Category Archives: Music

Les Misérables (in all media except the novel)

I don’t have very many name-dropping theatrical-performance memories to brag about.  I saw CATS! in Toronto – but I think everyone who lived within a day’s drive and who could afford it saw CATS! in Toronto.  I saw an outdoor performance of The Importance of Being Earnest directed by Linda Carson, but that won’t mean anything to you if you’re not from Kitchener-Waterloo.  I once saw Maggie Smith do a powerful Lady Macbeth at the Stratford Festival (Ontario.)  And I saw Les Misérables in the London West End production, about 9 months after it opened.

I had never read the novel in French or in English and I didn’t have ready access to Wikipedia-type plot summaries before going to the musical, so I didn’t know much about the story or characters ahead of time.  The part that hit me hardest on that first viewing was the story of Éponine’s one-sided crush on Marius and how she struggles with facilitating Marius’s romance with Cosette.  Unfortunately, that was a familiar dynamic to me in my own life at the time.

When I saw a preview of the movie version a few weeks ago, I knew I would want to see it.  So I pre-ordered the highlights album of the movie from iTunes, and didn’t discover until after it had arrived that the highlights didn’t include “Do You Hear The People Sing?” (the song I remembered most clearly from the stage production, due to performing it in an ensemble at camp once) and some other important songs.  Still, though, I listened to the album several times before going to the movie.  That familiarity made it easier for me to take in the story and the acting, without being distracted by differences from another version of the songs.

It’s a long movie.  But unlike The Hobbit, I didn’t think any of it dragged out.  It moved compellingly from event to event and it was easy to see how one thing led to the next.  At the end of it I was exhausted, inarticulate, and out of Kleenex.  Both my cinema companions are insightful theatregoers with more knowledge of the stage show than I had, so I need to credit our discussions (in between the sniffles) for helping me articulate some of the observations below.

The story of Éponine (Samantha Barks) was still very sad, but this time around I didn’t see it as the main story.  This time, I had more interest in the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman)’s struggles to start over and to do the right thing, and even the parallel between his feelings about the Cosette (Amanda Seyfried)/Marius (Eddie Redmayne) romance and Éponine’s feelings.  Everyone who reviews this film comments on Anne Hathaway’s moving performance as Fantine, and I agree.  I liked Russell Crowe (Javert)’s singing voice a lot, but I didn’t find Javert as interesting a character as Valjean.

The colour palette of the film was noticeably limited.  It started from the blue and red and colourless tones of the French flag, echoed by uniforms of guards and prisoners, and continued almost completely in that colourway, with occasional golden lighting.  There was no green at all in the whole film except for some dark-green uniform jackets in one scene.  The venal innkeepers the Thénardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) had somewhat more gaudy tones, which went along with the playful mood-switch of their song “Master of the House”.  M. Thénardier reminded me bizarrely of Frank N. Furter played by Tim Curry in Rocky Horror Picture Show, which was distracting.  For sheer eye-candy, Anne Hathaway and Aaron Tveit (Enjolras) were the loveliest to look at.  I recognised Aaron Tveit’s voice as that of Gabe from the Broadway recording of “Next to Normal”.

In the movie, the puniness of the barricade and the futility of the students’ rebellion were horrifyingly obvious, and the song “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”, sung by Marius in the empty ruined tavern where his friends used to gather, was heartbreaking.  The movie showed the scale of the rebellion and devastation in a way that the symbolic sets of the stage show could not.

It’s still playing all over, and it doesn’t need IMAX or Real3D to feel real.

Winter Winds – an evening with Festival City Winds.

On Saturday I interrupted my recent obsession with live theatre to attend a concert of Festival City Winds.  The concert, entitled Winter Winds, included performances by all four ensembles in the community band association, from the Novice band to the Advanced band.

Very clever selection of short pieces, or single movements from long pieces, allowed all four bands to demonstrate their technique and feel for a variety of musical genres:  marches, folksongs, famous pieces like an arrangement of Holst’s “The Planets” by the Novice band, and interesting contemporary compositions like Brant Karrick’s “They Shall Run and Be Free”, played by the Advanced band.

I haven’t really listened to band music much in years, since being a high school clarinetist and then listening to marching band entertainment at football games at an American university.  The Festival City musicians were well-prepared, focused, and a delight to watch and to listen to.  The atrium space at Concordia University College worked surprisingly well, with the musicians in front of a large curved window-wall, and the audience on chairs on the floor, on carpeted risers to one side, and around a second-floor mezzanine.  A photographer in the audience behind me probably did not realise that although his flash illumination was turned off, the red lights that flashed every time he took a picture were reflected in the window in a distracting way.  The conductors were welcoming and made the music accessible, explaining a little bit about the context of each piece and what to listen for.

The Festival City Winds Music Society offers instrument instruction for adult beginners or those who want to start again, as well as the four performance bands.  They accept new participants in January as well as in the fall.  They will have another public concert on Saturday May 25th, 2013.

Folkfest 2012

This year I don’t really know why, but I mostly didn’t go listen to musicians from cultures other than North American ones. Maybe another year with more energy I’ll seek more of them out again.

Also, I noticed that when I drifted in to a session late and missed the introductions, I didn’t end up that engaged. It had more to do with that than whether I was sitting close. I will try to remember that, and try leaving early instead.

So here’s a list of who I saw, I think, edited once to add some I forgot.

Arlo Guthrie – Guthrie Family Reunion – This was fun, because there seemed to be a whole bunch of relatives including small children who were comfortable singing into a microphone. The best parts were listening (and seeing from up close) to a very familiar voice doing City of New Orleans, and getting to sing along to This Land is Your Land, with no question except that it would be with the words I learned as a child (and was shocked to learn later in life that they weren’t original).
Emmylou Harris – I didn’t stay very long because I don’t really like her music and I wasn’t enjoying myself enough to expend spoons.
La Bottine Souriante – This was a fun mid-afternoon mainstage performance of traditional-style Quebecois music, with fiddle, guitar, a brass section, etc and a joyful wiry-middle-aged-looking stepdancer/ percussive dancer named Sandy Silva.
Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder – a bluegrass band. I don’t like bluegrass. I guess they were good.
Mary Chapin Carpenter – She did not do Passionate Kisses in this concert or in the session I went to, but I enjoyed her performance
James Vincent McMorrow – Oddly awkward Irish singer with a guitar.
Jim Cuddy Band – singer from Blue Rodeo. I saw part of the set from our farther-back tarp and don’t remember much
Mavis Staples – more of a gospel set than I’d expected from the writeup. She got Bonnie Raitt to come out for the singalong Will the Circle Be Unbroken, which was fun.
Bonnie Raitt – I liked her performance a lot more than I expected to.
Wool on Wolves – This is a local band billed as folk-rock but they use a lot of the chords and rhythms that I call “my kind of music”. I will definitely watch for future local gigs.
The Dunwells – a new rock band from Leeds who are GREAT.
Johnny Clegg Band – For this concert and the next one, I mostly sat off to the side in the sliver of shade at Stage 3, except when I needed to dance. He told stories of his life and musical collaborations through the changing times in South Africa.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo – They did “Homeless” from the Graceland album.
Dry Bones – By the time I went to their concert I’d seen them in a couple of sessions and played their album at home and while cycling to and from the festival site. So it was no surprise that I had a great time. Besides Nathan Rogers (who should probably get a whole post to himself, I have such a crush) his bandmates were also good especially Leonard Podolak who was funny.
TNile – She’s a singer-songwriter from Gabriola Island. I watched the end of her concert while standing up in the shade at the back of stage 7. That is where I learned that I can dance and knit at the same time and enjoy both, because I couldn’t help dancing.

Sessions with the following combinations of musicians
Dry Bones, Lindi Ortega, The Barr Brothers, David Wax Museum – David Wax is a weird twitchy dude. Lindi Ortega (hmm, I thought I’d seen her in three sessions but this list is only two) did “Lord Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz” twice, which was too many, but was otherwise interesting to listen to and look at.
Rose Cousins, Jim Lauderdale, Pokey LaFarge, New Country Rehab – I liked Rose Cousins quite a bit, but was kind of bored with Pokey LaFarge and New Country Rehab.
Valdy, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lori McKenna, Suzie Vinnick & Rick Fines – This was a neat session. I can’t remember specifics though.
Dry Bones, The Dunwells, Lindi Ortega – This morning session was called “Question Box”, and it started with Nathan Rogers (of whom, yeah) going into the audience with a box with pen and pad of notepaper attached, for people to write questions for the musicians. I took the box from him to write a question but couldn’t come up with a very amusing one; still, though, it was fun to have it read out and answered. This was my first glimpse of The Dunwells. Nobody else was dancing at that stage and I wasn’t quite sure where to dance on our side of the stage, so that was the only time during the weekend that I wanted to dance and didn’t.
Geoff Berner, Wool on Wolves, Scott Cook, Kim Beggs & T. Nile – This was another of the sessions that I came late to so wasn’t very engaged, and I didn’t get to hear much of Wool on Wolves. I liked the others, but had trouble figuring out who was who. Kim Beggs is from the Yukon.

Unlike last year, I stuck around to the very end of the finale, where the volunteers go on stage and everyone sings Four Strong Winds. Last year it was neat to hear the song as I re-packed my bicycle and headed out through the neighbourhood to the path home, but this year I wasn’t feeling impatient so it was neat to stay on the tarp singing with some of our crowd.

Black Keys, briefly

Last night I met up with two friends and we went to Rexall Place for a concert.

The first act was Arctic Monkeys, whom I was listening to when I was in Kingston (they are energetic rhythmic rockers from England like Fratellis or Snow Patrol). Their music was good but the main guy with the microphone was kind of a twit.

The main act was The Black Keys, who had an even more energetic drummer. We were on our feet the whole time, and I was really happy afterwards to notice that standing up moving to the music with my feet standing still for two hours didn’t hurt at all.

Joel Plaskett Emergency

Last night I went downtown for a concert at the Winspear Centre. This business of going to see rock musicians while sitting in comfortable seats is growing on me. The opening act was a guy from Winchester England called Frank Turner, and I was thinking that he’d probably have fun at Folkfest. The main performers were Joel Plaskett Emergency, from Halifax. It’s so neat to be hearing someone perform in person when I’ve listened to his or her transmitted voice many times – like listening to Stuart McLean talk, or Mr Dressup when we went to his live show as children. The Winspear acoustics are so fabulous, and Joel was playing with just a bassist and a drummer and sometimes playing one of seven guitars himself, so his voice came through well.

I thought one of my friends was going to be there but I didn’t see her. The crowd was mostly hipster-aesthetic in their 30s, but lots of variation from that too. And almost everyone stayed sitting down during the sets. If I ever manage to buy a Winspear ticket for a rock act early enough that I get a great choice of seats, I don’t know if I’d pick the front, or pick one of the many seats with nobody behind me so I could stand up and dance. But it really might be a concert hall with no bad seats. (And of course they had no ban on knitting. I’m still thinking about whether I want to go to Sonic Boom this year. I’d go for sure if I had someone to go with, but going by myself with no knitting, hmm.)

Also as part of my middleclass middleaged privilege, after the concert I caught a cruising taxi, and beforehand I had supper at Zinc, the interesting restaurant at the art gallery. I had the catch of the day which involved pork belly. Also various amuse-bouche snacks and an architectural dessert.

City and Colour

Last night I went to see City and Colour at the Jubilee Auditorium.

I think it was the first time I’d been in the audience at the Jubilee Aud, although I’ve been seated on the stage for a couple of convocations. I couldn’t think how to work that into conversation, though. The audience included lots of people showing full-sleeve tattoos like Dallas Green the singer, or emulating his style wearing checked shirts or severe black-framed glasses.

The opening act was called Low Anthem. My friend W had been telling me she was more excited about seeing them than seeing City and Colour. Wikipedia calls them folk rock or indie folk, and I could see them fitting in well at Folkfest. They are from Rhode Island. But the cool thing, that I didn’t realise from listening to tracks ahead of time, is that something about their sound and their main singer reminded me a lot of some band we used to listen to in the old days. And I couldn’t think who. Clapton? Tom Petty? I thought of another group but couldn’t remember their name, and it distracted me all through their set, but a quick application to Wikipedia and a quick response to texts from a music fan in my family told me I was thinking of Traveling Wilburys, and so probably Tom Petty’s voice with the more country-like acoustic arrangements. Whew.

Dallas Green and his band were really good. He has good rapport with the audience, responding to shouted comments, asking very politely for one song with no electronic distractions (the one about a funeral) and getting it, with applause, and getting different sections of the audience to sing the backup bits on What Makes a Man, including knowing how to rehearse us (choral conductors do this well, rock musicians generally don’t). He played almost all my favourites from the earlier albums (except for Save your Scissors) and some from the new one I don’t know so well. The encore was Dallas singing alone while playing the piano on, I actually don’t remember which song now, and then with the rest of the band on Coming Home (wild cheers when he mentioned Saskatoon, even more when he mentioned Nova Scotia).

The “Jube” is an attractive comfortable hall seating about 2500 people. I was near the back of the first balcony, so not as engaged as I might have been but I still had good sight lines even with tall people in front of me. I noticed, though, that for both bands it was hard to distinguish lyrics that I wasn’t already familiar with. In comparison, when I saw the band Stars at the Winspear Centre downtown where the symphony plays, the lyrics were very very clear. (This is fortunate, since Stars has better lyrics!) And from what I read this morning, the symphony used to play at the Jubilee Auditorium until audiophiles and philanthropists were able to arrange a hall with better acoustics — so it’s cool that even I could hear that.

Headstones on New Year’s Eve

Partway through my friends’ New Year’s Eve party, I caught a bus downtown to the Headstones concert at the Shaw conference centre.

The last concert I went to there had an “all-ages” setup, with the draft beer confined to a standing-room cavern at the back. This time it was like my friend D had described, most of the room filled with round tables and chairs, and the back rows of tables even had friendly looking candles in glass as well as tablecloths. I got there during the second band of the night, Tupelo Honey. I hadn’t heard them before but they were local and I thought they were good, and also their lead singer looked like an old friend which is a plus. For the end of that set I was standing a few rows from the front, comfortable and dancing, so I decided to move up as I could between sets, until I had a tiny piece of real estate on the centre of the barricade. This wasn’t as comfortable, because there were a couple of drunk guys being a little aggressive with other and smarmy with me, and when the concert promoters came on stage to count down to midnight the one guy made a really creepy pitch for kissing strangers ‘and if you can’t get a kiss get a grope’ and stuff like that.

Still, I stuck it out and then the Headstones came on and started to play Tweeter and the Monkeyman and I was the closest fan to Hugh Dillon and he looked and sounded just like on television only right there in front of me sweaty and happy and full of energy and yelling “fuck” a lot. By then I’d worked out the territorial claims to my side, but as the show continued the crowd behind was dancing and thrusting forward and I kept getting elbows in my back and the barricade in my front, so after a couple of songs I found a friendly big guy behind me to swing me backwards and I got out of the standing-room crowd. The crowd was a funny mix of intent music fans and dressed up people out for a party evening, some dressed in little sparkly dresses and some dressed in Team Canada hockey sweaters. As I’d predicted, I wasn’t the only one in my age group, and there wasn’t as much cellphone-documentation up close to the stage as there was at Death Cab for Cutie.

I saw no appeal in paying concert-hall prices for a Canadian or Coors Light when I was working on not being hung over anyway, so my choices were basically a $3 Sprite or a $4 bottled water, both with the caps removed. I sat down and cooled down, then ambled back to the side of the crowd with my drink and got pretty close without being squished. I didn’t stay for the encore, (and I knew from earlier setlists that they hadn’t played my favourite song this tour).

I didn’t see any taxis and caught a bus from, whatever that big bus stop is called with the sliding-doors heated shelter (and where there was once a fatal altercation, although not when I was there), back to my little car and home before 2am. Big-picture thanks to the family member who recommended the Headstones to me in the first place back in 2007 or so.