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Archive for the ‘The Academy of Music’ Category

[ATTENDED: April 14, 2017] The Decemberists

Two years ago Sarah and I went to The Decemberists concert at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. It was spectacular.  A great venue, a dignified crowd and a great set deign.  The only complaint we had at all was that we couldn’t stand up and dance (well, we could, but we try to be considerate of those around us).

We knew we’d want to see them again, so when they announced another show in Philly–this time at the Fillmore, we were super psyched.  We love the venue, the sound is great and best of all, you can dance.

I was telling Sarah that I have become spoiled by smaller venues like Union Transfer, which holds about 1,000 fewer people than the Fillmore, because I can get up really close.  Well, this show was sold out big time (we were packed in a little too tightly for my liking).  I wanted to try to get there as early as possible, but a few things led us to getting there about ten minutes later than I had hoped.  And as such we were just a little too far out for my liking–the tall people seemed to have a wall set up about five rows of people ahead of us and we just couldn’t break through it.

So that meant a lot of leaning side to side depending on who you wanted to watch and, of course, terrible pictures.  But wow did they sound great.  This tour was a little less elaborate than the previous one. There was no real “set,” just lights.  And that’s fine because the focus was on the music! (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 28, 2015] Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical

bobI have been a fan of Woody Allen’s movies since I took a class on him in college circa 1991. I loved the movie of Bullets Over Broadway which was a fun period piece (1920s) that starred John Cusack and Dianne Wiest among others.  The script was punchy and funny and addressed issues of morality and art.  And there were gangsters too.

Who would have guessed that the 1994 movie would have been turned into a musical twenty years later.  Evidently Allen did not want it turned into a musical until the idea of using songs from the period was introduced (with modified lyrics) and then he agreed.

The show ran on Broadway for about five months, which seems like it must not have been well received.  And yet, it did garner 6 Tony nominations and there were many positive reviews.  I don’t know enough about Broadway to know if a five month run means anything.  The Broadway version starred Zach Braff and Vincent Pastore (Big Pussy from The Sopranos).

The touring version of the musical is listed as Non-equity (I had to look up to see what that meant).  The long and short of it is that it means that you won’t have heard of anyone in the performance.  The director is also different.  I don’t know if that means things are very different from the original production.  I had read that typically a non-equity show has a lower budget, but I was quite impressed with the sets in this one.  The “train” was amazing, and I really liked the way they created the rooftop and the car and several other scenes. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: April 7, 2015] The Decemberists

2015-04-07 22.33.06I’ve liked The Decemberists for a pretty long time but never saw them live.  I’m not really sure why I never had.   Sarah has become a fan over the years as well, and they had moved to the top of her must see list.  So when I saw they were playing at the beautiful and acoustically pristine Academy of Music (and it was so close to her birthday), I jumped on the chance to get tickets.

Somehow, the pre-order tickets from the band didn’t pan out, but I was able to get some pre-order tickets from the Kimmel Center and the seats were awesome.  In a box just above floor level about fifteen or sixteen rows out.  The box was very cool, as there were wooden chairs to sit on and there were all of six of us in this box.  Probably one of the best views I’ve ever had a at a show.

2015-04-07 21.01.43The show started with Colin Meloy and his guitar.  He played the opening song from their newest album, “The Singer Addresses His Audience,” a meta- song that seems even more meta when he is actually addressing you.  The song started slowly and then the two backing vocalists came on and sang along with him.  Then some “statues” were lowered behind the stage.  And as the rest of the band came out, the “quilted” cover of the album was lowered into place

I was sure they would play a set heavy with new songs, so I was surprised when they launched right into “The Infanta,” a rollicking song that really got the crowd going.  And then Colin spoke and proved why he is such a good frontman. He was very funny, suggesting that we could sit or stand, it was up to us–the seats did look comfortable, after all.  He advised the people in the way top (where we were seated for Neil Young) to not stand, because he was worried about their safety.  And then he looked over to the side and saw the front box seats–set off from the rest and seemingly very VIP and informed us all that the Duke and Duchess of Pennsylvania were in the house tonight.   On the other side of the stage in those same seats, he told us that the royalty from Pittsburgh could not make it. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: April 7, 2015] Alvvays

2015-04-07 20.23.26Canadian band Alvvays opened for The Decemberists last night.  I really like their debut album and I was pretty excited to see them.  Alvvays play a perfect update of female -fronted-90s-alt-rock that I really like (and which few bands do anymore).  There are plenty of touchstones for the kind of music they play (Letters to Cleo, Lush), and they do it perfectly–super catchy choruses, nice harmonies and simple ringing guitars.

In hindsight (after watching the headliners) it must be tough for a small band to play when the headliners have so much going on.  So the five members of Alvvays looked a little cramped on stage in their small area.  They didn’t say a lot and they barely moved around.  But they brought their A-game and ripped through their entire album (I think).

I remember thinking that their album is only about 35 minutes, so their set couldn’t be much longer than that.  It was about 30 minutes.  And, since I like the album but don’t really know song names yet, I’m not sure what they played or didn’t play (and setlist.com is no help at all).  I certainly recognized a few songs, but have no idea what order they were in.

I also had to wonder…if you are an up and coming band with a single that’s getting airplay (“Marry Me, Archie”), do you play it first and get the audience psyched to hear more, or do you save it for the end when more people have arrived.   Which they did.  And it was nice to see the crowd (who was responsive but not exactly rocking) nodding along to the song. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 8, 2014] An Evening with Neil Young

2014-10-08 22.40.54 Sarah has wanted to see Neil Young for decades.  However, we’ve had bad luck (or high prices) with tickets so we never went.  But when I saw that he was performing in Philly for not too too expensive, it was time to get Sarah to see her man.

I myself have enjoyed Neil Young for a while too, so this wasn’t like a sacrifice or anything.  I had just never gotten around to seeing him either.  Over the years he has played with some amazing other bands (not to mention Crazy Horse), like Sonic Youth and Pearl Jam–two tours that I should have gone to but didn’t.  But this night was all about Neil.  It was just him and his guitar and his guitar and his guitar and his guitar and his guitar and his guitar and his guitar and his banjo and his piano and his piano and his organ and a bunch of harmonicas.  (He had about 8 guitars on stage and he played every one of them).

I don’t usually check setlist before shows because I like to be surprised, but with Neil, ever the curmudgeon, you never really know what you’ll get–perhaps he’ll do an all Trans night.  So I scanned a set, saw a few hits and felt secure in letting him give us whatever he wanted.

2014-10-08 19.42.37-1Outside the theater–the Academy of Music, to which I had never been–there was a big silver bus (not an Econoline van) with the license plate ZUMA, and we knew we were in the right place.  Then we entered the old building and went up the less than impressive stairs (it looked like a middle school stairwell).  And we proceeded to go up and up and up and up to our seats.  We were about ten rows from the top of this building.  And the theater was breathtaking (especially since we were out of breath from climbing 8 flights of stairs).

But it 2014-10-08 19.52.35was stunning to be eye to eye with a chandelier.  However, the building is not deep, so we weren’t that far from the stage.  Of course, mostly we saw the top of Neil’s head (and the top of his piano–which was cool).

Before the lights dimmed we got the great announcement to “please refrain from shouting out song titles,” which I loved–if only the latecomers had heard that message as well.

And then, lights went out, flashlights appeared and Neil shuffled on stage–in jeans, a T-shirt, a flannel type shirt over it–and sat down in the middle of the stage.  He picked up one of the guitars (he already had his harmonica clipped on) and busted out “From Hank to Hendrix.”

Okay, so I’ve been listening to Neil for a long time–I’ve gotten nearly all of his records, I’ve heard a bunch of live things, saw him recently on Jimmy Kimmel–nevertheless I was absolutely blown away by how good his voice sounded.  It was clear and strong and nothing like the 68 year old guy shuffling around on stage should be able to possess.  And his guitar playing sounded crisp and clean, his harmonica was spot on–it was so perfect sounding.  Perhaps it was the venue, but it was the purest sounding concert I may have ever heard.

When he finished the song, Sarah, overcome said, “Okay we can go now.”  That’s how good it was.  [You can read her review here].  But of course we didn’t go.  We sat, rapt as he picked guitars to play, “This one was a gift from Stephen Stills.” [Audience guy: How is he?] “He’s good.”  And on that guitar he played a Buffalo Springfield song.  Then he played “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.”  At this point I stopped trying to keep track of the guitars he played. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: September 13, 2014] King Crimsonkc

When I saw that King Crimson was touring I asked some friends if I should go see them.  I’ve been a fan more in theory than in practice.  I like a lot of their stuff, always planned to listen to them more, but I barely scratched the surface of their output (they’re the kind of band who has released dozens and dozens of things with varying project names and incarnations and since they’ve been recording since 1969, it’s daunting to say the least).

So when two friends basically said they’d give their eye teeth to see the show, it was a quick decision to get my tickets.

It was time to brush up on my back catalog.  I had no idea what they’d be playing, so it was something of a crap shoot what discs to look into.  As it turned out between the two old CDs and the one live CD that I bought, I covered nearly everything that they played.  And that was pretty awesome.  I had grown to really enjoy the CDs over the last few months and to see it done in front of me was… well, it was amazing.

King Crimson haven’t toured since 2008, and I have never seen them before.  This line up was new for the touring band as well.  It was the first time that Adrian Belew hadn’t toured with them in decades.  But there were some old favorites playing:  Tony Levin, frequent KC contributor and amazing bassist (bass and more); Mel Collins, played with KC in the 70s but hasn’t since, and here he is (Sax, flute); Jakko Jakszyk, recent contributor to Fripp’s projects and the real unknown for me (guitar, vocals).  And then the three, yes, three drummers: Gavin Harrison has played with KC before (drums), Bill Rieflin, mostly known for playing with Ministry (!) (drums), Pat Mastelotto has played with KC before, including with Bill Bruford (drums).  And of course Robert Fripp (guitar).

So, do you need three drummers?  Isn’t that overkill?
Yes and yes.

The three drummers were utterly amazing and they were the focus of the show.  As you can see from the photo, the drums were out front so you could watch everything.

Before I get into the show, The Kimmel Center is beautiful and the sound was amazing.  I had first row balcony seats.  My one seating gripe: I was in front of Fripp, but he basically sat sideways facing the stage (and his wall of gadgets) so I never really got to see him do anything. He was in profile most of the night, and I saw his hands moving, but that was it.  So, next time, pick stage left to sit.  Also, bring binoculars, because why not.

Back to the three drummers up front.  Mastelotto on the left (I could see him perfectly), Rieflin in the center and Harrison on the right (profile, but he was very visible).  Behind, l-r Collins, Levin, Jakko and Fripp.

As I said, though, it was all about the drums. (more…)

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