I saw a chair-bound but magnanimous BB King play a few years before he died – in Elgin, of all places. That’s also where I caught Bo Diddley laying down his famous beat. And saloon singer par excellence Frank D’Rone.
I saw moody Miles Davis at Chicago’s Jazz Fest once, and I caught Ornette Coleman freeing up jazz there, too. Dizzy Gillespie played up in Woodstock at the Opera House, and I was there to listen to the outgoing trumpeter.
I figure if you have an opportunity to see somebody who’s considered a legend, who’s contributed to an art form or pop culture, you take it when you can.
So March 2, I headed to the Chicago Theatre for a final chance to see Tis Himself, Michael Flatley, dance in front of a hometown crowd. A native South Sider, Flatley says he’s retiring after this farewell tour.
Flatley recently recorded a song on which he plays flute. He’s trying a bit of acting. He’s 57, which means his feet of flames are dying embers. Or something like that.
For the last few months, Flatley has been on the road with Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games, which is closing in Las Vegas on St. Patrick’s Day – and that couldn’t be a more fitting parting glass, a perfectly poured pint of glittery Guinness.
For this show is very much an over-the-top, shiny, multimedia spectacle which is part and parcel of Las Vegas entertainment, which rules the world these days. While Flatley made traditional Irish dancing known the world-round, his shows offer a take on the form that is of these ADHD times.
Flatley’s fleet-footed shows may be Irish with touches of other cultures, but they also have elements in common with Super Bowl halftime shows featuring Beyonce, and given how Flatley dresses on stage, seem like Irish Michael Jackson (in fashion sense and spectacle, not a psychological one).
Like the singer-dancers, Flatley has made quite a living doing what he does so well in a time when subtle seems to have been locked in a broom closet and every form of entertainment is computer-generated and noisy.
St. Patrick’s Day, of course, is the Las Vegas version of what it means to be Irish in America, an amped up holiday which oft-times sloshes in stereotypes, copious amounts of green light beer, silly t-shirts and lots of corned beef.
As for Dangerous Games, it begins with video reminding of how huuuge Flatley is, and a clip apparently about time passing away. Maybe Mass should begin this way – with a video mentioning how many Bibles have been sold, how many souls have been saved, and that the clock is ticking.
Anyway, the live dancing features a sprite called Little Spirit who seems like she got lost on the way to a Cirque du Soleil show.
There are Irish dancer dudes who take off their shirts – Magic Micks, I guess. The women dance a number or two in sports bras. Two blonde women with cute butts play violin in spangly dresses. Two sultry lady dancers vie for the affections of the hero. Another woman sings treacly Celine Dion-style songs.
Some of the backing video has rainbows and unicorns. Other video looks like Tron outtakes or as if you’re playing Call of Duty. The bad guys dance some numbers in helmets as if they will be joining a Daft Punk army.
There’s a dance battle for a WWE-like belt. A dance battle! Just beat it, already!
That’s not to mention the monks and the magic flute. About the only things missing were a white tiger, a couple blue guys bashing drums, and a mentalist doing a death-defying card trick – with sharks.
But the Nevada of it all is beside the point: I was there to see Flatley, 57, who was in the show only toward the end – a dance, a video where three High Def Flatley projections dance together, and an encore.
I thought maybe the big fella would give a valedictory and thank you speech before friends and family here in the Chicago area, where his immigrant father (who passed in 2015) started a plumbing business the family still runs to this day.
Instead, Flatley smiled, hoofed a bit, horsed around with the troupe and seemed to be having a good time. He did blow a kiss to his mom and told her he loved her for all to hear before the left the stage.
He offered no Irish version of Donna Summer’s Last Dance or a Celtic take on The Drifters sublime Save the Last Dance for Me. There was no sing-along to The Parting Glass.
Considering all the extravaganza that preceded, Flatley ended on a relatively quiet note, a sort-of subdued farewell. While his show could be bold and brash, he didn’t offer words to that effect – which is a good thing.
That – and swag to take home, hoodies for the road.