Cultureguru's Weblog

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


Leave a comment

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


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Finding fiction

A tip on reading more books that I’ve found useful is to just embrace having more than one on the go at a time. Prevents any one book from feeling like a slog that is stopping you from moving on to your new, shiny books.

Personally I aim to have at least one fiction and one non-fiction book in progress. Non-fiction isn’t so hard to line up—just go with subjects I’m interested in. Fiction is tougher. I now see why so many people love genres of fiction: makes it easier if your aim is to have a bunch of mysteries, romances, or sci fi novels at the ready.

But if your genre is, basically, General Fiction? Quite a bit tougher to narrow that down. I seek inspiration everywhere.

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

Source: Spotted it in a book store (but later bought the ebook)

A love story, of sorts, between an eccentric owner of record store—as in LPs, at the time when everybody was buying CDs (and maybe cassettes)—and a mysterious young woman who swooned outside the shop one day. She claims to know nothing about music. He agrees to teach her about it.

That’s the best part of this book, to me—the in-depth discussions of great exemplars of different types of music: jazz, rock, classical, R&B… Makes you want to rush out and listen to what’s being discussed. Fortunately, the book comes with a Spotify playlist:

I do not know what the book’s main character would have thought of Spotify…

An American Marriage by Tayah Jones

Source: Barack Obama recommendation

A novel about a recently married couple in which the husband is wrongfully convicted of sexual assault. The wife has no doubt of her husband’s innocence; nonetheless, he faces a long incarceration away from her. How do you manage that?

Much of the novel is told as a series of letters. The story does not proceed on a predictable path, but it is plausible one. Thanks, Obama.

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Source: Kobo (ebook seller) recommendation

A work of fiction built around the story of a young woman who has an affair with the older, married, male Senator she’s an intern for. Shades of Monica Lewinski, yes, though that affair is mentioned in the novel as the news that drives her own story out of the headlines.

What’s interesting is that the story is told exclusively from the point of view of the women involved: the intern, her mother, her daughter (the story covers many years), and the Senator’s wife. And you’re not always sure who is who, at least not right away. I loved the approach and really got caught up in this novel.

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

Source: New York Times best books of 2018

This one didn’t work out!

The novel is in three parts. The first two seem unrelated. The third is supposed to bring them together. I read the first part, about a love affair between a young woman and much older man (a writer). They were interesting characters, but they didn’t really do much. There wasn’t much plot happening.

Before proceeding, I look into other reviews. They said that the second part was less interesting than the first, and that the supposed connection you find out about in the third is tenuous, maybe unfathomable. So, I gave up on this one.

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

Source: Recommendation from The Washington Post

Cassandra Bowden, a flight attendant and a binge drinker, wakes from drunken stupor to find that the man she spent the night in Dubai with has been murdered. What to do?

If there’s one genre I do tend to return to, it’s the thriller, and this one is somewhat reminiscent of The Girl on the Train. Unlike that novel, however, it’s clear early on in this story that Cassandra did not murder her lover. But her lack of memory about what happened complicates her situation. And her frequently poor judgment often makes things worse.

This was a pretty fun read. I got it as a library ebook and had to binge read through the last parts because someone else had put a hold on it and I wanted to know how it ended.

Non-fiction

I’ve been in a bit of a rut here, of musician bios.

Thanks a Lot, Mr. Kibblewhite is Roger Daltrey’s breezy, easy-reading autobiography. You can tell that it was built from Roger telling his story to the writer he worked with, who assembled the pieces into a coherent narrative.

It is an interesting story, starting in the deprivations of post-war London and continuing up to closing out the Olympic Games, making a triumphant return to Hyde Park, and nearly dying of viral meningitis. With many entertaining anecdotes on the way, from Keith Moon’s antics to the many women in his life (and a number of surprise children) to The Who’s financial challenges and musical triumphs.

I can recommend this one as being appealing even to more casual fans of The Who, as Jean and I listened to the audiobook version (read by Roger Daltrey) and Jean was approving. He had a much higher opinion of Mr. Daltrey by the end of reading this than he had going in.

Unlike with Roger Daltrey’s book, which I preordered and read pretty promptly, this one has been sitting on the bookshelf for a while. I ended up quite enjoying it, though.

This Ray Davies’ second autobiography. Though it does some moving back and forth in time, it’s told in a much more straightforward fashion than his first, which employed a faux, third-party narrator. Here, Ray just writes his own story, focusing on The Kinks relationship with America, and therefore covering the period starting in the early 1970s when the band’s work ban was lifted. It includes the whole 1980s “arena rock” period during which I discovered The Kinks and became a fan, so was of particular interest.

Ray discusses some of his relationships he was in during this time, but with considerable discretion, so if you’re hoping for dirt on his volatile relationship with Chrissie Hynde, you’ll be disappointed. It’s mostly about the music, the band, and his uneasy relationship with the US itself—culminating in his shooting by a mugger in New Orleans. Getting shot is no joke, it turns out…

Another book with a soundtrack (yes, there’s also a Part 1; I just prefer Part 2)


1 Comment

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


2 Comments

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.

c04uwx-ucaa5jsu

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.”


9 Comments

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

 

 


1 Comment

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.


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.

 


Leave a comment

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):

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


Leave a comment

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.

4

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. 🙂


2 Comments

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