Symphony of Raiders

The movies of George Lucas have been said to have a lot with silent movies. This is both a slap at his dialog and a complement to his visual style. If you think of his movies there are numerous visuals that are iconic.

Friday night sometime after five, I got a call from my friend Jeff. He started to tell me something about symphony and having an extra ticket. I didn’t need more explanation. “I’m in.”, I said. If I’d let him finished his prepared sales pitch I would have heard that he had an extra ticket for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra to play John Williams score of Raiders of the Lost Ark live on stage synchronized to the movie playing on a screen behind the orchestra. Now I was excited. I had 90 minutes to get to Dallas and find a parking spot.

The tickets where excellent: row A on the Orchestra side. This was my first time at Meyerson. It is a very modern looking theatre. The musicians slowly arrived and started turning their instruments. Every once in a while your hear a familiar refrain. When the first violinist came in, there was applause. Finally arrived the conductor looking like Russell Crowe with an extra mop of hair to help in his direction.

Without any preamble the lights dimmed and the Paramount logo appeared above the Orchestra. There was a bit of a glow on the musicians lest you forget why you were there. It appeared that they had a special cut of the movie without the score but with dialogue and foley effects intact. This is a good thing as there are a few moments in the movie that the Orchestra was able to rest.

The conductor had a custom version of the movie that was marked up with visual cues. A virtual scan bar acted as metronome. Color dots seemed to denote changes. The result was perfect synchronization with the film. It was fascinating to see some off-label uses of the instruments such as plucking the strings of a violin. The array of percussion instrument kept that section running to and fro. And since this was a Williams score it was the brass section that was there to play the triumphant themes.

There was an intermission just before the digging at the Well of the Souls. I’ve seen this movie dozens of times as a perineal favorite. Sometimes I watch the other movies in the series but they all pale. I thought it funny to hear full belly laughs from the audience at the appropriate parts.

When the movie first came out in 1981 I did not see it in the theater. I do remember my grandmother telling about it in great detail especially the romantic scene on the ship where Indy gets clobbered with the mirror. It would be months later before I finally saw it at the dollar theater. Yes, it was really a dollar.

The movie has really stood up to the test of time. The symphony experience was incredible and I would eagerly repeat whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Styx Puts on a Great Show

I started off 2012 with a Styx concert at Billy Bob’s Texas with my friend Lee. I don’t often go to concerts anymore. I’ve probably been to 5 concerts in the last couple of decades compared to seeing that many in a single season when I was younger. When I got them email from the venue that tickets were going on sale I wanted to go. I immediately asked my wife to go. She laughed and told me to go have fun. She went with me the last time I saw Styx. She’s more in to Rick Springfield and Nickelback. I checked with a couple other buddies who either didn’t know Styx (younglings) or just not that interested. I knew Lee would be up for it and he was.Billy Bob’s is a Honky Tonk. That means that it is a chimera bar/pool/dance hall. Billy Bob’s is really big too. I features several bars, bull riding arena, bar-b-q patio, and multiple stages including the main stage. The main stage is typically set up with long tables and folding chairs. You have 18 people to a table, assigned seating. The tables go right up to the stage with barely space for someone to walk. The tables go away from the stage off into the distance. Around the table seating area is a raised railing separating it from the rest of the honky tonk.The show started at 10:30 PM with an introduction by Bo Roberts, a local DJ from KZPS who’s has been with the station for as long as I can remember. The band took the stage playing Blue Collar Man. For the next ninety minutes they walked through their hits. Dennis DeYoung’s absence was barely felt. Lawrence Gowan sounds like he’s alway’s been with the band. James Young and Tommy Shaw both put on a great show. These guys are straddling 60 years old and still touring. Someone told me that they have toured more in the last 10 years then they had in the entire history of the band before that. Styx had their first hit in 1975. The bassist and drummer have been with the band for the last decade but I did not know them. At one point Chuck Panozzo came out on stage to play bass. Apparently he still tours with the band on a part-time basis. Tommy Shaw said that he enjoyed this venue and they like to come back every year.

The venues is fun. You can sit in your chair or stand next to your chair. Waitresses are working the tables selling $5.50 beers. You can buy the same beer for $4 outside the pit are. That pit is flat. The stage is raised about five foot from the floor. This creates a very intimate environment but I can imagine the view from the back is not that great. The sound system is fine. We are not talking Yo-Yo Ma on cello. This is good old fashioned album rock. It is played loud. At one point the speakers on stage right completely cut out. The band played on. The speakers came back a few songs later. That’s not so say that you could not hear the music. The vocals were clear.

Cameras were everywhere. I can remember as a kid that when you went to a concert you could not bring a camera or any kind of recording device. Taking a picture would be grounds for banishment. In 2001 I tried to bring a camera into a concert but was turned away because the camera looked “professional” — by that I mean it was an SLR with a detachable lens. I’m not sure it is unique to this venue but they seem to have given up on the whole “no cameras” idea. I guess they figured out that it is just another form of free publicity. Cameras were everywhere. Most everyone had their iPhone naturally. That is all that I brought. I took a couple dozen picts as did Lee (attached to this posting). I’m rather please with some of the pictures especially when you consider they were taken with a phone. Some people had pocket cameras while a few others had full on digital SLRs with zoom equipment that rivaled the official photographer on stage. He had a Canon 5D, by the way. I recorded a couple of clips of video. I’m not sure what I plan to do with it. I’m pretty sure that I cannot upload it to YouTube.

Tommy Shaw changes guitars in some times several times in the same song. He may start off with a 12-string classical guitar and then swap a-la-roadie to a Fender 6 string to finish the same song. For the song Madame Blue he made a point to introduce his guitar as if it were another member of the band. This 1960’s era 12-string electric Fender guitar was “all made in America and not imported from across the Pacific, Atlantic, or Gulf of Mexico”.

The band played for almost two hours including a small couple minute break before a finale. The stage setup was simple. It was a large raised drum kit with Styx logo behind. The large drums looked like Medieval beer kegs on their sides. I’m not sure if that was intentional. Lawrence Gowan’s keyboard was on a raised rotating platform that he would liberally spin while playing. Everything was fabricated from brushed aluminum to give it a very industrial and spartan look.

Hanging off each microphone stand and off most of their guitars were guitar picks with the band’s logo. They would strum a few notes with it and then pitch it into the audience. At first it was hard to see what they were doing but eventually the audience caught on and clamored for them as they hit the tables and foor.

The concert ended with a simple thank-you bow. All in all it was a good, clean, classy concert. There was no profanity. This from a band that in the 80s was accused of including backwards satanic messages embedded in their songs (see “Heavy Metal Poisoning” from Kilroy Was Here (1983). This was very refreshing. The audience was a mixture of fans aged 20 to 70. They played all the classic hits and a couple of “B-sides” after explaining to (some of) the audience what an album was and that you used to have to turn them over. They did not play “Mr. Roboto” nor “Don’t Let it End” but they were not missed.

Bear in Málaga

It’s cool to see one of my favorite composers performing in my adopted city. Bear McCreary is know for his work on SyFy and SciFi show soundtracks. I first noticed his work in Battlestar Galactica as weaved jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtowers” into the show’s musical theme.

From the pictures it looks like he was performing at the Teatro Cervantes. I liked seeing the references to the Catedral and Alcazaba.

Ping and the Family iTunes Account

I see one big problem with Ping: it is based on the Apple ID. Currently, my family shares one Apple ID and iTunes account. This makes the Home Sharing functionality in iTunes actually work. Ping is much more personal. It makes music recommendations based on your listening. Apple needs to rework its Apple ID model to allow master and child accounts. Doing that today creates an unworkable federation of Apple IDs.

Nickelback Takes on Dallas and Wins

The fact is that Nickelback was probably the best concert I’ve ever been to. It was definitely in the top five. That would put it in good company along with Van Halen, ZZ Top, and INXS. So what makes a good concert? For me its all about the show. There are some artist who are really good in the studio or on a CD but not so good on stage. I’ve been to concerts where the headliner was outshined by the opening act. A good show includes multimedia, an engaged dialog with the audience and a good performance. Nickelback had all those elements.

The performance was great. I am a new fan of Nickelback but I knew all the songs that they played. They played a couple songs off the new album and then went back to their earlier work. The lead singer sang clearly. He used two microphones. The second mic was used for songs with any reverb or other effect. This allowed him to sing all the vocals live and not rely on any taped content. The performance was flawless. Near the end of the show was a 10-minute drum solo that included the drummer being raise up on a rotating platform.

Chad Kroeger engaged the audience. It’s typical for a band to shout out the city’s name. He was aware of the weather issues. He made fun of the scent of the audience and a bag of “oregano” that some one threw on stage, “yeah, I want to spend the night in jail with you”. He also made fun of a flasher in the front row because she chose to flash him during a serious ballad instead of waiting for a more appropriate song. At one point he introduced some of the crew to come out and fire t-shirt cannon s at the audience. You could tell that everyone was just out there having fun.

The bad definitely had a handle on the multimedia. They used a huge screen in the center of stage to project video, pictures, animations that were relevant and timed to the music. During the song Photograph her show what must have been actual pictures from his high school. They were presented as part of a large mosaic where one picture is made up of many smaller pictures. The animation moved smoothly from picture to picture, sometimes zooming in, sometimes zooming out. At another part of the concert the screen was covered with 70’s era TVs stacked up at odd angles. On each TV was projected parts of the current concert. Some of the screens were sharp while other were snowy. The effect was very interesting.

It wasn’t just video. The stage featured six saucer-like light rigs that could go up and down and rotate. They were constantly moving to the music and changing color. Also on stage were some sort of flame throwers that were able to blast fire into the air. There was a spark-generator from the ceiling that made it look like it was raining light. There were smoke generators for one part of the show. There were fireworks right on stage. In fact the concert started with a bang.

Negatives? The one big negative for me was the foul language. I wasn’t going into this show expecting it to be PG. Frankly I was surprised that my wife wanted to go in the first place — wasn’t my idea. I expected there to be rough language just like their music. Chad Kroeger surpassed my expectations. He managed to use the “F” word at least once per sentence. Sometimes more. A PG version of the concert would be at least a half hour shorter. Nickelback has some really good songs that would be just as good without the profanity.

The opening acts for this concert were Saving Abel and Seether. I’ve barely heard of either group. A search of my iTunes library shows that I own songs from Seether that I like. I wasn’t really impressed by Saving Abel. It looked like they only had about 3 foot of stage. They came on and only played six or seven songs. It wasn’t bad but there wasn’t much to see.

Seether on the other hand could have warranted a concert in their own right except for one critical problem – the weather. Center is an open venue. We had the cheap seats out on the lawn. The weather forecast called for clear skies with rain coming the next day. Just as Seether was taking the stage it began to rain. At this point I was resigned to getting wet. The rain fell in big solitary drops but it was not too bad. Then the lightning started. First it was 5 seconds away. Then 2 seconds away. Then it was instantaneous. Rain is one thing but sitting out in a lightning storm on a hill is suicide. I told my group we were heading for the car until the cell passed. I scooped up the kids and blankets and headed towards the gate. About this time is began to hail. I was not listening to the concert at this point. Over the gate was a big sign “No Re-entry”. We changed direction and headed for the main part of the theater under the roof. A lone usher tried to hold back my group and another 5,000 people who all had the same life-preserving thoughts. We easily walked half way down and found a place to stand under the cover. Seether is still playing during all of this but I have no idea what. I’m checking my iPhone to see a current weather map to see how much more of the storm remained. Two cells passed, mainly to the west of us. It was still raining when I took my party back to the grassy knoll to retain our original now-soaked patch of grass. And so ended Seether’s performance.

The sky cleared and the air grew cooler by the time Nickelback came on stage. Chad Kroeger commented that it had even stopped F-ing raining. Naturally he did not abbreviate. He did invite the lead signer from Seether, Shaun Morgan up on state to sing “Nice Shot”. It was really good and probably some indication of what we had missed.

The concert venue was good although the beer prices were ridiculous: $16 for a margarita, $9 for a beer, $4 for a small coke. The security was a joke. They had kids with metal detectors but I could not tell if they were actually looking. Cameras, Umbrellas, Coolers were all prohibited yet I saw them all. I guess concert venues have given up on the no camera rule as long as you are not there with an SLR and a mega zoom.

So, it was a good concert. it was surely one that my kids will remember, for the good and the bad. The audience was an interesting mix of teenagers to 40-year-olds. I’d see Nickelback again should the opportunity arise.