetti and a Dance Cam and ads for Cover Girl and Claire's Fashion Jewelry and Accessories for Girls (Katy is spokesmodel for both). There were dancers dressed as cats playing on an enormous cat tree. Others were dressed as sunflowers and fish bowls.
|I have no idea what is going on here. The song had something to do with tacos and champagne.|
I lost track of how many costume changes and hair colors and styles Katy went through over the two hours. This is just a smattering.
Eventually a band and two back-up singers appeared. We have no idea where they were the first half of the show. It wasn't until two guitarists were flying through the air shooting off fireworks that I even noticed there were musicians on stage. Well, at least in the vicinity of the stage.
|We're guessing the guitars weren't really playing music, what with all the pyrotechnics|
In short, it was QUITE a party. And you know what? It was the most entertaining $46 I have spent in a looong time. Although I felt like I had gorged on every single color of every single candy in an IT'S SUGAR candy store, I truly had a great time. And crashed like a toddler once the sugar rush finally came to an abrupt finale with a literal explosion of fireworks. Well, after we stopped at Voodoo Donut for a Katycap on the way home since it seemed fitting.
Not the finale...just a neon-infused song about California Gurls
Compare and Contrast...just like in 7th grade
Reflecting on the two concerts, I can't say I liked one better than the other. I loved the feast for the senses that Katy Perry offered. Like a carnival fun house, I never knew what was coming next and laughed with surprise and disbelief any number of times. The colors, the flashing videos, the costumes, the use of the stage and the air, the fireworks. It was like no concert I have ever seen.
But wait, did I mention the music? No I didn't. Because music is not Katy's point. It is merely a vehicle to offer the rest of the experience. The songs, the lyrics, the composition, the intricate interplay of instruments...totally unimportant and in some cases non-existent.
Instead, Katy is a brilliant marketer who knows her audience. She knows how to make young girls look up to her and crave a California lifestyle. She knows how to relate to them with short stories of being insecure and not feeling pretty enough. She knows where they shop and what color t-shirts they will buy. Quite frankly, Katy Perry is one very impressive machine of commercialized pop that probably makes Madonna both proud and envious. It was worth the price of admission just to see it in action.
And then there is Chicago. Simplistic lighting, no costume changes, no pyrotechnics, and no guide wires to whisk musicians over the heads of the audience. Instead, all Chicago could offer was sophisticated musical arrangements and instruments played with mastery. That and decades of sweet memories of listening to their music.
While Katy carefully engineered a party that made us feel like popular kids who got invited, Chicago trusted themselves and their audience to be spontaneous and jam just a little longer. Chicago created the space and opportunity for a unique experience that made us feel like we were witnessing something special and were not just the next stop on an 80 city world tour.
Chicago was a chef-inspired dinner with a long-cellared wine. Katy Perry was an oooey gooey dessert covered in sprinkles and whipped cream and every sauce you can imagine. Together, they made a meal I won't soon forget.
|Chicago and REO Speedwagon Finale|
|Katy Perry Birthday Song. This wasn't even the finale. |
(Operator error prevented that from being filmed, sadly.)
Oh, and that's Katy hanging there from the balloons.