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.
 

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!

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.

U2 Getting Intimate With Glendale Arizona

October 21, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Posted in Concert, Photography, Review, Rock, Social Networking | Leave a comment
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Have you ever tried to be intimate? With a stadium full of people? U2 has.

U2 Intimate Superstructure

U2 Intimate Superstructure

What does it take to get intimate with 50,000+ people simultaneously? Well, as far as I can tell…a whole lot of cash. Way more cash than getting intimate with one or two people for sure. I’m talking the kind of cash even a supergroup like U2 needs to round up a corporate sponsor like Blackberry for.

Once you have that kind of cash you can go about calling up someone like Willie Williams and asking him to come up with some ideas on how to go about it. In this case, it apparently only took him one idea according to the guys over at Live Design.

I’m not going to get into the exacting specs of just how they pull this amazing feat of intimacy off, but here’s a quick list of some of the many things involved and you can follow the links if you have a burning curiosity for all things “concert tech” or an extra $ 50 mil burning a hole in your pocket.

  • Audio – Incredible 15 zone system Clair i-5 – Yes it goes to 11.
  • Lighting – Nope. Not what you think. No Vari-lites here. These are Bad Boys from the guys over at PRG. There’s a lot of them.
  • Spotlights – Coupla dozen for sure
  • Video – Insane, Custom-designed LED job by the guys over at Barco. Yes it moves. Yes it’s ginormous. Follow the links if you wanna know just how amazingly crazy this thing is.
  • Cameras – Robotic Moving Awe-inspiring setup from the guys at Telemetrics
  • Massive Superstructure Stage Rig – Bono calls it a UFO. See the show to find out why. Suffice it to say this rig is the key to pulling off the intimacy-on-a-grand-scale concept. Its big, heavy, expensive and they had to build 3 of them.
  • Band. Oh yeah – Insert supergroup into the middle of all that technology and Bam! Instant rock concert.

So, there you have a quick breakdown of how to get intimate with a bunch of people at one time. Once you have all the pieces in place the only thing that can stand in your way are traffic problems and social media-ites that like to complain about $20 parking costs.

So, as I close – you are probably asking yourself – did U2 actually pull off getting intimate with an entire city? Look at the pics on their photo page and you tell me. Keep in mind, these shots were from the upper level of the stadium. Intimate enough?

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