Cultureguru's Weblog

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


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Things I learned at the Carly Rae Jepsen concert

  1. Per tweet, people stand through the whole thing, from opening chord to closing greeting.
    Glad I wore comfy shoes.
  2. There are far more people in the world than you’d think who know the words to every Carly Rae Jepsen song.
    The whole thing was a grand singalong. I myself found that I knew the lyrics better than I realized. [I mean, I do have a few of her albums. I didn’t just randomly show up at this performance.]
  3. She does not end the show with “Call Me Maybe”.
    She just throws it in there as song five.
  4. Nor does she end with “I Really Like You” (song 13).
    The honour goes to: “Cut to the Feeling”.
  5. Per Jean, this was the greatest crowd to watch. He especially enjoyed as they evolved from the tentative, awkward standing to totally in-the-groove dancing along.
    The overwhelming feeling was warmth. The Carly Rae Jepsen fan base might be small, but it’s passionate.
  6. We were among the oldest people there.
    Although… Guess that wasn’t really a surprise.

So this was a September 18 concert at Centre in the Square, and it was a hoot. The opening act was Ralph, whom I hadn’t heard of before, but she was also rather fun. Cameras were allowed, but we didn’t bring one, so I’ll feature a photo from Centre in the Square:

Setlist:

  1. No Drug Like Me
  2. E*MO*TION
  3. Run Away With Me
  4. Julien
  5. Call Me Maybe
  6. Now That I Found You
  7. Gimmie Love
  8. Feels Right
  9. Fever
  10. Want You in My Room
  11. Store
  12. Too Much
  13. I Really Like You
  14. Everything He Needs
  15. Boy Problems
  16. Party for One
  17. Let’s Get Lost
  18. Cut to the Feeling


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The Who: Moving on! Live in Toronto

It was hard not to compare The Who show at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto with the Queen + Adam Lambert one, since that was only a few weeks ago. I wasn’t a Very Important Person at The Who show, which made it cheaper. So I didn’t get any merchandise. I considered a T-shirt, but they didn’t seem to carry any women’s styles. (I need a waist in my clothes, damn it!) I was in the 35th row on the floor, not the 13th, and there was no catwalk. The Who were playing each show with a symphony orchestra, and likely in part due to the expense of that, the staging and lights were really pretty simple for a big arena rock show. Not in the Queen style at all.

On their last tour, celebrating 50 years of the band, The Who presented a crowd-pleasing set list of greatest hits. In this one, they really challenged themselves. And the audience. That, too, was unlike Queen.

To take advantage of the orchestral accompaniment, The Who dove deeper into their catalog. They started with a sampler from Tommy: Overture, 1921, Amazing Journey, Sparks, Pinball Wizard, and We’re Not Going to Take It. Given the popularity of that album, it might not seem such a risk, but a more casual fan will only know “Pinball Wizard” and the “See Me / Feel Me” chorus. They followed that sequence with the popular “Who Are You” and “Eminence Front”, but then: “Imagine a Man” from Who by Numbers! The first time the band has performed it live (though Roger Daltrey did tackle it in some solo shows). It was gorgeous, and I was thrilled to hear it.

Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend with orchestra
Photo by Andrei Chlytchkov. Jean wasn’t at the show (I went with my sister) and none of my photos turned out.

The orchestra gets a break partway through way (union), and the songs performed by the rock band alone were all well-known (though “I Can See for Miles” isn’t that often performed live), but not always presented in the familiar way. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” was an acoustic version, which was great. “Behind Blue Eyes” was new arrangement with strings (two musicians got leave to start back early), and it sounded amazing.

When the full orchestra returned, they got into a set from Quadrophenia, without the backing visuals used on the last two tours, which helped to focus on the creative musical arrangements. When they got to the only song that more casual Who fans would know, “Love Reign O’er Me”, Roger Daltrey was clearly struggling with his voice. (I wondered if the pot smoke had anything to do with it. I could definitely smell it, and Roger is seriously allergic to it. His voice had been great up til then.) At one point he just stopped trying to sing the verse. He came back for another push at the chorus, to great cheers, but still couldn’t complete the whole thing. The final song was “Baba O’Riley”, and he mostly let the crowd sing it. Which we were all pleased to do. (And the final violin solo was great.)

There’s a risk to taking risks.

The Who have a new album coming out. Not mentioned yet is that they performed two songs from that, even though none of us would know those, of course. Another pretty gutsy move. By my watch, the show was 2 hours and 15 minutes.

And very much worth my time, vocal glitches and all. Pete Townshend did most of the talking, expressing how important Toronto has always been to the band, how much they love it and feel the love. “Also,” he said, “Canada is one of the only major countries that makes any sense these days. I got off the plane and thought, I should just stay.” And the crowd did seem appreciative. It skewed somewhat older than the Queen one (on average), and given the more mellow nature of the set list, they did more sitting–even those in the floor area. This was just as well for me, as there was a virtual giant two rows ahead of me, and whenever he stood up I had to do a jiggling dance from one side to the other to try to see around his head.

The Who now wisely avoid declaring any particular tour their last, but one has to think there can’t be too many more. The musical arrangements and song choices on this one were so cool and different, I’d love a recording of it.

Admittedly, of a night when Roger did get through “Love Reign O’er Me”.

Set list

With Orchestra

  1. Overture
  2. 1921
  3. Amazing Journey
  4. Sparks
  5. Pinball Wizard
  6. We’re Not Gonna Take It
  7. Who Are You
  8. Eminence Front
  9. Imagine a Man
  10. Hero Ground Zero

Band Only

  1. Substitute
  2. I Can See for Miles
  3. The Seeker
  4. Won’t Get Fooled Again (acoustic)
  5. Behind Blue Eyes (with strings)

With Orchestra

  1. Guantanamo
  2. The Real Me
  3. I’m One
  4. The Punk and the Godfather
  5. 5:15
  6. Drowned
  7. The Rock
  8. Love Reign O’er Me
  9. Baba O’Riley


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Ignite TV

MobileSyrup ran an article recently called Are you experiencing platform subscription fatigue?. It focused on the mounting cost of the different services: Netflix, Crave, YouTube Premium, Amazon Prime, and so on. “I just wish there was one subscription service for everything”, the writer noted. Which I found a bit funny. Doesn’t that sound like a plea for the big, fat single cable TV bundle that streaming was supposed to save us from?

Nevertheless, I do sympathize. There are so many services now, with more on the way, and they keep raising their prices. The glory days of cutting the cord and getting by with $8 a month for Netflix are long gone.

Apart from the cost of all this, there is just the challenge of remembering what you’re watching (or want to watch) where, then maybe switching from the cable PVR to grabbing the phone to cast from Netflix, the logging in to your Amazon account to see something on Prime. It’s all rather inconvenient!

What I want, I’ve lamented for some time, is a Sonos for TV shows. Sonos is a wireless speaker system that, apart from allowing you control speakers in various rooms in the house, consolidates most anything you want to listen to in one place. Your own digital music library. Spotify. Google Music. YouTube Music. Podcast apps. Audible audiobooks. Apple music. Radio stations. Where applicable, the subscriptions are up to you to set up, but once have, you can search through it all, you create playlists that mix and match among them—you can have all your “sound” stuff organized in one place. (At least when you’re home.)

Sonos menu of sound options

Rogers Ignite is kind of like that for TV. By “Rogers”, I do mean, yes, the big cable company. Ignite TV is their IPTV (TV over the Internet) offering. Initially available only with expensive, premium packages, they now have cheaper tiers on offer, and we switched to it this summer.

Of course you get the cable channels you subscribe to, which in our case isn’t a lot (just the $25 “starter package”). But we were also offered Crave + HBO free for six months, which we of course accepted. At regular price, Crave + HBO from Rogers cost the same as if you subscribed to them directly, but then you can access them from TV same as any other channel, including on-demand. (You should also have access to them through the Crave app with your Rogers login, but there is some bug there preventing that from working—Crave can’t seem to recognize that you really do have a Rogers cable subscription.)

If you have a Netflix subscription, you can access that through your Ignite box as well. Also, YouTube. And apparently coming soon: Amazon Prime.

The Ignite box itself is this tiny little thing, compared with the large, power-hungry PVRs of the past. You get a ton of cloud storage with it, so you can record shows to your heart’s content. And it’s much smarter about recording those: if the same show plays three times in a week, it’s only going to record it once for you.

The Ignite TV box is smaller than a Blu-ray case

The basic Ignite package comes with only one box; you can add others for $5/month each. We have two. All the same information (recordings, viewing history) is available on both. If wanting to move one to a different TV in the house, temporarily or permanently, that’s quite easy to do.

There’s also a lovely, seamless integration with anything available on demand. Previously I almost never looked at Rogers On Demand stuff; it was off in its own universe, on those special, hard-to-navigate channels. I often forgot it was even there. Now you can find and watch that on-demand content as easily as anything you’ve recorded.

To find things, as their ads point out, you can just talk to the remote. Wherever it is—on demand, available to record, online—it will show you and give you watch options. It remembers what you’ve already watched and makes logical assumptions based on that. It’s all pretty slick.

Oh, and you can also watch on your phone, tablet, or PC, through the Ignite TV app—live TV, recordings, and on demand content. In many cases, you can download your recordings for off-line viewing. One thing not available? Chromecast, as I guess that would kind be competition. But since your Chromecast is typically on your TV, and you can already watch all the stuff on your TV, I don’t see that as a huge issue. (Just if wanting to watch on someone else’s Chromecast while away, I guess.)

Ignite TV app

So that does bring much TV content together, saving mental energy, though not money. I have no idea what we do about the ballooning cost. For now, I’ll just try to resist the pending Disney service and YouTube Premium.


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Movie review: Yesterday

The movie Yesterday has a great premise. And a great trailer about that premise.

Yesterday movie trailer (YouTube)

In case you missed it (and don’t want to watch it now), said premise is that after a mysterious, world-wide blackout, the entire world has forgotten that The Beatles ever existed. Save one guy. This guy–Jack Malik, a failed singer-songwriter–capitalizes on this anomaly to ignite his career by singing Beatles songs, claiming they are his own.

Even though I know–I know–that great trailers can be made for really poor films, I liked this one so much I made a point to go see this movie on opening weekend.

And… Maybe it’s not quite as great as the trailer? But it was still a very enjoyable, funny, fun, romantic movie.

Romantic? Yes, at heart it’s a romantic comedy about Jack and his manager, Ellie. Ellie has been carrying a torch for Jack for years; Jack has somehow failed to notice. Now she’s letting him know. But his increasing fame is, as one can imagine, nothing but a complication.

It actually fits in well with the story of him trying to build a singing career on singing Beatles tunes, given that they wrote so many love songs. And that part of the movie–Jack introducing the world to The Beatles canon–is as fun as you’d hope. (“Interesting you called it the USSR [re “Back in the USSR”]. Russia hasn’t been called that since before you were born.”) I especially liked the detail that Jack keeps munging up the lyrics. He knows the songs–of course he knows the songs, we all do–but he doesn’t necessarily deeply know the songs. He’s no Beatles guru, and he can’t look up the lyrics on Google. So he has to wrack his brain trying to remember them, and doesn’t always succeed. We get changed words here, reordered verses there, and a truly epic struggle to put “Eleanor Rigby” together.

Also good? While there is plenty of appreciation for The Beatles work (look, those are some catchy songs), it’s not instantaneous nor universal. Many of Jack’s early attempts to revive his career by singing their songs is met with a shrug.

I enjoyed the film’s twists, including the controversial one that I don’t want to spoil (but you, unlike Jack, can Google what that is). You can’t ponder the premise too deeply, of what the world would really be like had The Beatles never existed (no Oasis, sure, but who else…?), or what the nature of this “blackout” really is. You really just have to go with it. And thereby be rewarded with a film full of people that are great to spend time with.

And some pretty nice interpretations of the songs…


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Cheap Trick

As I kept telling people, Cheap Trick was not a band I’d go out of my way to see in concert.

But Kitchener’s Centre in the Square is only a 15-minute drive away. So when I heard that Cheap Trick was playing there, on a night I didn’t have anything else booked, I figured, why not?

I was somewhat into Cheap Trick back in the day. I owned the At Budokan and Dream Police albums. I knew all the words to “The Flame”. I thought that Robin Zander and Tom Petersson were babes and hung their pictures on my wall.

But it wasn’t a band I’d particularly kept up with lo these many years. Still, when it’s easy, and I could score 4th row centre seats at a reasonable price, why not go?

Initially Jean thought that he couldn’t join me, but his work schedule changed such that he could. I was pleased to have company, and he ended up pleased to be at the show.

My goodness, they were entertaining! 30 seconds in, and Robin Zander made it clear that he had lost none of his vocal power.

He also still looks pretty good…

Guitarist Rick Neilsen, still the eccentric, had a never-ending parade of guitar changes, with many quirky designs. But what mad skills! These are guitar solos I quite enjoyed (for one, none were that long).

A not-so-quirky guitar (but I can’t say the same about the guitarist)

Tom Petersson (who also still looks pretty good) took vocals on one song. Original drummer Bun E. Carlos is no longer with the band, but their replacement is fantastic.

It was a fun, fast, efficient set, song, song, song, not too much chatter–though they did do a bit of reminiscing about past Canadian tours and having to eat seal flipper pie in Moncton. (“I had never even heard of Moncton.”)

Where some classic bands have amassed an audience with a wide age range, this Cheap Trick crowd was largely Generation X. And they were totally going back there, some even standing up to slow dance, high school style, during “The Flame”.

I stood up myself when they launched into “I Want You to Want Me”, until I started feeling vaguely rude and sat down again. Still, I like to think I started a trend, as the entire crowd leapt to their feet for the next song, “Dream Police”, and stayed there through the remaining hits, hits, hits which with they finished the show.

Photo restored…

I’ve been having a bit of a tough time lately, and this night out was quite the tonic. So much fun. Even the songs I didn’t know had that distinct Cheap Trick sound, so I liked them, too. They are the quintessential rock band, but in a not very rock move, they started promptly at 8:00 and had us out shortly after 9:30 (in time to catch most of the Raptors game).

And I left with my very own Rick Neilsen guitar pick (as he tosses them into the crowd freely): “We’re all all right!” it says. And we were.

It would even have been worth going out of my way.


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Well, that worked out

Back in December, I wrote about going through one of life great stressors: buy tickets to a hot concert on TicketMaster. (And yes, I am mocking myself by calling that a great life stressor.) I said in that post that my experience of rather easily acquiring floor seats for Who concert was likely at once-in-lifetime thing.

Well, not so. Because apparently the key to having a less stressful ticket-buying experience is to get tickets to see The Who (vs Queen + Adam Lambert who, thanks to Bohemian Rhapsody, are one of the hottest touring acts this year).

I wasn’t even going to make an effort to get pre-sale tickets for The Who concert, but then I stumbled upon a code. I tried it, it worked, and there were only two (2) people in the “Waiting room” ahead of me (vs. 2000 for Queen + Adam Lambert). I found seats that were OK, not wonderful, but acceptable, so got those.

But then came the general sale and I thought, well, what the heck, let’s see what’s available. In the Waiting room, there were two (2) people ahead of me. Then when I got in, I was able to calmly peruse and see that there were far better seats available than I had already purchased. At not much more than I paid for those.

Then I did get slightly stressed, but soon figured, what the heck. Surely I can sell the first two?

And I ended up with floor seats again.

I fairly promptly put the first two seats on sale, not trying to make a profit, but just priced to get my money back. Ticketmaster adds their own charge, though, so they would have been more expensive than the originals.

Then I waited. The show was on June 1.

May 1 rolled around, and no interest. I decided to drop the price. Ticketmaster limits how much you can drop it by, but I went for that. But still no nibbles.

And then I got this message:

And you know what that meant? That meant I could get a full refund on the two tickets I didn’t need.

(Reason for the reschedule? Possible Raptors playoff game. Go Raptors! I guess.)

And this rather makes up for having to wait longer, and having the show be on a Tuesday instead of a Saturday, which is less convenient. But I also heard that the shows–The Who playing with a full symphony–are good, but do need some kinks worked out. They should be in fine form by September.


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Ticketmonster

I was on vacation in Seattle, and awake before Jean was, for some reason, when I got an email about a pre-sale for a Who concert in Toronto nearly a year later. Buying a concert ticket on a tablet while on vacation isn’t the ideal scenario, but I had the time, so I figured I might as well see what I could get.

As anyone who’s tried it knows, buying tickets from Ticketmaster is a roll of the dice. Who knows what seats it will cough up for your consideration, and at what price, at any given time?

But this time the dice landed landed on: Floor seats! In the front centre section! And at the normal price, no VIP / resale nonsense!

Stunned, I started the checkout process…

Only to lose the connection partway as the flaky hotel wifi conked out.

Cue the swearing. (Quiet swearing, as Jean was still sleeping.)

Wifi returned, I tried again, and… So did my luck! I was still able to get front center floor seats at the normal price! And this time managed to complete the purchase. (The show was great.)

View from the floor was pretty good!

I have no idea how or why that happened or how I could possibly replicate it. I don’t recall who I got  this presale offer for, except that it wasn’t the fan club and it wasn’t American Express (I’ve never had an American Express). Was it just that the sale took place so far ahead? Did The Who just decide not to hold back that many seats as “VIP”?

We know the deal with Ticketmaster, that it’s exceedingly difficult for any human to beat out the resell bots—that, it turns out, Ticketmaster is in cahoots with). And that presales (and even the general sale) only have a subset of seats on offer, giving a constant impression that they are going fast.

I have had great, even front row, seats at other rock concerts, but that involved either not dealing with Ticketmaster (Bob Geldof in Ottawa, Roger Daltrey at Casinorama), or paying for VIP (Adam Lambert, who, as a solo artist, at least has moderate prices. If you don’t count the expense of getting to Berlin.).

Views from the front row

But for big shows in arenas, I think that Who concert was my once-in-a-lifetime good ticket-buying experience that won’t come around again. Especially since Ticketmaster keeps finding ways to make things worse.

Their latest ploy is to not tell you what the ticket prices are ahead of time. I don’t buy tickets often enough to know when this changed, but I’m certain that in the past you could look up ahead of time what ticket prices would be at different levels, so you could plan. They seem to not do that now.

I thought their main motivation must be that, in the frenzy, people might spend more than they otherwise would had they been able to plan ahead. But according to the CBC report on Ticketmaster, it’s also because they sometimes raise the prices a few hours after they initially go on sale.

They’re taking their queue from the airline industry.

Then there’s the new “Waiting room”. Admittedly, it wasn’t ideal before, sitting on the ticket buying web page waiting for the on-sale time, then refreshing and hoping nothing crashed before you could get in there to roll your dice.

So now, about an hour before the on-sale time, you can click to go into a “waiting room”. At on-sale time, it refreshes and you are “randomly” assigned a place in line.

I had over 2000 people in line ahead of me. The only other person I know who’s tried this also started with over 2000 people in line ahead of her. Make of that what you will.

There’s a little animation of your place in line that moves along as the number of people in front of you drop. You daren’t go anywhere else, but it’s not the most compelling viewing. (I can’t find a screen cap of it. Everybody must be too stressed while waiting to take one.)

Finally, your turn comes up, you copy in your presale code, you see what seats come up! And how much they are!

My target this time was yet another Queen + Adam Lambert tour. It was awful. I switched between seeing what was available for general sale and what the “cheaper” VIP offered. You couldn’t seem to look at both options at once, and of course, every time I went back to one or the other, the available seating was less. (Also, the Best Available sorting? Really wasn’t in that order!)

I finally picked something. I winced at the total, but smiled at the seating chart.

I don’t have a solution to this. If you want to see a big rock concert at an arena, Ticketmaster and resellers are your only option. Queen + Adam Lambert are encouraging use of Twickets, where people aren’t allowed to sell the tickets at higher than the price they paid. So that’s nice, but they currently have 0 tickets on offer. (Admittedly, there’s a lot of time for people’s plans to change.)

In Europe, they seem to have many more places where you can still buy general floor seats, then end up with a good spot if you’re willing to wait in line for them. Not all that helpful for North Americans.

So, I’m just glad there aren’t that many artists for whom I’m willing to go through this.

AdamLambert-Queen_7-1-14_SJ-e1543849102217

One of the few


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Everybody Dance Now

Jean had so much business travel this fall that it was pointless to sign up for ballroom dance classes—we would have missed too many. I decided to scan the city recreational guide for alternatives.

Have fun and work up a sweat with songs from the 80s, 90s, and 00s. Start with a warm up to get footloose and ready to bust a move, and enjoy a new routine each week. Styles of dance include hip hop, jazz funk, and chair dance. Beginners are always welcome. Let’s dance!

Sounded intriguing.

Week 1

After the warm-up, we were to get in touch with our inner Britney… Spears, that is, circa “Oops I Did It Again.” With each round of running through the choreograhy, we were instructed to try to up the sass level. “This move is straight from the video,” noted instructor Julie, at one point.

Huh, I thought, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this video. Still, I felt pleased that I didn’t get hopelessly lost. And I realized that the idea of the class was that each week we’d learn video-inspired steps to a not-so-current song.

Some weeks later, I finally watched this

Week 2

Missed class because I was in Portugal.

Week 3

Slightly jet-lagged on the first day back from Portugal. The song was “That’s What I Like About You.”. The choreography was very lively and quite aerobic but, fortunately, not overly complex. I realize that while I know this song, of course, I have no idea who sings it or even what era it’s from, quite.

Turns out it’s The Romantics, in the 1980s, and they don’t really dance in this video…

But coming up is Halloween, and we have a decision to make. Which song should we do on Halloween week versus the week before: Michael Jackson “Thriller” or Backstreet Boys? I vote for “Thriller”, having no idea Backstreet Boys even had a Halloween song.

Week 4

Week before Halloween, and we warm up to “The Time Warp”. I feel like I know this choreography already, but she throws in some twists to keep me on my toes.

Then it’s Backstreet Boys Halloween song (?). Which turns out to be that one Backstreet Boys song I do know, “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)”? Whose lyrics don’t seem very Halloween-y to me. “Who’s never seen this video?” Julie asks, and I’m the only one who raises my hand. (So, apparently, I’m the oldest in the class, but at least I’m keeping up with the whipper-snappers.) (Also, in ballroom class, I’m usually one of the youngest.)

The choreography’s fun, with the bunny hands and what-not, though I have to ignore all the “This is the part that everybody knows!” comments.

Basically, it’s the video that’s Halloween-y, not the song

Week 5

Day after Halloween, and it’s Thriller-time! (After another round of “Time Warp” warm-up.)

This is the first time I’m actually familiar with the video in question. Julie’s had to simplify it somewhat so that we get through more than a stanza. (But it’s a long song, so we still only get up to the first round of the chorus, basically.) Crotch-grabbing is a key feature. Yay to this class not being videotaped.

Instead of maximum sass, we’re aiming for maximum zombie decay.

Week 6

Been a stressful day, but it’s good to go be distracted by having to focus on learning dance steps. This week’s is “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira. I’ve seen the video before, but I finally got the sense to re-watch it before the class. Major hip isolations required. First time something here might be useful for ballroom dance (at least the Latin dances).

Next week, we’re doing Usher “Yeah.” Oh great, I think, a song I don’t even know.

Week 7

I look up Usher “Yeah” ahead of time, and I totally do know that song, I just didn’t know that it was by Usher or that it was called “Yeah.” (Details.)

It’s the first hip hop, and that’s a bit of a mind-bender for a middle-aged white lady like me. I’m so focused on trying to remember all the fiddly steps (we’re learning the men’s steps, since the girls are mainly just twerking) my timing is all off. It finally occurs to me that it might work better to follow the beat of the music! Hey! Secrets of dance success!

At Jean’s company Christmas party, I keep threatening to break out my hip-hop moves. Fortunately for Jean (and probably me), they never do play “Yeah”.

Week 8 and 9

Have not happened yet, but I know they will feature “Jump for my Love” by the Pointer Sisters (know that song, not that video; must look up video) and “Bootylicious” by Destiny’s Child (ditto, except I don’t know that song as well).

In the winter, we might be able to sign up for ballroom dance again. Which is good, but I think I will miss working out to some crazy video-inspired choreography each week.


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Bohemian Rhapsody: The movie, the critics

220px-bohemian_rhapsody_posterWhat I wanted to do, really, was see Bohemian Rhapsody, the new Freddie Mercury biopic, on its first day out, so that I could make up my own mind about it without the critiques or praises of others clogging my brain. However, a combination of it being released in Europe a week before North America (theoretically, I could have flown to London for the premiere, but that seemed a bit much) and a lack of willpower on my part meant that I did read some early reviews.

Which were not exactly sterling, let’s put it that way (Bohemian Rhapsody review – Queen biopic will not rock you).

But I at least managed to keep my UK reading to a minimum and get to the North American preview performance.

My friends, I loved the movie.

Now, my husband’s said that it was Queen, so of course I’d like it. So I would just like to point out that I do not, in fact, like every Queen-adjacent product. I have this Queen Symphonic Tribute CD that I can’t stand, because the musical arrangements are crap. I’ve slogged through horribly written Queen bios. I did not enjoy the combination of Brian May, Roger Taylor, and Paul Rodgers performing Queen songs.

But this movie? It felt that it was made for me. I enjoyed seeing how they compressed events and use allusions to cover a decade and a half of Freddie’s life in 2 hours 15 minutes. I reveled in all the little in-jokes and references that only real Queen fans would catch: Jim Beach mucking with the sound board at Live Aid. Adam Lambert playing a trucker who catches Freddie’s eye. And I was totally captivated by Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie, which at times nearly brought me to tears.

All the music performance scenes are outstanding. And that whole final scene at Live Aid. Man. That’s every bit as good as you hope it will be. (And I love Live Aid almost as much as I love Queen.)

Being somewhat masochistic, and having seen it now, I can’t help reading the North American reviews. Now, some of them were positive (like the Toronto Star‘s), even if grudgingly (my favourite of these being the Washington Post’s: Bohemian Rhapsody is bad. Go see it anyway). But more were negative, some scathing (Globe and Mail: 1 star! New York Times: Mud on your face! Big disgrace! [that’s at least a clever diss.]). All adding up to a mere 55% (now 60%) positive critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

But a 92% (now 95%) positive audience score.

The most common complaint from the critics is that the movie is not that creative or edgy. And I’m going to grant that this is true. It’s pretty conventionally told, with a script that can’t seem to help but have its characters spell out its themes, however awkward the resulting dialog (The band is family. Freddie invents himself. Queen are a band of misfits.), rather than develop them through more natural interactions.

It’s just that I didn’t care. Cliches are cliches for a reason; they can be quite satisfying! The movie entertained me. But I guess when your job is to see all the movies, you need more from them to give them a good review. Fair enough.

But some other critiques? Deserve their own critique.

1. That the depiction of Freddie Mercury was disrespectful and inaccurate

The Globe and Mail review has that complaint, as does this Uproxx one. Interesting to me that these critics are so confident they know the essence of who Freddie Mercury was better than the people who actually knew and loved him, and who contributed to the film.

Yes, the movie depicts Freddie as, at one point, living a drug- and sex-fueled lifestyle while the rest of the band are settled with their wives and children. And this is a simplification—Roger’s marriages were rather turbulent, Brian fell in love with an actress he ultimately left his wife for, John used to drink vodka on stage, which doesn’t seem a good sign. But it’s a fact that the band was worried about Freddie’s behavior at this time, and that it did cause tension between them.

Overall, Malek plays Freddie as an essentially decent human being, one who struggled with loneliness, and who had a confidence in his talent that led to moments of arrogance. I’m OK with that depiction, and it squares with some of the stories I’ve read about him. I don’t get why it’s making some people so angry.

2. The movie skipped / condensed / reordered / simplified / added event x, y, or z

That it surely did, since otherwise the movie would have to be literally 15 years long. And admittedly, I had the advantage of knowing what was left out or added in, and just filling that in or correcting it mentally. And especially interesting are the bits they just assumed everyone knew and therefore didn’t bother depicting, like how enormously successful “Bohemian Rhapsody” (the song) was.

But OK, you can argue they didn’t make the best choices in how they selected or simplified events.

One common complaint was that it made Queen’s rise to fame look quick and easy, when in fact it was more of a struggle. That could have been interesting to show. But it probably wouldn’t have been as fun. Did you really want to see Freddie just hanging around with Smile for months, making suggestions, until Tim Staffell finally left? Or that one cute scene of him auditioning for Brian and Roger in the parking lot? Would it really be that interesting to watch the entire process of building a song like “We Will Rock You”? Versus just seeing it just go “whoosh” from studio stomping to stadium singalong?

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Then there are the things missing entirely: “How about his childhood in Zanzibar?” “What about all the drama with their first manager?” I could add my own: “What about Brian May contracting hepatitis and kiboshing their first US tour?” “What about Barbara Valentine, the other woman Freddie had a love affair with, in Munich? Wouldn’t that have added an interesting complication in this story?”

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The first cut of this movie was about 3 hours—maybe some of that is in there. If they ever release an extended version on DVD, that would be great. But I don’t think a theatre rock bio should be that long. And I’m not sure what I would drop from this version to add some of those other bits—though I would have scripted Freddie’s party scene differently. The band-mate fight they invented for the movie made them all look like asses; I think the other three getting alarmed at Freddie’s behavior and discussing that amongst themselves would have worked better. But some songs being out of order, the invented breakup… I can accept for the sake of drama.

Certainly the most controversial change was Freddie telling the band about his AIDS diagnosis shortly before the Live Aid concert. But in reality, that happened two years later. Some said that was unnecessarily manipulative.

But I don’t think it would have felt right if they had omitted AIDS from the movie entirely, to keep it in their selected time span. And, it’s an amazing scene in the film.

3. The movie isn’t gay enough

Likely fueled by Sasha Baron Cohen’s comments when he was dropped as the lead, has been the concern that Freddie would be “straight-washed”. Literally, before they even started filming, I read a whole ranty blog post rant by someone who was positive that would be the case. And then when the first trailer came out, and it showed Freddie with Mary Austin but not so much with dudes, same complaints.

But the movie very clearly (though not explicitly) covers the fact that Freddie had sex with men. Lots of men. And if it risks showing his being gay as a tragedy in his life (though that wasn’t, in fact, the easiest time to be gay), it certainly mitigates that by including the start of his loving relationship with Jim Hutton.

I’m too heterosexual to comment on whether the esthetic of this film is gay enough, but nobody’s going to come out of it thinking that Freddie was straight.

Conclusion

Freddie Mercury was a fascinating man. You could approach his life story from a lot of angles. I hope there are other movies, in the future, that have a different take, that focus on different parts of his life.

But for a first go, I’m satisfied. You might be, too.


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The Mike and Micky Show (they were The Monkees)

smith: We have another dirty little secret. A Monkees song.

depp: Oh, “Daydream Believer.” It’s a great song. I don’t care what anyone says.

smith: “Daydream Believer” came on the radio when we were driving to the set. It was a moment of total happiness. It’s a pure, happy little song. What bad thing can you say about it?

depp: I know, I know. It’s O.K. to like “Daydream Believer.” There’s nothing wrong with a guilty pleasure from time to time. Know what I mean? It’s “Daydream Believer.” I’m justifying my own flag.

— Patti Smith and Johnny Depp (The Crowded Mind of Johnny Depp, Vanity Fair, 2010)

People were a bit bemused when we said we were going to The Monkees concert. “The ‘Hey, hey we’re The Monkees’ guys? They’re still around?”

They’re actually not all still around, Davy Jones having died in 2012. Peter Tork is still active in the music business—too active to go on this particular nostalgia tour. Leaving Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith to perform in what was dubbed “The Monkees Presents: The Mike and Micky Show”.

Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, and band: The Mike and Micky Show

The show was to feature the hits, along with some “deep album tracks.” Or from my perspective, songs I know along with songs I don’t know.

Because I’m not a deep, hardcore Monkees fan. Like most people my age, I suspect, I watched the show as a kid, and then again when it re-ran in the 1980s. I own The Monkees Greatest Hits album. So when I saw the show announced, it piqued my interest, but I wasn’t sure about attending. Then Centre in the Square sweetened the deal by offering Jean a photographer’s pass:

It turned out that said pass could only be exercised during the first three songs, which Jean reports is not a lot of time! But we stayed for the whole thing, and were suitably entertained.

A subset of the full band—there were more musicians to the right

The two original Monkees members were joined by nine other musicians covering guitar, keyboards, bass, drums (Micky did not play drums, but did joke about having taught the drummer all he knew), maracas, fiddle / banjo, and backup vocals. Mike and Micky took turns taking lead vocals, both proving that not everyone in their 70s loses their vocal abilities. They both sounded very good.

They did not do as much chit-chatting as I thought they might, perhaps weary of telling their history of being TV show cast-mates who became a real band—fascinating though I find that story. The songs I knew in the first half included “Last Train to Clarksville”; ”Mary,  Mary”; and (yay!) “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”. The ones I didn’t offered more genre variety than I had been expecting (which was pure pop); in particular, a number had something of a country sound. But not in bad way.

(No idea, actually, if some Monkees songs always had a bit of country flair, or if they were reinterpreted the songs that way on this tour.)

Near the end of the first set, Micky did start talking a little more, asking if anyone had ever seen the movie Head and if so, did we have any idea what it was about?

Head was surrealistic, R-rated movie featuring The Monkees in the wake of their TV success. It was a huge flop. But at some point—probably in the 90s?—I got intrigued enough about to seek it out. I believe it required tracking down a rental copy from the alternative DVD store. (Now? Appears you can just watch the whole thing on YouTube.) It was so weird, but in such a fascinating way—they totally deconstructed themselves! And, it had a great soundtrack!

So I was very happy to hear a number of songs from the movie, including my favourite, “The Porpoise Song”. Those were followed by “Me and Magelena”.

Something else that surprised me during the first set was that one or the other of Mike and Micky would sometimes wander off-stage when the other was singing. (Mike started joking about that at one point: “Where are you going? Hey, come back!”) So it was nice that second set started with a focus on just the two of them. Then with each song, more and more band members rejoined them on stage.

Did they do “Daydream  Believer”, a song famously sung by Davy Jones? Of course, they did, with Micky starting it off, then handing it over to us, the crowd, to take over. On a week with so much disturbing news (“tender-age shelters”?!?), we needed that moment of pure happiness that comes from singing along to “Daydream Believer”. And we also got “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “I’m a Believer”, for good measure. These guys earned their standing ovation.

Link to the full set list, with song link for each track