Sunday, February 27, 2005
Thursday, February 24, 2005
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Monday, February 21, 2005
Had some stew and some reheated Mandarin Dynasty "pork" for dinner. Small consolation for missing the buffet, but not bad. I don't think I've ever appreciated stew appropriately. I've grown to enjoy the taste, nutrition and convenience of soup in recent years, but the comfort of stew on a stormy night is just now coming to my awareness.
Saturday, February 19, 2005
Thursday, February 17, 2005
Storms have been coming and going in San Diego lately, and in the days prior to the concert, forecasts called for about a straight week of rain. And the storms were heading north, so it would only get worse as I got closer. And as it was raining a fair amount at home Saturday, I decided to leave a bit early. But fortunately, the storm largely dissolved as I hit the road, and while there were some brief deluges, the drive up with largely pleasant. And I was only the second person to arrive at the restaurant where some of my internet friends were gathering for dinner. I showed up at five, and we were seated not too long afterward, and our party of 17 had a lovely dinner at Parker's Lighthouse, before departing for the nearby concert venue, where we planned to have dessert and wine at our tables.
I knew from planning the drive that the concert was being held, not at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, but at the Long Beach Arena. But I didn't really give this news any thought, and still pictured myself enjoying the concert in a fairly intimate setting, at a table just below the stage, with the hoi polloi stuck seated behind. But no, the concert was being performed in a hockey arena. It had been melted, but my seat was smack dab in the middle of a hockey rink. It was gratifying to see that Randy attracted quite a crowd (the floor was chocked full of tables, all full of people, and the bleachers were about two-thirds full--I would venture to say far more full then they are during a hockey game). But I would have much rather attended the concert in a facility with better acoustics. And on top of that, there were people sitting in my seat. I wasn't quite clear on what happened, but before too long they were ushered off (don't cry for them, I think they found out they actually had far better seats), and I was ready to settle in and enjoy the evening.
To begin the concert, the Symphony's management presented a few messages from sponsors and underwriters, and showed a thirty-second commercial for the company that provided the projection screens for the auditorium. Crass, perhaps, but it gave Randy a chance to introduce himself by offering his own commercial interruption, for a brand of beer I'm unfamiliar with (his rining endorsement was along the lines of, "tastes like swill," so it's probably not my loss). The premise of the evening was that Randy would conduct the orchestra through several film scores, before passing the baton and playing piano with support from the orchestra, playing songs from his many studio albums. I had never seen Randy perform publicly with an orchestra, but it is something he has done fairly regularly. This concert, however, was trying something new, by including actual film clips playing on the big screens while the orchestra played the scores. For the first two scores, for Toy Story and Monsters, Inc., the footage consisted of a few scenes, relatively uncut. For the final two, Avalon and The Natural, the footage was more of a montage encapsulating the entire films. The orchestra was great, the scores were without exception wonderful (I never really appreciated the Monsters, Inc. score before that evening, even though I was there while part of it was recorded), and the experience left me wishing every Newman-scored film on DVD featured isolated soundtracks (with commentary). Randy as always cracked up the audience between songs, claiming that we were some of the first gentiles ever to see Avalon, and going through a routine where he attempts to summarize the plot of Toy Story, though he apparently spent most of his time while watching the film fuming that characters dared talk over his music. It's a story I've heard him tell many times, but it still is fun to hear, both because it's funny, and because it always goes over great with audiences. Prior to concluding the first portion of the concert with the suite from The Natural, he dedicated the song to the Ice Dogs, who usually play where we were seated. He apologized for making us sit on ice to hear him, before promptly adding, "tough shit, life isn't fair," or something to that effect. I had hoped they would conclude The Natural Suite with the scoreboard buzzer announcing half-time, but alas, that was not to be. Instead Randy dropped his trademark line about shooting up backstage, and I spent intermission downing as much cheesecake, cream puffs, cookies, brownies, and assorted desserts as my flu-rattled stomach could take. The Cheesecake Factory's caramel cheesecake is phenomenal. And it is nice of the Symphony's management to allow people to bring in their own outside food and drink to enjoy before and during the concerts. I noticed from the signs in the arena that the hockey fans do not enjoy the same priviledge.
Randy came out a short while later, passing the baton to guest conductor Mark Mandarano, and taking his place at the Steinway to play some songs from his studio albums, with help from the orchestra. I, again, had not seen Randy perform in this format before, so I didn't have much to go by, but it did seem like the orchestra had some trouble keeping pace with Randy. This, coupled with the poor acoustics, made the whole experience a tad underwhelming, compared to other concerts I've attended, but only in a relative sense was the concert underwhelming. Randy was in fine form, and the orchestra was quite good when they got the timing right. Randy played the following songs: --Great Nations of Europe --Short People --Girls in My Life, Part One --The World Isn't Fair --I Miss You --Leave Your Hat On --I'm Dead (Randy singing about aging arena rockers who don't know when to retire, while playing an arena himself, a man with a few gray hairs) --Marie --Birmingham --I Love to See You Smile --Dixie Flier --Louisiana 1927 --You've Got a Friend in Me --Political Science --Sail Away
If there was just one song I wanted to hear with the orchestra, it was "Sail Away." So that was a good closer, though I laughed through the opening chords, do to Randy's introduction. Throughout the evening, he had kind words to say about the musicians he was performing with, and before beginning the final song, he spoke about the importance of supporting live music, and taking your children to hear the symphony, and explained that he was honored to be conducting a group of incredibly talented musicians, who had each individually spent years honing their craft alone in their room. "Of course," he added, "you could say the same thing about snipers." That got a good response from the crowd, and even at our tables full of Randy-concert veterens, that was a new one. For an encore, Randy did two songs, "Lonely at the Top" and "I Think It's Going to Rain Today." I like both songs, and I understand why he closes with "I Think It's Going to Rain Today," but it really does strike me as closing on quite a down note. It's a great song, just a bit of a downer. But it's a minor complaint; all-in-all, yet another great concert.
Using my massive network of connections, my name was on the list to get backstage, so I lingered a bit while the rabble cleared out, and waited to be admitted backstage. Security was tighter than the White House Press Room, but I managed to get back to see the man. I'm always uncomfortable in these settings, though it is a thrill to shake Randy's hand and tell him how much I enjoyed his performance. I got my picture taken with him, and then just basked in the ambiance of backstage. Some people more resourceful than myself managed to pick up on the fact that Randy has written some new material. The suggestion that the possibility of an album of new material is that much closer to becoming a reality is truly fantastic news. I'll have my fingers crossed.
I excused myself around eleven for the drive home. Walking out alone across the hockey rink, I felt like some boyhood dream that I might have had if I cared about hockey or any organized sport as a child was somehow coming true. There were doors open near the dressing room, but I, astutely aware of my lack of a sense of direction, chose to leave through the doors by which I came. But I got turned around and went out the doors immediately behind where I came in, and wound up in the back, in some loading dock. My keen sense of direction then kicked in, and while it turns out, I can say in retrospect, a left turn would have led me promptly to the parking garage, I went right, and spent about twenty-five minutes wandering the convention center and streets of Long Beach. I was talking on my cell phone as I wandered, until I realized that loudly talking about how I was lost in an unfamiliar town and frightened was probably not the wisest approach. Fortunately, I am well-adept from practice at wandering in concentric circles until I find my car, and after only checking one wrong garage, I found my car (fortunately, I remembered I was not in covered parking, which enabled me to rapidly narrow down my options). And around one AM, I was back at home, ready to hop into bed and get some sleep before work in the morning.
The venue was not the best place to take in a symphony, but I still thoroughly enjoyed myself. If you ever find yourself in a position where you can see Randy Newman perform, solo or with an orchestra, consider my description of this concert only as a rough outline. He is a consumate performer, yet his stage patter is absolutely hilarious. And he's a hell of a nice guy. See him life, buy his albums, pray that Faust is staged again, anywhere (I'll be there), and just bask in the genius that is Randy Newman!