Over the last few years, it's become increasingly difficult to shop for my mother. Well, she's actually easy to shop for in that I know what she likes, but hard to shop for in that I can only buy her a new pair of PJs so often. I've started buying concerts tickets instead. Her Mother's Day present this year was tickets to Josh Groban.
Take a minute, picture in your mind what a Josh Groban concert would look like. Got it? That's it. That's exactly what a Josh Groban concert looks like. Almost everyone is over fifty. I had visions of Michael Bolton dancing in my head. OK OK. While I'm technically old enough to know Bolton's music, I've never actually been to any of his concerts, so that's a poor example. But this was a lounge performance in an arena. I think you have the concept.
A trumpeter named Chris Botti opened for Groban and I realized after the first song they played that I was in for a headache. Half the time he and his band sounded like they were playing four different songs at the same time. I guess that's jazz? I realized entirely too late that I had left my earplugs in the car so I was getting the full force of this noise. After they finished their set, I went to use the restroom…and while I'm not sure they do this at all arenas, at this one they allowed me (with a little paper pass) to leave the arena to go to my car and get the earplugs. Whew.
Josh Groban is every bit as talented as he appears to be. He's got a smooth and natural voice that resonates with you through your seats. Not a metaphor, literally. Did I mention it was loud (am I getting old)? He sang several stage songs, songs from his older albums and new, and songs that he didn't write but gave a great performance of. He did the thing that more and more performers are doing and had a secondary stage towards the back of the arena so that the rest of us could get a closer look while he was performing.
He took the lounge approach to his performance as well. Even though we were in a large arena, he took the time to talk about his life and the songs he wrote. He talked about school and Ally McBeal and meeting his idols. It was a calm but enjoyable show. Definitely one I'd see again.
Whew. Amongst my crazy busy weekend, I managed to stop and take the time to see Aladdin on Broadway. The New Amsterdam theater, while absolutely beautiful, isn't much made for larger people. I don't even mean those with larger butts like mine…just in general. I'm six feet tall and I had to work really really hard not to knee the gentleman in front of me directly in the head.
That aside the show itself was spectacular. If you asked me to hook you with three things; I'd go with costumes, the flying carpet, and the genie. If you're familiar with the original movie (or the new live action movie), you already know the plot and the majority of the songs you'll hear. There's a somewhat unnecessary song about Aladdin wanting his mother to be proud of her boy that refrains throughout the show, but it's honestly not needed.
The costuming was beautifully done. Sequins and crystals adorn almost every piece of clothing you see and the colors are bright and vibrant. The sets are beautifully rendered as well, with the palace/Jasmine's room being one of my favorites. The lattice work alone is worth the cost of admission.
The real shining star of the show is the actor playing the Genie. I found myself wondering what was missing from the production and then the Genie arrived and I realized what was missing. His energy lights up the stage and the entire show changes. It changes so much that I spent the rest of the time feeling his absence.
One of the things that I love about Broadway shows is that they don't hold back with the effects. When the magic carpet scene arrives, I did sort of expect them to fly out over the audience. Even though they did not, the wire work was so impeccable that I couldn't tell that they were attached to anything.
I really enjoyed this show and I'm glad that I chose it for my Saturday night viewing while in NYC.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
I've been trying to come up with what I could possibly say about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child that
The first thing you should know is that there are two parts to this show. I attended on a Sunday, so I was able to see the entire thing in one day. If you count intermissions, you're looking at around five and half hours. When going on the same day, you'll end up in the same seats for both shows. Seat wise, there really isn't a bad seat in the house, but if you can afford to splurge, try and do anything downstairs. There are some things that occur that will be easier to see if you're down there.
If you're not familiar with the story, I recommend picking up Harry Potter in general. Although I can't imagine why you'd want to go see this show if you have zero Potter knowledge. We pick up 20ish years after the Battle of Hogwarts. Harry's sending his kids off to school and his second son Albus Severus Potter is struggling with teenage-hood and with being the son of someone so famous. Through a few plot points I won't spoil, he decides to help the world by travelling back in time to save Cedric Diggory. Everything goes wrong of course.
Production wise there is no orchestra and there is an interesting soundtrack for when they are moving set pieces around. A lot of what sounds like 90's new age jams play over the loud speaker. That's really the only jarring thing about this show though. The music and a little bit of being "extra" with the cape work.
Almost every main scene has some kind of trick to the eye. Puffs of smoke. Flames being thrown around. People changing into other people. Wire work that is seriously fantastic. I want to tell you all of the things but I can't bring myself to do so. Hell, they even have a hashtag #keepthesecrets. They are really strict about cell phones. They even tell you to turn off your watches. It's worth it though. Sitting there in the almost total darkness, the gasps when things occur are much more well earned.
The show is expensive but honestly, I felt like it was worth it. Let me put it this way. You could pay $200ish for the balcony of Harry Potter and get five hours of entertainment with characters you already know and love…or you could pay $500 for Hamilton and only get a couple of hours. I know, bad comparison, just my personal preference.
Unsurprisingly I would describe this show as magical.
There's also enough time in between the shows to go sit and eat somewhere, so you don't necessarily have to hang around.
Over the weekend I attended a concert that was about twenty-five years in the making for me. When I saw that Boyz II Men, Paula Abdul, and New Kids on the Block (NKOTB) were all touring together this summer, my 12 year old self got crazy excited. I loved Boyz II Men and NKOTB growing up. They were the soundtrack to my formative years. I was not, however, allowed to go see them in concert when I was a kid. My parents decided that the shows would be too “mature” and that I couldn’t go. I think part of it also boiled down to cash at hand and their general disdain for the music itself, but that’s speculation. What I do know is that as an adult I was excited to be able to finally fulfill a lifelong dream of seeing New Kids of the Block live.
Unfortunately, the show itself was not local for me. It wasn’t even local to my mother’s house so the show was going to be a massive drive to attend. Armed with my friend Teresa, we set off on Saturday afternoon for Tampa which is about a two hour drive from where we were located. We parked and ate across the street from the Arena at a sports bar and grill called Champions. It was decent enough food. Nothing too spectacular but it was directly across the street so we opted for convenience over quality.
The line to get in the building was insane. Thousands of people cramming themselves into a few lines for metal detectors. It was already hot since it’s Florida in July. The temperature had to have been over 100 degrees once we got up the stairs and into the actual lines. As we were waiting, a drunken woman passed out and threw up and paramedics were called. We could have used one of those little cell phone fans. Once we finally got inside we started towards our seats which were on the other side of the arena. We ended up missing the first song from Boyz II Men but were able to see the majority of their set. The guys sounded exactly the same as they always had which was wonderful. The only song they didn’t since was Motown Philly which was a shame, but it was a short set with a small band. I didn’t expect them to go full production.
Paula Abdul came on shortly after. Here’s where things got weird. There was a guy behind us who kept screaming “I love you Paula” which was entertaining the first few times. Paula came on stage with her dancers and starting singing. With no band but a music track behind her. The cameras that were projecting her image on the big side screens revealed that she wasn’t singing. At all. Her lip syncing was only slightly off at the beginning. By the time we reached the end of the performance it was all I could see. She played only her hit singles, Cold Hearted Snake, Opposites Attract, Rush, etc. Even Rush, in which there wasn’t much dancing she lip synced. In between songs and multiple costume changes she was a motivational speaker. Telling us all to persevere, to never give up, and to follow our dreams. It was odd.
Then came the main act. New Kids on the Block. NKOTB. The boys (men) were back and ready to rock. I admit that I was a little nervous going in. I had looked up a recent performance online and the singing did not hold up. I wasn’t sure what to expect. This is also when the screaming began…and never quit. Seriously, the speakers playing music were louder than most concerts which was good since it needed to block out the sound of the madness occurring. The guys came out singing and danced around the stage. There wasn’t a ton of the old school choreography that boy bands are known for. There was a little, but overall, the five of them spent a lot of time wandering to their random places on stage and interacted with the audience individually.
They played all their hits and some songs I had never heard. When it came to the singing, I could barely hear Danny when it was his turn at a solo lyric, Jon was good but nervous, Donnie was just…bad. The other two, Jordan and Joe were the two that shone and were placed front and center the most other than Donnie who I had to start ignoring at some point. Jordan was pitchy. There’s no way around it. It’s like he and his voice grew up but he was pushing against the high notes he used to sing. Don’t get me wrong. He can still hit those high notes, but I really think that if he rearranged it into a key one step below where he was at, it would have been better. Then, something happened that had me creeped out and then cackling with laughter. Jordan started singing a song (I couldn’t tell you which one) and began a strip tease in the center of the stage. The guys are proud of their abs, as well they should be, but it was weird. He ends up in his tank top and pants and pulling his tank top up over his pecs. Side note: think of Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs here. He left the shirt above his pecs and continued to dance. It was just weird. And Creepy. Then, I look at the giant screen in the back and suddenly there’s an eggplant emoji floating across the screen. And a pickle. Then a banana. Then a volcano. By that point it was so ridiculous that I couldn’t stop laughing. I looked back to the stage and Jordan was humping it. I still have no idea how it got to that point.
On to less weird and creepy things! Joe sang a version of Please Don’t Go Girl that nearly had me in tears. The man can sing. He’s the only one up there with any sustainable vocal talent. Get him a gig on Broadway. Make him a Disney Prince! Give him all the singing jobs. He’s fantastic. I’d sit through an entire show of anything to hear him sing more. It honestly was the highlight of the show for me.
Other weirdness? The set a piano on fire on purpose, just the edges. Odd because not even Billy Joel did that and literally has a song about starting a “fire”. Then there was a “Quick Change Cam” in which the audience was treated to them changing their clothes in between songs. The guys hammed it up for the camera, flexing and whatnot. There was a surprise “hello” on the cam and Joey Fatone was there.
I felt like I was the only one there for the actual music because between the strip tease and the dressing room cameras, I appeared to be the only one not amused or screaming my head off.
Overall it was a mixed bag for me. The guys are true showmen, after nearly 30 years together they know how to get the audience going and they know how to play to each other's strengths. The nostalgia was strong but there were several elements that made me uncomfortable. One of the best things they did though was the fan interaction. They brought folks on stage. They walked through the crowd. They spent 15 minutes after the final bow wandering around the stage and taking selfies with fans and giving out hugs. I did wake up the next morning wondering if I had actually damaged my hearing this time. So much screaming. It was so loud. Luckily the ringing in my ears finally subsided and the terror I felt at the hollow sounds in my ears turned out to be my allergies acting up. If you’re a fan? Just go see them. It’ll be an interesting experience if nothing else. I enjoyed my trip down memory lane. And just like my memories, things were fun, but a little weird.
Muse and 30 Seconds to Mars
Starlight started it all. I can remember the exact moment that I heard it for the first time. I was driving home from a birthday dinner and a friend had handed me a CD and told me that I HAD to listen to this band she had found. The first song I heard from Muse was Starlight. The second was Knights of Cydonia.
Muse was unlike any band I had heard before and I was hooked. Years later when I was living up north my friend and I had the opportunity to see them live in Baltimore. It was a Christmas present to ourselves. That first show was electric. A few years later we same them again in Orlando. The first show was better than the second.
Saturday night was the third round for us. We also travelled the furthest we've ever travelled for them. With me in the north part of the state and my friend in the central part, driving to West Palm Beach was a bit of a hike.
I had never been to the Perfect Vodka Amphitheater before so I wasn't sure what to expect. If you're familiar with the major Florida concert venues, it's a relatively large amphitheater and has a lawn like Tampa, but instead of having all of the concessions behind the lawn, everything is out front.
The first opening band was Pvris. It was a second time seeing them for us with the first being at a music festival in 2015. It was apparently the first night of the tour and it seemed as though the lead singer skipped the vocal warm up. After a lukewarm set, we were eagerly anticipating the second set.
The second opener was 30 Seconds to Mars. Flags were distributed amongst the audience but there was no explanation as to why. Leto came onto the stage in a red cape/drape that looked vaguely Pope-esque. He appears to thrive on audience participation and even had a small section set aside on stage for people to stand on the stage while he performed. At one point he came into the middle of the audience and performed an acoustic version of the Kill. It seemed as though he didn't know he wasn't the headliner.
At this point we're having a decent time but with Muse coming up I knew that a trip to the restroom was in order. This is where it gets a bit un-fun. I tried to go out of the closest exit but was thwarted by a venue staff member who literally saw me coming and spread herself out across the walkway like a starfish so that I could not pass. She said nothing to me at first and just stood there glaring at me. Apparently you were relegated to leaving and entering by the section you were in. There were no exceptions. I know this because I tried to come in that way after she rudely told me it was only an entrance. So despite the fact that I could literally see my seat I still had to go around. They checked your ticket every single time. I suppose this had to do with the fact that they had a lawn for general seating, but the attitude of the workers was simply rude.
Once Muse came on, it was magic. They performed just as incredibly as they always do. The visuals behind them were maybe not AS good as previous shows, but they were still pretty spectacular. I've included pictures below that should give you some idea. They played several of my old favorites and a lot of my new favorites too. Matt Bellamy also came into the audience and sang for a while. I also finally got a tour shirt. I've never really done the tour shirt thing before but this was the opening night and I felt compelled.
There's just something about being in the crowd while your favorite band plays. Standing with thousands of people who love them as much as you do, forgetting about any cares or worries. When that beat pulses through you it can obliterate everything else and clear your mind.
Luckily, Muse is moderately predictable and ends the show every time with Knights of Cydonia which is epic in its own right. Knowing this we didn't stand around waiting for a potential encore and managed to get to the car and out of the parking area in an incredibly efficient fashion. Then began the two hour drive home. Considering how late we could have arrived home, I'd say 1:30 was a decent time. Especially when we had left the Andrew McMahon show a few weeks back and it I arrived home at roughly the same time even though Orlando is closer than West Palm Beach.
If you're even slightly into Muse's music, I highly recommend seeing them if you can. It took four years for them to come back and hopefully it won't take four more for me to see them again. Such great night.
Bastille and Mondo Cozmo
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending one of the final shows of the Bastille tour in St. Augustine. I had looked up some of the footage of the show online and was curious as to how they were going to adapt their show to an amphitheater setting. One of the first things I was struck by was the videos they played on the screen behind the instruments while there was no one on stage. There was a newscaster that spent a lot of time talking to himself. This combined with the metal/mesh statues sitting above the stage resulted in a lot of Googling to find out exactly what the heck was happening.
I found one article that talked itself in circles. I read it twice while waiting for the opening band and I couldn't tell you what I read or what these things were meant to signify.
The opening band was Mondo Cozmo, of whom I had heard nothing. They were what I like to call a "stand up and take notice" band. From the first note I was hooked even though I had never heard any of their music before. They played mostly their own songs including Shine (vaguely Bob Dylan-esque), but it was their cover of Bittersweet Symphony that grabbed everyone's attention.
Once Bastille took the stage, the audience was intense. There were some diehard fans near me including one pre-teen who looked as though she might lose her mind. As with most bands, Bastille had a great deal of energy. One thing they did that I've not seen before? The lead singer went out into the middle of the pit which wasn't too uncommon. The majority of singers go out, pop around for a while, then get back on stage. Instead, he ran half way up the stairs and came right down through the middle of the amphitheater. He ended up on a platform about 20 feet behind my seat. He sang his song and then made his way back down. He did this multiple times, each time upping the performance by drumming or bringing the guitar player with him.
One of the most charming things for me was that there was nothing usual about this band. Most bands say thank you and then come back for an encore. Bastille just told us that they were going to take a quick break and come back and play us a couple of more songs before they'd be through. I found that to be more refreshing than what appears to be a standard encore functionality. I vaguely remember a time when the encore was not a guarantee. What can I say, I'm old.
If you're not familiar with either of these bands, I've posted some of their YouTube links below. Check them out!
Last week I was fortunate enough to attend one of the final shows of the farewell tour of Mamma Mia!. I know that some of you are inwardly groaning because not only is it a musical, it's ABBA's music and while people pretend they don't like disco and don't like ABBA everyone secretly loves them. Don't try and tell me they don't. They do. You do too, whether you want to admit it or not.
I took my Mom and my Aunt as their collective Mother's Day and Birthday presents. I don't know if I'll be able to keep up this tradition but this is the second year I've done their gifts like this. Mom's birthday is in April and my Aunt's birthday is in July and with Mother's Day in between it just seemed like the thing to do. Last year we went to see Cirque Du Soleil, this year, Mamma Mia! Mamma Mia is one of the only movies I remember seeing in a theater with my Aunt so I already knew she'd love it.
I have to say, trying to keep something like this a surprise is incredibly difficult. Partially because I get too excited and feel like I want to tell one of them and partly because in this case, it was a local show and there were other factors. Literally within two hours of me purchasing the tickets, before I even had a chance to tell them to block off the day? My Mom was texting and asking if I wanted to go and that my cousin wanted to take her daughter and make a thing of it. Oops. I had to spill the beans and spoil the surprise. Then unknown to me, my Aunt found out that we were going because she, too, had heard that the show would be in town and did we want to go. My Mom told her what we were doing.
Despite the moderate disappointment of a ruined surprise the show was of course, pretty fantastic. One thing that I love about theater in general is their ability to convey different locations without much set dressing. In this case, the set was two walls on swivel. Set dressings of furniture rotated as necessary to convey bedrooms, courtyards, and the like.
The basic plot is that Donna was a tad promiscuous in the late 70s and produced a daughter Sophie. She has since lived on an island in Greece. Sophie is getting married and has determined that she wants her father to walk her down the aisle. She figures out that her father is one of three men and invites them to her wedding in an effort to find out which one is. Things get weird from there.
I'm endlessly fascinated by the people who can hear the songs of an artist like ABBA (or Greenday) and find a story throughout them. I've always wanted to do something like that. The ability to create art from art inspires me.
The performances themselves were of course wonderful. I was left wondering if maybe there was an issue with the sound system because it didn't always pick up every note. Most of the humor in the show was physical humor and was portrayed by the background characters. Watching the bachelor party dance around in wetsuits, face masks, and flippers was endlessly entertaining.
I still think they could have worked the song Fernando in there, I feel like it's a missed opportunity. I laughed during Take a Chance on Me and cried through Slipping Through My Fingers. One of the things I really loved was the encore. The cast had already taken their bows and then the background players started dancing while the main cast changed outfits. Then for a couple of songs it was just a big disco party with an entire auditorium of people dancing and clapping. It had a concert quality about it that is hard to replicate. I'm incredibly glad that I had an opportunity to see the show before it stopped touring.
Friday night I went to see Andrew McMahon, Night Riots, and Atlas Genius put on a show at the House of Blues in Orlando. House of Blues is one of my favorite venues, it's small and moderately intimate but large enough to where you don't end up feeling like you're sandwiched in.
I really enjoy Disney Springs in general, they've done a great job setting everything up to where parking puts you directly into where you want to be instead of making you walk miles to where you want to go. I park my car and I'm basically at my concert.
The show opened with Night Riots and I was glad that I had listened to a few of their more popular songs on YouTube, otherwise I would have only recognized Contagious. This was especially apparent when Atlas Genius came out to play afterwards. I had heard their name, but recognized none of their music. Unfortunately for me I was also in the direct eye line of one of their lights. During two songs I was getting blinded by the lighting so it was kind of hard to enjoy it.
Then of course came the main act.
I was first introduced to Andrew McMahon about a year and a half ago. I had never heard of him, Jack's Mannequin, or Something Corporate. I had never heard of his fight with cancer, or the Dear Jack campaign. After that first show, having only ever heard Cecilia prior, I spent a good deal of time absorbing everything I could find about the artist and his foundation. There is an incredible documentary about McMahon and his journey through cancer called Dear Jack. It's no longer streaming on Netflix but it is available via the Netflix DVD and on Amazon.
One of the things that I grew to love about McMahon is his earnestness and honesty. When he gets on stage, you can feel that he feels the music with you. He almost seems as though he'd rather sing in the middle of the crowd away from the piano, he goes into the audience quite often. When he is at the piano though, he moves in a way reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis. He is constantly moving while playing which isn't terribly common. He also takes time to stop and just talk to the audience sans music and tell a story or two about himself, or how a song came about.
With this being the third show of his that I have now seen, I was a tiny bit disappointed to see the parachute come out again. He talks a little bit about playing with the parachutes as kids and how nice it was to forget about troubles and such. It's a nice sentiment but having seen it for the third time now, it didn't feel as fresh. What WAS fresh and entertaining was the crowd surfing he did on the giant inflatable Rubber Ducky and Pegasus. At one point he fell off the Pegasus and the crowd just lifted him back up onto it.
As with his other shows I laughed and I teared up. I love his music and I'm glad that I was introduced to him. I've linked to the Dear Jack Foundation below. If you're reading this and have a little to spare, I would highly recommend a donation to this worthy cause. McMahon is one of the few celebrities who is impassioned for a cause through personal experience and I find that to be incredibly noble.
In the beginning...
Good Morning Everyone! I hope everyone has had a great week so far. I’ve been working a lot as per usual but it did inspire today’s post. I spent most of yesterday with my earbuds in while I worked. I’ve not talked about music before and I think I’ve been putting it off because of how personal it is to me. I couldn’t decide how I wanted to present my point of view to everyone. Do I dive in to the general musical concept? Do I focus on a band? An album? A song? I sort of decided that I wasn’t going to decide at all. Since what I listen to depends on my mood, what I write about the music I listen to will also depend on my mood.
For as long as I can remember, there has been music in my life. My Mother used to teach music to elementary school kids before switching gears and teaching math. She, her sister, and my Grandmother all had beautiful voices. There was always music in one form or another in our home. My first concert was in utero to Crystal Gale back in 1981. Since then I have been absorbing as much music as my ears have time for. Even when I’m not actively listening to music, I tend to have an earworm stuck in my head. That or some random phrase spoken by someone in passing will spark a melody in my head that I will mentally sing along to.
I used to be able to sing. Really well in fact. I participated in choral competitions for vocals and sight-reading and did exceptionally well. I played the piano and the tuba. Reading music was like reading a book. Unfortunately for me, I also had crippling stage fright. If I was not singing in a group I would have panic attacks after I sang. I could make it to the stage and I could sing the solo, but when it was done I would have to rush off and try and breathe in the corner as tears came without restraint. I remember very specifically a solo that I sang at church when I was a teenager. It was a small church and I had known basically everyone in it since I was born but I was still panicked. My Mom suggested that I remove my contacts so that I couldn’t see anyone’s faces and then maybe try to sing to the exit sign. It didn’t work.
The reasons I stopped maintaining my voice run much deeper than panic attacks. My voice was the only thing about me that wasn’t average. All those sports I played, the things I wrote, my schoolwork? Average down the line. Ok, maybe the schoolwork part isn’t true. I was pretty great at that too when I tried. My voice was the one thing about me that stood out. I suffer(ed) from some pretty hefty self-doubt a lot of the time when it comes to personal things about myself. I can’t take a compliment. You’ll say something nice and I’ll say thank you; but within seconds I’ve already talked myself out of it being true. When I was younger and angrier, I didn’t want to stand out. I just wanted to fade into the background. My voice made me stand out. I just want to pause here…I wasn’t crazy/exceptionally amazing or anything. I do not now nor did I ever believe I should have some sort of record contract, but I was good. Better than average. Because I didn’t want to stand out and there was this thing that made me stand out? I set out to destroy it.
At the tender age of 14, I started smoking cigarettes whenever I could get my hands on them. I smoked off and on and then mostly on until about two years ago. I stopped attempting to train my voice. In the last two years that I have quit smoking my voice has not come back as much as I would like. I know I’ll have to get back into training it if I want to hear it the way I used to. Maybe I will someday. In the meantime, I’ll keep singing along with the radio as best I can.
I think I lost the thread on this point. I sat down to talk about how music moves me and instead you got a diatribe about my ridiculousness. I hope you’re still with me. I’ll start working on the next post and try and keep it in line. In the meantime, keep reading the blog! Head over to the Podcast page and listen to our latest if you are so inclined.