Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy

The trifecta: Big bands, a night at the opera, and war horse

1 Comment

trifecta, n. (traɪˈfɛktə)

Any achievement involving three successful outcomes

Our self-created “culture weekend” began Friday night with the KW Symphony’s salute to big band music, featuring In the Mood, Take the A Train, It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing), Come On-A My House, As Times Goes by… Songs like that. Songs that swing.

Guest conductor Matt Catingub, who’s from Hawaii, brought along some guest saxophonists, guitar and bass, and drummer. He himself at various time played sax, sang, and played piano. The symphony were able to keep up with the challenging arrangements—ones that taxed the horn section in particular.

It was a very fun night out. The only thing that would have made it better was if the Centre in the Square had a dance floor we could have used. This music was made for dancing, not sitting.

A Night at the Opera cover

Saturday we made our way to Toronto for Classic Albums Live: Queen—A Night at the Opera. This was our second time seeing a Classic Albums Live presentation, and we were both a little dubious about it, having been underwhelmed by the first. But I just couldn’t resist seeing how they would possibly tackle this very challenging album, “cut for cut, note for note”.

As the liner notes for the show said, “with Queen, the key word was more. More singers. More guitars. More sound.”

So to handle Brian May’s multi-layered guitar sound, they had six guitarists (one of whom focused on the acoustic and the koto). Lead vocal duties were handled by three different singers: one for Freddie’s higher vocal parts (that was a woman), another for his lower range, and one more singer to present Brian and Roger’s vocal leads. And another singer (another woman) who did lead backup.

That not being enough, there was also a full choir. (“We had all of Toronto up here on stage”, the announcer said.) Somehow, though, they did manage with just one each of drums, bass, and piano.

Classic albums live for Queen

“It takes a village” to perform Queen music. (And this doesn’t even include the choir.)

It was really an awesome show. Why did it work so much better than The Beatles one, which felt a bit pointless and lifeless to me?

  • You can’t suck the life and fun out of Queen sings by playing them as recorded, because fun is built into the songs. Doing this whole album meant singing a passionate love song to a car, doing an entire musical break on kazoos, and embracing lyrics like “You call me sweet like I’m some kind of cheese” and “Thursdays I go waltzing to the zoo”.
  • By playing live what were purely studio effects (just four musicians and three singers, massively overdubbed), you aren’t reproducing what was on the record. You are re-creating it. And as an audience, we are hearing it in a new way, for the first time.
  • Queen were show-offs, and the musicians managing to pull off all those notes, and guitar chords, and that crazy intricate timing, was truly impressive. We were in the second row, and you could almost see them sweating blood trying to get everything in at the right time, in right pitch. The announcer said it was the most difficult one they’d ever tackled, and I believe it.

I’m in Love with My Car performance (video)

The second half featured more Queen songs, some quite well known (We Will Rock You, We Are the Champions, Under Pressure, Bicycle Race—complete with bike bells, Somebody to Love), and some not as much (Brighton Rock, Keep Yourself Alive, Get Down Make Love). The show seemed to go by in a flash.

Brighton Rock performance (video)


And on Sunday, still in Toronto, we saw the Mirvish production of War Horse, which really deserves all the praise it has received.

The puppetry used for the horses (and a goose!) is just incredible. Despite seeing people legs and bodies beneath and around the horses, they really seem very horsey, and you gradually don’t even really notice the puppeteers.

The story, of course, is not a totally cheery one, as nothing about the First World War is cheery. It’s interesting, though, how Joey’s encounters with British, Germans, and French in turn shows all in an ultimately sympathetic light. The plot is very well constructed and emotionally compelling.

Toronto Star review: War Horse is bold, brave and heart-stoppingly wonderful

That’s about right.

Toronto building

Photo taken on our walk over to see War Horse

One thought on “The trifecta: Big bands, a night at the opera, and war horse

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s