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Chicago

Career Killers: “Results May Vary” by Limp Bizkit

What was the talk of this year’s Lollapalooza festival? Was it the fact that it was the first big rock concert in Chicago since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted? Was it whether the proof of vaccination/negative test requirement for entry would be effective in preventing the show from turning into a super spreader event? (So far, it looks like it has been successful in that regard.)

No. It was Limp Bizkit seemingly replacing frontman Fred Durst with either his dad or an extra from the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” video.

Gone was the trademark red Yankees cap. In its place was a thick hat of gray hair that made people wonder whether or not it was a wig. Throw in the long grey handlebar mustache and sunglasses and he looked like he was wearing a disguise — as if he were in witness protection or something.

The consensus: He kind of pulled it off. The other consensus: Limp Bizkit were reasonably well received by attendees and live stream viewers, most of whom probably hadn’t heard of them since “Nookie.” As such, in the days following the show, the band’s back catalog saw a nice spike in sales and steaming numbers. Keep rollin’ rollin’ rollin’, indeed.

Of course, there was a reason why he seemed so unrecognizable. Once reliable hitmakers and a ubiquitous presence on MTV, Limp Bizkit has been long forgotten about and reduced to a punchline — a much maligned footnote from a bygone era when nu metal was so popular, even established superstars like Metallica tried it.

This is the album that started Limp Bizkit’s decline.

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Career Killers: “Adore” by the Smashing Pumpkins

Mike Love may be a good rock ‘n roll heel, but Billy Corgan is an actual heel. The longtime wrestling fan and eventual promoter and on-air authority figure made a conscious decision, from the beginning, to be the bad guy. “In the early years of the Smashing Pumpkins, I saw that I was going to be treated as an outsider,” he told Rolling Stone in 2016. “So rather than play along, which is what you’re supposed to do, I decided to play heel, in wrestling parlance, and have fun with it… I’d rather be that heel than the babyface who goes along to get along.”

He did a great job. Despite his obvious talent (the Pumpkins singer and lead guitarist wrote almost all of the songs and played, pretty much, everything except for drums on the band’s first two albums), Corgan became one of the least likable people in music. He tossed off arrogant quotes to the music press more easily than Ted DiBiase threw his money around to move to the front of the line at an emergency room, close down a public pool or buy himself a championship belt because he was upset he couldn’t win the actual one. He treated his bandmates like employees, hiring and firing them at will or blaming them for breaking up the band when he was always on the one in charge. And he certainly wasn’t humble. “Do I belong in the conversation about the best artists in the world? My answer is yes, I do,” he said to Rolling Stone in 2010.

So like watching the hated heel get his comeuppance, there was quite a bit of schadenfreude in seeing Corgan fail. And with 1998’s Adore, Corgan did so in spectacular fashion, bringing his band’s momentum to a screeching halt and ending its run as one of the biggest and most popular alternative rock bands in the world.

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Career Killers: “Kilroy Was Here” by Styx

There have always been extremely successful artists that were so unlikeable, unappealing or unoriginal that it became fashionable to hate them. Nickelback, Creed, Dave Matthews Band, Coldplay, Michael Bolton, Phil Collins, Limp Bizkit, Train, and more recently, Justin Bieber, Imagine Dragons and the Chainsmokers have generated significant amounts of vitriol from critics and the general public — all while stockpiling hits and performing sell-out shows before thousands of adoring fans. If anything, the widespread hatedom only makes their fans love them even more.

Before them, Styx was the one that it was cool to hate.

Critics, in particular, despised them and commonly referred to the band as “Stynx” (one memorable review compared their music to a parking lot full of whale vomit – something that may very have inspired the famous “Shit Sandwich” scene in This is Spinal Tap).

Despite that, Styx sold tons of records and performed countless sold out shows. From 1972 to 1982, the band amassed 11 Top 40 hits, including their sole #1 hit, the polarizing “Babe,” as well as four RIAA-certified gold and five platinum albums. Starting off as a progressive rock group, the band found success when it moved to a more arena-friendly (some would argue, “corporate”) sound, merging hard rock with synth pop while displaying a flair for the dramatic (or melodramatic, as their detractors might argue). Even as it found mainstream success, Styx retained some of its prog leanings, writing thematic, narrative style songs, while releasing a series of concept albums throughout the late 70s and early 80s.

With 1983’s Kilroy Was Here, Styx took on its most ambitious and risky project yet. A concept album about a dystopian future where religious and political fascists have outlawed rock music and use technology to enslave mankind, Styx planned an elaborate live show that would be part rock-opera, part concert, part multimedia spectacle. If the boys from Chicago could pull it off, they would set themselves up to be the spiritual successors to Pink Floyd or The Who.

They did not pull it off.

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Career Killers: “Liz Phair”

Plenty of artists with cult followings go mainstream and become popular.

R.E.M. went from highly-regarded college band to one of the biggest and most acclaimed groups in the world. Metallica slowly and steadily built up a passionate fan base that kept growing in size and intensity until they exploded in popularity in the early 90s. Genesis established itself as a highly inventive artistic and progressive rock band before transitioning to FM superstardom.

In fact, these days, many “indie” acts are actually mainstream and do all sorts of things that bands like Fugazi and artists like Neil Young would have considered “selling out.” Allowing your music to be used in commercials, TV shows and movies? Check. Praising pop stars and being influenced by their hit songs? Check. Working with hit-making producers and songwriters? Check and check.

Yet when indie queen Liz Phair did all those things in 2003, she provoked a furious, almost personal backlash that tanked her career. Maybe she was simply a few years too early. Or maybe she was never going to succeed because the same factors that led to her rise helped keep her down.

Or maybe it was because her self-titled 2003 album wasn’t as good as it could have been.

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In Memoriam: Bernie Yuen-Li

“Oh honey, look at this one!” my wife gesticulated to me one night, holding out her phone with glee.

It was a picture of a small, tan-and-white dog named “Axel.” Felines & Canines, one of the local shelters in Chicago, had just posted his info. Apparently, he was a corgi-mix that had just reached the shelter after being rescued from Kentucky and he was already charming everyone with his gentlemanly demeanor.

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Career Killers: “Switch” by INXS

Plenty of bands choose to soldier on after the death of an iconic, seemingly-irreplaceable lead singer.

Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen went with established singers, touring and recording with Paul Rodgers of Bad Company fame before moving onto “American Idol” alum Adam Lambert. AC/DC took the opposite approach, hiring then-unknown Brian Johnson to replace Bon Scott. The Eagles did a bit of both, replacing Glenn Frey with country superstar Vince Gill, as well as novice musician and Frey’s own son, Deacon. Bands such as Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Sublime, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and even the Grateful Dead have carried on in some form, with mixed results.

Other bands chose not to try and replace the irreplaceable. Nirvana broke up after Kurt Cobain died by suicide – as did Mother Love Bone following Andy Wood’s fatal heroin overdose (although two members of the band ended up forming Pearl Jam). The surviving members of The Doors continued as a trio after Jim Morrison’s death, releasing two uneven albums on their own before calling it a day. On the other hand, Chicago decided not to break up after Terry Kath’s death and became an adult-contemporary powerhouse under Peter Cetera in the 1980s. And perhaps the most famous example is New Order, which formed out of the ashes of Joy Division after frontman Ian Curtis’s death, and achieved more fame and success than its predecessor.

Then there are some bands that give it a go with new singers, only to flop badly, ruin their legacy and confirm to everyone that they should have just let their band die with their late vocalist.

INXS was one such band.

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Vindicated by History: The 1893 Queen Isabella Commemorative Quarter.

A few things I’ve picked up from researching early commemorative coins:

  • The people behind them always hope they can raise a ton of money for a pet project or monument or expo. They rarely do.
  • The designs usually get denigrated by the numismatic press – oftentimes with a venom critics reserve for Limp Bizkit albums or Michael Bay movies.
  • The mint melts down the excess/unsold coins. As a result, the ones that did sell end up becoming valuable decades later – screwing over collectors on a budget like yours truly.

Those issues were all in play for the 1893 Isabella Quarter.

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My Trip to the 2019 ANA World’s Fair of Money – Part I

My first trip to a coin conference did nothing to prepare me for the 2019 World’s Fair of Money. Sponsored by the American Numismatic Association, this year’s event, held at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill., boasted auctions, seminars, exhibits of historic rare coins and currency, and a bourse so large that it made the one from the show I went to in Schaumburg back in April look like a garage sale. Indeed, if the Schaumburg show was like Comic-Con, then this show was like being in the Battle of Wakanda scene in Avengers: Infinity War.

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My First Trip to Coin-Con

This weekend is a pivotal one for nerds and geeks like me. “Avengers: Endgame” officially premiered on Friday (and became the fastest movie to reach $100 million). “Game of Thrones” airs a pivotal and highly-anticipated episode on Sunday featuring the White Walker invasion of Winterfell (my wife cleared out her calendar months ago).

As such, I figured it was only natural that I go to a convention where die-hards gather to talk about their favorites, shop for new additions to their collection, and meet important and well-known people.

That’s right. I went to the Central States Numismatic Society Annual Convention in Schaumburg, Ill. Call it Comic-Con but for coin enthusiasts – Coin-Con, if you will (Susan B. Anthony costumes optional).

This was my first such coin show, and to say it was overwhelming would be an understatement.

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Depeche Mode – “Global Spirit Tour” at the United Center

Again, not so much a review as an observation. I enjoyed this show much more than the last Depeche Mode show I attended. The band sounded better and tighter (although that may have been because of the change of venue – Barclays Center had well-documented acoustics problems back then). Dave Gahan and Martin Gore sounded great, Peter Gordeno did a good job playing the “Alan Wilder” role on keyboards and background vocals and Christian Eigner was solid on drums. Fletch showed off some new dance moves, adding an awkward double Durst to his extensive repertoire (which includes the “Funky Cello” and the “Snack Break”). The band only did four songs off the new album, “Spirit” – the same number of songs they did from 1997’s “Ultra.” That’s too bad, because I actually like some of the songs off the new album, especially show-opener “Going Backwards.”

We’re going backwards
Turning back our history
Going backwards
Piling on the misery

We’re going backwards
Armed with new technology
Going backwards
To a caveman mentality

In fact, “Spirit” is quite political – especially when compared to the band’s last few albums. Maybe Trump, Brexit and everything else going on in the world inspired them. Or maybe it was being co-opted by the alt-right. Either way, it made for a great show!

U2 – “Experience and Innocence Tour” at the United Center

Not so much a review as an observation. I enjoyed Tuesday’s show a lot more than I thought I would. I actually preferred it to the Joshua Tree show I saw last year. The new album definitely grows on you and some of the songs sound much better live than on the record (especially “The Blackout” and “American Soul“). And it was cool hearing “Until the End of the World” (one of my favorite U2 songs), “Acrobat,” and the “Hollywood remix” version of “Desire” live.

While Bono and company mostly stuck to the prevalent themes on Songs of Experience, namely positivity and inclusiveness, it was nice to see the band mix it up with a healthy dose of cynicism by bringing back MacPhisto, Bono’s Zooropa-era alter ego. “I was in Charlottesville when the KKK sieg heiled together,” MacPhisto bragged during the intro to “Acrobat.” “Made damn sure the president’s hands were full with stormy weather. Ha! You get it? You can’t make this shit up.”

Nope. You certainly can’t.