Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker

December 24, 2010 at 11:54 am | Posted in Audio, Ballet, Concert, Dance, Review, Theater/Theatre | 1 Comment
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Moscow Ballet Troupe

This was my first time seeing an actual Russian ballet troupe. I’ve seen plenty of other ballet troupes over the years. I’ve seen San Diego and Phoenix troupes live, and San Francisco and New York casts on television around the holidays. I’ve always wanted to see how the Russians compared, as it has always seemed that all troupes are compared to them.

I can’t expound on the subtleties of just how Russian ballet differs from what I have seen before; as I’m not familiar with the intricacies and technicalities of the art. I can tell you, that it is different; albeit ever so slightly.

The object of the game remains the same. Tell a story through dance, without words. Moscow Ballet did that superbly. The story of The Nutcracker is easy to follow and is loved by children and adults alike.

The choreographer of this show really played well to each athlete’s abilities. Their strengths were showcased very well, whether it was one of the ballerinas running pas de bourrée, or one of the danseurs turning fouetté; each movement was executed very well.

The Moscow troupe itself was joined by a small army of local children for some of the larger scenes, and they also did very well; you could tell they were thrilled with the whole experience.

The scenery was done mostly via backdrops, and the show was well lit. The audio however had an annoying tape hiss. That seemed odd; considering classical music is readily available in some of the highest definition recording formats around. I would like to see this troupe perform with a symphony orchestra, but I understand that’s difficult as most of the cities on the tour have their symphonies doing their own shows around Christmas time and its prohibitively expensive to tour with your own.

I would definitely recommend you check this show out when it comes to your neck of the woods. Its definitely a great time, and is a great way to introduce your little ones to some culture.

What to wear: Dress how you like, within reason. Since there is no symphony involved, formal attire is not required. Most people at the show were dressed nicely. Men wore slacks or khakis with dress shirts, women were in skirts, dresses or slacks with matching tops. No ball gowns or tuxes were present, that I could see. I’d stay a step above blue jeans and t-shirts, but I wouldn’t go overboard.

Dweezil Zappa vs. Roger Waters

December 7, 2010 at 11:33 am | Posted in Audio, Concert, Digital, Jazz, Rock, Theater/Theatre, Vocal | 3 Comments
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I wasn’t going to blog either of these shows, because they are both so epic that you really have to be there to get it. Then, I realized something. I’m not one of those people that uses the word epic on a daily basis; I must have something blog-worthy. So, here we go…

The Music
     Both shows feature decades old music written by highly respected, highly talented composers. Each features complex instrumental arrangements with uncommon instruments. Both feature horns, keyboards (analog and digital). Multiple vocal parts are present in each. Drums were tight, loud and crisply gated at each show. Both drummers were highly skilled. I’d say they are deft at keeping meter in both standard times, and random timings that only people with years of experience, or Master’s degrees in music, even know what it is called. 6/16th time with augmented triplets or some such…but I’m guessing. Guitar players are both highly capable. Dweezil got to show off a few more styles; due to the fluid nature of Frank Zappa’s composition – but the guys in Roger’s band played note for note as the album dictated. Overall music from each was an exceptionally clear sonic wall.

Both Winners.

The Visuals
     Roger Waters brings bleeding-edge projection technology to an arena and projects incredible animations from Gerald Scarfe, superbly edited movies, and pictures of soldiers from fans around the world; onto a giant wall which gets built brick by brick as the show progresses. The video projectors are capable of momentarily transporting you into another dimension, I’m pretty sure. There are video technologies in play at this show that I’m sure originated in Area 51.
     Dweezil Zappa had 3 screens that occcasionally projected time-synced (to the live concert) remastered film footage of his dad. The footage was great, the timing was perfect. The restoration work (or was it just great preservation?) on it was superb.

Winner: Roger Waters. Sorry Dweezil. Roger outgunned you massively on this one, but he was dealing with a much bigger venue. The scale leaned in his favor from the start, and I took that into consideration. Even with the scale handicap – he just plain outgunned you.

The Sound
     Impeccable. I can assure you I am intimately familar with The Wall. I must also admit that I was not very familiar with ‘ Apostrophe. I listen to a lot of Pink Floyd and Roger Waters. I only own one Frank Zappa Album; Quadiophiliac. However, it is in on DVD Audio; remastered by Dweezil in multi-channel surround, as was originally specified Frank.
     Everyone involved in projects by Waters or Zappa is the “cream of the crop”. Whether they be technicians, musicians, vocalists or personal assistants – I am positive they are held to the highest standards of excellence. I’m sure it doesn’t matter if they are making coffee or tweaking a knob on a 96/24 audio console; everything has to be spot on. There are no shortcuts. Dedication to audio perfectionism requires state of the art gear, tweaked by technical experts and massaged by audio artists. Both shows had this in spades. Since Dweezil was playing a much more intimate show, I can’t knock him for not bringing the Qadrophonic rig like Waters did. I’m not even sure Frank envisioned this material as multi-channel. The balls-on stereo imaging present at the Zappa show more than made up for the lack of quad.

Both Winners.

The Emotions
     Roger brings with him a personal tale of fear, regret, disconnectedness and an anti-establishment world view. I can relate to that. I get the story. I love the story. I’ve seen it on the big screen, small screen, mid-sized screens and now on Ultra-Huge screens. Great story. Emotionally charged. Power packed.
     Zappa’s tales are a bit more fun. Uplifting and whimsical at times. Dreamy and surreal. At one point, as Dweezil did a bit of improv on the guitar; he effortlessly played an instantly recognizable Jimmy Page riff. It was a fleeting, joyous moment. I felt a tear well up and roll out of the corner of my eye as I had an epiphany. Concerts at this level of musicianship aren’t always about the spectacle…they are about the music, and how it can transcend time and space.

Winner: Zappa

So, there you have it folks. Big vs Small. Grand vs Intimate. Composer against composer. A tie. All things considered; either of these shows beats out any other plans for the night you might have had. You really have to see them to believe them. I can’t describe just how well both of these guys were able to capture a moment in time, bottle it and preserve it to be released upon an unsuspecting (or anxiously awaiting) public decades later. They are both incredible shows. Zappa and Waters – I salute you both.
 

Breathing In Music

November 11, 2010 at 2:02 am | Posted in Concert, Digital, Review, Vocal | 1 Comment
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Breathing, in music, is critical. Just ask any singer. I’d dare say that you could probably ask any musician, or for that matter – any human. Breathing is absolutely critical to life; it is also particularly important to music. Go ahead, google it – if you must. Wind instrument players have special techniques of breathing to play notes indefinitely. Guitar players and violinists use good posture and specialized breathing practices to play at optimum efficiency.

Breathing can also be bad in music. When? When it is done by audio processors (compressors), unintentionally. 

That seemed to be the case tonight, at Comerica (formerly Dodge) Theatre. Unintentional breathing. Irritating breathing. Maddening to me. I looked around, and figured I must be the only person noticing it. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying the Celtic Thunder show. Why wouldn’t they? The performers are attractive, and fairly talented. It is a pretty set-design (if a bit too artificial and contrived looking); with the requisite chemical fog/dry ice fog, and hazers fired up to accentuate the moving lights.  The voices are clear and bright, compliments of the state-of-the-art headest mics, capable of picking up a dying breath and projecting it to an audience…and “there’s the rub”, folks.

Whenever you take something as pure and recognizable as a human voice (or a violin bow drawing across a string) and electronically process it, there is a problem. The problem is the human ear. It is very good at picking up anomalies. How those anomalies are addressed by the human brain varies between individuals. Some people, like me, will dwell on them and get irritated. Others, like my beautiful girlfriend, will notice them but not realize that is why they just “can’t get into” the show. Still, others will seemingly not notice/care and will go about clapping, cheering and giving standing ovations. Maybe it is because the last group is 12 years old and was raised on mp3 files and compressed audio; or they are from the generation prior to “hi-fi” and assume that’s how it is supposed to be. Maybe they are just in shock, and awed, from seeing a modern moving lighting fixture cut through chemical haze with its dichroic colors and “totally cool” beams sweeping the stage and audience. I dunno… but I digress.

My point is that breathing in music is essential. Singers do it. They have to. The stringed, acoustic, instruments do it. They have to. The drums do it. They have to. That is how acoustic instruments work. They vibrate air. That is how the impressive speaker system hanging from the ceiling works. It vibrates air. Music breathes. Plain and simple.

My gripe, in this case, is with the electronics and the people that run them. Electronics do not breathe. They don’t interact with air; not like an instrument does. To them – breathing is bad. Breathing is a side effect of being set wrong. If your ears hear “breathing” or “pumping” that your eyes can’t physically correlate to a person – something electronic in the chain is not set properly.

Today’s sound engineering for live shows like Celtic Thunder is incredibly complicated. There is a lot of technology between that violin player at the back of stage, or the singer at the front of stage (wearing a headset mic), and the people in the audience. Sometimes that technology has quirks or problems. I get that. Problems like electronics audibly “breathing” is caused by a setting measured in milliseconds. For that problem to exist for almost an hour into a show is appalling. It is either caused by an electronics unit being faulty, or more likely; by that unit not being set correctly.

I applaud Celtic Thunder for their efforts and performance. The performers have talent. The “violin girls” are very talented. Too bad they aren’t featured a bit more. Too bad most of the string section was buried in the mix for half of the show. I wish I would have seen this show sans technology, and somewhat-cheesy theatricals, at some natural ampitheatre. It’s probably a great show acoustically and unscripted. Unfortunately, tonight that show got buried by the behind-the-scenes electronics I love so much not being transparent.

Once again…I must quote George Lucas and his THX division…”The Audience is Listening”.

Paramore? @YelyahWilliams. Hell Yeah, Hayley Williams.

September 16, 2010 at 2:20 am | Posted in Audio, Concert, Rock | Leave a comment
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All I can do is hope that Hayley Williams (known to me mostly as @yelyahwilliams on twitter) reads this.

This is an empire in the making, folks. Really.

I’ve been looking forward to this concert for a long time, and it finally arrived.  Why I looked forward to it, I’m not sure. The songs aren’t on my Ipod, the vids aren’t faved by me, I haven’t had the tunes drummed into my head via radio airplay…I just don’t own this music, yet. However, something inside me kept nagging that this was the concert to see at Dodge Theatre this year. (Frequent readers know I have season tickets to Dodge courtesy of a @LiveNation twitter contest)

Well, I can sum up this concert really fast. GO SEE IT. It’s the Honda Civic Tour 2010. Honda tossed some money into a tour that kicks ass. Period. Mind you, I’m not a car-show kinda guy, but I know Honda has “done their time” in the trenches of promotion, and they understand PR costs cash. Apparently, they also know what good money vs bad money is. Paramore headlining a music tour with their (Honda’s)  logo emblazoned everywhere is great money.  Bottom line.

How can I describe this to you? If you have read my previous reviews; you know I tend to applaud the musicianship (and denigrate lack thereof) whilst leaning towards documenting the technicalities of a show. I try to convey whether a show kicks ass or sucks ass;  giving kudos or criticisms to those behind the scenes.

This show kicked ass. Technically? Yes. Moving lights, check. Smoke, check. CD-quality audio, Check.  Cool video, hi def and lo-def, Check. Risers and interesting layout, check. Crisp highs, discernible vocals, and thundering bass, check.  Pyro, check. What didn’t this show offer from a technical standpoint? Damned if I know.

Okay, technicalities aside – was it any good? Ummm, have you seen Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger and Joan Jett? Imagine if those 3 were to have a crazy love child (yes I know there are problems with that – you are imagining, remember?) Imagine she grew up to front a band. Now, picture that she happens upon a bunch of guys that can play some rock songs really well, and can also play a fantasmagorical acoustic set. Imagine that they are down with things like couches being brought onstage during the set. Imagine that all that is set to awesome lighting with killer sound. Now, try and keep the goosebumps from happening.

Here’s the deal – I don’t know what to tell you… if you are on the fence about seeing this show, I can verify that the openers are worth listening to for sure. New Found Glory made me want to set up a show with them and Black Flag. They are a hot band. Tegan and Sara are like any Canadian group I’ve ever seen….great. The musicians from that country are unstoppable. I did not see the opening band, so can’t give an opinion.

This show rocks, beyond belief. See it. I can’t say much more. All of the stops are pulled out. Paramore Brings It.  Honda is a great sponsor of this tour (no, I did not get paid to say that).

(unfortunately my trusty phone decided to save all my photos as 320*240 images so I wont bother to upload those – lol)

Paramore rocks. I will buy their stuff. You need to hear them and see them. MAny reviewers say Hayley is a firecracker; She is more of a fuse that just doesn’t stop burning.  My reveiw in a nutshell? Paramore is my new favorite band (not counting Queensryche).

Slayer. Megadeth. Testament.

August 28, 2010 at 11:38 am | Posted in Audio, Concert, Metal, science | Leave a comment
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This won’t be my typical review. You have to approach a review of these guys the same way you experience the shows, in my opinion.

This isn’t classic rock. It’s not jazz. This is Heavy Metal. Really, Really Heavy Metal.

As we took our seats at Dodge, Testament thundered onstage. I mean thundered. I couldn’t get a look at how many subwoofers lined the stage due to the number of people in the pit, but I’m guessing close to a zillion. The dual kick drums blazing at about 220 beats per minute kept the amplifiers lighting up red during the entire set, of that I’m pretty positive.

Testament was tight. Really tight. It was literally walls of sound pummeling us at machine gun rates. You know that feeling of walking into a supermarket and getting that blast of air on your head? Think of that initial blast happening over and over, three to four times per second. That was Testament.

Megadeth on the other hand was a bit different. The best way to describe them came from the mouth of a girl I’d say was maybe 22. “They are the scientists of metal.” I couldn’t put it any better. The intricacies of Mustaine’s guitar fury and the depth of his poetry are…well, intricate and deep. He’s a scientist. He’s a scientist that is so metal that he was kicked out of Metallica for being too metal! That’s fuckin’ metal!

Slayer we saw from a different perspective. Literally. Since I had shown up with my tickets that were issued back at the beginning of the year, before the tour got postponed, apparently LiveNation had resold the seats. It was an honest mistake. I had even checked with the box office manager at Dodge a few weeks beforehand and was assured I was good to go. Apparently not. Right before Slayer came onstage, two people showed up with tickets for our seats. The box office quickly remedied the situation by putting us one section over. Dead center stage, eye level with the Araya. Sweet.

Ahhh…Slayer. What can you really say? It’s loud. It’s brutally honest and in your face. It pounds at you faster, I think, than Testament. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 240 bpm. I think when Slayer is onstage the earth wobbles just a bit. They are really in their own class of metal. You would know that if you were at a Slayer show by looking at the crowd. Close to ninety-eight percent of the people in attendance are wearing their Slayer shirt, or one of them. Not some Slayer shirt they bought at Hot Topic a week ago, but one that they got twenty years ago and there is most likely a story that goes with it. You can bet on that.

So, to sum up. It was Great. Heavy Fucking Metal. What else is there to say?

Oh, yeah…thanks to Dodge/LiveNation personnel for the awesome seat upgrade!

Scorpions at Dodge Theatre

July 28, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Posted in Audio, Concert, Metal, Review, Rock | 2 Comments
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Scorpions CrowdAs you can see from the quick cell phone shot here, the Dodge was completely “sold out” for the Scorpions final world tour. Every seat was paid for;  almost none of the ones on the floor got used, as people chose to stand up and rock all night.

You just can’t sit down when the Scorps are on stage.  They come out all guns blazing and stay there. In true metal style, all the tried and true crowd pleasers were in effect.

Smoke machines intensified the visual impact of the moving Martin lights while James Kottak pounded the skins atop a drum riser that lifted towards the stinger-shaped lighting trusses overhead. Pawel Maciwoda stood atop his bass cabinets and created a thunderous bottom end. Rudolf Schenker laid down the steely crunch guitar while Matthias Jabs skillfully cut through the thick air like a titanium drillbit sinking into a block of aluminum. Klaus Meine effortlessly laid his unmistakable German voice right atop the layers of metal music pouring from the speakers overhead and the crowd went wild.

These guys have been putting on world class rock shows for decades, and they never disappoint. Ever. From the state of the art sound and lighting systems, right down to each members slight changes in ensemble throughout the night, every detail just adds to the total overall impact of the spectacle. It might be stereotypical, but it seems to me that Germans are really great at getting details just perfect. From the custom made Dommenget guitars to the concept of putting LED video screens everywhere on the stage – its a well-designed package.

You might wonder if this level of detail is necessary in a metal show. In the case of the Scorpions, absolutely. Everyone in attendance knows the songs. They know the words and guitar notes from this year’s album and the album from 25 years ago. They are singing those songs while Klaus extends his microphone into the crowd, and following every note played by Matthias and Rudolf on their own personal air guitar. That gives everyone plenty of time to notice things like videos of speakers playing superimposed over speakers actually playing, or bright little rings of LEDs surrounding a laser-sharp beam of projected light even if they only take it in subconsciously. The ability to lift a drummer high in the air is an absolute necessity, in my mind, if you really want to drive home a crowd-participation drum solo. Yes, details matter.

They played all the hits, they played stuff you know and love but forgot that you know and love. They played a couple that you don’t yet know but will soon enough love. Since we are in Arizona, they played that one too. Complete with video of the state flag, the state motto and they even got some footage of the drummer out in the desert somewhere. Once again, details matter.

As I mentioned, many of the guitar screams you know and love were provided by axes custom made for Matthias and Rudolf. Other riffs were courtesy of the familiar Flying Vees , Explorers and Strats.

As for the drums, I stopped by the sound booth and peeked in to verify that some things just haven’t changed in 20 years. Those definitive kick and snare drum sounds are still being provided by some trusty ol’ Wendel Jrs.

Bottom Line: Details matter. Germans make good stuff. Scorpions rocked 25 years ago. They rock now.

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Tesla opened the show, and sounded great. They played their hits amidst a solid set of hard rock. The new stuff from the album Forever More sounds just as good as anything from The Great Radio Controversy or Psychotic Supper, which were both dipped into during the set. In fact, I even noticed that Edison’s Medicine features a theremin, a fact I was unaware of until last night.

Bottom Line: Hair metal is always fun. People love concert T-shirts, miniskirts, guitars and drums.

Who’s to Blame for the Dolby Ripoff?

April 13, 2010 at 12:47 am | Posted in Audio, Digital, Dolby, Movies, science, TV | Leave a comment
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Dolby Digital. You know that term don’t you? You see it at the theatres, on your DVD boxes and DVD labels, on the Home-Theater-In-A-Box that you bought for some holiday or just before the “Big Football Thing”.

Oh yes, the thrill of surround sound. Helicopters flying all around, spraying bullets. Explosions that wake the neighbors because you haven’t figured out how to turn on the late-night-mode yet…hooking up all the wires…but that’s a different rant. Continue Reading Who’s to Blame for the Dolby Ripoff?…

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