Saturday, November 21, 2009

Billy Bragg plays the Bronson Center with guests Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson of the Skydiggers

Now this was a superb concert. I discovered an act that perfectly matches my musical taste, and I enjoyed two superb entertainers. Both Andy Maize and Billy Bragg have a terrific touch for comedy, so the audience was laughing all night long between the beauty of the Skydiggers' voices and the poignant and stirring messages in Billy Braggs singing ...


I was having lunch one day with Sue, a very good friend for many years ... and she mentioned that she and Don were going to see Billy Bragg and that Don could pick up some extra tickets if I was interested. I was ... being that Billy is a British rocker with political leanings, I thought it would make a perfect boys night out and I asked her to get me three tickets.

Jonathan reacted predictably ... so Nick told me that he would pick a friend and they would come with me. Right up until last weekend, this was the plan. And then Nick found out that he'd been scheduled to work, and since he is leaving next week for 10 days in the UK, he could not very well turn down the shift.

Needless to say ... I asked my friend Jackie, but she had a prior commitment and that was that. Burn the tickets I thought ... it's been a stressful week and I really could not drum up sufficient energy to try to peddle the tickets. But luckily, Sue's colleague knew a young couple with a baby who (a) were big Billy Bragg fans, and (b) needed a break. I was happy that the tickets would go to a good cause and it all turned out just fine ...

The night finally arrived and we met at the Royal Treasure in Chinatown for a remarkable meal ... so fricken tasty ... my mouth waters just thinking about it.

And then we were off. I gave Don the extra tickets and we drove both cars the 5 blocks to the Bronson Center ... Don got out early and found the young fellow, who then went home to fetch the wife. As I remember ... leaving the baby with a sitter was never easy, so the last minute dash makes perfect sense.

We walked to the front of the already packed venue, and noticed that, just as the time Jackie and I saw Katie Melua, the left side was again less occupied near the front. We ended up grabbing row two stage left. Not bad seats at all ... Sue and Don were kind enough to give me the seat closest to center so that I could get a decent camera angle. Looking back, you can see the audience packed in pretty tightly.

The guy right behind me with the headphones seemed to be bootlegging the show with excellent equipment. This gives me some ideas, as I don't like the quality of the audio on the F70 ... it's not bad here, but the G10 always does far better.

We chatted while we waited, and a nice young lady (who was there with another nice young lady) spoke with me a bit regarding the F70's video and audio quality and mastering movies on Windows versus the MAC. I forgot your name, so if you read this post, please include it in the comments.

I happen to like iMovie very much ... but I have found that, on Windows 7, Windows Live Movie Maker is a very competent editor. So my MAC sits idle waiting for me to find the time to play with iPhone apps ... but that's another story. By the way, she was able to knit through most of the concert in the dark ... I thought that was quite the skill.
A note on the lighting. This is the second time round with the Fuji F70EXR in concert mode. The lighting at this venue is a real cut above the lighting at the Black Sheep Inn. But still not in the same league as the lighting at the NAC for example. So the images are generally shot at 3200 ISO ... only the first image us at 800ISO, the next and last are shot at 1600 ISO, and the rest at 3200 ISO. It was very dark in there. The Fuji handled this surprisingly well ... remembering that it has a really tiny sensor. Edit: In retrospect, I think I will stay at 800 and 1600 next time and simply pull up the tones. The noise is less difficult to deal with than that generated at 3200 ISO.

I wasn't sure if I would want to process these imagesin black & white as I did for the Black Sheep Images ... but after doing the first image in both styles, I preferred the color.

When Andy Maize walked on stage, he did his sound check right there ... I actually thought he was a stage hand ... that is until he started singing. Holy crap ... he and Josh Finlayson can sing. I mean *really* sing.

He introduced himself and Josh as members of the band Skydiggers, although I must admit that I forgot the name when I got home and it took me at least 20 minutes of searching to eventually find them. The way I finally did it was to listen to the lyrics of my videos and eventually I got one to come up in Google.

Andy has this interesting habit of shaking his right hand while singing as if he is playing a tambourine. The more intense the singing, the more intense the shaking. You can see that on the first video above. This image makes me wonder if his hands are a little wonky.

He also does the twist a lot on stage ... it is very amusing, yet he moves well. It gets the audience laughing, which is a nice addition to their obvious singing talent. The Fuji's 270mm zoom allowed me to get some pretty close shots, even though we were at least 25 to 30 feet from where they stood.

They played a spectacularly beautiful song at one point ... both their voices in perfect harmony at a fairly high pitch ... the audience was enraptured. And stupid me, I enjoyed it so much I forgot to get it on video. But I got a lot of other stuff that's really nice.

And that's about it for the Skydiggers. They really were great. I am definitely going to be buying a bunch of their stuff. Unfortunately, I cannot find their solo effort on iTunes ... but a lot of other stuff is there.

When they walked off ... we got a 15 or 20 minute intermission while they set up for Billy Bragg. This did not require a lot of effort, since he played one guitar at a time and there was no band. :-)

They did, however, have to bring out his tea. He drank a lot of tea during the performance ... he made a few comments that seemed to be poking at Red Rose or something like that ... but I never quite got the gist.

And then he was off ... now let me say that I know nothing of his body of work. I am impressed by the scope of what he has done and by what I heard. But I am no expert, so I have not put the song names on the videos. On the other hand, I'm pretty good with Google, so I found all the names of the songs and include them in this post.

There are ten videos, so enjoy. The audio and video is surprisingly good from the F70EXR, and the YouTube ratings and comments are coming in pretty high.

Part 1 opens with "The World Turned Upside Down", a really upbeat number that pretty much rails against the class struggle, a sad tale of defiance and slaughter in 1649 ... or so I gather from the lyrics. He moves straight into a similarly themed song "To Have And To Have Not." I really like these lines:
Just because you're better then me
Doesn't mean i'm lazy
Just because you're going forwards
Doesn't mean i'm going backwards

The final song in Part 1 is the very sad lament "Mr. Love & Justice" ... I must admit that as I get to know his lyrics and his voice I am becoming quite a fan of Billy. The actual process of finding all the song names and reading the lyrics has given me a deep appreciation for who he is and what he stands for.

Billy uses a capo *constantly* ...

I stopped shooting images for quite a while and just recorded video.

Part 2 contains a song called "Upfield" ...

Part 3 contains a very funny story about musicians. You need to "read the dots" to be a real musician. Play piano ... etc. But this was all a setup to discuss his work with Wilco on bringing Woodie Guthrie's archives back into the light. He discusses Patty Smith's famous quote that "all great artists have their hand down the front of their trousers" :-) The story goes on to discuss Mount Stromboli and sexual innuendo and ends with the song "Ingrid Bergman" ... a very funny version.

Part 4 opens with another Woody Guthrie song from the Mermaid CD ... "Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key" ... this, to me, is where Billy really shows that he has serious singing chops. This is one beautiful song.

After a short discussion of the great depression, he plays a 70 year old song called "I Ain't Got no Home in This World" ... another beauty. A lament. Very touching.

He swapped to an acoustic guitar after a while, and I shot some more video. Part 5 starts with the song "Sexuality" ... a nice song and well sung ... it ends with the very moving "Like Soldiers Do" ...

Part 6 is still acoustic, and opens with another moving condemnation of war ... "Everywhere." Listen for such poignant lyrics as:
Over here, over there, it's the same everywhere
A boy cries out for his mama before he dies for his home

Later, I reeled off a whack of images before I continued recording.

He was pretty animated through this first part of the acoustic set ... I can't really remember what he was discussing here. Perhaps it will come out later in part 5.

In this zoomed out image, you can see that they left a back room open to the stage with some light in it so there was a ladder visible and a couple of people standing stage right all night long. The lighting was subdued enough that it rarely impedes on images or video, but in this image I was able to brings these details out a bit ...

And then he switched back to the electric ...

Part 7 opens with the "Old Clash Fan Fight Song" ... this is a pretty cool song with some nice vocals and interesting riffs. After yet another sip of tea, he came back to the microphone and talked about the Clash's momentous position in his life ... they introduced him to political activism. He went to a rally in Victoria Park and came out of there with certain knowledge that he was not alone and that his generation would make their stand against racism. The Clash got him to the concert, but he is clear that bands and singers cannot change the world. The world changes when the audience each undertake their small piece of changing the world ... staying true to the ideal ... fighting racism and bullying where it occurs. It's an impressive presentation of the ideas ... especially when he targets cynicism as the real enemy ...


Part 8 continues the theme ... you are not alone ... you *can* make a difference ... your participation *does* make a difference. He goes smoothly into "I Keep Faith", a lovely song about the pain and sacrifice of having and keeping your ideals ... it's really quite moving. He clarifies his use of the word "faith" ... he does not mean spiritual faith, but rather faith in his fellow man ... humanity. Solidarity ... he uses this moment to stand with the public service who are striking the museums as this is written. He ends off with the shout "Their's Power in a Union" ... which of course leads immediately to the song of the same name. Nicely done, I must say.

Part 8 ends the concert ... at least the main body of work. He leaves the stage and there is about 2 minutes of standing ovation and shouting for his return. In part 9, he returns for the encore. Part 9 gave me fits ... I uploaded it twice last night and once this morning and YouTube failed to process it every time. I finally recreated the video this morning and uploaded it and everything was fine. Strange.

Part 9 opens with Levi Stubbs' Tears. This is a poignant song ... a sad tale of a lonely existence ... in fact, it's really sad. Maybe a tad too familiar ... the next song is again sad ... "Sing Their Souls Back Home" ... a song of shattered families ... war and terror ... it's quite moving. Although you may not agree with the war and strife in the war today, it is very sad that some of our young give their lives in the service of their country (us, remember) ... this song really makes you think about them.

And finally ... part 10 ... the last song in the encore ... he makes a joke about a Hootenanny ... but no dancing. The song opens with a driving riff ... kind of like the first song ... this was "A New England" ... he had the audience sing the chorus and a few bits of the verse ... it was *very* impressive! It's a great song on its own, but I LOVE hearing an audience sing along ... it always moves me deeply.

He ends the song on a really long note ... very, very nice. Now you'll have to watch the vid to see him teabag the audience ....

Don't miss him if you get a chance ... really ... and watch for the Skydiggers ... they're an absolute hoot.

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