Thursday, August 24, 2006

Live Review: World Party @ Park West 8/22/06

Some things are better left unseen. I'm a firm believer in this, especially when it comes to reunion tours. Going to see a band who hasn't played in years (or even decades) always seems like an exciting prospect, but the shows almost never live up to expectations. Inevitably, the band is not going to sound as good as you remembered (selective memory or not), and then there's the visual shock of seeing the heroes from your youth suddenly fat, gray and balding. It seems all these reunion shows ever do is shatter any sort of fan-boy mystique I've built up in mind about an artist. It's a sort of grown up equivalent to discovering that not only is Santa Claus not real, but the guy in the suit all those years was the creepy old guy from down the street that always smelled like cough syrup. Nonetheless, upon hearing that World Party was touring the States this summer and coming to Chicago, I couldn't resist. Essentially a one-man band consisting of music savant Karl Wallinger backed by various supporting members over the years, World Party has always been somewhat of an obscure favorite of mine ever since high school. Not so much obscure in the fact that the band was completely unknown and never sold more than 100 records at a time, but obscure on the level that I never really knew anyone else that was a fan. Occasionally I'd run into someone who had heard of Goodbye Jumbo (World Party/Wallinger's commercial and critical breakthrough), but I sure as hell have never been able to debate with anyone about what are the best tracks on Egyptology (World Party's major-label swan song from 1998). Not only has World Party been a cult favorite of mine for all of these years, I realized they were one of only a very select few of favorite bands that I had yet to see play live. Needless to say, I had to throw any reservations out the window and check out this performance. To be fair, this was hardly a "reunion." World Party was always just a performance moniker for Karl Wallinger, so it's like not the band ever broke up. However, this was Wallinger's first appearance in Chicago in about 8 years or something and World Party had literally dropped off the face of the Earth for the past 5. Unfortunately, it was not a planned vacation for Wallinger. In February of 2001, he suffered a massive aneurysm that put him out of commission for two years. As a fan, I really should just be happy that the man is still alive, let alone able to tour. However, I still couldn't get past how bad he looked at this show and how fat...err, I mean flat this performance was. I don't mean to mock the afflicted, but I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw Wallinger walk on stage. He literally has become a pudgy and gray old man. It may not have been so disconcerting (the guy is now 49 years old after all) if it weren't the fact that all of the press photos for this tour and the domestic release of his Dumbing Up record earlier this year still depicted a skinny and suave Wallinger who looked only slightly older than the man from the "Is it Like Today?" video. I probably could have got over my superficial hang up a lot easier if it weren't for the fact that the performance was every bit as disconcerting as Wallinger's physical appearance. There was just no spark; it felt like I was watching a World Party tribute band or something. The vocals sounded pretty much the same and the band essentially played everything note for note, but there was that emptiness you get when watching a dorky cover band happily bounce from hit song to hit song without any change of tone or emotion. As much as I'd like to put all the blame on this backing band that clearly was assembled only recently for the purpose of touring America, Karl certainly was not without blame himself. Overall, the energy and spirit wasn't there, and at one point he actually had to bust out a lyric sheet and performed a song ("Here Comes the Future") karaoke-style with a piece of paper right in front of his face. The one highlight of the night, though, seemed to be completely unscripted. At the beginning of the set there was a guy in the crowd who was shouting out requests for "Thank You World." Around the middle of the set, Wallinger actually obliged the request (I'm pretty sure I heard him mumble, "this next one's for...") and proceeded to play it solo acoustic-style. Judging by the somewhat awkward body language of most of the band members during the song, this wasn't just Wallinger dedicating something that was already in the planned set list. As it became apparent that he was, in fact, going to play the entire song and not just a short acoustic snippet, the band eventually started to lightly noodle along. Adding credence to my "the supporting band sucked" theory, this mostly solo performance was by far the most inspired moment of the night to me. There's no doubt Wallinger's serious ailment drastically affected both his physical and mental capabilities and more than likely he's still trying to recover from it. As much as it is a huge accomplishment for him to be back on the road, I still would almost rather he had followed the Brian Eno-school of recovery (i.e. don't tour anymore, dive even deeper into studio work) rather than playing out the rest of his days on the rock star senior circuit that could eventually reduce World Party to playing state fairs and casinos. That being said, I still wish Karl and Co. all the best and I still would highly recommend picking up the "new" record, Dumbing Up, which also includes a great bonus DVD containing the entire World Party video anthology. SET LIST: Put the Message in the Box Is It Like Today? What Does It Mean Now? When the Rainbow Comes Best Place I've Ever Been I Thought You Were A Spy She's the One Love Street Who Are You? Here Comes the Future Vanity Fair Thank You World Sweet Soul Dream Is It Too Late? Way Down Now (Encore) It Is Time Ship of Fools Click here for the complete photo set


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