Posts Tagged ‘music’

Brian Setzer at Strathmore Hall

Brian Setzer at Strathmore Hall

After avoiding Strathmore Hall for years (a taxpayer protest), this is the third event we’ve been to at Strathmore in two months.

Brian Setzer was there with his big band for a concert billed as a Christmas Extravaganza.  While there were a number of Christmas tunes done up in that Rock & Roll/Big Band/Rockabilly style he’s been doing for a while, there were also a number of his recognizable hits including a few numbers done with the Stray Cats trio of Brian, Bass, and small drum kit.  And, the stage and costumes were all Christmas themed, including a snow machine for the grand finale.

This was our first time seeing Brian live, and we were real close to the stage for an easy view of his playing.  While the style he plays in is somewhat narrow from an electric guitar standpoint, you’d be hard pressed to find a better player as he effortlessly cruises between vintage rock and roll, rockabilly, surf, and swing styles.  He does this with a beautiful vintage guitar rig and a long cable, moving (sometimes running, sometimes almost duckwalking) all across the front of the stage and making great connection to the audience.

The martini glass backdrop, Vegas style lounge jackets, emphasis on swing music, create a very high energy performance that we enjoyed from end to end.  We really enjoyed the hits like Rock This Town and Sexy and Seventeen, and the swing arrangements of the Christmas songs were a lot more fun and a lot less annoying than the endless repetition that drives you insane by the actual holiday (although it is early in the season).  The swing arrangement of the Nutcarcker Suite was fun and creative, and his tribute to Danny Gatton was a great connection to a local player which we enjoyed.

The crowd was a funny mix which we are seeing for this venue, most likely due to the crowd being a mix of fans and theater patrons who are there on a subscription package and not necessarily familiar with the music.  Vocals were a little muddy and hard to hear, which we’re now seeing as typical for this venue, unfortunately.

Shelves of old stuff...

Shelves of old stuff...

I’ve gotten into a bit of a project, which I’ll be providing the technical details of in a few days.  But, some personal thoughts…

While we resisted (far longer than most) the migration of our music collection to digital, we eventually felt we had no choice as the vinyl format started to disappear and the CD-ROM took over.  So, we started buying CDs like everyone else, and lamented the loss of the large album art and the liner notes in a font size larger than “4 pt”.  We also moaned as we purchased favorites already owned on vinyl so we could listen to things in the car.  Now, we’re going through this again as we start migrating to MP3/AAC downloads, purchasing things we have no physical evidence of owning.

Partially motivated by cheapness, and partially motivated by the inability to find out of print items, I started thinking about converting all the old things to MP3 myself.  After some research (translate as “Google”) and some experimentation (translate as “plug in old hardware”) I discovered that it’s not too hard to convert to MP3 from old sources like vinyl.  So, I’ve embarked on a project to convert everything we have so we don’t have to repurchase.

This is not a short term project.  Over the years we’ve collected hundreds of pieces of vinyl, dozens of vinyl 45s, hundreds of audio CDs, dozens of cassettes, and concert VHS tapes and DVDs.  If you total it all up its more than 1,000 hours of audio.  And, there’s no short cut to spending all that time spinning the audio into a computer to convert it.  So, this project will literally take months and months.  So, we start.

And, it’s turning into a wonderful walk through personal history.  There are all kinds of recordings that have been part of our lives as far back as we can remember.  There are recordings that we have no idea why we purchased them.  There are out of print items.  There are audio cassettes of performances of mine from various groups that are poor recording quality, poor performances, and priceless things to possess.  Listening to everything is a parade of friends, places, times, experiences, memories almost forgotten and easily retrieved with a drum beat or guitar chord.

It’s going to be a fun two years…

Hall & Oates at Wolf Trap, August 2, 2009

Hall & Oates at Wolf Trap, August 2, 2009

From August 2, 2009.

Most likely, everyone from my high school from near my age feels a connection to the music of Hall & Oates.  Daryl Hall went to my high school, and they were becoming famous while I was in school.  They became huge when I was in college with three monstrous selling albums during the early days of MTV when videos had a big impact on music sales and pop culture.

I saw them once before, when I was in college they played at the school’s arena where I worked.  I not only got to see the show promoting their Voices album, but my vantage point was from the left corner of the stage and was able to get tickets for friends from high school.  It was an incredibly exciting show, and had a big impact on me in terms of what large shows were about and the magic creators of music generate when they create songs that are loved by many.

So, here we were 25 years later going to see Hall & Oates again.  I knew I would love the show regardless just based on nostalgia.  So, consider this an extremely biased review.

Hall & Oates Ticket

Hall & Oates Ticket

Here was the cool thing about the show.  They opened up with Man-eater, a huge number one hit.  Most bands would save a song like this for the end, or for the mandatory fake encore.  Hall & Oates are able to open with a song like this because they can follow it up with another dozen top 10 songs.  The only negative about a show like this is that the crowd is filled with people that love and know all these songs and have that urge to sing along with every song.

The only thing that was missing for me was that I hoped G. E. Smith would be there from all those classic albums.  However, nothing was lacking – Daryl and John where there, along with some of the others from those classic albums.  And, the somewhat small lighting production gave the show a more intimate feel, similar to the vibe of the web show Live from Daryl’s House (which is really great, if you haven’t seen it).

(Picture quality poor – must have had the camera set wrong)

We knew some of Chris Isaak’s songs, and knew who he was, and knew he put on a great show.  Now, we know all of this from first hand experience.

IMG_0243Part of what made this event fun was that the band has played together for 20 years or so, and had that tremendous tightness that only comes about from knowing each other well and trying to get to the same place musically.  There were very spontaneous moments that only come about when the band can look at each other and do something that is not on a controlled script.  Whether faked or not, it felt very real for Chris to walk out into the audience with a radio mike, finish the song before he got back, and call out “do an Elvis tune” and continue to wade through the audience.

A lot of his material is dark – sad – melancholy.  But well written and well performed and highlighted with a pretty slick light show.  There was a retro looking TV screen behind the band that played images through some kind of LED display, and those automated lights up top that can do so many things with color and lenses.

We walked away very impressed, and would go see Chris Isaak again when he comes to town.  And, downloaded a dozen or so songs from iTunes the next day.

(Sorry the picture is bad.  Taken with the cell phone camera which is easily fooled by stage lighting)

We ended up in second row center for Randy Travis in Baltimore last week.  Believe it or not, this isn’t necessarily the best vantage point when the stage is higher off the ground.  Kind of like the front row at a movie theater.

Randy Travis signs our CD Case at Pier 6 in Baltimore

Randy Travis signs our CD Case at Pier 6 in Baltimore

But, it has the obvious advantages of being close to the action.  Randy’s band was a collection of aces (some from Nashville, no doubt), including some who have been with him a long time.  And, when you’re this close and the artist is this nice about getting close to the crowd it turns out you can get close enough for an autograph! He’s signing our CD case in this picture.

He played a nice full set with material from all across his career.  This is the second time we’ve seen him – we saw him a few years ago at Wolf Trap and we were so impressed with his stage presence that we wanted to see him again.  He really is a great act to see in person, he seems to work hard to please the crowd, and I really enjoy the more traditional approach to Country & Western music.

He did seem to be getting over a cold a little bit, which was noticable when he talked between songs.  The sound was a little muddy too for the vocals, but this might be another “minus” to sitting close – you’re in front of the sweet spot for the sound system.

IMG_0175Weather was great for an outdoor concert as well.  While Pier 6 isn’t the best venue in how the seats are laid out (long and narrow, so most of the seats seem far from the stage), you can’t beat the location on a nice night watching the sun go down over Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.  And, lots of dining choices near by including Little Italy. Also, camera friendly policy for this performance.

A nice night. The only negative – took forever to get out of town because of some event at the nearby stadium. Detected too late to head out the other side of the harbor.

Boz Scaggs Ticket Stub

Boz Scaggs Ticket Stub

Second event at Wolf Trap for the season.  The weather was a little more typical for June in Washington, but very much on the pleasant side.  Not quite sold out, but a good crowd.  Boz Scaggs was the first act, and we really enjoyed it.  He went through most of the hits, but the surprise was a nice number of bluesey, New Orleans inspired songs with some great guitar playing.

Michael McDonald was the second act – a rapid fire collection of a large number of songs everyone knows well.  The highlight for me was Michael playing You Don’t Know Me (the Eddie Arnold tune) accompanied by just himself on piano.  A nice surprise.

First time seeing both performers.

A dollar too short.

The greed of the music industry continues to amaze. I thought the popular stuff was always cheaper in the stores…

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