Posts Tagged ‘winspear centre’

SLCR #200: Ben Folds and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (May 21, 2014)

May 29, 2014

Review number two hundred!




This is ridiculous. I feel like I should throw a party. A concert review party. Best kind. Chicken fingers and mozza sticks for all. The DJ can make questionable choices. Patrick can rearrange the furniture and make the bathroom smell like oranges. A LOT of oranges.

Maybe this is a good stopping point. But I’ve felt like stopping for years, off and on, and here we are.

I want to put all these things in a book. Have I mentioned that? Self-published, because nobody would pay for these and they’ve all been free on the internet at one point or another anyway. An ebook, because it would be big and we all have too many books and books are heavy. Hard to move. Though maybe I’ll order up a handful of print copies if I can pull it off without bankrupting myself, just for my own ego. I have a plan. I’ve had a plan for a while, if that isn’t becoming apparent. Re-read everything. Edit everything. Fix typos. Don’t fix horrible opinions. Restore self-censored content. Re-post the old reviews to the internet. Add pictures where possible. Scan tickets. Write a new introduction for each review. Introduce the cast of characters properly so you know why I want Patrick to make the bathroom smell like a lot of oranges.

I’m big on the “planning” part and not so much into the “doing.” But now you can all publically shame me when review #300 rolls around and I’ve done nothing.

I may never get to #300. When the book goes to print, the reviews end. Or when the reviews end, I’ll get the book ready. I don’t know. Something like that, in some order.

I couldn’t finalize the book and then write more reviews. I can’t leave stragglers, waiting forever for a second volume that will never come.

I bought my dad a set of all the James Bond Blu-Rays for Christmas. It’s very nice but it is also kind of silly. I mean, it’s not like they’ll never make more Bond movies, you know? He’ll have this nice fancy box set and a stack of separate individual discs that he’ll buy as future movies come out. So yes, when my concert review book is done, I’m leaving the game.

But can you live without my opinions of Gordon Lightfoot? Or Glass Tiger? Or this year’s Folk Festival? I guess it’s not like I don’t know them already:

GORDON LIGHTFOOD: Good to see him, but would have been better to see him many years ago. Also, I don’t know many of his songs and he skipped at least one of them. And I am NOT fixing that typo up there because “Gordon Lightfood” is the funniest thing I’ve written in some time.

GLASS TIGER: Not bad, all things considered, but I didn’t enjoy them as much as Deserée did. Also, she was way more excited for Glass Tiger than anyone should be in 2014 – or, indeed, ever – but didn’t do anything crazy like rush the stage to profess her undying love for Alan Frew, much to my disappointment (and probably to his).

REGINA FOLK FESTIVAL: This one will vary depending on the weather and my overall mood, but I expect I will like Friday night best of all because Joel Plaskett.

You know, if I only write a sentence for each review, I could keep doing this forever. But that’s not what these are about, is it? These are about documenting all the shenanigans (or lack thereof) that surround these nights, and briefly touching on whether or not I actually enjoyed the performance and whether or not I thought it was any good, all while trying to camouflage my lack of musical knowledge. And with that in mind…

You know I love Ben Folds. I have been a fan ever since first being introduced to Ben Folds Five on a free CD sampler that came with CMJ New Music Monthly, back in the time before you could instantly hear every single song ever recorded for free. I have seen Ben Folds in Fargo (an eight-hour drive – each way – from my house), and with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (also an eight-hour drive), and with Ben Folds Five in Minneapolis (twelve hours). All three shows were great. I would gladly see him again anytime, though I could do without the long-distance drives. I don’t ever expect he’ll play Regina (even though Americans find it so fun to say), but c’mon, Ben. At only six hours away, even Winnipeg would be an improvement. And you have no idea how much it pains me to say that, though I admit that the sting is lessened by the knowledge that I am the first person ever in the history of all humankind to string the words “Winnipeg would be an improvement” together in that exact order.

My friend Candice likes Ben Folds a lot too. If memory serves, this would be her first appearance in an SLCR. She’d never seen Ben before. Whenever I’ve gone to see him, the timing didn’t work out for her. This time, she made it work, so I made it work. Folds’ last concert with the Edmonton Symphony was just over two years ago – March 29, 2012. Like I said, I loved it, but if Candice hadn’t been able go this time, I don’t think I would have bothered either. Between the travel time, the cost, and knowing that the set list was bound to be very similar (when you’re playing with a symphony, your opportunities to mix things up are limited), I would have lived with missing this one. But with a good excuse to go? Couldn’t miss out.

After much deliberation and schedule juggling and plan changing, I caught a bus to Saskatoon on the weekend before the concert. I had the whole week off, so I spent a few days with family and friends before Candice and her husband Ryan picked me up around noon on the day of the show. They brought me Wendy’s! Delightful of them.

The drive was uneventful, which pretty much always beats the alternative. We listened to satellite radio comedy for most of the way there, which was its usual mixed bag. Lots of garbage, a few good lines here and there, and one of my favourite Bill Cosby routines (chocolate cake). And for the first time in a very long time, I found myself having run out of turns to play in my iPhone games.

When we got to Edmonton, we went straight downtown, not stopping at the hotel, to ensure that we had time to eat beforehand. Dinner was at a Ricky’s. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten at a Ricky’s before and am in no great rush to do so again. It wasn’t bad or anything; it was just one of those meals that could best be described as “a thing that happened.” Completely forgettable… so, of course, I’m writing about it for future generations. Hey future Earthlings and associated spacemen! On May 21, 2014, I ate a Greek chicken wrap with a Caesar salad! It was acceptable! Please take this information and build your culture around it. I expect many songs and chants, which you can upload into the hard drive that now contains my consciousness.

If I’d been in the milestone frame of mind, I’d have had chicken fingers and mozza sticks, the only appropriate meal. But I have a question for you: am I just old now, or were mozza sticks maybe never really all that good? Ones from the oven are always disappointing, sure, but even the deep fried “good” ones? I guess I just don’t know why anyone would get mozza sticks when deep fried dill pickle spears are a thing.

Anyway. We were only a few blocks from the Winspear Centre, so one quick walk and we were in our seats. After the last show, I remarked that the Winspear is a beautiful venue and I’d love to see something like it here. Candice said pretty much the same thing upon seeing it. Speaking of the seats, I did much better, ticket-wise, than the previous show – sixth row and close to the middle. Close enough to get hit with Ben Folds’ spit if he was determined to do so, and that’s what you’re after in a concert experience.

Actually, no. We were close enough to justify me sending Jeff a picture showing just how close to the stage we were. He replied “Hate you so much” which is what I was truly after in a concert experience. Also, it’s what he replies anytime I text him anything, or when I send a bottle of sparkling apple juice to his house. Hypothetically.

Showtime! As I expected, the setlist was very similar to the last symphony show – almost all of the same songs, just in a different order. They opened with Effington, and I still enjoy the choir singing “If there’s a god, he’s laughing at us and our football team.” The first half of the show closed with Steven’s Last Night In Town; the orchestra gives the song a swing/big band feel and it was one of the highlights of the evening. I like this version much better than the studio album. He came back out of intermission with Zak and Sara, and closed the second set with Narcolepsy (which followed a version of One Angry Dwarf which tore the place down – he could have had everyone leave after that one and then return for Narcolepsy as the encore and that would have worked well too).

I think the first half of the show also included (in some order) Smoke (also better with the symphony than on the record), Jesusland, Picture Window, and Landed. The second half featured Annie Waits, Cologne, Brick, and Not The Same. Of course, someone yelled out “ROCK THIS BITCH” – actually, in this case it was “JAZZ THIS BITCH” – so we got an impromptu, jazz-inspired number which again put the choir to good use. I wonder if he prepped them beforehand? “Hey choir guys, just so you know, there’s a good chance that tonight I’ll make you sing ‘rock this bitch in Edmonton’ over and over. Also, very pregnant lady, if you suddenly need to leave early, I totally get that.”

Two songs from the previous show were dropped (Gracie and The Ascent of Stan) in favour of two movements from Ben’s new piano concerto. I believe this was the first time these pieces had been played live since he debuted the concerto a few weeks ago, so it was neat to be able to hear these. An album release is planned but won’t be for a while yet. We have established that I don’t know anything about music proper, so I’ll just say that I enjoyed these pieces and look forward to hearing the whole thing. Ben explained that back in the day, a great piano concerto could “put seats in asses,” much to the amusement of the crowd and the conductor. This was not the conductor’s first show with Ben, so he could also get away with sarcastically applauding Ben’s choice of title for his piano concerto (“Piano Concerto for Symphony”).

The symphony didn’t play the encore; instead, Ben came out alone to do a few songs. Like last time, he did Army and The Last Polka. He also performed The Luckiest by himself and, earlier, had played Annie Waits with the symphony – at the last show, it was the reverse. (Thanks, mystery person who posted the setlist for the last show online. You saved me literally minutes of re-reading my own review!)

I will admit to a tinge of disappointment that he didn’t surprise us with a new symphonic rendition of his song from Community. Don’t you think a 70-piece orchestra could do fine work with Ass Crack Bandit? I think they’d class it right up. If I close my eyes, I can already tune out the outside world and hear the choir singing “A-S-S-C-R-A-C-K bandit.” This must happen. I really needed to mobilize Twitter behind this cause before the next Ben Folds show I see.

We were seated close to the end of our row, with only one spot to my right before the aisle. I don’t know if the girl who sat there was at the show by herself or just not sitting with her friends; either way, she was super excited for Ben Folds and mouthed along with all the songs, including the more obscure ones. Her enthusiasm was contagious and I found her to be delightful. Meanwhile, the guy ahead of me took a picture during the show and spent several minutes cropping it, selecting the right filter, perfecting the caption, and posting it to Instagram. This seemed like a massive waste of show time – there’s a #latergram hashtag for a reason – but he later redeemed himself by going absolutely bonkers for songs like Army and Zak & Sara. Thank you, strangers! It is fun to be around fun people.

Speaking of fun people, Candice and Ryan seemed to really enjoy the show. I didn’t doubt that they would, but I’d hate for it to have sucked after all this time. As for me, the evening did feel like a bit of a re-run. I expected as much, but even a lot of the stories were the same – Steven kept asking for parties, Ben made up a song on the spot about that astronaut, bringing in a rock star is basically the symphony’s equivalent of a wet t-shirt contest. Having said that, I still had a fine time and have spent the past week with one song or another stuck in my head – usually ones that hadn’t previously been favourites like Cologne, Last Polka, or Last Night in Town. And I’d still happily go see Ben again, especially if it was a solo show and/or closer. Preferably both.

On our way out of the Winspear Centre, some guy was handing out cards promoting the free download of his band’s album. I like free! And you probably like free too. But I can’t recommend you get something that might suck, right? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a bonus album review right here? I thought so, but my iTunes Match is being a giant dick. My phone sees that I have the album but won’t actually let me play it. Also, it is showing up as having been split into three separate albums for reasons known only to iTunes. So instead of a proper review, I will just say that I heard the first few songs the other night while I was making supper and I liked them well enough on first (distracted) listen.

So if you feel like it, you can sample or download your own free copy of Over Land and Sea (deluxe edition! is there a non-deluxe edition somewhere?) by Lauren Mann & The Fairly Odd Folk at—deluxe-edition. I bet they’d like it if you tipped them, too.

After getting to the hotel, I slept, ate an expensive room service omelette, played black light mini-golf, lost to Ryan at air hockey in a nail-biter, lost to Ryan at air hockey in a blowout, ate a burger with bacon and peanut butter and jelly on it, got a ride to the airport, and flew home. In that order.

• Regina Folk Festival (Serena Ryder, Joel Plaskett Emergency, Sam Roberts Band, Indigo Girls, Los Lobos, Mo Kenney, Geoff Berner, more – August 8-10)
• Son of Dave (August 14)
• Glass Tiger (September 27)
• Gordon Lightfoot (November 7)

SLCR #166: Ben Folds with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (March 29, 2012)

April 2, 2012

Can I type well enough on an iPad to write a concert review?

Can I sleep? (No.) So I may as well try.

What does this thing autocorrect “SLCR” into? Evidently nothing, or “slur” if you write it in lowercase.

I am lying awake in a bed in a motel in Edmonton. I have lots of family in this town, but apart from funerals, it seems that all of my Edmonton trips involve me driving into town, poking around West Edmonton Mall despite there being little of interest there, going to a show, sleeping, and leaving. I don’t feel right taking advantage of someone’s hospitality if I’m not going to spend any time actually visiting. So I hotel it up, always at the same Super 8-slash-truckstop because one time, Dave booked a room for us here because we were going to wrestling and the Super 8 was centrally located between the big mall and the arena. That’s how I make my life decisions: go with what someone else chose for me over a decade ago under different circumstances.

Yesterday’s concert was John K. Samson, the lead singer of The Weakerthans, but since I told my Edmonton history, I may as well talk about Ben Folds instead, since that’s why I’m here. I wonder if there’s a precedent for writing concert reviews out of order? I know I’ve never posted them out of order. If only I wasn’t too lazy to call the front desk and get a Wi-Fi passcode, I could look these things up. Or, more likely, I’d read a bunch of garbage from my Google Reader instead of doing this.

So far, this is no more annoying than typing on the netbook used to be. Check that – editing is a slower process, and using anything beyond the most basic punctuation is a bit of a drag.

I’d seen Ben Folds once before, in Fargo, an eight-hour drive from Regina. Edmonton is also an eight-hour drive from Regina. Mayhaps my city has a force field. You’d think he’d like it there; its pun potential really is unparalleled.

Regina also has a symphony orchestra. When I found out that Folds was going to be playing with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, I immediately began my campaign to bring him to Regina. I did this by asking the Regina Symphony nicely via Twitter. I am sad to report that social media has disappointed me for the first time, and the Regina Symphony was not willing to rearrange their schedule at the last minute at great expense in order to satisfy my whim.

I might even have said “please.” If not, I blame the character limit.

Still stinging from the rejection, I made the long drive from Regina to Edmonton, filled with memories of that Fargo show. It had been worth the drive, but a symphony show is a different beast. By its very nature, it has to be more structured, with less room for playing around. I have the DVD that Folds released of his shows with the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra. I haven’t watched it in a while, and when I got this ticket, I intentionally avoided so much as looking at the track list because I was expecting a lot of similarities.

I found the Super 8 on the first try. You’d think I’d have that pretty much cased by now, but you don’t know of my legendary ability to get lost in my own house. I also found the mall on the first try. The Winspear Centre, on the other hand, that one took some doing. The Google Maps map was actually pretty accurate, but some badly timed glare meant a lot of extra driving around for me. I only tried to go the wrong way down one one-way street, so that was a success.

The venue, it should be noted, is beautiful. Similar in size and function to the Conexus Arts Centre in Regina or TCU Place in Saskatoon, but much more attractive. I felt underdressed. I probably should have considered that this was an actual symphony concert and not just a rock show. But then the conductor took the stage via bicycle, so maybe I need not worry.

I drive eight hours to see Ben Folds because he rarely comes to Canada. I think this is the first show of his that I’ve heard of outside Toronto or Vancouver. Judging by the crowd reaction, a full tour is long overdue. The guy got a standing ovation just for showing up, opening notes of songs got raucous applause, and the crowd knew to sing the horn section of Army without being prompted.

Looking now at the track list for that DVD, I am delighted to see that we got a lot of new songs. As with that show, he opened with Zak and Sara and followed that up with Smoke, and the encore was still The Luckiest, but there was a lot of new stuff in there. Some of the songs hadn’t been released when that DVD came out, including Jesusland, Picture Window, Cologne, Landed, and Effington, which featured an eight-person choir singing “If there’s a god, he’s laughing at us and our football team.” That same choir also sang the “kiss my ass kiss my ass goodbye now” part of One Angry Dwarf & 200 Solemn Faces, which might make them the best choir ever.

At one point, as happens at every Ben Folds show, someone yelled out “ROCK THIS BITCH!” Someone else responded with “NEVER AGAIN!” I laughed. I don’t know if Folds was serious with his threat to quit playing Rock This Bitch (basically, music and lyrics made up on the spot) but I’ve seen him twice and he’s done it twice. He started by giving the different instruments melodies to play, then ramped it up. The saxophones were instructed to “just do whatever you feel like.” The final version involved a mariachi trumpet solo, a tympani solo, the choir (of course), and  lyrics along the lines of “this is what happens when you give the piano guy an orchestra in Edmonton.” This was all great fun and everyone loved it, treating Ben and the orchestra to a raucous ovation. “That was the perfect lead-in for what’s coming up next,” said Folds, and you’ve never heard to opening notes of a song about a teenager’s abortion greeted with so much laughter.

In between songs, Folds confirmed that there will be a new Ben Folds Five album before the year is up, and he talked about the histories of some of the songs, but mostly he just tried to deal with the people yelling WOOOO and WE LOVE YOU BEN and whatnot. I cannot stress enough just how bonkers this crowd was. Dude was BELOVED.

There were two sets of just under an hour each, followed by the “surprise” encore (“It’s just a coincidence that they all have sheet music ready to go.”). Then Ben left, and then the orchestra left, and then I left. I was halfway through the lobby when people started making noise about Ben coming back, so I snuck back in to catch the second encore, which was just Ben and his piano for a few songs, including Army and Annie Waits. And once he was done those, I waited for the lights to come up before leaving because I was taking no chances.

Do I need to say this was fantastic? Because it totally was. Songs I love, expertly played (Folds really is an amazing pianist and I didn’t even talk about the orchestra, who were great, and some of the arrangements of the songs were really interesting, like there was one where I was sure the choir was singing, but they weren’t, it was all the instruments, and that was neat, and one of the songs had really cool percussion parts and I’m sad I can’t remember the specific song right now and I am not editing this sentence because it is now very late and editing things on the iPad is not what I want to be doing and sure I will email this to myself later for final editing before I send it into the world but I am not going to fix this part because it has become a matter of pride or principle or something) and an audience who was thrilled just to be there and their enthusiasm elevated everything from start to finish. I’m calling it: better than Fargo, and I liked that show a lot.

I meant the concert I saw there, but really, that sentence works just as well if you assume I’m talking about the movie.