Posts Tagged ‘saratoga performing arts center

15
Nov
11

Peter Gabriel: “New Blood”

Peter Gabriel (eye)

For my first blog ever, how about a new album by Peter Gabriel? Now, before you write this off, allow me to offer my two cents as to why I love his music so much, and why you should give him a shot:

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Write-Off PG…

  1. How can you write-off an artist who’s been listed as a major influence in an enormous and varied list of acts, including: PHISH, IRON MAIDEN, RUSH, THE KILLERS, RADIOHEAD, SARAH McLACHLAN, and QUEEN.
  2. Ever hear of a band called Genesis? Peter Gabriel started the band in 1967 and led it until he left to pursue a solo career.
  3. Although he’s 61 years old, he can still perform anything from his catalog, and well.
  4. He’s done so much for charity and for world music, including founding WOMAD.
  5. As with so many great artists, what you’ve heard on the radio is NOT even a decent representation of his catalog.

Why I Personally Enjoy PG…

  1. His song lyrics actually have meaning. Gabriel is a true artist, and his songs reach across the human experience of emotions, from jubilant to depressed, from anger to love, from helplessness to hope, from inquisitive to pompous, and everything in between. On top of emotional, Peter’s lyrics are also quite intellectual. This is music to think to, with lyrical meanings not always instantly presenting themselves.
  2. Musically, Peter Gabriel is anything but fluff. The production quality of a PG album can only be described as meticulous. Gabriel’s painstaking attention to details always shines through.
  3. The craft with which Peter Gabriel layers multiple instruments and tracks provides an aural feast. If you want proof, check out the album “So” – a masterpiece of production by PG and Daniel Lanois (U2, etc)
  4. As a musician and a music teacher myself, I greatly enjoy his harmonic and melodic creativity, not to mention the rhythmic complexity. If you enjoy good musical writing, you will find it tough to get bored with a Peter Gabriel playlist.
  5. He’s an artist in the truest sense. With seemingly no care for what the mainstream might prefer, PG has released songs and albums that play more like works of art than manufactured packages for the masses. To appreciate Peter Gabriel’s music is to appreciate art.

New Album: “New Blood”

New Blood album cover

Ok, so on to the new album, “New Blood” released a few weeks ago. I recently heard an interview with James Wolcott on NPR, speaking of his new book and his column in Vanity Fair. James said the most important characteristic of any critic is to be true to the original reaction to what you’re critiquing. So, I’ll start there…

My First Reaction: I was enraptured. But, I must admit to you the circumstance within which this “rapture” took place: as an album of Peter Gabriel songs put to orchestral arrangement, it was serendipitous that I was listening to high school band arrangements at the time I purchased the album. The colors and harmonies being performed by the New Blood Orchestra on this album seemed, at the time, an incredible tapestry compared to the limits of high school band music. Combine that with the fact that I already love Peter Gabriel, and the fact that I saw this tour live in Saratoga this past summer, and Voilà!’ – rapture. To be fair, any true Gabriel fan will enjoy this album. He goes deep enough into his catalog to rejuvenate some deep cuts, while avoiding radio-play regulars like “Sledgehammer.” And those odd balls like me – classically trained AND already a Gabriel fan – will instantly fall in love with this, just because of the characteristically emotional performances by Gabriel coupled with the professional orchestral performers and high-quality arrangements.

For the PG Noob: This part’s for you: the passer-by, the ones who know this guy via “Sledgehammer”, “Shock The Monkey”, and “Big Time.” Not only will you likely tire of the relative drum set-less texture (only 3 out of 16 tracks have any membranophones at all), the relatively unknown track list (save “Solsbury Hill” and “In Your Eyes”), and the poor order in which the tracks were arranged. If, however, you are up to the challenge of braving these “elements” and mining this work for its gems, I have a few suggestions:

First, know that this is an orchestral album; so turn up the volume on your stereo. Otherwise, you’ll miss some key ingredients to the texture (something those of us who listen to art [aka “classical”] music are already used to). Once you’ve turned it up to ’11’, start with “Intruder.” Not only is it the best track on the album, it’s got a lot of energy – something a lot of these tracks intentionally lack. Next, I’d follow it up with these: In Your Eyes, San Jacinto, The Rhythm of the Heat, Red Rain, The Nest That Sailed The Sky, and then Signal To Noise. I’m not sure it’s a good introduction to Peter Gabriel, but this is a good sampling of what’s being offered whilst avoiding some striking potholes on this particular album. OK, noobs can cease reading now. 🙂

The Full Review: It’s one thing to put your music to orchestral arrangement – something we’ve seen done (often badly) many times before. But what Gabriel’s done here is taken his songs and given them a true, unsurprisingly detailed treatment with co-arranger John Metcalf.

The Good: On New Blood, Peter has expanded his “pallet”, if you will: a full orchestra of instruments, as compared with his usual electronic sounds, guitars, and drums. Remember that an orchestra can get louder, softer, higher, and lower than a regular rock band. On some tracks, this actually works to uncoil the original intent of the song, sadly. On others, it heightens it to amazing new levels. This happens on “San Jacinto”, “Intruder”, and “Signal To Noise” to a point where I am removing the original tracks from my playlist and replacing them with the New Blood versions, which sound like how the song should have originally been set. “San Jacinto” reaches new levels of contemplation, “Signal” new levels of intensity, and “Intruder” new levels of scariness. Thankfully, “Wallflower” finally gets the treatment it always deserved; a song about tortured victims of human rights, the “Security” album version – with its low volume and seemingly uncharacteristic hurried production quality – never did the song justice.

One thing that is so very cool on this album: a track called “A Quiet Moment.” A simple recording of gentle wind blowing through the breeze coupled with unobtrusive birds, “Quiet” is a wonderful pallet-clearing track that relaxes the senses and allows the listener a break from the powerful and extreme texture of a full orchestra (something most rock fans are not used to). It’s a clever move by a clever artist.

The Bad: “In Your Eyes”, “Solsbury Hill”, and “Mercy Street” arrangements are both kind of take-it-or-leave-it quality. There are better versions of each already in the PG catalog. They were probably thrown on the album for nostalgic purposes.

The Ugly: There are some real losers on this album: “Don’t Give Up”, “Downside Up”, “Darkness”, and “Digging In The Dirt” are all tastelessly done, in my opinion (a shocking thing for me to even admit). Right when this album’s version of “”Don’t Give Up is ready to become a classic arrangement, enter Ane Brun’s awful vocals. She sounds like a grandmother trying to find pitches. Just hideous, she ruins the track. “Downside” is completely unneeded, as the live version on Hit is eponymous. Plus, it ends before the “kick-in” section, which totally disappoints. “Darkness” has contrasts that are so violent they literally hurt the ears (a seemingly sophomoric use of the orchestra’s dynamics, tastelessly out of character from the rest of the album). Finally, there are very cool harmonic, rhythmic, and even melodic changes that work to actually augment the original versions. But I just can’t stomach the melodic change to the vocals in the chorus of “Digging”- it lessens the emotional effect of this otherwise striking song.

In The End: Although the average Joe will probably not stomach this album, this AverageJoe enjoyed it thoroughly. The Gabriel fan will find a few gems, but likely struggle without the usual guitars and drums.  3.5/5 stars

22
Jun
10

The SPAC-tacular Phish

Fresh off their triumphant reunion tour in 2009, Phish is keeping things rolling with a summer tour covering much of the east coast, southeast and Midwest areas of the country, plus a stop in Colorado and Berkeley, CA.  This past weekend, the jam band kings played two shows at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), a long-time favorite venue for the band.  Rather than doing a full song-by-song review like I did for their Albany shows last fall, I thought I’d just talk about some of the highlights and things that made these shows unique (every Phish show is unique, but some things are more unique than others, if that makes any sense). 

Phish has a song called “Tweezer,” a long, jammed-out tune with minimal lyrics.  They also have a song called “Tweezer Reprise,” which uses the same chords as “Tweezer” but has a much faster, hard rock tempo, and is a short song as well.  Phish tradition has been that when they play “Tweezer” at a show, they will at some point play “Tweezer Reprise.”  Sometimes it’s at the same show, sometimes they will wait and play it at a later show.  On June 15th they played “Tweezer” but did not play the “Reprise.”  In fact, it was two shows later that they played another “Tweezer,” so in the Phish process of things, they now had to play two “Reprises,” which they did on June 18th back-to-back, a Phish first.  I say all this because in an unprecedented Phish occurrence, they opened the show at SPAC on Saturday with “Tweezer Reprise,” making it the third time in a row, much to the amusement of the fans.  The rest of the set was incredibly solid with some great highlights like “Fluffhead,” the Mustangs’ “Ya Mar,” and the high-energy “Suzy Greenberg” which was punctuated by a spectacular glowstick display from the crowd on the SPAC lawn.

The second set featured some extended improvisational jamming after the Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll,” and we were introduced to a new song called “Halfway to the Moon.”  This was a great new tune – dark and textured, with some good jamming potential.  It’s a perfect example of why people follow Phish from show to show – you never know what songs you’ll hear, especially when it comes to new material.  They closed the set with another new song, “Show of Life.”  This is a historic moment for die-hard Phish fans, because “Show of Life” is the first song in over 15 years played by Phish and written by Steve Pollak, better known in Phish lore as the Dude of Life.  Pollak and the band go way back together – he wrote the lyrics for a few Phish classics and has released a couple of albums.  “Show of Life” has a grandiose quality to it without being pretentious – it’s a good tune.  The encore for this show was pretty standard until Phish decided to play “Tweezer Reprise” one last time, making it four times in two shows.  Phish is anything but dull.

While Saturday’s show was good with some great moments, Sunday’s show will go down as one of the greats in recent Phish history.  Things got off to a great start with “Brother,” the lyrics of which are merely “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Someone’s definitely jumping in the tub with your brother!”  It’s set to a funky beat, and with Sunday being Father’s Day, Phish did what they did last year on the same day when they played “Brother” – a giant ovular tub was brought on stage and gradually a bunch of kids came out and squashed themselves into the tub as the band played on.  When the song ended, guitarist Trey Anastasio introduced the kids – they are all the band member’s kids – and shouted “Happy Father’s Day!”  It was a very cute moment – the littlest kids had giant headphones to protect their ears.  From there things just kept getting better – Phish sounded tight and precise.  For “Gotta Jibboo” they brought Tony Markellis on stage to play bass guitar.  Tony plays bass for Trey’s solo band and co-wrote the song for Phish 10 years ago.  Mike Gordon, Phish’s usual bass player, switched to guitar for the song, but the two-guitar sound didn’t really add much to the song.  The end of the set featured keyboardist Page McConnell stepping out to center stage for the lounge tune “Lawn Boy,” and then they closed with a scorching “Run Like an Antelope,” with Trey’s fingers flying so fast I thought they’d fall off.

The second set was full of fantastic jamming and high-energy tunes, highlighted by the Who’s “Drowned,” which featured some great exploratory jamming.  The songs flowed seamlessly into one another, with little “down time.”  The set ended with the ultra-funky “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (the theme from the movie 2001) and the classic “You Enjoy Myself,” which featured a fantastic vocals-only jam at the end.  The encore was the Edgar Winter Group’s instrumental classic “Frankenstein,” which featured McConnell playing a “keytar” at center stage.

All told, they sounded terrific.  While their penchant for taking risks with songs and doing a lot of extended jamming has waned in recent years, their shows are still full of magic and musical moments that make your jaw drop and silently thank the music gods that Phish is still touring.  They will wrap up the tour in mid-August – we have yet to know if there will be a Halloween festival this year, or even a fall tour at all, but whatever the band decides to do, the faithful will follow.  And with good reason.

These two Phish shows get 4.5 out of 5 stars!

15
Jun
10

KISS – Summer Tour 2010

Very cool news just released yesterday that the legendary rock group KISS will be playing in HiFi’s backyard at The Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) on Tuesday, August 17th.

Although a Tuesday night for a rock concert sucks, we here at HiFi prefer Friday’s or Saturday’s for hard rockin’; we will simply have to deal I guess.  I find it funny though that KISS is touring again, I think the last time I saw them at SPAC was for their bogus 2000 “Farewell Tour”; what a crock and I bought in to it too!  Classic Gene Simmon’s working the angle to milking the KISS fans as usual.

I’m sure that this show will be a fun family experience (my past experience at KISS shows rarely was a dissapointment); if you have not had the pleasure of seeing KISS live, do it, it’s a quality show.  The only remaining original members are Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley; I believe that Ace Frehley and Peter Criss are no longer interested in continuing the KISS legacy.  Eric Singer (drums) and Tommy Thayer (guitar) are their replacements since around 2002 and 2004; regardless they do a good job at replacing the original members.

This tour is labeled “The Hottest Show on Earth Tour”; I’m sure they will bring the heat on this tour to a many cities.

I find it humorous that the same night there is The Saratoga Chamber Music Festival taking place around the same time at the little theater on the property…talk about a clash of cultures, yikes!  I hope the classical crowd doesn’t mind hearing “Calling Doctor Love”  or “You Were Made for Lovin’ Me” in the background to their Mozart, Bartok, and Beethoven.

09
Apr
10

Al DiMeola Tour 2010 – East Coast Summer Shows

Thanks be to the gods!  Al’s website has decreed that the master will play 3 shows on the East Coast this summer; one of those shows is in Hi Fi’s hometown!

Al will be playing with his incredible World Sinfonia at The Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC as we locals call it) and I’m sure it will be very sold out since Saratoga is a hot spot in summertime.

There are two more dates that you might want to know about so, here they are!

06/25/2010 – NEW YORK, NY – THE HIGHLINE BALLROOM

06/26/2010 – SARATOGA, NY – SARATOGA PERFORMING ARTS CENTER

06/27/2010 – NATICK, MA – THE CENTER FOR THE ARTS IN NATICK




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