It feels like every time I start this post, another culture vulturing adventure is just on the horizon and, well, why not wait until that's done with before I post? But here it is, mid June and it's time to finally push the “publish” button on my activities over the past six months.
There's been a lot of music, some old... some new... In order:
Sybarite 5. (Full disclosure: one of the violinists was a student of mine) Taking popular music and translating it for classical instruments has been done before, but this quintet is fun and dipped into a number of different genres: Astor Piazzola, Radiohead and Led Zep. With the exception of the last, I'd never heard the originals (ok, knowingly heard the originals is perhaps more accurate) so there were no expectations. As for Led Zep, well, you'd basically have to have been dead for the past 30 years to NOT have heard some version of “Stairway to Heaven”. I mean really? Haven't they done anything else in their long, storied careers?
Jeff Beck/Eric Clapton. I've seen Clapton before (he did a month-long gig at Royal Albert Hall in the early 90s), and he was better then. According to Thing One, Beck was better during his earlier gig at Irving Plaza, but I dunno. He was pretty amazing here. As I told people, Beck brought 12 kinds of awesome to this show... Clapton not so much. Still not sure why Beck has felt the need to play “Nessum Dorma” on the guitar, but what the hey. The ending, with both playing on stage, highlighted the difference between them: Jeff Beck was playing, Clapton was mostly phoning it in. And when God phones... On the other hand, I recognized “You Need Love” (the precursor to “Whole Lotta Love”) well before Thing One did!
AIR. I'd heard their first album, which was pretty good, but the middle stuff was unknown to me. This was in support of their most recent album, which apparently has gotten the rave reviews that the first got. Live, on the other hand, was not an amazing experience. The venue was Montreal's equivalent of Roseland or Irving Plaza, and the oh-so-hip crowd was there (Thing One and I were among the oldest). Perhaps it was the set list, or the acoustics, but neither of us were blown away by what we heard.
Larry Coryell. Still around, still good, and touring with a couple of Indian musicians. Their influence on his music was interesting – still not sure how I feel about it. He ended the first set with a guitar version of Bolero, worthy of inclusion on the 10 soundtrack (yes, that's dating me; on the other hand, we were among the youngest in the audience, only one night after raising the average age at the AIR concert!). I'd like to listen more to his stuff before passing judgment.
Charlotte Gainsburg. So disappointing that the majority of the crowd was there to hear her do her father's stuff (she did one song) and not her own. She was stiff, and looked as though she was reading from a lyrics sheet – with only two albums, that didn't seem right. Her voice is also thin (just listen to the albums), and perhaps Webster Hall wasn’t quite the right venue; a larger Feinstein’s might have worked better. I was also disappointed in her choice of songs, because there were some on both IRM and 5:55 that would have been great in concert. IMVHO, if she’d added “Time of the Assassins” and “The Songs That We Sing” it would have been a stronger set list. “Trick Pony” got the most applause of her songs (possibly because it was what she sang on Letterman). It must be difficult being the daughter of such a musical icon, particularly since the crowd really didn't seem to want to hear her do her songs.
Rachid Taha: Odd place (Highline Ballroom); odder crowd. The Highline is very much like the Supper Club in set-up, and not like Irving Plaza, which seemed to be a better fit for him. That night it was filled with a mix of Arabs; we were at a table with Moroccans, in between a table of Jordanians and another of Egyptians. His patter was mostly Arabic or French ("Fuck BP" being the exception), and he was seriously toasted. At this point in his life, he comes across as an aging Tom Jones, mixed with Gene Simmons (what was with the tongue wagging? Is it an Arabic thing I just don’t understand?), rather than the sexy Rachid of, say, the 1-2-3 Soleils concert. He didn't do a few songs I thought he'd do, given his political stances (with what’s going on in Arizona, why no “Voila, Voila”?), but did play a number of the songs from Bonjour, his new (and lesser) album. It was cool to see the crowd switch from the arab/belly dance style when he played "Habina" and "Ya Rayah" to punk dancing with "Rock el Casbah". It was a short-ish concert, about 90 minutes, and the audience clearly wanted more.
So that’s it for the time being. We’ll see what the rest of the year brings.