Category Archives: concert

MOVIE REVIEW: My One and Only

Hmm. It appears that the movie My One and Only is now available on DVD at least at Target and from Blockbuster. Odd, since I just saw it on Veterans Day at the Spectrum Theatre and in fact it is STILL playing there once a day.
The movie is about Anne Deveraux (Renée Zellweger) who, discovering her philandering husband, Dan (Kevin Bacon) in the act, decides to take her two sons, George (Logan Lerman) and Robbie (Mark Rendall) on an adventure which largely consists of traveling from city to city trying to find a husband for herself. In their “adventure” from their home in New York to Boston to Pittsburgh to St. Louis and eventually Hollywood, she finds guys (played by, among others, Steven Weber and Chris Noth), who seem promising at first.

This is a pleasant enough film. The problem is that, at least until they get to St. Louis, I always thought I was watching Renée rather than Anne. Also the situations had a certain sameness – Robbie gets in the school play, Robbie leaves before the production can be mounted. The other problem is that I thought the travelogue of 1950s-style postcards, which happens in the very beginning of the film – my reveal was hardly a spoiler – both tells too much and seems to be trying too hard to prove the movie is authentic to the period.

Still, the latter part of the film is the most satisfying. You may know that this is the largely true story about a noted actor. I had heard this before I watched it but I had forgotten; it was more satisfying not knowing. This is one of those two and a half stars out of four flicks. Oh, and if you do see it, avoid the trailer – it’s on the movie’s website – which, as these things do, reveals WAY too much.
I’ve had a particularly busy stretch. Saturday, November 14, we had the dress rehearsal of the Faure requiem, after four Sunday night rehearsals. Then Saturday night, our friends couldn’t go to to the Albany Symphony and gave us their tickets. So we arranged for a babysitter and went to the Palace Theatre in Albany. On the way in, we happened to see the conductor scurrying to the locale from a pre-concert talk.

The first piece is almost always new, sometimes avant garde, and occasionally just peculiar. Stacy Garrop’s Becoming Medusa, a tone poem, was not only listenable, she actually described the piece competently; too often, I’ve heard composers offer an incoherent rambling. She is the Mellon-supported Composer-Educator Partner.

But the star of the evening was George Li, the pianist on Saint Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2. He showed energy, passion and lyricism in his play. Did I mention he was only 14, and looked about 11? We saw him on our way out of the theater.

Everyone in the audience was offered a glass of wine during intermission, after which, Brahms Symphony No. 2 was performed, which, according to the program “features one of the greatest of all cello melodies in its second movement.”
Sunday afternoon, the Faure, which went well.
Sunday night, Lydia got sick. She coughed all night, and I could not sleep all night; there IS a correlation. So I stayed home with her Monday all day and half of Tuesday. Played Uno to 1000 (she won) – do you know how long it can take to play Uno to 1000? and also Sorry and Candyland; she’s well enough to need to be occupied. Took her to the doctor on Monday; he recommended a cough syrup I had previously tried, to no great effect, but I tried it again Monday night. She, almost immediately, threw up. Then a few minutes later, threw up again, which was actually, from a medical POV, productive, as she FINALLY stopped coughing.

But I felt obliged to tell the in-laws who were going to watch Lydia Tuesday night, and they opted out.
So we had tickets to see The 39 Steps at Proctors Tuesday night, but no babysitter. Carol tried to find friends to go with her to the show, but was ultimately unsuccessful. So I asked my friend the Hoffinator at 4:15 pm if she wanted to go, and she said yes. Had a great time; the review of the show is here.


Going to Woodstock

When I was 16 in the summer of 1969, I asked my parents, probably my father, whether I could go to this concert in the Liberty/Monticello area, a direct bus ride from Binghamton on Route 17. It featured Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and a whole bunch of other people. He said no, and that was pretty much it. I was OK with that until it became “Woodstock”; then it ticked me off a little. If I were a little older, like Walter Cronkite’s daughter Kathy, I would have just gone on my own.

So, when the Woodstock movie came out in the spring of 1970, a bunch of my friends and I rushed to see it. Using more current lingo, we were gobsmacked. It was so wonderful, so fascinating that we sat through a second showing of the film right after seeing the first (for the same admission price, BTW, something that just doesn’t happen now). I have this specific recollection during the second viewing of watching the projection light colors changing; Sly & the Family Stone was bathed in purple, as I recall. And no, I wasn’t stoned, I was just enraptured.

Of course, I bought the soundtrack – a TRIPLE album! – and listened to it incessantly, so much so that pieces of dialogue (Arlo Guthrie’s “The New York State Thruway is CLOSED, man!”; the passing of the “kosher bacon”) bubble up in my mind unbidden from time to time. Woodstock, the movie and album, is where I really discovered Santana and Richie Havens; discovered in new context (John Sebastian, formerly Lovin’ Spoonful; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, from their respective groups); and got to hear live some of my favorites (the Who, Sly & the Family Stone).

I was nostalgic enough that, five years ago, my wife, infant daughter and I went to the New York State Museum to see Spirit of the Woodstock Generation: The Photographs of Elliott Landy.

Yet, right now I have no need, no desire to go out and get some expanded version of the movie or the soundtrack – not that, if given them, I wouldn’t watch and listen – because I don’t need to try to experience what I missed. I think the reason I actively avoided going to those concerts called “Woodstock” in 1994 and 1999 was that they seemed like desperate calculations to try to recapture a magic that just defies re-creation. If I go to the Woodstock museum in Bethel, it will be as a matter of curiosity rather than wish fulfillment.

CBS had a piece this past week on the large festivals trying to recreate the Woodstock vibe, and maybe they can. But my favorite recent story is that the couple on the album cover above are still together, married two years after the festival and community minded.


Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

May 14, 2009, Times Union Center, Albany, NY

Maybe it was that I was tired from coming back from a conference, then got to see wife and child for only 20 minutes after three days away. Perhaps it was near-vertigo from climbing those Times Union Center steps to the very top row. More likely though, it was the 45-minute wait from the scheduled 7:30 start time to the actual commencement of the performance. But I was not ready to be just swept away by Bruce and the band playing “Badlands” as their first number; it was too obvious to me. Later in the show, maybe, as he did on a Barcelona performance that played on WMHT public television a couple months ago. I later discover that Badlands was the opening song on every performance on this tour so far, save for the first one.

But wait …that drummer is GREAT! Who the heck IS he? He’s a good 30 years younger than Springsteen. With the energy he’s playing, will he be burned out by the end of the second song, Radio Nowhere?

And Bruce finally captured me with that third tune, Outlaw Pete, which my friend the Hoffinator said was “ten times, 25 times better” than the studio recording on the current album. From then on, I was with the program; in other words, by “No Surrender” – where did those great backup singers come from? – I had. On “Out in the Street”, he faced those of us seated behind him and used his now shared standard bit of letting most of the band have a line. In “Working on a Dream” he preached, they doo wopped. “Johnny 99” was a magnificent rocking reimagining of the song from the stark Nebraska album.

Astonishing guitar work by Nils Lofgrin on “The Ghost of Tom Joad” was captured on a guitar cam. During “Raise Your Hand”, it seems that the people on the floor of the TU Center raised their signs, with Bruce musing over which ones to collect; this, I’m told, is a tradition that began during the latter stages of the band’s previous tour. “Thunder Road” and “Mony Mony”, the latter the Tommy James and the Shondells hit, were the first two requests played.

Some people complain when the artist leaves it to the audience to sing parts of the song. In this case, they were singly loudly already even when the E Streeters were as well; it was certainly true on the solidly performed “Promised Land” and the requested “Backstreets”.

“Kingdom of Days” was dedicated to Springsteen’s wife, Patty Scialfa, who is recovering from a horse-ring injury. I thought it was uncharacteristically flat; not so much emotionally but pitch-wise. But he ended strong with “The Rising” and that song generally abbreviated B2R.

The encore started with incredible shared vocals on Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times”, which was preceded by a pitch for the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York.

The best drawing from my vantage point that I saw and Bruce picked to sing was “Kitty’s Back”, a live staple for decades; the jazzy tune featured several tasty solos. It’s from The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle album, which I only have on vinyl and need to fix that. I was recently listening to a bootl an unauthorized recording of that tune from c. 1976.

The group looked like they were finishing with American Land, but then launched into the obligatory song from Born in the USA album, “Glory Days”, complete with the banter between Bruce and Little Steven reminiscent of the Super Bowl appearance.

Oh, and that drummer? He was 18-year-old Jay Weinberg, son of Max. The elder Weinberg, the usual drummer, is also Conan O’Brien’s bandleader and had to be in California while Springsteen was on tour. Bruce said, “This is the first time in 35 years” that someone other than Max sat at the drums. As you can tell from Michael Eck’s review in the Times Union, he more than kept the seat warm for dad.


Robert , Declan and Amos

Negotiations and love songs: a couple weeks ago, Carol and I received tickets to go to the Albany Symphony on September 28. Bereft of babysitters, it meant one of us could go, but one would have to stay home with Lydia. Since my friend Rocco, who I’ve known since my FantaCo days in the early 1980s, had finally secured tickets for him, his girlfriend Kara and me to see Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello at the Times Union Center on October 6, guess who went to ASO? Hint: she went with one of her girlfriends.

On October 6, Rocco picked me up at home, having already dropped off Kara and another couple. We parked only three blocks away, on Madison Avenue, but the rainstorm of a couple hours earlier returned, so Rocco got a little wet; I was wearing my rain slicker, just in case. I went looking for cheap souvenirs; in the land of $35 and $40 T-shirts, there were none.

Amos Lee and his band started; I must admit that, though he must have at least two albums, I had never heard of him. The music was somewhat folky and jazzy, sometimes sounding like The Band, maybe because of the heavy organ sound. He did five uptempo songs, then two slower sons – a mistake for an opening act, I think, because, in anticipating the headliners, everyone knows he’s not going to end with a ballad. That said, I really liked the band and all the vocals; on at least one song, he sounded eeriely like John Hiatt. I enjoyed the songs, too, except the slower What’s Going On Here, which just couldn’t stand up next to the song it evoked, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.

There’s a 10- or-15-minute break, then, without warning or introduction, Elvis Costello, all dressed in black, launches into The Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes, followed by Blue Chair; I was trying to remember if he had any songs with the word Yellow in them, so that he could cover all the primary colors. During these two songs, streams of people were pouring back to their seats, more or less in our sight line, so this was a bit distracting. Elvis then did a great set on solo guitar. On Oliver’s Army, and later songs, he did a false ending that milked the applause.

Elvis talked a bit about how his father always told him to “look down on a note”; he admits that he STILL has no idea what he’s talking about. After Down Among the Wines and Spirits, which I presume is a (great) new song, he talked about his twin boys, who had turned ten months old that day, and American citizens, and he expressed his hope that, someday, his sons will be President and Vice-President, something, he noted, the current governor of California cannot do. He mentioned, not by name, his wife, who is “a piano player” (Diana Krall), who was backstage with the boys, and that the sons were “carny kids”. I theorized that Elvis was particularly chatty because of his long history in Albany, going back over a quarter century.

He ended with Veronica; Radio Sweetheart, the “first song I ever recorded”, which effectively segued into Van Morrison’s Jackie Wilson Said; Peace, Love and Understanding, surprisingly maintaining its anthemic quality with just guitar and vocal; and the moving The Scarlet Tide.

A somewhat longer break took place, and I went out to try to figure out something. As I noted, we were in Section 102. So there was a sign in the hall that read 102 – 101, then another that read 103-102, 104-103, etc. This meant that the higher number was on the left and the lower number was on the right. This explained why no fewer than 10 parties came into our section telling people that they were sitting in their seats, when in fact, THEY were in the wrong section. One person sat in Kara’s seat while she and Rocco were in the lobby, and I redirected her. In retrospect, the designers should have numbered the sections from left to right, rather than from right to left, but we figured it out; why couldn’t the others?

I also ran into my friend Bill and his wife Brenda. I’ve known Bill since kindergarten in Binghamton, and attended their wedding near Albany 20-some years ago. While we were talking, the auditorium got dark and a voiceover came on, so I rushed back to my seat. The narrative was about an icon of the ’60s and Christianity, and losing his way, only to come back, starting in the late ’90s with three great albums; something like that. Then Dylan (also in black) and his band (in maroon suits) began.

I checked with people later, and the sense of the people in the cheap seats, not necessarily the people on the floor, was the same. While the band was solid, Dylan’s vocals were even more indecipherable than usual. Worse, the sound was muddy. My experience was not enhanced by a woman behind me and to my left yelling, at least six times, “Play something we grew up with,” peculiar, because the second and fourth songs (Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right and Simple Twist of Fate) certainly should have qualified; but he deconstructed them so much that maybe she didn’t recognize them. The people behind me and to my right were bored, as they were talking throughout, and not about the music; one woman was text-messaging. The guy immediately in front of me, probably in his mid-20s, had a a hash pipe he was sharing at least a half dozen times with his girlfriend or wife and another couple. None of these enhanced my experience.

It wasn’t until they, and lots of others that I could see, left, that the show became halfway enjoyable to me. Summer Days, the 13th song, was a crowd favorite. By the time of the second encore tune, a tremendous All Along the Watchtower, which somehow cut through the sonic mire, another woman behind me was dancing. Afterwards, I thanked her for appreciating what the music was rather than what she wanted it to be. Rocco asked if I knew her; no, I did not.

It was the consensus of everyone I talked to, including Bill and Brenda, that Amos Lee was excellent. There was generally positive opinions about Costello; I enjoyed him a great deal. But it was unanimous that the Dylan experience was disappointing. Rocco thought the show started strong, hit a lull in the middle, then ended great. Bill had gone to find another couple, who had better seats, still along the sides, and the sound was MUCH better, which makes me theorize that, depending on where you sat would have HEAVILY influenced how you felt about Bobby Z. and his band. Indeed I checked with someone with seats on the floor, and the sound was fine, though Dylan’s words were not, and even he suggested that the music didn’t really gel until the sixth or seventh song.

Still, I really enjoyed the first two acts, and the latter stages of the third, I got to meet Rocco’s girlfriend and hang out with Rocco, so it wasn’t a
s though the night were a total bust.
Sarge Blotto’s review and Dylan’s and Costello’s playlist.