Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The White Album performed in its Entirety

Last night we attended the best rock music concert either of us had been to in decades: a concert led by Tom Appleman, a professor from Berklee College of Music and his musical guests. They performed the Beatles White Album in its entirety. Tickets were only $12 and it was general admission seating, so those of us who got there early lucked out with great seats in the first ten rows. This pricing/seating policy reminded us of the way things worked decades ago at typical rock concerts. The early birds got the best seats.

From the first sounds of the airplane landing in the beginning of "Back in the USSR" to the final words in "Good Night", the concert rocketed us to the stratosphere. We were grinning so long and hard I thought my face muscles would cramp! There was an eight year old kid sitting near the front who knew every song and sang along. There were grannies and lots of students from Berklee. It was multi-generational fun. Some babyboomer age fellows waiting outside the concert hall said, "Finally, after 45 years, the concert we always wanted."

The group played every song in the order of the album. They didn't say a word until after they'd played the entire first album's songs. And the pauses between numbers were as quick as the pauses between numbers on the LP. But it didn't just seem like an imitation. No, this performance did something that has been needed for decades. Good musicians bringing the songs of this studio recorded album to life.

The three guitarists dominated - Appleman, Corin Ashley, and Joe Musella. It was really amazing watching them switch gears with each song. This album has so many different styles it was dizzying to take it all in. All the musicians were great, but in addition to the leads, the piano/vocalist Brian E. King did yeoman's work, pulling together so many keyboard styles, even joining in on guitar and manning the firebell. Matt Burwell on percussion sang Ringo's songs and did a great job, bringing a Ringo-like quality to his performance.

It was hard to say which was our favorite. For me, hearing "Everybody's Got Something to Hide, Except for Me and My Monkey" was astounding in its power being played live. It was an unexpected surprise that this song would just pop like that. But there were so many moments like that in the concert.

This was a very special evening. It was lovingly produced, with a lot of hard work and raw talent - to sing all 30 songs in order with hardly any pauses. It was such fun to watch all the musicians come and go - including the string quartet, and the brass players.

I am hoping they will do this show again. Perhaps it will become a mid-winter tradition, and spread to other cities. It's totally a worthwhile project. All in all, a fantastic achievement.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Jeddah Heritage Festival 2014

Man wearing traditional headdress of Jeddah

My memories of my days in Saudi Arabia are in many ways centered in the old city of Jeddah, known as al-Balad, or the Balad. When I return for a writing assignment, I always visit there, wandering in its alleys and taking in its special spirit.

In recent years concerned citizens and officials have worked to preserve and revive the culture of the old city - for its coral brick mansions still stand high on the hill overlooking the Red Sea. The city is at the heart of my first novel, and so knowing these efforts have been going on is thrilling.

In January, 2014, the Jeddah Heritage Festival took place there and attracted approximately 750,000 visitors. All kinds of traditional crafts were demonstrated. People cooked and sold traditional food. People wore the old costumes of the Hijaz. Last but not least, folkloric performances of music and dance took place on the last day. Below are selected photographs from the English Language daily Saudi Gazette and a video from the other daily the Arab News. The video is of a folkloric group walking to their performance place. One man is carrying an electric heater that would be used to tighten the drumskins in the humid weather.

Here is the video!