Archive for June, 2008

Pentangle in London: for this I miss the European football final?

June 30, 2008
Pentangle at London’s Royal Festival Hall on Sunday didn’t engage me. I left at the interval to catch the end of the Euro 2008 football final.

I’d booked because I’m keen on early Pentangle recordings. The eponymous 1960s album is a classic; 2001’s Sweet Child is fine, too. I rate Bert Jansch’s 1960s heyday stuff, and his guitar picking has few equals.

I’m not averse to folk/roots music: I’ve swooned at gigs by folkies like Jim Moray, the Copper Family and the Waterboys. And Dylan’s early LPs are favourites round these parts.

The playing of the four-piece was competent-going-on-accomplished.

But therein lay my problem. I’m used to watching virtuoso players, whether in poprock, jazz, orchestral or whatever, who – and here’s the rub – take wing and visit exciting new places.

Pentangle’s music last night had too little invention, insufficient vitality for my liking. Even the solos, on guitar, bass and drums lacked ambition – they sounded pre-planned, improvisation-free. I found singer Jacqui McShee’s constant swooping, with nary a melisma-free line, irritating after only about ten minutes.

The first half sounded as if it could have been played circa 1970. Maybe the second half was different – brim-full of recent creative endeavour – but I’ll never know, as I escaped to catch the end of the final, which saw Spain claiming their rightful place at the peak of European football. Viva Espana!

Pentangle in London: music for grown-ups? Naah: it hurts to admit it, but it looked like folkpop for easily pleased nostalgic oldies to me.

Gerry Smith

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Utah Phillips: RIP

June 26, 2008
Thanks to Martin Cowan for this link to the obituary in The Guardian newspaper for Utah Phillips:

http://music.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,,2287142,00.html

FREE! Music for grown-ups on air in the next 10 days

June 25, 2008
Tempting TV/radio broadcasts in the next 10 days:

Wed 25 June
2045 Franz Liszt, Composer Of The Week – BBC Radio 3
(3/5, continues Thurs-Fri)

Thurs 26 June
2300 Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan (Rpt) – BBC Radio 2

Friday 27 June
2000 La Fille du Regiment (Dessay, Florez in once-in-a-lifetime London 2007 production) – BBC4

Friday-Sunday: Glastonbury – not my cup of Darjeeling, but there’s blanket BBC coverage on Radio 2 and TV. Among the musical mush for the mainstream middle-aged (in wellies), about 5% of the acts play for grown-ups: I’ll be watching out for Amy Winehouse on Saturday evening, and Leonard Cohen.

Sat 28 June
1030 What’s So Great About… Bob Dylan? – BBC Radio 4
1900 The Definitive History of UK Dance Music (2/3) – BBC Radio 2

Sun 29 June
2400 Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan (Series 2) – BBC 6 Music

Tues 1 July
2330 The Greatest Dance Records Of All Time (1/3) – BBC Radio 2

Fri 4 July
2230 Cassandra Wilson, Jazz Library, BBC Radio 3

Online access: many BBC radio and TV programmes are available online, streamed and/or archived. You can access radio via BBC Listen Again and TV via BBC iPlayer: please see BBC channel web sites for details.

Gerry Smith

Ariadne auf Naxos: first-class singing, occasionally silly opera

June 24, 2008
“Bunch of bullsh*t!”, opined the obese Texan in the next seat as the curtain came down on Ariadne auf Naxos. Not really a surprising reaction – he’d been checking his watch every few minutes all evening.

But was Saturday’s Royal Opera House production really that bad?

Well, the score and libretto are only intermittently engaging. The Prologue/first act is superfluous. And some of the staging was creaky.

But this production also has considerable strengths, particularly some first-class singing. It was well worth seeing controversial American soprano Deborah Voigt for the first time, and exulting in her enormous voice. House favourite Thomas Allen was, as usual, vibrant. Gillian Keith, Kristine Jepson and Markus Werba also caught the eye. The band, under Mark Elder, gave a very good account of itself.

An irksome, unsatisfying, occasionally silly opera – yes. For that, I blame Richard Strauss. But Bunch of BS? No – a bit over the top, that.

Gerry Smith

Great rockpop lyricists – new series of collectable free booklets

June 23, 2008
Bob Dylan was the launch title of Great Lyricists, a new series of collectable booklets given away with Saturday 21 June’s edition of The Guardian, the London liberal-left daily newspaper.

The nicely designed booklet, running to 26 pages, includes the lyrics of eight Bob songs, six from the 1960s, plus Tangled Up In Blue and Blind Willie McTell.

The series of eight freebies continued in yesterday’s sister paper The Observer, with Broooooooooce Springsteen, and today’s Guardian with Morrissey.

Remaining subjects include Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, as well as Chuck D, Patti Smith and a young lad from the Arctic-Something-or-Others.

I’ll be buying all bar two, filing the beautifully designed but unwanted rag in the bin, on my out of the filling station shop.

Gerry Smith

Thomas Quasthoff and Esbjorn Svensson celebrated on Radio 3

June 20, 2008
Regular readers will know of my fondness for BBC Radio 3: it’s as near as English radio gets to a Music For Grown-Ups station.

This week’s schedules included two pieces of programming which were outstanding even by Radio 3’s toweringly high standards:

* German bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff is ever more prominent, and I’d been wondering what all the fuss is about. After hearing the four-programme profile in the Artist Focus series, I now know. What a talent!

* the tragic death of pianist Esbjorn Svensson, founder of EST, the magnificent trio named after him, in a diving accident near his Stockholm home last weekend, has saddened the world of jazz. EST took their tumultuous brand of populist jazz to a mainstream European audience, including many younger listeners; they’ve been one of the brightest stars in the improv universe for some years.

Radio 3 paid tribute to Svensson in Jazz on 3 at 2330 on Friday 20 June, by replaying extracts from no fewer than four EST gigs recorded for the BBC over the last dozen or so years.

RIP: Esbjorn Svensson, a great musician.

Many BBC radio programmes are available online, streamed and/or archived. You can access them via Listen Again:

www.bbc.co.uk/radio3

Gerry Smith

Conor Oberst’s English gigs

June 19, 2008
My, my, my.

The year 2008 is turning into an annus mirabilis for this grown-up rockpop fan. After fulfilling long-held ambitions of seeing Morrissey and Bjork in concert, I then booked to catch Beck and Leonard Cohen: which will give me four ticks out of a must-see list of about eight artists.

Tomorrow I hope to add Conor Oberst (erstwhile Bright Eyes), who’s just announced English gigs this summer.

At this rate, before very long, there’ll be no-one left on my poprock must-see list. Joni Mitchell… Radiohead… Paul Weller… and, er, that’s about it.

Gerry Smith

FREE! Music for grown-ups on air in the next 10 days

June 18, 2008
Tempting TV/radio broadcasts in the next 10 days:

Wed 18 June
2230 Thomas Quasthoff (bass-baritone), Artist Focus (3/4) – BBC Radio 3

Thurs 19 June
2230 Thomas Quasthoff, Artist Focus (4/4) – BBC Radio 3
2300 Paul Weller: Live at the IndigO2 – ITV2
2300 Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan (Rpt) – BBC Radio 2

Sat 21 June
1900 The Definitive History of UK Dance Music (1/3) – BBC Radio 2

Sun 22 June
2400 Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan (Series 2) – BBC 6 Music

Mon 23 June
2045 Franz Liszt, Composer Of The Week – BBC Radio 3
(1/5, continues Tues-Fri)

Fri 27 June
2000 La Fille du Regiment (Dessay, Florez in once-in-a-lifetime London 2007 production) – BBC4

Online access: many BBC radio and TV programmes are available online, streamed and/or archived. You can access radio programmes via BBC Listen Again and TV via BBC iPlayer: please see BBC channel web sites for details.

Gerry Smith

Don Carlo at London’s Royal Opera House: mediocre, missable

June 17, 2008
Verdi’s late-career Don Carlo is a fanciful rewrite of political shenanigans at the Habsburg court in mid-16thC Spain, just as its imperial power was peaking.

The score is only intermittently engaging. The libretto is tosh – a propagandist’s fairy tale. It’s dramatically weak, too, with some incomprehensible character motivation. And it’s far, far too long – Don Carlo could easily lose half of its 3 hours 30 running time without adversely affecting the telling of the tale.

So Saturday’s performance at London’s Royal Opera House was always going to be an uphill struggle.

The singing ranged from competent to utterly wonderful. Marina Poplavskaya, the Russian soprano playing Elizabeth, has a beautiful tone and impresses throughout her range. Baritone Simon Keenlyside was his usual Covent Garden self – commanding, authentic, inspired. It’s not difficult to see why he’s such a house favourite. I’d queue to watch these two fine artists sing almost anything.

Putative star Rolando Villazon, who missed much of the last year suffering from burn-out, was again, sadly, under the weather – suffering an “allergic reaction” in the first half, we were informed. He gamely continued, but was on half throttle thereafter.

I share the consensus view that Villazon’s a major tenor talent, but I’m becoming less inclined to book to see him – my last Villazon outing had been the ghastly popopera concert pairing with Ms Netrebko.

Great house band, as always. Staging/direction OK, a bit iffy.

Don Carlo, overall? Mediocre. Missable.

Gerry Smith

Leonard Cohen tour reaches Europe

June 17, 2008

After a series of warm-ups in Canada, the Leonard Cohen tour finally hit Europe over the weekend, with two gigs in Dublin which, just like the overseas shows, were praised to the skies.

Leonard is reportedly in great voice and form, playing looooooooong gigs of about 25 songs. (By comparison, Dylan shows are a regulation 17 songs long).

Cohen plays Manchester (why?) for four nights from Tuesday 17 June, then moves to continental Europe. I’m salivating at the prospect of the London show, on 17 July.

Here’s the second Dublin show setlist – it looks wonderful:

DUBLIN 14 June

Dance Me to the End of Love
The Future
Ain’t No Cure For Love
Bird on a Wire
Everybody Knows
In My Secret Life
Who by Fire
Anthem

Tower of Song
Suzanne
The Gypsy’s Wife
Boogie Street
Hallelujah
Democracy
I’m Your Man
A Thousand Kisses Deep (Recited)
Take This Waltz

Waiting for a Miracle
First We Take Manhattan

That Don’t Make it Junk
If It Be Your Will (1st 2 verses recited by Leonard, remainder sung by Webb Sisters)
Closing Time

I Tried to leave you

Whither Thou Goest

I’m following the tour on the marvellous fanlist –

www.leonardcohenforum.com

Gerry Smith