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Sounds of 2016

My opinion of this year’s top music? That I probably didn’t hear most of it. Last year, under Adam Lambert’s Spotify / Twitter guidance, I actually heard a fair amount of the top 40. This year Adam had other priorities (tours, movies, TV shows), so I reverted to more typical behaviour for someone my age, and listened more to older stuff.

Still, some audio releases of 2016 managed to grab my attention.

Albums

The Hamilton Mixtape

We went to New York this year, but did not see Hamilton, the Broadway musical. I tried for tickets, but without really knowing much about the play, other than that it was super-p0pular. We did see the New York Library exhibit about Alexander Hamilton’s life, however, and it certainly was a colourful. So on my return, I finally listened the musical soundtrack, and really liked it. I definitely got into the story line, and a lot of the songs are just catchy. They’re not all hip-hop, but I liked those ones, too, generally.

So The Hamilton Mixtape, a collection of covers, re-imaginings, and out-takes from the musical, was the only album I got my hands on the day it came out. It did not disappoint. It just highlights why this story of someone from so long ago resonates today.

Favorite track: “It’s Quiet Uptown” by Kelly Clarkson, though it always makes me weepie

People are already weeping over Lin-Manul Miranda’s Hamilton Mixtape

Carly Rae Jepsen: E*MO*TION Side B

It actually took me a few listens to really get into the original E*MO*TION album, but I had no such trouble with Side B. Why these particular tracks didn’t make the original cut is a mystery, as they seem as strong as those.

Favourite track: “The One”

The Queen Extravaganza: A Night at the Apollo Hammersmith Live

The Queen Extravaganza are the officially sanctioned Queen tribute band, and on this outing they tackle the entirety of A Night at the Opera—something the original band never did. The do an impressive job of it. And then we get some other Queen hits.

What’s particularly striking about this band, though, is just how much singer Marc Martel sounds like Freddie Mercury. You’d occasionally swear this is a new recording by him, which is a mix of awesome and weird. The album is not available for streaming, but must be acquired from Pledge Music.

Favourite track: “The Prophet’s Song”. I dare you to not be impressed by it.

Queen Extravaganza – Seven Seas of Rhye – Live at the Apollo Hammersmith

Alysha Brilla: Human

Not every song is a home run, but this is an uplifting, positive release from this hometown artist.

Favourite track: Bigger Than That (“You put up a wall, but I’ll climb it like a cat. Cause I am bigger than that.”)

(David Bowie’s Blackstar is also worth noting, but you all knew that already.)

Songs

You’ll notice a prevalence of artists of a certain vintage here…

  • Bonnie Raitt: Need You Tonight—Sexy cover of this INXS song
  • Beyoncé: Formation
  • Roger Daltrey: Let My Love Open the Door—Who singer takes on this great Pete Townshend solo track, for charity
  • Brits 2016 Bowie Tribute, featuring Lorde—Fantastic job
  • Paul Simon: Wristband—So funny . Rest of the album is rather good, too.
  • Tanya Tagaq: Rape Me—Haunting cover of the Nrvana song. Her album has made many “best of the year” lists, but I haven’t listened to it all yet.
  • Lady Gaga: Grigio Girls

And I also liked everything Adam Lambert released this year:

  • The two dance track collaborations: “Can’t Go Home” with Steve Aoki and “Broken” with Tritonal
  • The cover of George Michael’s “Faith”
  • His Rocky Horror songs; Hot Patootie (Bless My Soul) and Science Fiction
  • And his single, performed on American Idol and featured in numerous sports broadcasts: “Welcome to the Show”

Gorgeous official video for Welcome to the Show

Concerts

Did pretty well with live shows this year, and since I blogged about each at the time, I don’t have it go on about them again. In order of greatness:

  1. Adam Lambert: Original High Tour (Berlin, Germany)
  2. Tanya Tagaq, Intersections concert with KW Symphony (Kitchener, Canada)
  3. The Who: Who Hits 50 tour (Toronto, Canada)
  4. Alysha Brilla: Album release party (Waterloo, Canada)

(You know it’s quite the year if on my favourite bands of all time is third!)

Via semi-legal webcast, I also enjoyed the Queen + Adam Lambert Rock in Lisboa, and by totally legal national broadcast, the Tragically Hip’s last show of their tour.

Podcasts

It didn’t occur to me to compile a list of particularly good podcasts, but I did spend part of the Christmas break working through Wired’s recommendations. Good list, though I have concluded I’m not really a fan of fiction podcasts, even if well done.

Audiobooks

trevor-noah-book-born-a-crime-stories-from-a-south-african-childhoodEasy, because I only finished one (not enough road trips this year): Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime. This book has been well-reviewed and I can assure you, it’s deserved. His life is fascinating, and he tells it well.

Trevor Noah was born in South Africa, during the Apartheid era, of a black mother and a white father. Their relationship was illegal; hence, “born a crime”. He spent much of his early childhood indoors. When out with either of his parents, a ruse was necessary. He’d walk with a lighter-skinned friend of his mother’s, and his mother pretended to be maid. He walked across the street from his father.

Apartheid ending just changed the complications of figuring out where he fit in.

Though it’s his life story (and does not include the tale of how he became a successful comedian in South Africa, and ultimately star of The Daily Show), his mother is the real star here. What amazing woman, to be so strong and independent in a society that gave her no training or support for being so.

Noah does narrate the book himself (unabridged) and does a great job of it. It’s fun hearing him read out the various African languages and to get the proper pronunciation of everything. It wasn’t a very easy life, but as comedians will, he pulls many funny moments out of it nonetheless. One of the best things I heard this year.

 


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A most terrible year?

The year-end reviews certainly are gloomy this year. A sort of consensus that it’s hard to find anything good to say about 2016.

And for residents of some countries, that was certainly true. Poor Haiti had yet another earthquake. Syria! A daily dose of tragedy, made all the worse because our countries were involved in trying to stop it. And the Venezuelans—suffering under an incompetent President, their economic situation already bad and getting worse daily.

But as a global aggregate, the fact is that a lot of things are improving. (These charts don’t all include 2015—and can’t include 2016 yet, as it’s not done!—but the trends shown did not reverse themselves last year.)

Extreme poverty is down, and real incomes are up.

share-world-population-in-extreme-poverty-absolute

stephen-gordon

This one is for Canada specficially

People are healthier.

global-child-mortality-timeseries

Life expectancy is also up, globally

Education rates are much higher.

literate-and-illiterate-world-populationHomicide (and other crime rates) are down, even in gun-happy US.

homicide-rates-in-the-united-states-1950-2010-and-canada-1961-2009-pinker-2011-jpg

I think the source of all this gloom is the US election and its highly unfortunate result. Had Hillary Clinton won the Electoral College, Brexit would seem a weird mess the Brits got themselves into rather than part of an alarming global trend. We could celebrate the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement and some actual action on the front (carbon pricing in Canada! Mon dieux!) instead of feeling it’s all a bit for naught now. The loss of beloved celebrities, some at alarmingly young ages (had not realized just how contemporaneous George Michael and I were), would be just a sad thing that eventually happens to us all, and not a pile-on when we don’t want more bad news (on Christmas Day? Really?).

However… while the mood is understandable, it’s still troubling. Because it’s pessimism, and a nostalgic belief that things were better before, and a denial of the inconvenient fact that things are actually pretty good right now—that the President-Elect ran on and got himself elected with.

It’s not a good place to settle in, mentally. It leads to hopelessness, and inactino. This one bad event didn’t make all of 2016 terrible. (And not to bring down the room, but won’t it be worse once he’s actually in office?)

But in 2016, the US had a great President.

barack-obama-computer-wallpaper

The 2016 Olympics were fun and kind of inspiring.

penny-oleksiak-canada-flag

The number of women of colour elected to the US Senate in 2016 has quadrupled.

4-0

After a serious health scare last year, Roger Daltrey came back with a Who 2016 tour.

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In 2016 the Canadian federal government and its gender-balanced cabinet made significant progress on trade with Europe, climate change, safe injection sites, assisted dying legislation, pipeline approvals (and rejections), and improvements to the Election Act.

trudeau-pipeline-20161129

The Hamilton Mixtape, released December 2016, was awesome.

cwwlmt5xeaaf_th-640x211

And Saturday Night Live (and other satirical programs) provided some catharsis.

“I’m not giving up. And neither should you.”


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Chasing the original high

Just let me feel the rush like the first night
Wanna breathe it out cause I’m going out my mind
Gotta feel the touch like the first time
Cause I’m
Chasing the original high
….
I’m trying to buy a fix but there ain’t no price
I try to feed the hunger that keeps me up at night
We were on a trip trying to replicate
But the highs I hit just ain’t doin it for me

Remember back in Hollywood?
The medication flowing through my veins was you…

— “The Original High”

The Original High: Adam Lamber

The title track of Adam Lambert’s new album The Original High suggests that we spend much of our adult lives in a possibly fruitless quest: To rediscover the rush and excitement of the first time we experienced something great, whether that be drugs, sex, love, applause, success, or what have you.

It’s an interesting idea, particularly when considered in light my own Adam Lambert fandom. Why am I obsessing over this guy? What am I gaining from it? Am I chasing some original high here…?

”Remember back in Hollywood?”

Before there were actual boyfriends in my life, there were celebrity crushes. Those were much safer. You could have the thrill and excitement generated by reading about, listening to, or watching these famous strangers, without the risks of real conversations and physical contact with actual, unpredictable people.

Then of course, there were the boyfriends. And that could be very exciting, often in unexpected ways.

And then I found the one, who eventually transitioned from boyfriend to husband. The love and passion I feel for him hasn’t died with the passage of years, but it has changed. Improved, in many ways. But what hasn’t lasted is that initial, mind-blowing, almost insane obsession. That overwhelming high of falling in love.

Because you can’t live a whole life in that state. You wouldn’t want to. Remember that Pepsi commercial? “Is there anything else youthful you’d like to experience?” “Yeah, I’d like to make out like we used to” And then:

Make out like we used to Pepsi ad

“On second thought…” Exactly!

But you can certainly retreat to your harmless old pastime, the celebrity crush. For that safe, remote facsimile of the thrill of a new relationship.

“Just let me feel the rush like the first night”

Adam Lambert posing

The current style

Adam Lambert performing

Performing

In this limited capacity, Adam Lambert is fulfilling the chase fairly well. For all my recent defending of old rockers, it is nice to be into a young, healthy guy. I love his recent style, with less makeup, a more natural hair colour, the torn skinny jeans, the great shirts and jackets. The man always looks amazing, whether arriving an airport, doing a radio interview, performing, or all dressed up for the red carpet.

He is fun to look at.

And having listened to, read, and watched a ton of promotional interviews these past months, gotta say that Adam Lambert also seems to be one of the sweetest, most charming people on the planet. Many of the interviewers are great, but he also handles the uninformed or intrusive questions with a lot of grace, humour, and intelligence, And he’s a good sport about the many absurd little quizzes and activities he’s asked to participate in (Juggling! Dancing like Carlton! Giving the weather forecast! Drinking cheap tequila!)

Adam on Alan Carr Chatty Man. Not necessarily the best interview, but certainly one of the funniest

“But the highs I hit just ain’t doin’ it for me”

So have I achieved celebrity crush nirvana? Well, hmm. I just wish… I just wish… I loved his new album.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the new album. The songs are very catchy. The lyrics have some intelligence. He’s never sung better (on a studio album). The production—the sound quality—is great, crisp, well-mixed. There aren’t any songs I actually dislike.

It’s just that… I don’t really love too many of the songs, either. It all feels a bit… light to me. Lacking in angst, maybe. In emotional power, somehow.

And it’s very odd for me to have this disconnect between the artist and his artistic output. I like listening to The Who’s music every bit as much as I enjoy looking at Roger Daltrey’s pecs. I appreciate Spike’s cheekbones and snark in the context of one of my favourite TV shows of all time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sure, a song here, an episode there isn’t as great, but overall… Awesomeness.

Whereas a week of listening to Adam Lambert music and I’m like, wow. I need some Elvis Costello, or something.

“Cause I’m chasing the original high”

Now, I really want this album to be a success (though I don’t know what success is in this age of limited music sales), because if it is, he’ll tour. And I feel absolutely certain that I would love seeing him in concert, even if he doesn’t do a single cover song.

Because I do have considerable fondness for his second album, Trespassing. It’s true that the lesser songs on it are weaker than anything on The Original High. But the highs (there’s that word again)… “Trespassing” is probably my favourite song of his ever, an exuberant gay anthem with lyrics ambiguous enough for many other interpretations, and always a lovely ingredient in a remix. And I’m almost as fond of dance-oriented “Pop that Lock”, of angsty ballad, “Outlaws of Love”, of the beautiful, haunting Underneath, and of dark yet rousing bonus track Running.

But as for The Original High, it does contain “There I Said It”  the big ballad, and the one song in which he does seem kind of angry and defiant. (“I won’t apologize to you anymore!”) I do love that song. I’m also rather fond of the sexy, R&B infused “Underground” and I must say that if I’m not sick of single “Ghost Town”  after so many listens (and I’m not), there’s gotta be something to that dance track, also.

And I feel I should end with this blog-post inspiring song, “The Original High” which, yes, I do like very much. It’s an absolutely infectious pop song with smart lyrics.

This is a fan video—with bonus Hungarian subtitles!


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Rock of ages

At a recent dinner with friends, the opinion came up again that aging rock bands should just give it up, already, by age 60. This is a pretty popular opinion, with a long history (starting with the rock stars themselves, who once viewed anyone over 30 with suspicion). I once thought that way myself.

But I’ve changed my mind. For one thing, it is a pretty obnoxious opinion: Just because you don’t want to see older performers, everyone else should also be denied the experience? Musicians can’t decide for themselves how best to handle their own legacy? But beyond manners (and ageism), my own concert experience tells me it’s wrong. I dispute the notion that younger rock performers are always better than older ones.

Musical ability doesn’t disappear on one’s 60th birthday.

Barring a physical condition that affects manual dexterity, it doesn’t necessarily even decline for guitarists, bass players, keyboardists, horn players, and drummers.

Case in point: Queen. On his current tour, Brian May (67) feels he is playing better than he ever has. Certainly he sounds great to me. And while I’m no guitar expert, Brian May is, so I’m going to trust his opinion on this. (He is very smart, after all, what with the PhD in astrophysics.)

Brian’s opinion of bandmate Roger Taylor.(65) is equally high. Can Roger’s playing stand up to that of a younger’s player’s? You judge for yourself as Roger faces off with Rufus (his son):

Taylor on Taylor drum battle

What’s that sputtering I hear? That Queen doesn’t count because they tour with amazing singer Adam Lambert, who is only 33?

So this argument isn’t about guitarists, bassists, keyboardists, horn players, and drummers? It’s just about singers. Singers need to retire at 60?

Well, I do grant that everyone’s voice changes as they get older. It lowers, range is reduced, along with ability to sustain notes. It might become more raspy. However…

For some singers, the changes of age are an improvement.

And here I give you, Leonard Cohen, who is 80! And to me — though I love his songs — his own original recordings of them, recorded when he was young, are completely unlistenable. To me, that voice is awful, whiny, nasal.

Yet it has matured into this amazing thing, this low rumble of pure… sex, frankly. I could listen to that man all day (and go home with him later).

Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man (Leonard is admittedly just a child of 75 here.)

Is that more sputtering? That Leonard Cohen doesn’t so much sing as chant, and that his music is not rock, anyway, so that doesn’t count?

For some rock singers, voice quality is irrelevant, because they never had any.

Like, say, Bob Geldof, who is most definitely a rock performer. He can hit the notes, but nobody in the history of the world has ever said he has a beautiful voice, because he doesn’t. It’s sort of nasal and whiny (and come to think of it, if he ever sang Leonard Cohen, I would probably hate it).

So his musical career (still going!) has never been based on vocal quality. He’s an incredible songwriter. He’s an unbelievably charismatic performer. I love his songs despite his lacking vocal tone, because the lyrics are amazing, they are musically well constructed, he works with talented musicians, and he always sings with passion and meaning.

And Bob Geldof gives the best concerts I’ve ever seen. And the one he gave in 2012, when he was 60, was every bit as good as the one I went to in 2002. And just as good as Boomtown Rats shows from the 80s I’ve seen on DVD.

Bob Geldof live in 2012, Ottawa (Mudslide)

Bob Geldof live in 2012, Ottawa (Mudslide)

Even great rock singers don’t necessarily and always give their best concerts at a younger age

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Who. Unlike Cohen, or Geldof, Roger Daltrey had a great voice as a young man: powerful and with huge range. He could sing high, beautiful, affecting emotional notes, then slide down the scale with the most macho growl. His vocal work on the 1973 Who album Quadrophenia could be used a lesson in “how to be a great rock singer.” And coming off the Tommy and Who’s Next tours, The Who were widely regarded as the very best live band in the world,

And yet, The Who Quadrophenia tour in 1973 was a disaster. In his biography, Pete Townshend calls those shows “the most shameful performances of our career.” Under-rehearsed, over-drugged (except Roger), and exhausted, they simply could not put the complex songs and stories of Quadrophenia across to the crowd. Audiences were bored and left unsatisfied.

In 2012, what remained of The Who toured Quadrophenia once again, performing the entire album. Roger was 70 (Pete 69). Some of the songs had to pitched down. He adjusted the phrasing to reduced ability to sustain. In terms of pure vocal technique, he wasn’t as good he was in 1973.

But nevertheless, by all accounts, those concerts were better than the 1973 ones (that I have seen footage of, and it is pretty painful). The band was large enough, sober enough, and well-rehearsed enough to convey the power and complexity of the album, now reconceived as a tribute to the past, and to The Who themselves. (And for me personally, I thought Roger sounded the best he had in years at the Quadrophenia show I saw. “Love Reign O’er Me” gave me chills.)

The Who: 5:15, 2012 tour

Rock is old (and middle-aged) people’s music.

This might be a painful realization, but rock is no longer the music of youth. It started in the 1950s and has had a great, long run. But who was the last big rock group–Foo Fighters? Founded in 1994? Look at the current charts;  it’s all pop, EDM, rap, funk, and R&B. Nobody young plays rock anymore!

If the old coots don’t get out there and play it, then rock really is dead, Are you sure that’s what you want?


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Of him I wish to muse aloud

Adam Lambert is releasing a new single called “Ghost Town” sometime this month, to be followed by a full album this summer. I know this, along with many other Lambert facts, because I’ve recently become very interested in all things Adam Lambert. He is my current celebrity crush.

I am a bit weirdly monogamish about these. At any time, I of course enjoy the work and attractiveness of any number of celebrities. However, there is generally just one that I prefer above all others. Currently, that’s Lambert.

Adam Lambert with fringe

He succeeds Roger Daltrey.

Roger Daltrey with fringe

Whom, I believe, succeeded Spike, as portrayed by James Marsters…

Spike in Fool for Love

So I may have a “type” when it comes to celebrity crushes.

A cool, steampunk, glitter-rock vampire with, like, tats and guyliner…

— Blaine’s description of Adam’s character (who is basically Adam) on Glee

Adam as glitter-rock vampire

Of course, for an actual relationship, this type is completely unrealistic—starting with the fact that I will never meet these people. And if I ever did, I would never be beautiful or charming or interesting enough for them. I’d just be another fan.

Although this kind goes both ways. I mean, who would actually want to date a celebrity? Your life suddenly made public? Your identity subordinated to someone’s else’s fame? And having to deal with an artistic temperament? With a partner who’s always off on tour or shooting on location? Who is constantly being tempted by adoring fans and groupies, or having to make out with his coworkers? No thanks!

So, a celebrity crush is all about fantasy. And its unrealistic nature goes beyond just the celebrity vs normal person thing. For example, with Roger Daltrey, I wasn’t really into the present tense him. I mean, dude’s 71 years old! He looks great for his age…

Daltrey in concert

But he’s still basically a grandpa.

No,it was the Daltrey of the 60s, 70s, and 80s that I was into. This was a “time travel” crush.

Daltrey at Woodstock

Daltrey at Live Aid

Now, actor James Marsters is only moderately older than me; his present tense self was just fine, age-wise. Thing is, though, I didn’t really have a crush on “actor James Marsters”. I was really more into his character, Spike. Who was really very different from Mr. Masters. So this was a “fiction” crush. “Double fiction” really, as this was not only a fictional character, but a fictional creature as well. A vampire!

Spike the vampire

The non-vamp face was admittedly much hotter, though…

And Adam Lambert? He’s only 33, and he’s not fictional, so that’s all good. But he is gay. And not in “I can just pretend he’s bisexual” kind of way, but gay gay. So this would be a “sexuality is just construct” crush (or something. I have to keep working on that label.)

At any rate, I’m hardly alone in this impractical attraction.

Lambert is handsome — six feet one and 185 pounds, with patrician features and sky-blue eyes — and he’s unrepentant about flirting with both sexes. Even when you know that he’s gay, it’s hard not to find him physically attractive. And that’s the way he likes it. “I loved it this season when girls went crazy for me,” he says. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s all hot.”
— Vanessa Grigordias, Rolling Stone Magazine:Adam Lambert: Wild Idol

It appears that even some straight men get caught up in it.

[On watching the Queen + Adam Lambert UK New Year’s concert]

At the first few notes of Don’t Stop me Now, husband looked up.

“Fucking hell,” he said, “he’s gorgeous”.  This is a guy who is normally fairly heterosexual.

From My Bad Ass Alter Ego (a truly terrific blog about Adam, Queen, and music performance in general)

But it’s not just his physical beauty, or his incredible level of fitness, though both are quite remarkable.

✨🌟✨ 300 HQ pictures of @adamlambert - iHeart Radio Music Awards 2015 via @adamlambert_pic http://www.imagebam.com/gallery/qbzx9rh2u55aqu4h9pj56bj8bxfzrgxh …

Mmm. Pretty. (Photo courtesy http://lilybop.smugmug.com)

(Particularly that his fashion and style sense have a come a long way since his Idol days.)

Because there are a lot of gorgeous, well-dressed celebrities. Not too many of them, however, sing as well as Adam Lambert does. His voice is often described as “angelic”.

Blast from the Past — Adam singing “Mad World” on Idol

Which again, might not be enough, if he didn’t also sing songs I really enjoy. I am truly grateful that he has revitalized Queen, my favorite band, breathing new life into their music and allowing me to see them in concert for the first time.

Adam Lambert’s beautiful interpretation of one of Queen’s best songs: “Who Wants to Live Forever”

He was also an incredible interpreter of many styles on American Idol, which I caught up with via a 2.25 hour YouTube clip! Besides “Mad World”, I also especially liked his take on Johnny’s Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”. His own solo output is pretty small at this point—two studio albums, one live—but also quite enjoyable.

And he not only has the vocal chops; he is a performer. In concert, he is charismatic and fun. And quite the dancer.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

I also appreciate that in interviews and such, Adam comes across as a rather sweet person, with an endearingly goofy side. He never seems to take himself too seriously.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Both of these GIFs also from http://lilybop.smugmug.com

But he’s not all kittens and puppies. It’s good for a celebrity crush to have a bit of a dark side, for interest. Daltrey seems a very decent guy, but still had a temper (and more than few illegitimate children). Spike became one of the good guys on Buffy, but still and always—vampire! And Adam? Well, he’s the guy who nearly won American Idol, then scandalized middle America with his crotch-thrusting, tongue-kissing performance on the American Music Awards show. Remember?

Basically, the things he does with his hips, microphone stand, and tongue while performance are, well, not exactly “angelic”.

Adam Lambert and guitar

And what does my actual life partner thinks about my celebrity crushes? Well, he’s mostly confused by them. He doesn’t have his own, and doesn’t see the point of obsessions with the imaginary.

 But he’s come to accept it as something I enjoy that is no threat to him–except for his having to attend a few more rock concerts or watch a few more vampire shows than he might otherwise choose to.


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A bit of Who from 1982

Rewatching the DVD of The Who’s “final” (or not) concert performance in 1982 over the holidays, I had forgotten it included this bit at the start of “5:15”, where Roger’s spun microphone cord wraps itself around Pete’s guitar cord:

5:15 from Toronto, starting with a bit of mishap

The microphone still hopeless entangled when it’s Roger cue to sing, he has little choice but to bend toward the mic. Pete doesn’t realize the problem at first, and Roger is forced to follow him around like a puppy to stay amplified. When Pete does realize what’s happened, he smirks and pats Roger on the back.

An instrumental break finally gives Roger sufficient time to free his mic. The line, he sings then, arms raised triumphantly:

“Leave me alone!”

It’s hilarious.

The Who Live from Toronto 1982As for the DVD as a whole, well, the sound and audio quality is pretty poor—basically “VHS transfer to DVD” quality. And I’m not sure the band were really at their best, at the end of this long tour, slightly hating each other at that point.

(And warning: That cover shot is not from this concert. It‘s from Live Aid in 1985. There is no bare chest on display in this DVD, believe it or not.)

But, I’m still happy to have it. It’s an interesting set list, with numbers from the all stages of their career, including rarities like “It’s Hard,” “Dangerous,” “Love Ain’t for Keeping”, and “Naked Eye”. It also brings back fond memories of watching it at the time, on the CTV channel in Timmins that aired it after I wrote to them asking them to. (Did I really influence them in any way? Who knows.)

In retrospect, of course, it’s probably just as well this wasn’t their very last show. They had many highlights to come, including their amazing performance at the Concert for New York in 2001, and closing out the London summer Olympics in 2012.

But the 1982 show does have its moments.


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Who’s Next at Massey Hall

So, let’s talk about Massey Hall.

It’s a historic, downtown Toronto performing arts theatre, seating about 3000, beloved by many Canadian artists, such as Gordon Lightfoot and Lowest of the Low. I’ve seen some fine performances there, by Ray Davies, Jon Stewart, and Classic Albums Live performing Queen’s A Night at the Opera.

Massey Hall exterior

But I’ve always found it amusing that the cheaper seats—the ones higher and further back from the stage—are literally worse seats: they don’t have any cushions. That is, in the orchestra area, the chairs themselves are actually better, as though improved sightlines were not sufficient motivation for charging more for tickets. One also gained added comfort.

I could find that an amusing quirk, because I’d personally always managed to get seats in the center orchestra area.

Until this weekend.

Though I didn’t dawdle in getting tickets for Classic Albums Live: Who’s Next, I had to wait until after the subscribers and members were done until I could get my own. At that point, only Left and not Centre Orchestra was offered up as Best Available.

Now, left orchestra seats do have cushions. What they lack, however, is width. Seriously. They are super-narrow seats. You might think economy airline seats are bad, but these are worse.

This was a bit of a problem for my broad-shouldered husband, who had to spend the whole show sitting awkwardly askew, yet still spilling over into my seat and feeling he had to apologize to the woman on his other side.

But he was still better off than men in some other rows, where several large guys were seated next to each other. I’m not even sure how they managed.

So if ever wondering why the people in side orchestra seats at Massey Hall are so quick and frequent in providing standing ovations: It’s not they are particularly appreciative of the performance. It’s because they need to stretch!

Now hey, on with the show…

Who's Next album cover

I was very excited that the Classic Albums Live group was tacking Who’s Next, my favorite Who album, even if it required a trip to Toronto. Only 10 songs long, Who’s Next contains no filler. It starts with “Baba O’Riley” (Teenage Wasteland) and contains both the song erroneously considered to be their best, “We Won’t Get Fooled Again”, and the one that actually is, “Behind Blue Eyes”.

Live, “Baba” was a stunning opener (just as it is for The Who), with the insane ending rendered amazingly by a cellist and the Moon-like drummer. This cellist was to demonstrate her musical chops all evening, as she moved between trumpet, keyboards, and vocals. That’s range, folks!

On “Bargain”, I was especially struck by the three guys who came out to do a clapping sequence, because:

a) I’d never noticed the clapping sequence in the original

b) I thought it was cool you could get a job in music just clapping

On point b), however, I was soon disavowed of that notion, as the three guys joined the cellist on horns for “My Wife”.

Clearly, the band size varied based on needs, but in this first were always larger the the four members of The Who. Apart from the musicians already mentioned, we had another keyboardist (who just stuck to that instrument, covering all the synthesizer bits), an acoustic guitarist, an electric guitarist, a bass player, another background vocalist, and a lead singer. He was the same person who did The Queen show, and while he doesn’t sound like Freddie Mercury or Roger Daltrey, he has the range and power to do both justice, and that’s what matters—even though he does tend to mess up the lyrics at times.

And, we got one more special guest on “Won’t Get Fooled Again’: A second lead vocalist—the guy who sings at their Led Zeppelin shows—was brought out to make The Scream as epic as it needed to be.

A compilation of Roger Daltrey screams for YGFA

(And that is the sort of special extra thing you get in the Toronto performances of Classic Albums Live that you usually don’t in the touring productions.)

So overall, it was a superlative job by the band. The only problem had nothing to do with them, but with the guy beside me (not Jean), who insisted on singing along—really badly—with a number of the songs. This completely ruined for me what should have been the highlight of the whole show, the lovely vocal harmonies at the beginning of “Behind Blue Eyes”.

Honestly. I now kind of understand why The Who themselves played so loud!

The second half featured a variety of other Who songs—including 5:15, The Real Me, The Seeker, Pinball Wizard, You Better You Bet, Love Reign O’er Me (and thank God, with no overdubbed vocals from my tone-deaf seat-mate) and Who Are You.

And for the true Who geeks in the audience, they also did the extended, 10-minute version of “My Generation” from Live at Leeds, (which segues into various bits of Tommy, etc), performing it very honestly, with only the same number of musicians as the original: Just four. It was really very cool, the faithful reproduction of something originally completely improvised. I have to wonder how many in the audience knew what that was?

Regardless. We in the side aisles were all happy to give it a standing ovation! 🙂