Like I’ll probably never tire of saying, I moved to New York City in 2012.
Among other things, I discovered that a lot of concerts happen in the area. I don’t anymore have to worry about getting back late. And it works great even if I’m by myself, thanks to the excellent public transport this city has. So I ended up watching a lot of concerts. Let’s see how that went.
- Norah Jones: Last April at Tarrytown Music Hall. I had no idea this place existed. My friend had an extra ticket and while I had only listened to two Norah Jones songs properly until then, I decided to just go. Turned out to be a test concert for her tour for Little Broken Hearts a month later. Two hours later, Norah had a new fan. Her voice has an ethereal quality to it. Her manner makes you feel she’s just a regular girl you’d meet at a slumber party and do your nails with and who you’ll grin at when she has her arms full of Grammys and you won’t for a moment think she’s being snarky when she says “And I didn’t thank my grandmother either” when the media asks her why she didn’t thank Pt. Ravi Shankar in her Grammy acceptance speech. I also have grown to like her country band The Little Willies. Her music doesn’t take itself too seriously, be it when she’s covering Dolly Parton’s Jolene or singing melodious yet creepy songs about what she’ll do Miriam who’s done her wrong. I love how effortless she makes it all seem.
Here’s The Little Willies singing about Lou Reed cow tippin’.
- The Manhattan Transfer: It was Last.fm’s recommendations which introduced me to this jazz vocalese band. I wrote about the concert here. It was a very enjoyable evening. It was raining like crazy as I hunted for a Kinko’s to print my tickets out near Grand Central, and I made a mad dash in my soaked ballerina flats to catch the last train that would get me to Tarrytown in time for the concert. It was still cold and rainy and dark as I trudged up the slope to get to the music hall. It was downright magical to hear jazz vocalese being performed live. When we all stood up in an ovation after Birdland, it didn’t matter that I was the youngest and brownest in the crowd, or that the two women next to me had large bobbing Adam’s apples and that had made me unsure about beginning a conversation with them or that the old couple next to me called me ‘coloured’…. all that mattered was we thought the band did a wonderful job and we had had a great evening.
- The Raghu Dixit Project: All the Bangaloreans in the tri-state area came together at Joe’s Pub that evening. Everyone had that typical RV/PESIT look about them. Their performance was just like I remembered them at NITK in 2007, though only Raghu Dixit and Gaurav Vaz remained of the then-lineup. Their token eye-candy was the flautist this time, as opposed to the guitarist while at NITK. Everyone who’d come, Bangalorean or not, enjoyed the concert a lot. There even was a caucasian woman who danced on tables and jumped up on stage as the band finished. She was introduced to the crowd as the band’s ‘stalker’. They played old songs, new ones, movie songs, folk songs… they’ve always been good at showmanship and kept the audience on their feet pretty much the entire duration. Pretty good, I’d say.
- The Doors (of the 21st Century): aka Krieger-Manzarek. They’ve got a lead singer who does a pretty awesome Jim Morrison. Ray Manzarek looks just as erudite and classy as he looked in the band’s heyday. Robby Krieger looks like just another little old man with funny pants and a great shock of white hair, but two minutes with a guitar and he’s a powerhouse. Ray’s brother Rick Manzarek came in with the lead guitar for a few songs, I don’t particularly remember which ones. (This is why you’ve got to blog just as soon as you finish a concert). I was initially trying to record the songs, or to sing along or to try and remember the songs, but with the long interludes and solos and improvizations, I just gave up and sat back and closed my eyes. It was the closest I’ve got to a religious experience. The band are very loud, very ’70s, very cheery, very prone to cussing. They remembered Jim, they got up and pranced around, they screamed, they played their hearts out. From Riders on the storm to Indian Summer to Light My Fire, the music transcended every pore of my being, and when they finally got around to LA Woman, it didn’t matter anymore that they were playing ‘my song’, all I knew was I didn’t want them to stop playing. I’m someone who makes fun of Morrison poetry, but in that music hall with the music so loud, and a powerful-voiced young man spouting them, the lyrics all came together and made sense.
The crowd was interesting as well. Lots of ex-hippies. The sorts who are balding badly but still have a ponytail. The sort who still try to drink like they did in the original Doors concerts, but now end up going to the restroom every half hour. One such man next to me was reminiscing about driving down Sunset Blvd passing by a billboard advertising the latest Doors album, LA Woman, with Light My Fire playing on the radio when the announcer interrupted to announce Morrison had been found dead in Paris. His much-younger wife piped in with ‘I wasn’t born then’, and we laughed.
- Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler: I had the highest expectations for this one. If listening to Krieger-Manzarek had been a dream-come-true, Bob Dylan would be downright legendary. Didn’t pan out that way. First, we’d gotten the crappiest seats at Barclay Center. Secondly, it was at Barclay Center, which is a ballpark. The problem with a ballpark is, it’s too large. I was too far above the stage and watched the whole thing with my camera zoomed in to 25x. The acoustics were okay. But then Mark Knopfler was the least interactive performer I had watched until then. Most of the songs he played weren’t any of the popular ones from Dire Straits. I’d have liked to appreciate the Celtic-sounding numbers he played, but not one song got an introduction or even had its name mentioned. The band was introduced at the very end. There was hardly any greeting the audience or acknowledging us.
I thought Dylan would be better because he famously performs at his grandkids’ school impromptu. How wrong I was. He acknowledged the audience even less than Knopfler did. He sang all his songs in a gruff monotone with very little hitting the higher or even the mid-ranged notes. I had great difficulty identifying which song it was that he was singing. The lighting was terrible.
If all that weren’t enough, the audience enthusiasm was pretty low. Any burst of enthusiasm would remain rather localized because the place was so large and people were so sparsely scattered. One group starts going ‘woooooo’ and realizes they sound out-of-place and just as others start picking up on it, they stop. And everyone stops. I just didn’t feel the enthusiasm the way I had in the other ones. It was a pretty huge let-down I’ll say.
- The Queen Extravaganza: This is Queen’s official tribute band. Their act is produced by Roger Taylor and the show is designed by the same guy who used to do it for Queen as well as for Led Zeppelin and RHCP and Floyd. I was warned they were loud, but I had no idea how much until they started playing. They had two wonderful vocalists, Mark Martel hitting the higher notes, and Jennifer Espinoza doing the powerful lower notes. Neither did any falsettos, I was disappointed to note. Their enthusiasm is boundless and their energy is infectious. They had these screens in their backdrop where they played footage from Queen concerts and music videos. I especially loved their rendition of Don’t stop me now, where they flashed the lyrics along with little pictographs.
The audience were astounded by their Bohemian Rhapsody where they played the original music video and the band did all the parts live except for the Balland and Opera bits for which they played Queen’s recording. They played all the well-known songs including Radio Ga ga, Killer Queen, Tie Your Mother Down. Mark Martel sang a very very soulful Somebody To Love. They ended it with We are the champions and We Will Rock You.
This was truly a dream-come-true for me. I’ve loved Queen for many years now, love their music, love their showmanship. This was the closest it can ever get to the real thing, and I had the time of my life listening to these songs. If I ‘just let go’ and surrendered while listening to The Doors, I was alive and ready every second for Queen. It made me smile for weeks after and nothing could faze me.
My enthusiasm for the band was however beaten by a banker who said he’d been to Queen’s concerts and pronounced The Queen Extravaganza ‘nearly as good as the real thing’, and a sixteen year old Brazilian boy who loved astronomy as much as he loved Brian May and spoke perkily about learning to stargaze from Brian May’s blogposts and tweets. And a couple of girls from Yonkers who said to me, ‘Ooh, Freddie was Indian too, did you know?’.
- Upcoming…. I’m dying to attend Dengue Fever’s concert in April, and wondering about Steven Wilson too. I’m a tad pissed about missing Roger Waters and Jethro Tull and hope at the very least, Jethro Tull perform again in 2013. I’d love to attend one of The Little Willies. I’ve heard there are a lot of concerts of Bollywood singers, but I’m somehow not too enthusiastic, but maybe that’ll change. I’m hoping AC/DC choose to perform, given I’ve missed them at Indio a while back. Rickie Lee Jones and Fleetwood Mac look promising. Maybe I’ll check out some jazz at BB King Blues & Grill or the Beatles tribute bands there. Maybe I’ll finally try Birdland. Or maybe I’ll say yeah I’ve attended more concerts in a year than I have all my life before and not go for any more. Let’s see how it goes. Watch this space
I’ve had a most wonderful weekend.
A couple of months back, I’d been to a Norah Jones concert at this little town in Westchester county called Tarrytown. It was a great discovery by a friend of a friend’s, especially since Norah would be touring the world a month after to promote her new album, Little Broken Hearts, for tickets that were twice what I paid for that small ‘Norah and Friends’ concert in Tarrytown. It wasn’t even advertized… that secret.
Since then, I’d been following the show listings of Tarrytown Music Hall quite religiously and they had a lot of musicians performing, a lot of whom I’d vaguely listened to, but wasn’t really inclined to go to a full concert of, like Michael Bolton and Dionne Warwick. And then I saw them advertise for The Manhattan Transfer – a jazz vocalese band. I booked tickets more than a month in advance.
The concert was on Friday night. Somehow I managed to get fully drenched in the only 20-minute spell of thundershowers in a long time – it had been boiling hot the whole week through. After a ride up north, I found my seat, with a good view of the stage. As the hall filled up, I realized I was easily the youngest person in the place. Everyone else seemed to be thrice my age or thereabouts. I got talking with the old couple to my right, and they were quite surprised to see a young brown girl at a concert like this. They were very nice, unintentionally racist and loved jazz music.
It turned out to be the band’s 40th year, and they were playing a lot of their old hits. They started with Route 66, followed by Java Jive, followed by On a little street in Singapore and Brasil. Everyone seemed disappointed that Cheryl Bentyne was not performing, as she was undergoing surgery. In place of her was Margaret Dorn, who did a decent job, but somehow didn’t complement the band well enough. Janis Siegel, who is the other female singer in the band (they consist of two male and two female singers), does a beautiful scat and hits the high notes wonderfully, but the steady, solid, unadorned voice of Cheryl would have kept the sound more grounded and bound together, I felt. The band went into solos then, and also songs from other composers and songbooks.
By now, the elderly gentlmean in front of me was shaking his head wildly, obstructing my view. So I switched to the empty seat in the front row, next to two colourfully dressed women. If it hadn’t been for the bobbing Adam’s apples and raspy voices, I would never have realized they were transvestites… even their square jawlines weren’t so prominent. There was a fifteen-minute interval and I was nervously looking into my phone because I was afraid of saying something to the ladies and offending them. One of them then asked me what I thought of the concert so far. They turned out to be immensely passionate about music and about this band.
The band then got back and continued with numbers from the songbooks. They went back to their classics, and reached a crescendo with Birdland, at which the ladies next to me burst into tears of joy because ‘it was so beautiful’. It really was. A wonderful, practiced sync between all four of them, that comes with singing together for so long. That one song took all the positives from their entire performance that evening and put it in one four-minute burst. It indeed was a marvel to hear. Alan Paul then finished off with a very emotion-laden Gloria, a fitting end to the concert.
I came back tired, cold and wet, and with a big smile on my face for having experienced something that beautiful. Nothing could top that.
Or so I thought. Reddit.com, worldwide purveyors of procrastination, were having their annual Global Reddit Meetup Day on Saturday. Turned out, the New York City meetup was happening rather close to where I lived. What the hell, I thought and went there. The environment was surprisingly like what Reddit feels like to me online – where you can be yourself and find your crowd no matter what. Everyone felt welcome. There was food and drink which people had brought, and people talking and playing frisbee.
Within minutes, a couple of computer science sophomores and I were in a deep conversation about the Twitter API and web development and Asian Parent memes, when we were interrupted by a friendly southerner who introduced us to a Mongolian who grew up in Siberia. The conversation shifted to languages, their origins, and things like that while we asked the Siberian about what it’s like there, whether it was a ‘punishment posting’ (extreme weather, yes it’s a punishment posting, especially the northern parts of Siberia).
Just then, we were all called for a group picture, which took several clicks to get right, with one organizer running frantically across the area, trying to get all of us in the shot, in panorama mode. There was one guy screaming out typical Reddit stuff like ‘That takes care of my senator ambitions’, ‘That escalated quickly’, and other such things. It was awesome that everyone got the inside jokes!
We got back to hanging around and chitchatting. Now there were people playing soccer in addition to frisbee, and then a bunch started playing Calvinball. The bunch of us who were talking about insane conspiracy theories, careers in computer science/IT, drones, Iran and other things slowly got distracted by a guy who was showing a bunch of people some plants and trying to dig something out. He looked out of place, with his rather-complicated looking tools and park-ranger clothes. Turned out to be a horticulturist, and we got back to talking.
There was one fella who had a job extracting eyes from corpses, for an eye bank. The conversation quickly degenerated into a barrage of eye puns. Eye-banking, Eye-T, ‘Did you know about the blind man who picked up the hammer and saw?’ ‘No I didn’t, and neither did Helen Keller’… and so many others which I don’t remember now. We were surprised at how quickly real life mirrored Reddit.
We see this guy standing awkwardly beneath a tree, by his bike, and texting on his Blackberry. I wanted to engage him in conversation, when one of the people I was talking to whispers “Omigod, that’s the Reddit CEO”. I don’t remember Yishan Wong’s face, so I pull out my mobile to imageSearch his face, by when one of the group had already walked up to him to ask, “Are you Yishan?’. “Yes, yes I am”, he said. And then told us not to make much of a fuss.
So we casually stood around, asking him about what keeps him busy. He said though he’s a techie, the 20 people who run the website don’t much need any guidance with technical issues, though scaling is a challenge. His job, he said, is to keep a good relationship going with the folks who own the website, so that in times of crisis, like the r/jailbait issue, they trust the Reddit team to get it right instead of walking in and shutting the website down.
He was telling us about how the whole plus for Reddit is the community aspect, which is fostered by self posts and by meetups like this one. He told us about how they hired someone who would have been an awesome Community Relations Manager, but right after the day he was hired, he was diagnosed with leukemia. Just then, we were interrupted by a reporter from New York magazine, who stood by listening to our conversation, and chiming in with supporting questions.
Someone asked him about the next technical questions he was addressing, and he mentioned subreddit discovery. It seems a very interesting problem, because given an interest, there are atleast 30 different subreddits, so which one would you recommend to a given user? Also, how would you know about these subreddits, given that most of the time, the names of the subreddits don’t directly reflect what it’s about? I suggested showing the users wordclouds around each subreddit, extracted from the content of the posts on it. He said their biggest advantage is their large user base and availability of mods for everything, which they can use to manually tag subreddits.
I then asked for a photograph with him, which he kindly obliged. One of the group asked if he gets asked this often, and he said he doesn’t, mostly because he’s a very private person. Then he had to talk to the reporter as he needed to run elsewhere in a bit, so we shook hands and got back to talking to each other.
Stuck around for a while more, talking to the photographer from New York magazine, who was somehow unobtrusively capturing pictures of all of us in our natural environment, and watching people play Calvinball.
Four hours after I’d first walked in, I walked back home, terribly dehydrated and hungry. And cheery as hell. It’s not everyday (in New York atleast) that you meet so many nice cheerful people, one among who is the damn CEO of Reddit Dot Com and talk to him about word/tag clouds!