Category Archives: Show Review

Rush show review

Beyond the lighted stage

A born-again Rush fan gets on with the fascination

Like many suburban dudes of a certain age, I listened to Rush throughout much of my early adolescence. My difficult years coincided with the band’s – in the mid-’80s, the only person on the planet with a more painfully self-aware haircut than me was Geddy Lee. I turned to metal, hardcore and alternative rock; Rush turned to keyboards and Aimee Mann. After that, I never gave the band a second thought, except as a punchline for jokes about Canadians, fat guys with ponytails or nerds who couldn’t get laid.

That is, until I saw Beyond the Lighted Stage, the 2010 documentary about the band by the same filmmakers who made the incredible Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. Not only did the movie do a fantastic job of putting Rush into context as a singular and enduring rock act, but also as three endearing personalities committed as much to one another as they were to making exactly the kind of music they wanted to make, with (mostly) no regard for fashion, trends or critical/commercial acceptance. Their 1976 album 2112 was a middle finger to their label, and they’ve kept that finger raised – in a politely Canadian way, of course – for a quarter-century.

I came away madly in love with Rush – as a concept at least – if only for their integrity, deep-rooted connection to their work and the intense devotion of their fans. Also: Geddy, Neil and Alex are a totally adorable trio. So, after a crash course revisiting the band’s classic albums (everything up through Moving Pictures), I figured seeing the “Time Machine Tour” stop in Tampa would be a logical continuation of my studies in Rush revisionism.

Some observations:

There are, in fact, women at Rush shows … lots of them. Indeed, the one next to me was rocking out 100 times harder than her male companion.

If Beyond the Lighted Stage made you think that Rush had a sense of humor, the Real History of Rush film shown before the set proved they’re not only funny, but incredibly self-effacing. Very few bands actually get what they’re about like Rush does.

Overheard frequently: “How many shows have you seen?” The answer was frequently more than five, and that number was often given regarding this current tour. Rush fans are like Deadheads, just smarter and less concerned with being surprised.

Unlike most big-venue tours, Rush concerts are not for the casual fan. While I certainly dug the fact that the band played all of Moving Pictures – including “The Camera Eye” – from front to back in the second set, the majority of the crowd was equally thrilled by numbers from Snakes and Arrows and other more recent albums, which actually outnumbered the classic tracks at the concert.

I wanted a “Rash” t-shirt, but they weren’t for sale.

While I certainly have not been converted – nor likely ever will be – into the kind of guy who knows the drum fills on some mid-’90s Rush album, this concert filled me with nothing but admiration for the band and their fans. Those fans are just as peculiar and singular as the band’s music, so it’s something of a perfect match, but the respect and joy that Rush and its fans give to one another in concert was absolutely inspiring, and something that more bands should aspire to. That it continues on a nightly basis in sold-out venues all over the world is not about “nerds” or “outcasts” or “guys who can’t get laid”; it’s a testament to a talented band that has forged a strong and unique bond with its fans simply by being honest about who they are and what they do. If that’s not punk rock, I don’t know what is.

First appeared Oct. 7, 2010 in Orlando Weekly.

 

Le Trio Joubran show review (Reax)

Le Trio Joubran
with Ritmo Gitano
Tuesday, February 25
The Baraka Collection, Winter Park

All too often in Central Florida, performances by international musicians fall into one of two categories. Either they’re the music is providing “authenticity” to some theme park/cultural fair/restaurant “experience” or the concert is a high-dollar affair presented in the sterile environs of a performing arts center or museum. These may be effective ways to present cultural artifacts to chin-stroking observers or to distract from the artifice of a certain environment, but they are far from the best way for music to be enjoyed.

With this in mind, it was with extraordinary trepidation and the slightest bit of optimism that the news of a concert by renowned Palestinian group Le Trio Joubran was received in these quarters. That the concert was scheduled to be performed at a Middle Eastern art gallery in tres-chic Winter Park didn’t instill a tremendous amount of hope. Would the promoters put these oud-playing brothers in a corner of their gallery to play songs while patrons clinked wine glasses and chatted about the merits of thousand-dollar oil paintings?

Thankfully, the answer was a resounding “No.” In keeping with the reputation that Le Trio Joubran has established for themselves – the trio has garnered considerable international press attention, and their second album, Majaz, is currently a top-seller in Europe – an impressive, tented outdoor stage was set up on the street, while the gallery hob-nobbing was kept entirely separate.

Opening act Ritmo Gitano, with their furiously infectious Spanish-guitar sound, wasn’t the most obvious accompaniment, but they won the audience over, regardless. Though normally (and unfortunately) relegated to the above-mentioned restaurant circuit, the local group should be a more recognized presence in the Orlando scene. Ask yourself this: if Rodrigo y Gabriela were to come to town, would they play a restaurant or a music venue? While Ritmo Gitano’s sound is only tangentially similar to the Mexican duo’s, it’s hard to understand why they’re not accorded the same respect by local venue-bookers.

It was Le Trio Joubran, however, that was the reason the crowd of 150 or so braved the night’s torrential downpours. The three brothers (all sons of a luthier) were accompanied by the impressive percussion work of Yousef Hbeitsch. The combined impact of three expressively and expansively played ouds (which, if you’re unfamiliar, is the Middle Eastern precursor of the lute) and Hbeitsch’s multifaceted drum-work cast an immediate spell on the audience.

And not in a chin-stroking way, either.

It didn’t take too long for the audience to find their feet and by the third number, there was dancing in the aisles and lots of time-keeping clapping going on in the crowd. Festive and fun, the show was not without its serious notes: elder brother Samir noted when the beeping sound of a truck backing up momentarily distracted everyone, “We are used to that for dangerous stuff.” When introducing the improvisation that closed out the evening, he sought to very simply “present our case: we want to see an end of the occupation … my only weapon is my instrument.”

Baraka Collection co-founder Hatem Akil noted in his introduction that this show was the first of many to be hosted by the gallery, and one can only hope that future concerts continue to prove that non-Western music shouldn’t be squeezed into delicate presentation boxes to be enjoyed properly.

‘Vive le World’ [Sol Kalmery, DuOud, Natacha Atlas, Electro Bamako] show review

Miami — and specifically Miami Beach — makes most normal people feel like helplessly parochial hicks. It’s what the city does best. All that tropical beauty, all those fast cars and all that hipper-than-thou architecture adds up to a severe sense of Dorothy-style disorientation. But it’s a sense that quickly passes when you realize that, hey, this is still Florida and the toothless crackers and migrant fruit-pickers and right-wing zealots and ex-mill workers from Ohio and clueless soccer moms still vastly outnumber the glamour nazis. And, in fact, most of the beautiful people in Miami don’t actually live there; they’re just in for a week while their villa in Ibiza is being renovated.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but feel a little Gomer-esque while taking in the “Vive La World!” concert taking place Saturday night. Here I was, in a publicly-funded outdoor space, watching a diverse bill of internationally acclaimed musicians perform for a responsive and responsible audience who were (get this) consuming alcohol in moderationand watching their kids. Everyone had a good time, nobody got hurt, and, near as I could tell, no permanent moral damage was done to the children after experiencing something that wasn’t explicitly “family-friendly” (i.e., watered-down and utterly devoid of anything but mediocrity).

It was something that can’t possibly occur in Orlando.

In a community of nearly two million people, Orlando’s small-town strictures on entertainment basically insist that any public event be as mediocre as possible, for fear of offending or, worse, challenging the dumbest and most morally constrained of our populace. And in some cases, that’s fine. But does every single public event in downtown Orlando need to pass the “kid test”? Aren’t the tax-paying adults who support the city entitled to some intelligent entertainment that isn’t vetted by the Church Lady?

But, on the other hand, even with the availability of public spaces to stage such events, a concert like “Vive La World!” would still be unlikely here. With an eclectic lineup culled from the Afro-French diaspora, the niche marketing forces that rule Orlando would be hard-pressed to define the target market that would be attracted to the bill. After all, we live in a city that hosts exceptional “world music” concerts on a very regular basis, but these events are usually promoted only to the group most closely associated with the event, leaving them a secret to the community at large. That insular approach would have failed this event.

After all, to whom in Orlando do you promote a gig that includes Zairean acoustic blues (Sol Kalmery), beat-conscious, metal-shredding oud players (DuOud, who stole the show), a collision between trip-hop and Malian vocal soul (Electro Bamako, who delivered an electrifying show) and the diva trip of Natacha Atlas (who came off like a bizarre mixup of Cher, Sade and Fairuz)? The answer is simple: the same sort of intelligent, informed adults who are continually reminded that the city they live in isn’t yet ready to treat them like cosmopolitan grown-ups. And though there could be a good reason to have Frankie & the Flagwavers (or some such nonsense) at Lake Eola, the city deserves better.

First appeared July 17, 2003 in Orlando Weekly.

 

Miss India International [Orlando] Beauty Pageant feature (Orlando Weekly)

Sari Surprises

I’ve been to Bombay more than I’ve been to Los Angeles, and I’ve been to L.A. enough. So I felt well-prepared for the combination of subcontinental superficiality that the Miss India International pageant (Nov. 30 at Hard Rock Live) should have been. After all, we are talking about a beauty pageant, and Bombay is a city that defies all the hokey Western stereotypes about India as a homespun land of gurus and salt-of-the-earth peasants.

India (though certainly weighed down by poverty resulting from endemic political corruption) is perfectly capable of meeting and exceeding America’s finest when it comes to opulent emptiness. Though cities like New Delhi and Bangalore can hold their own when it comes to parties and flash, it’s Bombay that spins out the plastic fantasies that provide dreams of fame for the country’s teeming masses. Like Hollywood, Bombay is a city that runs on star power and whether it’s MTV India, the omnipresence of film posters or some star DJ spinning trance at Fire ‘N’ Ice, the city — like Tokyo or New York — always feels as if it’s spinning on an entirely different axis from the rest of the world. Having briefly rested on that axis by interviewing Miss India 1997 in her suburban Bombay apartment (she was then a VJ on MTV India and a bona fide celebrity), I felt uniquely qualified to understand this pageant’s proceedings.

Well, I’m still trying to figure it out.

Organized as a fund-raiser, the pageant drew participants from 17 states to compete for the crown of Miss India International (not the same as Miss India or Miss India Worldwide, apparently). The actual beauty contest, however, was quite secondary to the sheer pageantry of the entertainment that preceded it. After being ushered to my seat, a spectacle unfolded before me that could only be described as impressive.

Whether it was dance-school students lip-synching to numbers from Bollywood films like “Asoka” (sadly, there was no re-enactment of one of the shootouts from “Sholay”), full-on music-video choreography accompanying a Talvin Singh remix of a Najma track or a showcase by some straight-up Bollywood B-boys (yes, there was breakdancing) it was quite a musical affair. And though Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan might have done a grave-turn if he saw what was going on while one of his songs was playing, it was incredibly entertaining.

But little could have prepared me for what I consider to be the evening’s highlight. As a man emerged from side-stage banging on a dhol (a two-headed drum), a performance began that was truly inspired. Avtar (the dhol player) wasn’t playing any regular instrument. No, the bass side of his dhol just happened to be equipped with a flashing strobe, so he had his own portable light show. And, as his playing grew faster and more frenetic, with the lights coming more furiously, the curtains behind him parted to reveal … acrobats from Splendid China! Spinning plates! On sticks!

Needless to say, this was not what I was expecting.

Thankfully, intermission soon came and I was able to catch my breath before the beauty contest got into full swing. With a cast of judges that inexplicably included Ranier Munns (of the Bogin, Munns & Munns law firm), the contestants were graded neither on swimwear nor on talent.

No, the 39 girls up for the crown were being judged for two main things: ability to beautifully wear beautiful clothes (both “Indian” and “Western”) and ability to answer queries from the judges. Questions like “What do you think your best attribute is?” (best answer: “My smile”) or “If you could have everyone in this room give to one charitable cause, what would it be?” (best answer: “Education,” which I didn’t realize was a charity). Most responded admirably, but it was certainly the first category that provided the judges the most to work with. And, given the stunning beauty of the contestants, it probably also proved the most difficult to decide upon.

In the end, it was Nasheyn Lally who won. But the pageant was less about her than it was about celebrating the mad, modern diversity that is Indian culture in Orlando. And though this was only one of many Indo-centric events that happen in town, it certainly turned out to be one of the year’s best.

First appeared December 19, 2002 in Orlando Weekly.