Monday, September 24, 2012

Van Dyke Parks in Chicago

Van Dyke Parks at the Riverfront Theater
September 22, 2012

Van Dyke Parks, piano and vocal : Janelle Lake, harp : Donna Miller, cello : Jason Roebke, bass : Don Heffington, drums

“I don’t need Clint Eastwood sitting here for what I’ve got to say tonight!”

Van Dyke Parks, from the stage
Elaine and I had the wonderful opportunity to hear Van Dyke Parks in Chicago this weekend. The setting was Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements, a three-day arts event at the Riverfront Theater, a modified circus tent. Parks was opening for Conor Oberst. Yes, the audience was young. Elaine and I seemed to be the oldest members, doing our bit to make the occasion a genuine all-ages show. I’m not sure that many of the attendees were familiar with Van Dyke’s music. And I doubt that more than a handful might have known that “Brilliant Corners” is the title of a Thelonious Monk tune. But the audience was respectful and often enthusiastic.

And with good reason. Van Dyke and company were inspired. They tore the roof off the sucker, with grace and precision and heart. The set (all Parks compositions except as noted):

Jump! : Opportunity for Two : Come Along : Orange Crate Art : Wings of a Dove : Delta Queen Waltz (John Hartford) : FDR in Trinidad (Fitz MacLean) : Danza (Louis Moreau Gottschalk) : Cowboy : The All Golden : Sail Away

Van Dyke’s between-song commentary touched on everything from Lawrence Welk to Pussy Riot to rivers (the Chicago, the Cumberland, the Mississippi) to the five-day work week. My favorite line: “As Lawrence Welk once said, ‘I want a close-up of the whole band.’”

Even when Van Dyke is on our turf, it seems that Elaine and I end up being the recipients of his hospitality. Thank you, Van Dyke. Someday we will make it go, like the Chicago River, the other way around.

Related reading
All Van Dyke Parks posts (Pinboard)

comments: 4

Andrew Hickey said...

One of the happiest things in recent years is VDP's renewed enthusiasm for performing live. I remember when I saw him in 1999 (I think it was -- at the Royal Festival Hall supported by the High Llamas) I thought it'd be the only time I'd get the chance, and was profoundly grateful for it. Seeing him both this year and last year, in two very different settings with very different sets of backing musicians, it amazes me just how special his shows are. The repertoire is largely the same each time, but each show is utterly different -- and absolutely spellbinding -- nonetheless.

Michael Leddy said...

Exactly. There are always new elements in his piano work. And the supporting cast changes the musical conception. It’s never the same river twice.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the set-list! I had never heard his music before, and definitely enjoyed it.

Michael Leddy said...

You’re welcome, Anon.