Saturday, August 17, 2013

a review of something different

There are things that other people do, that perhaps most of the people I know do all the time, that I have never done, or have done rarely.

One of those things would be, "go to a rock concert." Now, if electric-folk bands like Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span and the Oyster Band, or for that matter the Roches or Suzanne Vega, count as rock bands, then I've been to such concerts, though not for a long time. But if you mean a rock band, or even a pop band, in the stricter sense, then no, I have never been. Ever.

Until last Saturday. It was due to the blandishments of my editor at the San Mateo Daily Journal and of the conductor of the Redwood Symphony that I consented to review a concert at which the Symphony played the parts of the London classical session musicians who played such important parts in later Beatles songs, the parts of the Beatles themselves being taken by a group called the White Album Ensemble, which, as its name suggests, specializes in playing in concert the later songs that the Beatles never played in concert themselves.

Now, there are several reasons I don't attend rock concerts.

Most importantly, 1) I hate most of the music. Not the case with the Beatles. There's a few famous bands I like one or two songs by, even if I hate the rest (I do have to draw a blank with the Rolling Stones), but I actually like about 80% of the Beatles' songs, something I can say about only one other non-folkie rock band1; and, looking over the set list of this concert beforehand, I realized I could review this because, not only do I like most of the songs, I know all of them, the way I know classical pieces. I couldn't have done this if it were anybody's songs but the Beatles'.

2) They're too crowded and humongous, and the acoustics suck. But this was no horrible arena show2 - I wouldn't have gone to hear even the Beatles at an arena show, and after a while the Beatles couldn't stand to go either, which is why they stopped touring - it was at the old Fox Theatre in Redwood City, and it was only a tribute group. I thought it'd be manageable on all accounts, and it was.

3) Too expensive. Not if you've got a reviewer's comp ticket it isn't. And this was easily affordable anyway, cheaper than a lot of classical concerts.

4) Too loud. Well, that I was worried about, so I packed my industrial-strength earplugs, which I last used on Fairport Convention. I wore them about half the time. Though everything was amplified, some of the songs were not too loud: "When I'm 64" and "Martha My Dear" certainly weren't, not to mention "Eleanor Rigby" and, fer cryin' out loud, "Yesterday." By classical standards this was, at its most, a piercingly loud concert. By rock standards I expect it was very quiet.

Here's the review. It had to be brief, hard for me when there's 30 pieces in the show, but I hope it's clear I had a good time, especially because of what I dared to call the band's "classical aesthetic," which meant that their first priority was to play the song as written, not to jazzify it, which annoys me more than anything else in pop covers.

One thing I didn't have space for was to describe the band.3 There were eight guys in the ensemble on stage, and they split up the original Beatles' roles pretty extensively. Despite their fidelity to what I guess I should call the score, they made no attempt to imitate the individual character of the playing or singing, any more than classical musicians imitate the style of other players, and they didn't look like the Beatles at all. In fact, they looked like other people. The guy who sang Paul's parts looked like Pete Townshend. The guy who sang John's parts looked rather like Neil Young. The lead guitarist looked like David Bowie. The guy who stood in for the voices of both George and Ringo wore a cap like mine, dark glasses, and a mustache, and as a result looked as much like John Astin as anybody.

Anyway, they did some amazing things, which I also didn't have much space to describe. They actually played the outro to "Strawberry Fields", though they didn't attempt the one to "I Am the Walrus".

1. Anybody care to guess what the other band is? DGK knows.
2. When I was living in Seattle, some 33 1/3 years ago, the Rolling Stones came to town, and all of my friends just had to go. I was immune, not just because of the detestable band, but because of the venue, which was the domed pro football stadium. "You know the acoustics are going to suck," I told my friends, and they nodded; they knew. Afterwards I asked various of them how the concert was, and they all began by saying that the acoustics really sucked.
3. In an unsuccessful search for good and appropriate photos of the band online - in the end, the print edition published the review without photos - I took to Googling the names of individual band members, and found out that one of them is a registered sex offender. (He pleaded no contest.) I really didn't want to know that. But I guess even they need jobs.

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