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.

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Hot Pockets – A Guest Blog Post by Nicole Dunn

December 1, 2010 at 7:26 pm | Posted in Blogging, Review | 1 Comment
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Sunday, November 28, 2010

hot pockets…

Last night Jordan and I got to go see Jim Gaffigan at the Comerica (previously dodge) theater.

I was excited to see Gaffigan live because I had been following him as a comic even before he had Comedy Central Specials or Cd’s. His timing and delivery are classic.

This was a show with all new material, which is probably why the security told everyone at the door ” no pictures or video, not even on your cell phone”. There was one opening act by a comic named Jordan Rubin. He had an interesting style. He would pause in between his jokes to make it seem like he forgot what he was going to say and it would make the next punchline seem random, but it all came together. He had a good joke that hit well with the audience about the rapper Mystikal. He did a good job of warming up the crowd for Gaffigan.

Gaffigan’s act did not disappoint for the long time fans and roped in new fans. The main focus of his act was about working out (or lack there of), the gym, the glory and disgust of McDonald’s, the facade that is Subway, hotel living and hotel indoor pools, and whales. It seems like a far leap from talking about the creepy guy who stares at the women on the hip abductor machines to whale blubber but it flowed seamlessly. The show kept the audience engaged and laughing in hysterics. It was a well timed show, lasting about an hour and half. Gaffigan left the stage and the audience cheered for an encore and without disappointment, he came out and gave the crowd what they wanted to hear….the hot pockets skit. He added new some material to the older, adored jokes about the microwave favorite. He even threw in a shout out to bacon, which was a big focus in his last special “King Baby”; it was subtle but it got a big reaction.

As a long time fan, I loved his new stuff. Jordan made a good observation about how, for the most part, his act is pretty clean as far as comics nowadays goes. Even though it isn’t packed full of swear words and filth, his jokes are relatable and hilarious. I’ll watch this special over and over again when it comes out on cable.

via phoenix dunn family.

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”.

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.

My Rant on Plant

July 21, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Posted in Concert, Review | 1 Comment
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I have to admit, that I almost didn’t take the time to write this review. It feels almost like treason, or at least a high crime in the rock and roll court of law. I will toss out my fifth amendment right and write it anyway. Before I get into the review itself, however, I would like to cover some concert etiquette. Continue Reading My Rant on Plant…

Alice Breaks The Chains At Dodge Theatre

February 18, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Posted in Concert, Review, Rock, Theater/Theatre | Leave a comment
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I’m happy to report that rock ‘n’ roll as we know it is still alive and kicking ass.

Alice In Chains

Warm up act Creature With the Atom Brain sounded pretty tight with a solid back beat. However, the guitars and melodies were probably more suitable for an all day festival where you could really get into a nice groove a la Deep Purple. Their stage set consisted of nothing but a big black curtain behind them and 8 moving lights in the front which were limited to color and iris changes. But hey, as an opener even being allowed iris changes isn’t always guaranteed.

As their set ended a big white drape came down in front so the set change could happen in privacy. Turned out that it really wasn’t just a privacy screen. Alice In Chains used it to project their shadows on as they opened their show. Definitely caught me off guard, and looked really damn cool.

That shadow screen dropped to reveal what we called a rock concert back in the day. With Sean Kinney pounding the skins and Mike Inez on bass; an incredibly tight, awesomely loud vibe filled the room at Dodge. I’m sure that had a lot to do with the fact the pit chairs were removed for Standing Room Only GA Pit admission. Something we almost never see anymore.

Jerry Cantrell’s definitive guitar sound and new vocalist William Duvall let us know immediately that Alice In Chains is back in full force. That was a big relief, as I’m sure many of my fellow concert-goers were unsure that AIC could rock like they did before the loss of frontman Layne Staley in 2002.

Opening with old, familiar tunes brought even the seated crowd to their feet, where they stayed all show. Familiar material dominated the first half of the show before they threw in new material from Black Gives Way to Blue at us. even though the new stuff was unfamiliar to me I can tell you it kicks ass. William has a great voice for rock in roll, though he did let us know he was “sick as a fucken dog”.  That definitely accounts for his voice tiring a bit near the end.

Like I said above, this was definitely a rock concert. Moving lights were the order of the day. Looked like perhaps a mix of Vari-lites and some cool new stuff from High End Sytems including three DL-3 projectors and some fancy LED automated wash luminaires. I’ll have to see if Mike Baldassari can give me specifics. Update: Mike did get me some specifics. I was wrong on the Vari-lites. The majority of the movers used were actually Martin MAC 700’s. I knew something was different about their shape, but I didn’t grab any pictures – sometimes its hard to guess make/model numbers by memory.

Those DL-3’s are ultra-cool little units. They look like a standard moving light, but they pack some secret weapons. Namely, the ability to project and shoot full motion video. That means they can film the band and project them on any surface they can reach. They’re bright, so they can reach just about anything in the theatre, too.

Concert audio was supplied by the standard Dodge line array system (not sure of manufacturer – EAW perhaps? I’ll have to ask the guys next time) which, for the most part, sounded great because of all the standing people really tightening up the bass. It had some fleeting moments where the high mids broke up slightly and I’m starting to wonder if perhaps my “usual seats” might be a “weird spot” for those frequencies in particular, or if the system could use just a tad more headroom (insert standard soundman joke here).

All in all it was another great concert at Dodge Theatre. As usual, we took the light rail down there and I definitely encourage you to do the same as its very convenient and costs less than parking in the garages!

~~I’m throwing some photos up on the photo page but be aware that Dodge has a policy against ultra-zoom cams so these are done with a tiny pocket cam~~

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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