Last night, Laurie Anderson gave a concert at the Perimeter Institute. Much to my surprise, I was able to go [1] and so I offer this brief review.

I guess the atrium of the Perimeter Institute has improved a bit since the first concert I saw there, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, which featured very uncomfortable lawn chairs. This, this concert had real hard-back chairs. Not that I got to sit on one- I had a standing-room ticket, upstairs. Mezzanine. The whole 2nd floor was open, and there were only 40 standing-room tickets, so we each got a fair bit of space to ourselves.

Pluses: Unobstructed view: at the beginning I was standing less than 10 feet from Laurie Anderson. Straight up.
Minuses: We weren't allowed to lean on the glass railing, which I kept forgetting. And the top of a performer's head turns out to not be as exciting as seeing the front of her face. Also, I saw her glance upward once and realized it might actually be disconcerting to have audience perched just over-top of oneself.

So I moved back to 20 feet away, where I stayed for the rest of the show. It wasn't bad, even standing, and there was lots of room for me to sit on the floor, which I did for a while.

The acoustics were fine; possibly slightly less amplified, but that wasn't a problem. Fortunately, I also didn't find there were any annoying echoes in the big space.

The concert was 90 minutes. She started with her signature pitch-bended electric violin (which in the late 70's was a "tape bow violin"- with recorded magnetic tape as the bow, and a magnetic tape head as the bridge; though I don't expect that's still how it works). She alternated between instrumental-only pieces, some which I liked quite a lot, and spoken-word over instrumental and keyboard loops. Some of her spoken-word was pitch-bended into her trademark growling bass voice, which she has called audio drag or "the Voice of Authority." That voice matched her appearance- she was dressed up way butch, with spiky hair, a thin tie and dark suit, though the Voice didn't really say things of much authority- and she had a perfectly commanding presence with her own voice.

Lighting was quite dark: there were mood lights of various primary colours, and candles on the stage. She told stories. Very modern stories, simply told, many of them compelling, though I didn't feel like they hung together as a whole (more on that at the end). This is apparently the start of a new tour, "Another Day in America," which started last week in Calgary, and we were lucky enough to be the second city on the tour. I imagine it will evolve as it goes.

She spoke about the National Defense Authorization Act which Obama just signed on New Years Eve, which allows indefinite detention without trial of American citizens in military prisons. She noted that this piece of law centers on a redefinition of "battleground" to include all of the United States. And what does it mean to choose to bring the battleground to one's home? "We've been waiting a couple hundred years for the enemy to show up, and since they never did, we decided maybe it’s us."

She spoke about how annoyed Darwin had been with peacocks- "what could possibly be fittest about a giant bright blue tail?" and jumps to how the Catholic church has been afraid of science- and what if the Church was most afraid that we'd find many worlds, with other popes? Which pope would be the real pope? Perhaps one with the brightest, bluest tail?

She told about visiting one of the many tent-cities in the US which started during the housing crisis, which collectively have housed thousands of Americans over the last years. I have to say I thought she'd veered to the fictional, but google and wikipedia tell me the camp she visited is exactly as described.

Her beloved rat-terrier Lolabelle died this spring, on Palm Sunday; she told how the Tibetian Book of the Dead says when a living being dies, it will spend 49 days in a place called the Bardo, before it is reincarnated. And Lolabelle died 49 days before Anderson's birthday. She goes on to say that when Lolabelle went blind a few years ago, Anderson began teaching her to play the piano, and to paint; and then she shared a dozen of Lolabelle's paintings, and a video of her playing the keyboard (wagging, and barking in joy as she did so).

The last time I saw her, in Ithaca in 2006, she had just spent time as NASA's first (and last) Artist in Residence. She also had stories about Lolabelle, one which has stuck with me, about a walk in the woods when a hawk dive-bombs them and the dog realizes there's 180 degrees of the world she had never imagined could be dangerous- which turns into a parallel story about the US post-9/11. Really sharp stuff.

So, on the whole. I wish this concert had tied together more. I could feel the authority with which she was speaking, and maybe it's up to the listener to pull things together, but the way it was structured, I didn't find myself able to do so during the concert. Perhaps some of that pulling together can happen when I'm in Quaker Meeting this weekend.

I'm quite glad the PI was able to get her here- they have been trying for years. Perhaps she will be back! I would not mind that, no.

[1] So, how I got a ticket. If you are allergic to twitter, you won't want to read this. Just sayin'.

I found out about the concert from someone tweeting about it on Monday. I tweeted an "Aw, how come I just found out about this sold-out show?" After a bit of whinging to friends, I forgot about it. I had a faint hope to show up at the venue and see if there were unclaimed tickets.

But on Wednesday evening, I checked twitter and noticed somebody I didn't know had specifically sent me a message asking if I needed a ticket. I replied, but it had been 6 hours after he had asked, and he had also gotten re-tweeted by the Perimeter when he previously if anybody needed a ticket. ... and yet, somehow, nobody had; all of his friends who would have jumped at the chance lived in Toronto or New York or elsewhere. So Thursday morning, he came to my office and sold me his ticket at-cost! How cool is that?
So, 20 days ago, dan and I went to see Peter Gabriel play the Molson Amphitheatre near Toronto.

I haven't followed his music very closely for the last few albums, but I have listened to enough Peter Gabriel over the years that I didn't want to miss this opportunity. Thanks to my friend Justin who scored the tickets, we got excellent seats; about 10 or so rows from the stage.

He played with the "New Blood Orchestra," half made of a touring company, half local musicians. Mostly, rearranging for orchestra worked [1]. Particularly, I liked the arrangements for "San Jacinto," "Mercy Street," and "Blood of Eden." I wanted to like "Solsbury Hill" and "Boy in the Bubble" more than I did but they seemed too pared down. And "In Your Eyes" had silly Audience Choreography (as did "Biko", which was annoying because Gabriel was all Social Conscience and the audience was all Play the Damn Song Already).

My overall impression of Gabriel as performer is: consummate professional. It looked like he had done this every day of his life, which he almost has. He was also clearly suffering from a bad sore throat: he was constantly downing a gulp of tea, then a shot of honey. And you could tell where the throat problems came from: gulp of tea, shot of honey, plaintive scream in nearly every song... I had never realized how much his songs have wails in them until dan asked if every one of them did. Not quite, but.

His lights show was fairly cool: very bright LED boards behind the stage, plus a curtain the width of the stage and 20 feet tall, also LEDs, often with video.

One light trick I had never seen before that we both liked: in the second act, he picked up something reflective from the stage, and it was sitting over top of a spot-light. He then swept the light around the audience; it looked for all the world like fire from his hand.

There was a downpour during the first act. The outermost 1/5 of the seats were open to the air. Gabriel apologized; he said on one concerts that week, the moment they had mentioned the word "water" in "Washing of the Water", the skies opened up.

Neither dan nor I had been to the amphitheatre before. I would go to a big concert there again- getting out was remarkably quick, and it was late enough that the 401 was quite speedy on the way home.

And then dan was off to Italy, and while he was gone, I went to see DJ Tiesto, whose podcast I listen to. He's a Dutch DJ, and I'm perplexed why he wound up in our little town: he went from Chicago, to our town for two nights, then Quebec City, and Ottawa (for Canada Day), then Las Vegas for the 4th of July weekend. Then Ibeza for a week. :) But whatever, he came and sold out two shows of about 300 people (versus n-thousand each for Chicago and Quebec City...).

I haven't been inside a dance club in, like, forever.

They confiscated my pen at the door, because they thought I might throw it at someone. I was like, "..." and they said I could get it back at the end if I really wanted to. (and so I did (pick it up again, not throw it)).

The doors opened at 10:00, I showed up at 10:30, Tiesto started playing at 11:45, and I left around 1:30 when I realized I had heard all of the songs I would recognize. And the next day was still a work day.

It was fun, and I probably don't need to do that again for a while. :)

Hope you like the photos, in lieu of earth-shaking incisive content. I would have done better with reviews had I not waited two weeks. Oh well.

[1] Gabriel's set list, which I found somewhere on the net:
"Heroes" (David Bowie cover)
Apres Moi (Regina Spektor cover)
The Boy in the Bubble (Paul Simon cover)
My Body Is a Cage (Arcade Fire cover)
Father, Son
Washing of the Water
# Intermission
San Jacinto
Digging in the Dirt
Signal to Noise
Downside Up
Mercy Street
The Rhythm of the Heat
Blood of Eden
Red Rain
Solsbury Hill
# Encore:
In Your Eyes
Don't Give Up
The Nest That Sailed the Sky

[2] Bigger copies of these photos are on flickr. I couldn't be bothered to link each one individually. :)
Friday evening, I popped down to Toronto for a cabaret/theatre/concert production of Spin by Evalyn Perry. I wasn't sure what to expect; I knew it involved spoken word, singing, and music played upon a bicycle. I was nudged into going by my friend John, who came all the way from Minneapolis for this show. I know Evalyn from Quaker circles; last summer, she was one of the evening plenary presenters at the 1,000-person FGC Gathering. She does a political/musical show that's bitingly clever and often requires more than one listen to pick up all the threads...

In retrospect, I wish this production was extended for another week, so I could nudged more people into going- this afternoon was the last performance (a matinee added at the last minute because it was selling out).

The themes were, broadly, the story of Annie Londonderry, the first woman to bicycle around the world at the very end of the 19th century; the joined history of bicycling and feminism; Evalyn's personal story of being a cyclist and artist; and notes on the City of Toronto's mixed appreciation for bicycles.

I *had* thought that the music-played-upon-a-physical-bicycle would be less effective than it was. Her co-performer, Brad Hart, used drum sticks, his hands, and parts of the bicycle, which was wired for amplification, and attached to a looping device. I spent maybe 5 minutes distractedly studying how it worked- they even tuned different spokes to different pitches- but then I could just let go and listen to the music he was making with Evalyn (and Anna Friz, who did on-stage mixing and singing).

Evalyn produced a CD of the songs in the concert; this morning I drove to Guelph, and I appreciated the irony of driving while listening to a CD all about bicycling.

The Globe and Mail gave it 3 out of 4 stars. And she has a cover article in the weekly Xtra paper, which is a good recap of the show, actually.

So- Thanks Evalyn! And thanks, John, for nudging me to come!
We last saw Jesse Stewart play in November and much of what I said then still holds: he's creative, playful, and extremely talented. This concert was originally slated to be part of a jazz festival in Guelph last year; I'm glad it was shifted, because we don't tend to go to see jazz music. (Many artists I like do jazz some of the time; I like the artists; but once it's called jazz, I'm predisposed to dislike it. I'm working on this prejudice. Slowly.)

The concert was improv between Jesse Stewart and Michael Snow, with a 40-minute piece and a 20-minute "encore." It felt to me like it gradually got better over the hour; it took me a while to get into the swing of it, and I think they were intentionally starting off with less exciting collaboration- Michael playing the piano and Jesse making percussion with drums, bowls, and a Waterphone. ...Then, Michael brought out the mallets and started striking and plucking the inside of the piano. I've heard John Cage's "prepared piano", but I have never seen the inside of a piano worked the way Michael did. My favourite bit: he dropped tin cans inside and we saw them bounce around when they were "played" (I've, um, heard that before; but it was my own family's grand piano and my Lego pieces; last night's audience was considerably more appreciative than mine had been.)

At one point, Jesse used a short length of hollow pipe to rub on the bottom of a wet mixing bowl, then he used it for percussion when the bowl was sitting in water, then he rubbed the pipe on the edge of the bowl, and then he used the pipe as a pan-flute.

During a quieter portion of the second piece, he walked over to his drum set making quiet rhythms, and the floor creaked, and you could see the same "aha" on his face as he was working his instruments; for the next 15 seconds he played drums and the floor by rocking back and forth.

If that wasn't my favourite part, it was the very last two notes, when they hadn't quite decided who would finish, and Michael hit one more note and giggled.

I was surprised to discover that Michael Snow is, um, a national icon- a sculptor and movie maker as well as musician- and because I don't spend much time in the Eaton Centre in Toronto, I didn't remember he's the sculptor who made the suspended Canada Geese there.
[ profile] melted_snowball and I caught a Thursday-evening concert at KWCMS, the Chambet Music Society. Neither of us had been to that concert space before. It was essentially a living-room attic with 80 chairs in it and good acoustics and lighting. The performers had good things to say about the high ceiling. It felt intimate, though not warm- while I was OK, d. was incredibly cold, and he didn't warm up much during the concert. But the woman sitting next to me said that usually it's much warmer and often too warm.

This was my third time seeing Patricia O'Callaghan sing. The first time, at Open Ears in the King Street Theatre, blew me away- it was all Leonard Cohen songs, and I liked them all more than Cohen's versions. The second time, at the Guelph Festival, was a large affair with a full band, and she sang a wider repertoire, which I liked about half of, but I bought two of her CDs. I just bought her third CD, and between them, I don't think I've heard her sing more than one or two songs that aren't on the CDs.

She sang well, I think. She was accompanied by a pianist and bassist, who make up her traveling backup band. The pianist had two solos by Poulenc, in the second half. The two sets had Cohen pieces mixed throughout: "Take this Waltz," "I'm your Man," "The Gypsy Wife," and an encore of "Hallelujah." These, and the Magnetic Fiends' "Book of Love," were my favourites, because I'm not so much a jazzy-cabaret kind of guy. The rest of the concert was roughly themed. Mostly Kurt Weill in the first set, in German and English. In the second set, French singers and composers in the first half (Piaf's "La Vie en Rose", Poulenc's "Hommage a Edith Piaf"), and three Ladino folk songs at the end.

Even though I'm not a jazzy cabaret kind of guy, I enjoyed the Weill and the Ladino songs (which she translated; some were amusing and I have a bit of context for the tunes on the CD now).

I loved the "living-room concert" feel; she has a stage-presence and I think she's attractive (if not traditionally so) And she was pointing directly at me during "I'm your Man" which is a fun gender-bendy image. ("Here I stand / I'm your man / If you want a boxer / I will step into the ring for you" as she makes a fist directly at me, four rows and 15 feet away...)

And the encore was what I hoped she'd play when it didn't appear on the program (she does have a beautiful voice for Cohen songs!)

We left into the frigid wind and came home and got under the covers.
DaCapo played a concert this evening, titled "One: In the Beginning."

The first piece was "Calme" by Leonard Enns, the conductor; it had wonderful dissonances and harmonies, as well as some improvisation.

A Credo by Einojuhani Rautavaara (Finnish) felt overly long (or overly slow), but I liked a quote from him in the program: "music is great if, at some moment, the listener catches 'a glimpse of eternity through the window of time'... This, to my mind, is the only true justification for art. All else is of secondary importance." I can get behind that.

There was an Aaron Copland ("In the Beginning") that I liked less than other of his work, although the soloist mezzo-soprano was very good. And there was an OK Russian piece that also felt long.

After the intermission, there was "The Peacable Kingdom", by Randall Thompson, inspired by the painting of the same name by the Quaker, Edward Hicks. It's a surprisingly violent piece for the painting it was inspired by; lots of woe and howling. But in the 6th section, things pick up and there is a wonderful part from Isaiah 55:12 "the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands" where "clap their hands" turns into a round, very joyful and playful. And it ends with an even more joyful Isaiah 40:21 "Have ye not known? Have ye not heard? Hath it not been told you from the beginning?" Isaiah 30:29 "Ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the Lord."

The last piece in the program was Holst's "Nunc Dimittis", less joyful but wonderful harmonies.

The encore was a composer I didn't recognize or copy down the name of, so I'll have to only say that I enjoyed it.

The concert was well-sung, as usual- Leonard Enns was a bit chattier than usual, though they started precisely at 8 and the intermission was only 10 minutes, which I think [ profile] melted_snowball will be happy to hear. :)

Accompanied by the ever-chipper [ profile] chezmax (even though he somehow has a cold? And was bouncy anyway? I don't get it, but I'm not complaining in the slightest, as he was wonderful company!)
What's it say when I have no posts about two nights of great Open Ears concerts, but I'm roused to say "wow that sucked" for one afternoon concert? I guess it means I don't know how to describe good music. Or, I like complaining.

Anyway. Yeah. Wow. Both dan's and my spidey-senses were tingling as we walked into the venue for "Zs", but we decided to sit down anyway. The first time I asked dan if we should leave was when I couldn't tell if they were still playing or between songs and tuning. The second time was after I decided I could fall asleep with no qualms or guilt. Then realized I could also get up and walk out with no guilt.

They didn't look like they were having fun at all, either.

Silk Road

Monday, 26 June 2006 11:55 pm
A quick concert review. If I have time, I'll go back and fill in details and links later, but I know if I start that now I'll fall asleep before I finish it.

This evening, after the last talks, eight or so people from the conference headed up to Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park to see the Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma. This was a free concert to inaugurate an upcoming year of Silk Road events, including theatre, museum shows, concerts, and festivals, and lucky us, they kicked off tonight.

I have no idea how many people were actually present. The pavilion has seating for 17,000 (I think), and the few acres of grass outside were pretty full of blankets and chairs. But the concert-space is.. by far.. the best outdoor venue I've ever been in. (I've got to find a good representative pic to put here).

There were about 30 huge speakers suspended over the entire venue, very high quality; and three huge video screens suspended over the stage. This worked well. It's also beautiful, with the most elaborate permanant stage I've ever seen, indoor or out.

The concert was short (before encore) but they played three extra pieces in the encore. By the title of the ensemble, I was expecting mostly Chinese music, but there were only ~3 Chinese pieces. One Asian-influenced piece was commissioned for the Chronos Quartet; called "Gallop of a Thousand Horses" (I don't know whether to count that as a Chinese piece but it did sound it). There was a single Italian piece by Giovanni Gabrieli, performed by the Chicago Symphony Brass Quartet. There was tabla improv with string accompaniment which worked quite well; they had a guest tabla player from India named Sandeep Das who collaborated with local students on this piece. Most tabla sounds... monotonous to me. But this piece had "movements" which I could recognize, and I liked the string accompaniment (who knew: viola plus tabla?). This was probably my favorite piece.

There were three or so pieces of Roma music, which I wasn't as impressed with. There was an Indian piece which included a Chicago dance theatre. They didn't translate to video all so well, as far as I could tell.

There were a mixed group of people in their 50s and 60s right behind us who seemed to be getting quite into their cups (well, wine glasses) by the end. Otherwise, the crowd was fine. Very mixed crowd. i was surprised at the number of younger adults, people in their 20s and 30s.

There was a special moment, during a piece called "Swallow Song" where a gull started calling, almost in response to the soaring music. And another gull took passes overhead, trying to figure out how to get at all of that picnic food even though the space was really full of humans too.

it didn't rain, though it was threatening the entire time.

After, we took the train to Chinatown. The plan was to find a reasonably-close place that looked good from outside, but while we were walking, one person in our group (who is a bit... outgoing) politely asked an elderly Chinese couple we were walking past if they recommended anywhere for dinner.

They were headed to their favorite place and invited us along with them (down two blocks, and I imagined the gangsters jumping out of the alley and paying them off before mugging us); The restaurant looked like not-much from the outside but it turned out to be considerably better than I expected, and darn cheap too. (insert name here).

Over dinner we mostly talked about designing cities better (with less sprawl), ecology and water conservation, and open-source software. I made sure the group all added their names to the conference wiki page for the concert, since I expect I'd enjoy future conversations with them and I barely learned one name over dinner.

And now, to bed, since tomorrow starts early.
I've not read d.'s travelogues today (heck, I've not caught up on his 15-post set last week) so apologies if there's overlap.

Yesterday was great )

But today kicked ass )


Thursday, 21 July 2005 10:07 pm
Arvo Pärt's Beatitudes really kick ass. We heard the Elora Festival Singers perform an all-Pärt concert this evening. The Beatitudes were definitely the best part. It wasn't quite "wiping tears from my eyes" beautiful, but just nearly. I need to listen to d's CD version to see if it compares to hearing it live. This performance/setting had less organ than the first time I heard it (by Da Capo, this spring) and I think I liked tonight's better.

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