Category Archives: Concert Reviews
I went to an incredibly entertaining show last night at the North Carolina Museum of Art. And yes, it was technically a puppet show. But this was no ordinary puppet show. This troupe presented a mastery of techniques in a presentation that made children coo and adults gasp in awe. They’re going at it again tonight, so if you can, you should go see them (or if they come to your town).
They employed a mix of delightful costumes, giant cutouts operated with long sticks, lights and sound, flowing silk banners and a giant face hoisted up on a flagpole whilst a being of light danced into the audience. Words cannot describe how wonderful this show was. But I have to warn you in advance, the hardcore conservatives seemed a bit uncomfortable (a few families even got up and walked out). There was a thread weaved throughout the performance about the magnificent diversity of life on the planets, how it had adapted and evolved to survive, and how we need to work together to preserve the earth (now there’s a really subversive message if ever I heard one).
The MC was a person dressed in a tuxedo and wearing an oversized head resembling Charles Darwin. Various cutout puppets were paraded onto the stage from single cell organisms to various forms of sea life and then (gasp) a fish walked. And then dinosaurs and finally plethora of people dressed as cats, goats, pigs, monkeys and chickens came on stage to sing and play musical instruments (this had everyone on their feet). Since words really can’t do it justice, but I really wanted to encourage people to catch this act if you get a chance wither here in Raleigh or when they go on tour. See the brief excerpt from the finale I caught on my iPhone below:
As for the the musical accompaniment, the local musical ensemble Lost in the Trees composed original music just for this show and the music was tight and just beautiful. Ensemble leader Ari Picker (himself a veritable musical genius) has put together a group of extremely talented and well-trained musicians whose performances evoke feelings and images of amazing intensity (these guys should be scoring films). The musical vocalizations of Emma Nadeau were ethereal.
As for the Chang Scale rating: I give this one a solid 5. See it if you can. Drive an hour if you have to.
BC September 14, 2013
So after my recent letdown at a Dave Mathews Band concert where ten musicians on stage all bled together into a sonic stew, I was curious about Eric Clapton, since I had tickets for the April 3 Clapton concert in Raleigh, and I knew he would have a fairly large band on stage.
Clapton pulled it off right! First of all, despite Eric himself looking like a tenured English Lit professor, the man can still rock. He has lost nothing. I vaguely remember him from a front-row seat at a performance in Knoxville, Tennessee back in the early seventies. In the nearly forty years since I first saw him play on stage, he has become more well-rounded. His acoustic set was beautiful, especially Wonderful Tonight, but also Layla and Tears in Heaven. His tonal expressiveness on his signature Martin 000-28 acoustic guitar was impressive, and his vocals (the acid test of time for a musician) were still right on.
But when he got to the electric part of the performance, his nine-piece all-star band really pulled it together. Eric’s guitar virtuosity has just gotten better and better. His command of the fretboard both slow and fast was impressive. He even played slide on one tune (first time I’ve seen him do that). He is truly deserving of the accolades and the positioning at or near the top of nearly everyone’s top ten guitarists of all time list.
Doyle Bramhall II played aside Eric, and Doyle is no slouch either. Doyle is well-known among blues and blues-rock aficionados. His dad played with Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Doyle has played with Roger Waters’ band, and now has been touring with Clapton for while. He didn’t just stick to laying down a rhythmic backdrop for the master to play against. Doyle himself stepped out and proved he is a great guitarist as well. He too commanded wondrous tones and scintillating riffs. I was amazed when I noticed him playing his left-handed Stratocaster with it strung upside down (fatter/lower strings on the bottom) as he bent high notes down. I’d only seen him play before on the 2010 Crossroads DVD. He lived up to expectations.
Then there’s Willie Weeks on bass. I had remembered Willie’s impressive bass on a performance of Rocky Mountain Way from the Joe Walsh Live album. At the Clapton concert, Willie was animated and energetic and put himself on my personal top ten bassists list.
Chris Stainton on has had quite a lengthy career on keyboards, having had prior collaborations with Clapton, as well as Steve Winwood, George Harrison, Roger Waters, Joe Cocker…(he played piano on the Who album Quadraphenia). He got a huge ovation for one of his solos with Clapton.
Then there’s Paul Carrack on organ. Carrack also has had a storied career with the likes of Roger Waters, The Eagles, Elton John, and B.B. King. Paul sang beautiful lead vocals on Tempted, How Long and one of the encore numbers High Time We Went.
Steve Jordan was a maniac on drums. His mix of energy and temporal precision kept the performance moving and grooving (sorry – I had to say that once). Jordan’s cv includes working with Stevie Wonder, The Rolling Stones, and being the drummer for the Saturday Night Live Band back in the seventies.
And as if two guitarists wasn’t enough, there was Greg Leisz on pedal steel guitar as well as a lap slide guitar. Leisz has played with the Eagles, Jon Fogerty, Allison Krauss, Joe Cocker, Emmylou Harris, et. al.
Rounding out the band were the duo of female backing vocalists: Michelle John and Sharon White.
Overall, this was a band of accomplished and experienced musicians. So how did they sound playing together? Freaking fantastic. Compared to other megabands I’ve seen in the past, I could hear every single instrument at all times. The PNC Arena is a huge indoor arena, but well-known for having pretty decent acoustics.
The audio engineers and the mixer at the Front-Of-House console were all undoubtedly at the top of their game. But I’m also crediting Clapton himself for being able to come up with a musical arrangement that kept all the sounds from bleeding into a morass of indistinguishable tone, and yet allowing each musician to shine at the right time.