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


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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

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This one is for Canada specficially

People are healthier.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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


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The Who Hits 50 (or so)

The Who’s “long good-bye” tour was extended even further when Roger Daltrey came down with viral meningitis last year, forcing all fall 2015 shows to be rescheduled for spring 2016. For my Toronto show, this meant attending a year and four months after I bought the tickets. So I think the Who were really hitting 52 or so…

Who in Concert March 2016

Some of the Who trivia that played before the show started

But age is just a number, and Roger Daltrey’s changed to 72 on the day I saw him, March 1. They didn’t do anything especially special to mark that during the concert, other than mention it. And the fact he shared his birth date with “great Canadian” Justin Bieber (who turned 22). They then went on to dedicated “The Kids Are Alright” to Bieber.

The previous two Roger Daltrey / The Who shows I attended featured complete performances of Tommy and Quadrophenia, respectively. Much as I love both albums, it was fun to this time get more of run-through of their “greatest hits and B sides”. They came out swinging to “Who Are You,” then launched into “The Seeker” (which I suppose earns inclusion by being another CSI theme).

Who in Concert March 2016

They then addressed the crowd, with Daltrey joking about this being yet another “final” concert for them (“but we’re back in April”) and Pete Townshend making this cheeky comment:

I don’t know about Roger but a lot of good women have happened to me in Toronto. And a lot of good men … quaffing a beer in a pub. That was 22 years ago now. Anyway, we love your city.

They then featured a series of early singles that highlighted the great harmony vocals by their extended backup band. “My Generation” was especially fun, and played entirely without irony.

YouTube: My Generation and Pictures of Lily

We got a bit of Lifehouse material then, with the expected (but gorgeous) “Behind Blue Eyes” and the more surprising “Bargain”. How did Daltrey handle the especially high note in that? Via backup band, crowd singalong, and… just hitting it himself, once. The singalong continued with “Join Together”, then we got the Face Dances hit, “You Better You Bet”.

Who in Concert March 2016

Roger Daltrey and Zak Starkey

Of course, there’s no ignoring the rock operas, and each got a mini-set. Townshend sang lead on “I’m One”, and that was followed with the instrumental “The Rock” (complete with the “world events” background from their Quadrophenia tour, only now extended to include Paris), giving Daltrey a rest before he launched into “Love Reign O’Er Me”. He totally nailed that one, following up the very high note at the end of that with a vocal fill down to the very low end of his register.

You Tube: Love Reign O’er Me followed by Eminence Front

He got a standing ovation for that.

“Eminence Front” (first time I hear that live, I think) made a break before the Tommy set, that done in a rather excellent Live at Leeds fashion, featuring some serious microphone twirling.

The evening ended with the two-fer of “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. The show was about two hours.

I had actually managed to get floor seats for this performance. As a not overly tall person, I wasn’t sure how that would be.

Fortunately, my view was not blocked, except by the occasional filming cell phone or raised beer. We were in the 27th row, dead center. It seemed to me the seats in the first 20 rows or so were actually set lower than ours, which helped. People in the section do tend to stand the entire time, which I didn’t overly mind, though I did take a little sitting break during “The Rock”.

Of course, there’s always the big screens, too, but being closer, I found I didn’t attend to those as much as the actual people on stage. And it seemed a bit harder to get a good feeling of the crowd when you can’t really see them around you so much, because you’re all on the same level. Nevertheless, I sensed that Toronto gave The Who the usual warm reception.

This was the set list:

 

  • Who Are You
  • The Seeker
  • The Kids Are Alright
  • I Can See for Miles
  • My Generation
  • Pictures of Lily
  • Behind Blue Eyes
  • Bargain
  • Join Together
  • You Better You Bet
  • I’m One
  • The Rock
  • Love, Reign O’er Me
  • Eminence Front
  • Amazing Journey
  • Sparks
  • Pinball Wizard
  • See Me, Feel Me
  • Baba O’Riley
  • Won’t Get Fooled Again

 

 


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Rebel music: Tanya Tagaq and the KW Symphony

I wasn’t prepared for Tanya Tagaq.

Oh, I had my concert tickets, which is good, because both her shows were complete sellouts. And I knew she was an Inuit singer who had her own take on traditional throat singing. I remembered her winning the Polaris prize in 2014.

But I hadn’t listened to any of her music in advance.

And thank goodness for that! Because you can only hear Tanya Tagaq for the very first time once in your life, and what better way than seeing her live, from just a few feet away? (We were in the second row.)

The problem is, I have no idea how to describe her sound and performance to you. I’ve never heard anyone else do anything like what she does. As we were revelling in her show afterward, Jean made an attempt: “It’s like she took you on a journey through a whole lifetime of dreams.”

This is traditional throat singing:

The adorable 11-year-old Inuit girls throat-singing at Justin Trudeau’s swearing-in ceremony

Tagaq does use this technique, but—in own words—in a completely punk way. She plays with pitch, vocal styling, breathing, making no literal sense but clearly conveying emotion. And she puts her whole body into it, swaying, gesturing, sinking to the floor. It’s just mesmerizing.

spotify:album:2MiUUnuUmi24pJKJ1xjeHz

Tanya Tagaq’s Animism album on Spotify

And how does that work with the symphony? Well, first they prepared us to hear some unusual sounds by presenting the works of two Canadian composers (both in attendance, both women), along with a version of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” that was so rockin’ it rivaled The Who’s take on the same.

They then let Tanya Tagaq do her thing on her own, totally improvised.

Next was a work by another Canadian composer, Rodney Sharman, (“I texted with him today,” said Tagaq. “He seems nice.”), and she improvised over that soundtrack.

Finally, Tagaq and orchestra came together on a chamber music piece written for her, called “Cercle du Nord III”. Ms. Tagaq said that the fuller sound provided by the larger symphony (vs. original string quartet) gave the piece another dimension.

(Her personality is quite charming, by the way. For example, she was taken aback at having to come back and acknowledge the rapturous applause she was receiving. She was unsure to do, she said. What does she normally do? “I go out for dinner,” she answered. She then told us, mock sternly: “OK, I’m leaving now. Don’t make me come back out again!”)

A few years ago, Edwin Outwater, Musical Director of the KWS and this concert’s conductor, gave a Ted Talk in which he argued that rock / pop music wasn’t the music of rebels anymore. That classical music was.

I think he has a point. Much as I still love rock music, there isn’t much danger or innovation in it anymore, is there? What is more choreographed, corporate, and scripted than a big, modern rock show? Who can improvise when everyone has to play to same click track?

Whereas tonight’s Tanya Tagaq concert could be a whole different experience than last night’s.

And this is following on two other KW Symphony shows we saw recently, in which they:

  1. Completely reconceived German opera Die Fleidermaus with local references, a hilarious narration absent in the original, and even a special guest spot for a former mayor.
  2. Along with the Art of Time, presented the Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper not just orchestrated, but truly rearranged such that every song was both familiar and strange (though wonderfully so, in my opinion).

As rock retreats to safety, the traditional symphony is taking it to the edge. Don’t let the strings and horns fool you: today, this is punk.

 


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Songs of 2015

That I can rather easily put together a list of recent songs that I liked is certainly a change from my usual of being steeped in the music of the past. I can, of course, attribute much of this to one Adam Mitchell Lambert, my current celebrity crush, who also happens to be quite generous about recommending the work of his fellow musicians.

It’s also been bolstered by increased use of streaming services, along with Google Music’s habit of making entire albums of new music free or 0.99 to download. (This week: The new Pentatonix Deluxe Edition, free to own! I’m quite liking it so far.) Music radio, on the other hand, continues to have no influence on me, as I never listen to it.

Two songs, one title

Ghost Town – Adam Lambert

Ghosttown – Madonna

We all knew Adam Lambert’s “Ghost Town” was going to be here, so might as well get it out of the way. A catchy song that is musically and lyrically off-beat enough to stand up to multiple (and I do mean multiple) listenings. But it’s only recently I actually listened to other “Ghosttown” song—the one by Madonna. It’s quite good as well! And completely different.

Hello – Adele

Hello – Hedley

Saying you don’t like Adele is like saying you don’t like The Beatles: It doesn’t make you as cool as you think, and you’re just lying to yourself anyway. What I find amazing is that it seemed after only one listen, I knew all the lyrics already. How is that even possible?

And also, no one much comments on the slightly disturbing aspects of what Adele is doing in this song, eh?

As for Hedley: Hello! This is rock! Hedley is current and successful and they make rock music not pop music and that’s a reason to love them right there. Always like Jason Hoggard’s voice, too.

The Idols

carly-rae-jepsen-names-new-album-emotionOne category, two non-winning yet ultimately successful alumni from American or Canadian Idol, so let’s add another: Carly Rae Jepsen.

Carly Rae made many “Best of” lists this year, and I agree; her new album is terrific. But there is a certain mystification that it hasn’t sold better. (Could it be inept management? The CD is often out of stock at Amazon, which just seems odd.)

At any rate, the single, “Run Away with Me” is just incredibly infectious.

And although I seem to be the only one, I just adore the blatant come-on of “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance” – Do you know what I mean? You know what I mean. If you just give me a chance, you’ll see what I see.

And speaking of horny women

Selena Gomez all grew up this year with the slinky “Good for You” and its yowza video. Leave this dress a mess on the floor, indeed.

Selena Gomez – Good for You official video

tove-lo-talking-bodyAnd then we had Tove Lo, following up “Habits” with “Talking Body”.

And if you’re talking body, you’ve got a perfect one, so put it on me.
Swear it won’t take you long. (!)
If you love me right, we fuck for life… On and on and on

Why so subtle, Tove?

Little Big Town’s singer so wanted this guy, she developed a “Girl Crush” on his girlfriend. Pretty good for a country song.

The Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack was hella better than the movie (not that’s it’s much of a bar), a nice collection of smooth, sexy songs. My tops from it are Beyonce’s “Haunted” and Ellie Goulding’s big hit, “Love Me Like You Do”.

And while it’s more quirky and lively than the above, one can’t miss Janelle Monae’s repeated request for her baby to “bend over” and “Let me see you do the yoga” in the wonderful “Yoga”.

Janelle Monáe, Jidenna – Yoga

What does this say about me?

That I like so many, uh, passionate songs? Not going there, but did feel that Alessia Cara was describing me in her big introvert anthem, “Here”, about how horrible it is to be at a party with a bunch of people you don’t really know.

French kiss

Bilingualism can be handy, because some French artists are great. And to widen their appeal, some of them sing in English also.

When on The Daily Show, Trevor Noah described France’s Christine and the Queens as “weird. But good. Good weird!” That’s about right. They are actually good; can’t help it if they’re tilted.

Christine and the Queens – Tilted

(Also check out “Paradis Perdus”, a take on “Heartless”.)

Quebec’s Coeur de Pirate also put out a really good album this year, with more English than French songs. I like several (such as “Carry on”), and I guess “Crier tout bas” is the single.

And le groupe Swing released a new album this year as well, with “La Folie” having some success in French Canada.

Who rule the world? [Girls, girls]

taylor-swift_mNot sure if you’ve noticed yet, but this a very female-dominated list. And until Adele came along, no one was more dominant than Taylor Swift, whose 2014 1989 I finally acquired this year, partly on the strength of the 2015 single, “Style”.

I also like Ryan Adams’ take on this album. (Here’s his version of “Style”, for example.) Although the original is still better.

But a few other guys not named Adam also put out some interesting music.

I know nothing at all about Lost Frequencies and their song “Are You With Me”, except that I adored from the first time I heard and still do, every time since.

Lost Frequencies – Are You With Me

Also great fun was Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk”. Watch me, baby, don’t stop! And Duran Duran (remember them?) put out a rather good album called Paper Gods. The single (I’m just learning) is “Pressure Off”. (I also liked “Sunset Garage”.)

And Zhu’s “Faded” highlighted his unusual voice.

And speaking of unusual voices

Elle King was one of those cheap albums I acquired this year. Her voice has been described as Joplin-esque. “Ex’s and Oh’s” was her big song. Also check out “America’s Sweetheart”.

Remixes!

Aka how to get The Who on this list, as a rather excellent Lovelife Remix of “Love Reign O’er Me’ came out this year.

And to bring this full circle, I also enjoyed many remixes and mashups of Adam’s “Ghost Town”. In the “remixed live” category, Queen + Adam Lambert gave it a rock edge. In the non-live category, tt was nicely combined with Bieber’s “What Do You Mean”: What do Ghosts Mean? and even more successfully with “Prayer in C” by Robin Shulz and Lilly Wood & The Prick: Prayer in Ghost Town. But my favorite was the “Ghost Body” mashup of Talking Body with Ghost Town, with Tove’s blatant come-on met with Adam’s “Meh. My heart is a ghost town.”

Tove Lo vs. Adam Lambert – Ghost Body (Mixed Mashup)

(By the way, Tove and Adam do actually sing a duet called “Rumors” on his album.)

The songs

  • Ghost Town – Adam Lambert
  • Ghosttown – Madonna
  • Hello – Adele
  • Hello – Hedley
  • Run Away with Me – Carly Rae Jepsen
  • I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance – Carly Rae Jepsen
  • Good for You – Selena Gomez –
  • Talking Body – Tove Lo
  • Girl Crush – Little Big Town
  • Haunted – Beyonce
  • Love Me Like You Do – Ellie Goulding
  • Yoga – Janelle Monae, Jidenna
  • Here – Alessia Cara
  • Style – Taylor Swift
  • Style – Ryan Adams
  • Tilted – Christine and the Queens
  • Paradis Perdus – Christine and the Queens
  • Carry on – Coeur de Pirate
  • Crier tout bas – Coeur de Pirate
  • La Folie – Swing
  • Lost Frequencies – Are You With Me
  • Uptown Funk – Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars
  • Pressure Off – Duran Duran
  • Sunset Garage – Duran Duran
  • Faded (Big Gigantic Remix) – Zhu
  • Ex’s & Oh’s – Elle King
  • America’s Sweetheart – Elle King
  • Love Reign O’er Me (Lovelife Remix) – The Who
  • Ghost Town – Queen + Adam Lambert
  • What do Ghosts Mean? – Adam Lambert and Justin Bieber
  • Prayer in Ghost Town – Adam Lambert, Robin Shulz, and Lilly & The Prick
  • Ghost Body (Mixed Mashup) – Adam Lambert and Tove Lo

YouTube playlist of everything

Spotify playlist of most things (email people, you have to look at this post in a browser to get the Spotify playlist. And to see the embedded YouTube videos, for that matter):

spotify:user:clmcnair:playlist:5eaAjoUM5BgvOXfiYFgTdQ

The albums

  1. The Original High – Adam Lambert
  2. E.M.O.T.I.O.N – Carly Rae Jepsen
  3. Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack – Various
  4. Swing. – (le groupe) Swing
  5. 1989 – Ryan Adams
  6. Paper Gods – Duran Duran
  7. Roses – Coeur de Pirate
  8. Pentatonix – Pentatonix


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Sonos your kitchen

Although the best music setup in the house is the surround sound system in the TV room, the room in which I listen to music most often is the kitchen. I do so while cooking, while cleaning, and even occasionally while eating.

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The music setup in the kitchen was as follows: an audio receiver, a CD player, and iPod dock / headphone jack (for my tablet) connected to two small speakers. All wired; no remote control access. Sound quality was OK, and I was sufficiently accustomed to docking my iPod (classic; no bluetooth, no wifi) or connecting my tablet via headphone jack that it didn’t seem especially inconvenient.

But the whole system was at the back at the kitchen, and I mostly worked at the front. Apart from the fact that it was a bit annoying to have to stop cooking and walk over to change the volume or song selection, I often just couldn’t hear the music properly once the fans and frying got going.

A first-world problem for sure. Nevertheless, for Christmas I requested some way to get my music playing closer to where I was cooking.

Much research ensued, and wireless seemed the way to go. But wireless meant somehow still playing my iTunes library despite my not owning any “modern” iDevices. And that certainly suggested Sonos as one option.

What is Sonos?

Sonos TV commercial

Essentially, Sonos is a family of wireless speakers and components that are all controlled by an app that runs on Android, iOs, and Windows. The key marketing features are:

  1. Easy setup. “It just works.”
  2. Access to “all the music in the world”: your owned music, streamed music, online radio—all available through one interface, combined in whatever way you choose.
  3. Full-house control; that is, ability to play different (or the exact same) queues of music in any room in the house that has a Sonos-connected speaker.

The main downside? Price. But, we figured that we could start with just one speaker—the new Play 5—for the kitchen. Then if we liked the Sonos app, expand from there.

The setup

The Sonos Play:5 just sat around in its box for about 2 weeks before we got the courage to try to set it up. (Yes, I opened my Christmas present early. Not like it was a surprise.)

And it started out well. Getting the Play 5 onto our wifi network was simple. Downloading the app on tablet and PCs—no problem. Linking in my Google Play, SoundCloud, LastFM, Spotify accounts (note that you need a paid account)—also a breeze.

The problem was the iTunes playlist, because I had a somewhat non-standard setup: music files on a NAS (network attached storage), iTunes music library (playlist data) on PC.

To get the thing working, Sonos needed two connection points: one to the music directory on the NAS, another to then PC iTunes library location. Retrospectively, that seems obvious, and in fact it wasn’t hard to do.

computer-repair

But figuring out that’s all we had to do required a lot of experimentation, caused a few tears, and took the better part of an afternoon. (And yes, I did read the documentation!)

Using Sonos: The things I fretted about vs. the reality

Ahead of time, I was a little concerned (and obviously only in between bigger worries about climate change and world peace and such) about the following regarding use of this system.

Fret: Would I have to start my PC, and maybe even iTunes, just to play my music in the kitchen?

Reality: No, not with my music setup. Sonos copies in the iTunes playlist data, so neither iTunes nor the PC have to be running. It’s just the NAS that has to be on for the music files to be accessible. And the NAS  was already programmed to start when we got home from work and to be on all day on weekends. (It’s handy to be married to a handy husband.)

Fret: How can my Android tablet possibly control my iTunes playlist on a NAS it doesn’t even know about?

Reality: If you’re using Sonos, that “just works”. (The non-Sonos’ed can try the Retune app. Pretty cool! But iTunes does have to be running for that one.)

Fret: Would I still be able to use the Musixmatch lyrics app? (Because I kind of love that app.)

Reality: Yes. While Musicxmatch isn’t fully integrated into the Sonos app, it does work quite well in “Listening” mode.

Spotify Lyrics display

The rather esoteric lyrics to Queen’s “Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke”

Fret: Can I continue playing a music list where I last left off? (This matters to me. Don’t judge.)

Reality: Sonos absolutely, by default, picks up where you left off.

Fret: Will it play our local CBC radio station? Can you program it to start and stop automatically at a certain time? (Otherwise, we won’t be able to expand Sonos to our bedroom. CBC is our alarm clock.)

Reality: Yes, local CBC radio is one of the ba-jillion radio stations included. And yes, Sonos has timer functionality.

Fret: When you change your iTunes playlists, how much of a pain is it to get the update into Sonos?

Reality: Haven’t actually done that yet, but appears to be a single-click process you can perform on PC or tablet (allowing time for it to re-scan the files).

Fret: Does it keep track of play counts and dates?

Reality: No, it does not. This is the one disappointing item.

In iTunes I created “smart” playlists with criteria such as “High-rated songs I haven’t played in the last six months” and “Songs I’ve played fewer than two times each”. And I use those playlists a lot to avoid “I’m sick of this song!” syndrome.

But Sonos has nothing like that built in. However, it does integrate with Last.fm, which does keep track of what I’ve played, on both iTunes / iPod and Sonos. And research indicates there might be some geeky, scripty ways to make use of that data. I will be looking into that more later.

last.fm

Sonos playlist data for the week, courtesy Last.fm. (I’m sure you’re all shocked about Top artist.)

Features I didn’t even realize I wanted, but turns out I do

10kindsoflonely_art-500x500This one seems dumb, but I’m a bit obsessive about album art, and I loved seeing some of that blown up in size on my 12.2 inch tablet when I’d previously only viewed it as a thumbnail.

More significantly, the much more dynamic (compared with iPod) song queue is fun! For example, I can:

  • Start with an iTunes playlist and add songs from Spotify or Soundcloud (or whatever)
  • Combine various playlists into one queue
  • See what songs are coming up, and edit the list if I want—without affecting the original playlists
  • Decide I want to, say, switch to a podcast now, listen to that, then automatically return to my same spot in the music queue
  • Save my current queue as a Sonos playlist for later reuse

But it’s a speaker. How does it sound?

Kids, this speaker sounds so good, I’d like to marry it and have its babies. 🙂


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Rock in Rio in my pyjamas

I’m not really a music festival person.

I don’t mind the smaller ones, where you can arrive at a particular time to see an act you’re interested in, then leave. But those big ones where you’re supposed to stay there all day, at the mercy of the elements… Not really my thing.

Would I have wanted to be at Woodstock? Of course not! Rain, insufficient food, inadequate toilets, overcrowded, bad drugs everywhere… Plus, the inadequate sound system coupled with the overcrowding meant that most attendees couldn’t even see or hear the amazing performances.

Crowd at Woodstock

Woodstock festival crowd

Live Aid? Well it was certainly better organized, and they got great weather. All acts I loved, too. Still, that seems like a hell of long day to be standing there in the heat, watching one 20-minute performance on stage, one 20-minute performance “by satellite, from Philadelphia.”

Live Aid crowd

Just the photo of this massive Live Aid crowd kind of gives me hives…

But the beauty of a really big festival is you don’t have to suffer through that to see it. Woodstock became a movie. Live Aid was shown on TV.

And man, can that reach boost careers. Woodstock, the movie, made The Who superstars in the States. Everyone who performed at Live Aid subsequently sold more records. And for Queen, the incredible response to their stunning performance possibly saved the band from breakup; it most certainly re-energized their career.

The footage that made The Who rock Gods in America

But that’s all ancient history. I had no idea, really, whether current artists benefit in the same way from playing big festivals. Logically, some must have had an earth-shattering performance at Coachella or Glastonbury or South by Southwest that changed everything for them. I just can’t name a single one of them. I generally don’t watch festivals broadcasts anymore.

So why Rock in Rio? Because—you guessed it—the headiners were Queen + Adam Lambert. That the performance start time was just after 11:30 pm and that they played for over two hours was no deterrent. Pyjamas on, Internet feed sent to the big-ass TV connected to the surround-sound system, husband conveniently out of town and therefore not bothered by the noise—I was good to go.

Background on Rock in Rio: Queen more or less established this festival 30 years ago, with (yet another) iconic performance. The band had never played South America before, and were stunned that the ginormous crowd (something like 85,000 people) knew all the words. Even to less popular songs like “Love of my Life”.

Queen performing “Love of My Life” at Rock in Rio in 1985

Rock in Rio crowd

And… The modern Rock in Rio crowd. Imagine trying to get to the bathroom!

This was Adam Lambert’s first time in South America, and only his second festival performance ever. At pre-performance press conference, he was typically humble and respectful of Queen’s legacy, but also confident he was up to the challenge. Brian May agreed that not only did Freddie and Adam both have extraordinary vocal abilities, they both have an inherent ability to really connect with an audience.

The confidence and praise were borne out. The show was so worth staying up for. While the fan-made YouTube videos of various Q + AL concerts are plentiful and often of surprisingly good quality, they just can’t match what professional camera operators with full stage access, plugged into the actual sound system, can provide. The audio and video quality were terrific. I had no streaming issues whatsoever (other than having to get off my butt every 15 minutes or so to move the mouse so the computer didn’t go to sleep. Hadn’t thought to change those settings ahead of time.)

Some highlights were, of course, the usual ones you get any of these Q + AL shows: the getting on your bikes and riding during “Fat Bottomed Girls”; the camping it up during “Killer Queen”; the welling up after Freddie’s appearance in “Love of My Life”; reveling in the father / son drum battle; floating on the beauty of “Who Wants to Live Forever”; fist pumping to “I Want It All”; clapping along with “Radio Gaga¨ (yes, even in my TV room); drooling over the five costume changes (super-tight pants a key feature of each outfit).

Adam camping it up during “Killer Queen”. This never gets old!

Other pleasures were specific to this show:

  • The teasing handling of singalong at the start of “Don’t Stop Me Now”.
  • The incredibly professional handling of the audio problems at the start of “Save Me”,
  • Roger taking lead on “A Kind of Magic” instead of his usual “Those Were the Days”.
  • The sheer size of the crowd clapping to “Radio Gaga”, and Adam jumping in amongst them anyway, security guys scrambling behind him.

The full Radio Gaga

And, and, most definitely, the performance of Adam’s single, “Ghost Town”.

Ghost Town, live with Queen

That a song  Adam co-wrote was included in the set and didn’t seem a poor cousin to the Queen classics, but truly was one of the highlights, is amazing. A good song is a good song. And I love this rock version of it.

And an interesting lesson in how modern artists do get a boost from festival appearances that are broadcast worldwide, even if the likes of me aren’t aware of it. The playing of “Ghost Town” seemed to be the major news items to come out of Q + AL’s appearance there. Adam’s followers on every social media have notably increased. And the original song–which has been out since April–has reached new highs on the charts not only in Brazil, but also in the US, Canada, and worldwide.

Bring on that Adam Lambert North American tour, baby.

(Umm, but with an emphasis on indoor performances, please! 🙂

Related links

Video of the entire Rock in Rio performance

Handy YouTube playlist of the whole concert, but broken up by song, so you can pick and choose: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVB1hnGUslGuRyj9FT6AZ_WA2pztBwMPA

An article on “Ghost Town”’s chart boost from Rock in Rio: Adam Lambert enters Billboard’s Pop Songs Top 20


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Art films, documentaries, and blockbusters; oh my! Movie roundup

Recommended art film: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and The Dying Girl movie poster

Greg is the “me” of the title. He’s in his last year of high school, trying his best to pass through it anonymously, and uncertain about going to college. Earl is the friend he calls his “co-worker” because they spend a lot of time making short movies based on rewording original title movies (My Dinner with Andre the Giant, A Sockwork Orange, 2:48 Cowboy, and so on). And the dying girl, Rachel, who has stage 4 leukemia, disrupts his tidy life.

Greg narrates this film, pointing out that if it were a “normal” teen movie he and Rachel would fall in love. Instead, they just develop a close (but doomed, he reminds us) friendship.

Though sad in parts, this is not an emotionally manipulative tear jerker. It’s very original, often funny, and definitely a treat for movie buffs.

Other art films worth noting

I'll See You in My DreamsWarning that I’ll See You in My Dreams is not the “great date movie” it’s billed as. In the film, lead character Carol, played by Blythe Danner, reacts to a loss by suddenly reaching out to others, exploring a new friendship (yes, just friendship) with the pool boy and a possible romance with a new man in town. She also opens up more to her daughter. Not everything works out as she might hope, but she retains this new found willingness to open up to the possibilities. It’s kind of inspiring, but not really a date movie.

The F Word, on the other hand… Note that the F of the title stands for Friendship, which is a bit of curse word when you want more than that. This Canadian film (which had to be retitled What If in the US) stars Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan as Wallace and Chantry. The two meet at a party and really hit it off; unfortunately, Chantry has a live-in boyfriend. And he’s not even a jerk. So the agree to just be friends.

It’s perhaps not highly original how the two lurk toward possibly more-than-friendship, but it’s a pretty charming to watch. The two actors have good chemistry.

I’m not sure why I’m assuming here that people pick art movies for dates, but to keep running with it… I’m not sure The Overnight is your best bet for that, either. It is a sex comedy, but I’d say with an emphasis on the funny, not the sexy. In it, a young couple who have recently moved to Los Angeles meet another couple in the park. Their kids hit it off, and they get invited over for dinner. After the kids are in bed, things get a bit weird. A bit weirdly sexual—or maybe just sexually weird.

It’s not a bad little movie. It is funny, it’s different, and the cast is good. Just select your viewing companion carefully.

Mainstream movies

“The movies you’ve heard of”. And of which, I haven’t seen too many  lately, actually, though I have a number on the list to see. But these are older ones.

Recommended mainstream movie: Edge of Tomorrow

Live Die Repeat movie posterThis movie didn’t do very well at the box office, under its original title, Live, Die, Repeat, maybe because the public doesn’t so much like Tom Cruise anymore. But if you can stand to watch him, it is a good movie! (I saw it on TMN.)

The premise is a world at war with an alien race. Cruise plays a Major without combat experience who is dropped into a major conflict zone. Unsurprisingly, he dies. More surprisingly, he revives, finding himself back at the time where his mission began.

So it’s a kind of sci-fi Groundhog Day, except that his time to restart isn’t always just a day—even though no matter how long he survives, he always ends up back at the same starting point after he kicks it. This allows for considerable variety in the action, as he tries this path and that path, and we don’t always know on which attempt we’re coming in. It’s a pretty smart movie, and quite entertaining.

Other mainstream movies

I saw these two on a plane!

  • Into the Woods: I quite enjoyed this alternative retelling of familiar fairy tales, complete with song
  • Kingsmen: The Secret Service: A fun and funny movie about British secret agents—though points off for that unnecessary, very sexist, final scene. (Actually, for whole third act treatment of the princess character.)

Recommended documentary: Citizenfour

Citizenfour movie posterThis Oscar winner follows documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras as Edward Snowden, calling himself Citizenfour, makes contact, offering information that will be “worth her while”. Then we see on film the process of his disclosure of state secrets and its aftermath, including his being charged under the Espionage Act, losing his passport, and finally gaining safe haven in Russia. Against that backdrop, we learn more about the information he leaked by the journalists (Poitras is joined by reporters from The Guardian) who report it.

The film itself is very subtle, with much information necessarily just conveyed via white text on a black screen. But the story that is revealed is quietly fascinating. I thought I knew, basically, what the Snowden leaks revealed, but if so, I really hadn’t internalized the extent to which the NSA was basically poking into all electronic communication, and not just the metadata. Pretty alarming stuff…

Other notable documentaries

Lambert and STampLambert and Stamp focuses on The Who’s original managers, Kitt Lambert and Chris Stamp, giving a new perspective on the band’s history. Being of very different backgrounds and characters, they were unlikely partners, with no experience or contacts in the music business. Yet they nurtured what became one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

As a Who fan, I did enjoy it, but the movie would have benefited from more and tighter editing. It’s also unfortunate that the more interesting of the two managers, Kitt Lambert, died long ago. There is only so much archival footage of him.

With a number of interviews from those who have left the “church”, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief helps explain how people can become devoted to such a recently developed, expensive “religion” with such weird ideas at its core. It also shows the abuse and damage that is inflicted on many adherents, both when they are part of the “church” and often continuing after they leave it. It’s interesting and startling, and not only because so many famous people belong to this organization.