Friday, May 22, 2009

Katie Melua in Ottawa!

Unbelievable ... incredible ... really, really, really, really good ...

Ok ... now you know how my evening went last night :-)

Katie Melua was in town and played at a small venue called the Bronson Centre Theatre. Nice little place, room for 900 people, although the balcony was closed. Bummer, as it would have been a great viewpoint.

I was fortunate to share the evening with someone whose company has no trouble competing with a concert like this. We started with a terrific Ethiopian meal and got so absorbed in conversation that we were almost an hour late leaving the restaurant. So instead of being there to line up before the doors opened at 7, we arrived around 7:45 ... duh :-)

Of course, the place was packed to the gills ... a few scattered open seats through the center block of the seating, and some blocks at the very back. So we walked to the front and scanned all of the seating. Curiously, some rather nice seats were open in the third row stage left. We sat down and realized that these were excellent seats, assuming of course that the acoustics were any good at all.

We needn't have worried ... the acoustics in there are stunningly good. The sound quality easily matched or even bested the Civic Center for me, a place in which I've seen a lot of concerts (Alice Cooper, The Rankins and Chris DeBurgh to name three.) But I like intimate theaters, having seen the Tragically Hip in the Brockville Music Hall some time ago. About the same size and the intimate ambiance is really special.

So after a while, a young fellow walks onto the stage carrying an acoustic guitar ... he plays something and makes a quip that I cannot remember. Someone way in the back of the audience shouts out "who are you?" and he instantly responds with "nobody", drawing a nice chuckle. After his next song, he announces that his name is Pat Robitaille.

His set was simply magical. Jackie and I looked at each other in shock after his first song. And then he got even better! His voice is strong and powerful, Jackie hears Jim Morrison in it, I hear John Mayer. He does something with his mouth that is reminiscent ... in the end, perhaps he's a blend of both of those styles and voices. But the power is unmistakably Morrison. Totally dominating.

What really blew me away is his ability to loop his own voice and other effects on stage. At one point he sang a nice riff at different tones, looping each on top the other, and cleverly adding a deep thumping bass track by thumping on his guitar into his DSP ... it was magical for me because it smacked so strongly of Queen. He sang some verses with that combined loop running in the background and I was captivated. A remarkable performance.

He performed for quite a while ... at least 6 or 8 songs. We were both really impressed with him and I have to say that I immediately checked him out on iTunes. That's where I ran into some initial doubt, as his CDs do not seem to have the same power and presence as his live performance. So I plan to acquire his music more cautiously than I thought I would ... but I'm still going to go for it. If you get the chance to see him, DO NOT HESITATE! His presence reminds me of Serena Ryder, so if you like her, you will like Pat. No question whatsoever.

Edit: I went to his web site and listened to a few of the free MP3s he has up there, after which I went to iTunes and listened more closely to the clips they have from his CDs. Once you get used to his penchant for using two microphones to provide a clean and manipulated version of his voice in many of his songs, you start to appreciate his voice again and I ended up buying all his CDs.


And then it was time for Katie to appear ...

She walked quietly on stage carrying an acoustic guitar and turned out to be quite chatty, talking between almost every song. She's small and sweet and was dressed rather earthy with her hair kind of blasting out to the sides. A really cute look that added to the stunning quality of her voice.

That all comes across pretty well in the video, which includes 36 minutes of highlights -- including 9 Million Bicycles, If You Were a Sailboat, Crawling Up The Hill, Spider's Web, and several others. It opens with Pat's opening song called Leonard Cohen, I think.

Note that the link above is an MP4 and should play in the Quicktime plugin on most machines. It's also the best way to see the concert from beginning to end, since I had to pull some tricks to get the YouTube versions to split into 4 parts and keep each under 10 minutes. Part 4, for example, is sped up by 10% to fit ... and someone posted a comment within minutes telling me so ... luckily for me, I'm rather oblivious to such tiny details and I am happy to listen to it either way.

I didn't shoot too many images at this concert as the lighting was very, very dark. But I think lots of video of Katie makes up for that.

Note that the video is slightly better on the YouTube versions and the streaming works better ... go figure ... so choose the format you like the best ... long version for convenience (you can download it and keep it, I only ask that you don't post it back to another site ... post a reference here instead please) or short versions so you can dabble and move on ... also note that the audio is pretty good, as the Canon G10 has an excellent microphone, so please turn up the volume :-)

Katie was in *perfect* voice for this performance. Her guitar skills are really something, but it is her voice that holds your attention throughout. We both felt that her emotions really come through when singing live.

That was especially noticeable at the piano, but unfortunately the piano was back stage left and was partially blocked for me by the large front left speaker on the stage. Jackie was completely blocked, but very fortunately, the seat beside me on the right opened up after the intermission and she was able to get a much better view there. However, no pictures and no video at the piano. Sorry ...

Ultimately, the concert was a smash in both our opinions. Both artists were superb, and the venue was a great choice. I have seen concerts with ten times the audience or more that simply could not measure up to this. These two are the bargain of the century and I urge you to get out and see them if they come to your town.

Katie's CDs are all superb. (I think Pat's might be an acquired taste, but we'll see.) I think some people will not find Katie's studio performances as easy to connect with because of the band masking some of her pure emotion. But she is very accomplished and her writing is brilliant. I love her cover of "Blues in the Night."

Also, the production values on her CDs are top notch. You should hear her stuff on my car stereo ... an Alpine iPod deck with Infinity Reference speakers at four corners, a pair of Honda tweeters in the dash and a 10" subwoofer in a box at the back powered by a an amp pushing over 300 watts RMS into 2 ohms. In other words, it fills the car very nicely and her music is some of the best I have for loud playing. (I actually like to hear and feel the music without ear-bleed.)

Anyway, I can heartily recommend all three of her CDs, and I plan on acquiring her new live CD/DVD, which will no doubt be quite a bit better than my own ... but not as cheap :-)

Edit (yet again): Katie told us the story about the mathematician who disputed her lyrics in 9 Million Bicycles, stating that we know within certain error limits exactly where the Universe ends. Lots of activity ensued and she actually re cut the song to demonstrate that the original was much better. I did not originally include the story here because it is captured in my video (have you watched it yet?) ... but I had NO idea how funny the new version was. I burst into peals of laughter and you just MUST see it too ...

And another edit: I found a blog that reflects her activities pretty well, at least from the perspective of one fan.


Anonymous said...

Pat Robitaille's early stuff is more acoustic that is how he started off - it is a bit more mellow but still amazing. If you want more recent things like his show, purchase the albums 248 and Summer of Love. He also has an album in the works... so stay tuned. He is very talented.

Kim Letkeman said...

Yes, as mentioned in the blog entry, I ended up getting them all. The first is very mellow, quite enjoyable. I have not yet heard all the rest, but plan to soon.