velvet dr martens off to the best in pop culture Year in review
Having a seat at Solange’s table: Solange opted for intimacy when it came to releasing “A Seat at the Table.” Instead of a flashy arrival, she curated a visual and lyrical companion coffee table book, delivering it to the first 85 people who subscribed to her site. On the eve of its release, she invited a select few to hear the album at a tiny Arlington Heights museum. It was the perfect backdrop to preview Solange’s meditation on being black in America as she sat among her guests at wooden tables that glowed with amber lighting (which she had installed for the occasion). We sat together, uninterrupted by phones or open bars, and got lost in the music.
Chance the Rapper releases “Coloring Book”: Though he didn’t know it at the time, when Chicago rapper and singer Chance the Rapper issued his album “Coloring Book” for free on May 12, he was making history. Seven months later, the full length album, which Chance released himself, was nominated for the album of the year Grammy. It was the first time such an honor was bestowed on an album that hadn’t been offered for sale. Even now, when most would be monetizing the album’s success, Chance is still doling it out at no cost. Sports Arena on March 15: It was a bittersweet send off when the Boss and his longtime band mates set down in March for farewell shows in the venue he lovingly nicknamed “The Dump That Jumps” and “The Joint That Don’t Disappoint,” where he’d played more than three dozen shows during the course of his career. He reminded the crowd during the show “that we have a limited time to do our jobs, to raise our families and to try to do some good along the way.”
Cuba’s Manana festival: Manana was Cuba’s first international electronic music festival, and it came at a year of intense transition for the country and its relationship with America. But after a few days in Santiago de Cuba with no Internet access, no cellphone service and organizers literally building the stages out of disassembled boats, there was nothing to do except give yourself over totally to the best local music in the world. When things look bleak in 2017, the memory of a Friday night in which Nicolas Jaar played in a hot Carribbean rainstorm and then moved his set to an indoor club when the power got cut and where a crew of local drummers caught the spirit and joined him onstage and then led the whole crowd outside again for an hour of impromptu jamming and chanting will serve as reassurance that things will be alright in the end.
Spirit v. ’60s rock group Spirit against Led Zeppelin, which claimed that Zeppelin’s most iconic song, “Stairway to Heaven,” had ripped off Spirit’s instrumental “Taurus,” singer Robert Plant was called to testify and offered a polite but stinging response when asked whether Zeppelin had borrowed elements from Spirit’s music. Although he denied familiarity with the song in question, he galvanized the court room: “In sort of the nest of rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues, there’s always been cross pollination without a doubt, yes. We wouldn’t have Little Richard, Larry Williams, The Beatles, all the people who’ve actually been involved with ‘Bony Maronie’ or ‘Long Tall Sally’ or, you know, ‘Short Fat Fannie’ and all that stuff. It was all moving across space.” Zeppelin was acquitted of infringement. Since the pioneering gangster rap group split for good, the idea of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube,
MC Ren and DJ Yella sharing the stage seemed like a dream. The group’s blockbuster 2015 biopic, “Straight Outta Compton,” led to renewed interest in the “World’s Most Dangerous Group” but still nothing. That changed during Cube’s final Coachella set. That’s exactly what happened, though, at a Grammy Museum event held in April at the estate of billionaire Ron Burkle. Lady Gaga was being honored for . well, it’s hard to recall exactly. But after accepting her prize, the pop singer then amid a kind of show biz charm offensive that also included glossy performances at the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards leveled the room with a stunning rendition of “La Vie en Rose.” Even the servers looked happy to be there.
Green Day at the American Music Awards: Award shows can be self congratulatory and tiresome, especially those in which peer voting is replaced by audience favorites.
Bob Dylan at Desert Trip: Just before learning that the Bard of Hibbing, Minn., had been anointed the Nobel Prize for Literature recipient of 2016, he turned in a magnificently enigmatic performance at what was arguably the biggest gathering of rock heavyweights ever, Desert Trip. Even though Dylan uttered not a word before, during or after his performance, his song selection spoke volumes. . I plan to live to 120.” The twinkle in his eye and strength in his sonorous voiced seemed to back him up at that moment.
Neil Young at Desert Trip: Many attendees at the Desert Trip rock summit meeting among rock titans Young, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, the Who and Roger Waters came away lauding the intensely fiery performance that Young turned in with considerable help from his band of young players, the Promise of the Real. Rather than sticking exclusively to the cornerstone catalog of songs that would have guaranteed him one standing ovation after another, he included several new songs. One of the most striking: “Show Me,” in which he sang “When the women of the world are free to stand up for themselves/ And the promises made stop gatherin’ dust on the shelves.” Women and men alike in the crowd of 75,000 erupted in a spontaneous standing ovation.
Paul McCartney at Pappy Harriet’s: When Paul McCartney plays a secret show in a desert biker bar, you drop whatever insignificant nonsense you’re doing and go. On the Thursday night between Desert Trip weekends, McCartney set up shop at Pappy Harriet’s in Pioneertown (capacity: 300, give or take) for a freewheeling last minute show that was a take to your grave night of music. Not one of the 300 gobsmacked fans will ever, ever forget watching him play “I’ve Just Seen A Face” so close that you could see every wrinkle and impish grin. McCartney in a dive bar: Come on, we should all be so lucky to be alive and get to see that.
“American Idol” takes its final bow: When “American Idol” named its 15th victor this year, it was the end of an era for a singing competition series that broke ground in television and music. Say what you want about its penchant for cheese and the drama of its rotating judges panel, for years “Idol” was untouchable in ratings and its starmaking power. Kelly Clarkson. Carrie Underwood. Fantasia. Jennifer Hudson. Adam Lambert. Chris Daughtry. “Idol” winners have amassed hundreds of No. 1 singles, platinum albums and Grammys, tackled Broadway, film and even politics. Although flashier franchises born in its shadow and changing TV and music landscapes took away its relevance, we can’t be the only ones missing the tone deaf singers willing to embarrass themselves or voting for talented,
small town singers who overcame harrowing trials adversity in search of pop stardom?