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CONCERTS Grammy Awards; Super Bowl's halftime; Yola and Amythyst; Deadmau5
by Vern Hester
2020-02-18

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January and part of February felt like springtime in Chicago, with intermittent snow showers, clouds of fog and the rare sunny day. For music fans, the weather could hardly put a damper on things and it actually paid off to stay home and watch television.

The 62nd Annual Grammy Awards were handed out on Jan. 26 and featured some surprising nods, with lifetime achievement awards going to punk high priest Iggy Pop, soul icon Isaac Hayes and gospel star ( and one of the original architects of rock 'n' roll ) Sister Rosetta Tharpe. There was also a queer conga line headed by Tyler, the Creator ( who won Rap Album of the Year ), Lil Nas X ( who received an award and was presented in a production number that recalled the vulgar showmanship of the late Allan Carr ) and Brandi Carlile ( who shared Country Song of the Year, making her part of Tanya Tucker's surprise comeback ).

If the Grammys lacked drama, the combination of Shakira and Jennifer Lopez fronting the halftime show at the Super Bowl on Feb. 2 was such a stunner that it upstaged the game. It was not enough that this was the first time two Latinas headed the show, or that they delivered the hits with pizzazz and thunder. It wasn't enough, however, that they used their allotted time to clobber unsuspecting and culturally ignorant football fans with hard-to-ignore flashes of raw culture. ( Shakira wowed with renditions of the mapale and the chapeta—both traditional Columbian dances—while shocking suburban housewives with a zaghrouta, a Middle Eastern gesture signaling joy. On top of that, most of her singing was in Spanish and Arabic. ) There was also multiracial unity ( the army of scantily clad dancers onstage was largely made up of Brown and Black men and women ) and upfront political jabs ( such as Lopez coming out draped in a Puerto Rican flag made of feathers while singing a snippet of "Born in the USA" with her daughter ). With all the gyrations, fireworks and extreme lighting, it was the ultimate punk statement, using high-gloss entertainment and showmanship to deliver an unsubtle message to the country two days after a shady acquittal in a presidential impeachment trial. One can only hope that somebody explained it all to Donald Trump.

Grammy nominee and cheeky Brit Yola hit Thalia Hall on Jan. 14 with guest nominee Amythyst Kiah for a sold-out evening of Black-tinged folk and Americana music. The wildly enthusiastic crowd met Kiah's solo acoustic set with great fanfare and she performed searing readings of "Firewater" and her nominated song, "Black Myself." Once the headliner got onstage the show immediately crossed into another dimension as Yola not only performed much of her celebrated album, Walk Through Fire ( on Easy Eye Sound Recordings ) while including several surprise covers. Tucked between her "Shady Grove," "It Ain't Easier" and "Faraway Look" were nods to Elton John ( "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" ), Aretha Franklin ( "You're All I Need to Get By" ) and The Hollies. ( Her reading of "The Air that I Breathe" was so heartfelt and lovely that it brought this reviewer to tears. )

On Feb. 1, innovative EDM producer and composer Deadmau5 ( pronounced "dead mouse" ) took over Festival Hall at Navy Pier for what felt like a nuclear house party. The massive stage setting—composed of video screens with a focus on a revolving giant cube—throbbed and glowed while the star of the show largely stayed hidden. Occasionally Deadmau5 ( birth name: Joel Thomas Zimmerman ) would glide into view wearing his trademark face covering mouse helmet. It was a little off putting, more reminiscent of Dorothy meeting the Wizard of Oz for the first time than a conventional concert. Still, with the hall packed with jolly fans dancing the night away, with many wearing what can only be called "Deadmau5 drag," it was impossible to complain.

Heads up: On Feb. 15, Chicago Boricua Resistance will host an evening of live punk and soul to raise funds for Puerto Rican earthquake relief at U.E. Hall at 37 S. Ashland Ave.; performers slated to perform include Porno Queens, JusSol, Sex Queen and Kaivyn Lael. The Black, Brown, and Indigenous Crew will present an evening of punk music to accompany the Art Institute's exhibition Vaginal Davis: The White to be Angry at The Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room on Feb. 21; performers participating include Mermaid N.V., the Breathing Light, Blacker Face, and Gold Grrl. Tickets are already on sale for Mika's show at The Riviera Theater on April 27.


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