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.
 

Tony Bennett – Tradition Personified

June 7, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Posted in Concert, Jazz, Uncategorized, Vocal | Leave a comment
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Last night’s performance at the Dodge Theatre was, as you’d expect, very well received by the audience. This is a performer that has been around the block a time or two. His distinctive vocal stylings are unmistakable and pitch perfect.

What I realized at that show is that performers like Tony and his musicians are more than the sum of their parts. They produce music that seems almost tangible.  The air fills with the sounds emanating from the stage. You can feel it, and the emotion behind it. Tony’s voice, his band’s musical artistry, and traditional craftsmanship combine to transport you on your journey right into the sound.

His band uses their instruments as extensions of themselves to reach out and envelop the audience.  There’s no new-fangled technical wizardry in their bag of tricks. They rely on old-world craftsmanship. Hardwoods bent and shaped by an artisans hands. Strings stretched taut across the Steinway soundboard, or the length of their stand up bass. Cymbals hand hammered and tuned by ear.

It takes instruments like these, and capable musicians to play them to back a legend like Tony Bennett. The man has one device – his voice.  He projects that voice into his only aid, a handheld wireless microphone, expertly.

From a technical aspect, all the sound and lighting crew have to do is remain as transparent as possible. Expertly engineered microphones  reinforce the sounds emanating from these works of art, or propel Bennett’s voice to your ears. Lights change color and intensity, but never distract from the performers.

This is not a modern audio-visual extravaganza. This is expert musicians expressing emotion through well-crafted instruments. This is Tony Bennett, tradition personified.

Chris Botti Trumpeted Into Dodge

February 10, 2010 at 12:34 am | Posted in Concert, Jazz, Review | Leave a comment
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Sound the horns, err…horn…there was a jazz soloist at Dodge Theatre. A trumpet soloist of all things. Yeah, I know – it sounds as crazy as a cello soloist or a guy that plays vibraphone taking center stage for an entire show. Oddly, these things all have something in common. Musicianship.

Chris BottiSoloists like this have come to terms with the fact that these instruments aren’t solo instruments, traditionally. However, if you can establish a rapport with an audience upfront then you can entice them to listen to what you have to say whilst saying it through whatever instrument you choose.

In the case of Chris Botti, that instrument is a trumpet and when Chris plays the audience listens. Then they applaud. Sometimes they yell funny things and Chris speaks back to them. His performance seemed more like sharing music with an audience  than performing it in front of them. That’s jazz for ya.

Chris is a good entertainer. In addition to the great music, he tells back-stories for songs which immediately engages you on a personal level. He also seemed to be a genuinely nice guy. Nice enough that since there were a few open seats right up front he had his crew round up some young musicians that were seated in the back of the venue and escort them to prime viewing and listening area so that they could experience music up close and personal, rather than via the internet. That’s cool. Jazz guys are like that…nice and cool.

Now, I don’t claim to be a jazz aficionado, in fact I don’t even know if jazz listeners like the word aficionado…but this guy is good. His band consisted of Billy Childs (piano), Billy Kilson (drums), Mark Whitfield (guitar), Tim Lefebvre (bass), and Geoffrey Keezer (keyboards). They were all spot on. The guest vocalist Sy Smith, aka @syberspace on twitter, and violinist Caroline Campbell were awesome. The sound man understood the nuances and dynamic range of the band he was dealing with and had the sound dialed in very nicely. The light show was nonexistent, which is par for the course at a jazz show, so no qualms there. However, the follow spot person needs some practice.

Tim Lefebvre, Sy Smith & Geoffrey Keezer

Tim Lefebvre, Sy Smith & Geoffrey Keezer

Aficionado or not, when I get a chance to see a soloist perform, I definitely check it out. No matter what the instrument, you can bet that if someone is backing a nationwide tour that there is probably a good reason. That reason is almost always great music without any frills. You can never go wrong with great music.

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