Just Steve and the Piano, Rich Paschall
Perhaps if you are lucky, you get to meet one of the celebrities you write about. Maybe it is easier in a big city where celebrities will often pass through. Even then, meeting them at the venue or bumping into them on the street would seem rather remote. I guess it happens.
Steve Grand lived in the Chicago area and actually worked in the neighborhood. No, I had never met him. Before his break-out album, All-American Boy, I had never heard of him so if I passed him on the street, I would not have known anyway. If you have been following this space, you may have noticed the article presented here on his music. You certainly would have remembered the publicity photo.
In a city like Chicago you might think there would be plenty of opportunities to see a local talent, especially after he has had some success. Aside from the album release party in 2015 and a one performance appearance in Rent at the Athenaeum Theater, there was no opportunity to see him last year.
There are a number of small clubs where the talent probably makes little money and performs for the experience, exposure or love of the craft. There are also plenty of big theaters, arenas and stadiums in the area. Midsize clubs that can seat enough people to draw in talent like Steve are lacking.
Fortunately, a new space opened in Chicago with a room just right for such shows. Actually, I should say it is a re-done space. I had been there in a previous incarnation, but this time it seems much more versatile. A club called Seven has opened in a place that has seen a number of businesses over the years. Maybe this one will stick and bring us a better range of entertainment.
The club seating is general admission with a twist. One price level of tickets gets you anywhere in the first three rows, and the second level price gets you a seat anywhere else. I was early enough to grab a front row seat while others headed to the bar out front or in the performance space. I did not know until later that I was seated about ten feet from Steve’s parents.
The small stage would not fit many people, but this was just Steve and the piano. The bulk of the show featured songs from the album, All-American Boy, although he did not play every one of them. You miss the production values of the album, but being close to the performer and hearing the stripped down instrumentation give the songs a much more intimate feel. You could tell that Steve slowed some of the songs down from the album version.
A few cover songs were sprinkled into the mix. Steve admits that Elton John was an influence on him, primarily because Elton plays piano and sings. Steve did well with “Bennie and the Jets.” He also gave us a much better version of “Sorry” than Justin Bieber is giving us. Not only was there some feeling to the song, but Steve is a better singer.
He could have skipped the cover of Adele’s overdone Hello. It’s not that it was not a good job, but it immediately calls up a comparison with the rather bombastic version Adele has all over the airways right now. In truth, Steve toned it down to give it some depth of feeling that all of Adele’s shouting can not provide.
We learned that Steve is in fact working on a new album and hopes to have something out later in the year. He spoke briefly of the amazing year that passed. As a high-profile gay performer, he was in demand at a lot of Pride events in the historic past year. He was also invited to play overseas. This year, South Africa will be on his list of stops. We hope Chicago will be on the list again.
After the show Steve spent a lot of time to “meet and greet.” He took pictures with many and signed some autographs. Throughout the show and afterwards, he was warm and gracious. He seemed to revel in the rare appearance before a home town crowd in a neighborhood where he used to work.
While Steve was meeting people, I spoke with his mother for about ten minutes. I told her I loved the album but could not follow the story of the last song. I said that it obviously was not Steve’s story. She told me that it was indeed based on a real story, and she told me about the high school trip of 2006 to California that he refers to in the song. She even told me there was a video, which I had never seen. So I chased it down. His mother was just as pleasant as Steve, or perhaps I should put that the other way around.