October 20th, 2007


Capsule review: Appomattox

On October 5 boyziggy and I attended the world premiere of Philip Glass's opera Appomattox at the San Francisco Opera. The setting was the closing days of the Civil War, culminating in the surrender of General Lee to General Grant. Philip Glass is one of Ziggy's favorite composers, but not mine, so it surprised me that some of my favorite parts of the opera were instrumental. The singing didn't appeal to me for the most part, as much was recitative of found text from the period, and not melodically interesting. At least in Doctor Atomic, there was relief with arias set to poetry; in this opera, the soldiers' songs, and one the late chorus numbers, were the only sung music I found engaging.

Though the opera was sung in English, the supertitles were very helpful to understand what was going on. I did appreciate that some of the performers made an attempt to use a Southern accent, no small feat. The costumes were excellent and the sets elaborate, if somewhat macabre, but fitting for the period. I especially enjoyed a scene in which the house where the surrender had just taken place was ransacked down to its very frame. Overall, an interesting and educational night at the opera.

Capsule review: Nellie McKay

[cross-posted to nellie_mckay]

On October 4 the_ogre and I saw Nellie McKay at The Independent. This was the fourth time I'd seen her in concert, and the third at that venue. Her attitude was definitely subdued compared to previous shows, at least in the beginning. Introducing "Work Song", for example, she said that it would be a sing-a-long, as usual, but just assumed the audience knew that and said "it's in Mandarin, you'll sing to it, blah blah."

She climbed onto the stage wearing a flapper dress and toting a double-armload of sheet music, which she plopped onto the piano, and then proceeded into an act that featured nearly as many standards as original material. All were sung and played well. She also took out an electric mandolin for a couple of numbers, including "Don't Fence Me In". Her antics to her new song "Zombie", which she sang accompanied by a recorded track, had Aaron convinced that she was insane - but in a good way.

Before the encore, several people shouted out what they wanted to hear; "Sari", not one of my favorites, and the cute "Dog Song", seemed the most mentioned. But I requested the short and lovely "Suitcase Song", and it surprised me that was one that she actually performed. I'm not sure if she was planning to do it anyway though.

After the show I waited around for her to come out for autographs, as I wanted to pick up a copy of her new CD. When it was my turn in line, I asked if she, as a fellow vegetarian, knew about Herbivore, the vegan restaurant just a block down the street. She didn't, surprisingly, and wrote it down. She said she had gone to some other veggie restaurants in the city, but they "had all these vegetables, and we like meat". (Meaning fake meat, obviously...) I said that Herbivore would be just her style then.

The opening act was also quite good; unfortunately, I don't remember his name and it is no longer on the Independent's web site... he played guitar very skillfully, and sang in both English and Portuguese. He also did some looping; Aaron noted that a lot of guitar performances seem to include looping nowadays, which I had also noticed.

Concert review: Genesis

On October 9, Mike, gerardp, saizai and I saw Genesis at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. Though Mike and I had purchased the tickets way back in March, changes in availability meant a last-minute scramble to find people to go. But all was worked out, and we converged from our various parts of the Bay Area at the Millbrae BART station, where Gerard obligingly scooped us up and transported all to the arena.

Genesis was my favorite band in late high school; The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway was my favorite album for years, and "The Cinema Show" from Selling England By the Pound was my favorite song, though I didn't hear either album until years after Peter Gabriel had left the band. I saw the band with Phil Collins, Tony Banks, and Mike Rutherford at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh 20 years ago, and that was the same configuration that performed on this tour.

The group, again accompanied by Chester Thompson on drums and Daryl Stuermer on guitar, played songs from much of the band's history, including many of my favorites. Gabriel-era songs included the aforementioned "Cinema Show" (instrumental part only, but that's the bit I like - although it sounded like Tony played it an octave lower than usual?), part of "Firth of Fifth", and "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)". "Afterglow", the usual oldies-medley closing, was beautiful as usual, and I really enjoyed the new medley from Duke that opened the show, "Los Endos" from Trick of the Tail, and the several songs from their self-titled album. I was disappointed that nothing from Abacab was performed, but you can't have everything.

The newest numbers, from "I Can't Dance" and "Invisible Touch", I mostly dismissed; Mike humorously noted at the time, and in his own review, that "Hold On My Heart" was the first time he'd seen a mass exodus to the restrooms during the performance of a top 40 song. :-) But overall, there were very few songs I didn't like.

Genesis had their usual impressive light show, even culminating in brief fireworks, but the arena also had three video screens: a tall oval picture-frame style screen on either side of the stage, and a large screen that formed the back of the stage itself. That large screen was mostly used for showing animation rather than live video, which I often found more distracting than entertaining, especially when it showed a stylized running man during the entirety of "In The Cage". But the screen was sometimes used to good effect, such as: during Stuermer's guitar solo on "Firth of Fifth"; showing shots of the audience, baseball-game style, during the otherwise forgettable "Throwing it All Away"; and centering on Phil's face surrounded by a tunneling video effect during "Domino".

Phil was an incredible ham, as usual, having the audience pose for photos he took from the stage, spotlighting the crowd for a "Domino" effect before that song, etc. I don't mind Phil so much as some other fans do, though. I actual prefer his voice to Gabriel's, and some of my favorite Genesis music was from the two albums immediately following Phil taking over as lead singer. I know much later material and many of Phil's solo songs were schmaltzy, but I still think he's a fine performer, and not just for his incredible percussion skills (the drum duet with Chester Thompson always brings down the house).

But for me, the wonder of Genesis is not in Phil or Peter, but in the genius of keyboardist-composer Tony Banks. That man is so amazingly creative and talented. It was a treat to see him play live again, after enjoying his music for over 20 years.