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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Not Yet Over the Hill

Bob Dylan is as much a part of the background music of our life as any musician. He regularly plays on our iPods, satellite radio, computers, and even on old-fashioned record albums in vinyl or on CD. On Sunday night we saw Bob Dylan perform at the PNC Pavilion in Cincinnati. Hearing his music and vocals on any of those media does not match his live performance.

But first, I must mention the icon, Leon Russell, who to the delight of the crowd, opened for Dylan. Russell energetically sang and played piano from his extensive repertoire.

Unfortunately, the PNC Pavilion suffers from acoustic problems and Russell’s excellent renditions were muffled by the time they reached us back in section 202. We have experienced the same musical muffling at this venue with a variety of other musicians. The sound seems to improve only outside the Pavilion, near the restrooms where you can no longer see the stage.

Dylan and his band were in good voice and performed with enthusiasm and clear sound. Dylan even sang with a surprisingly clear, non-guttural voice.  The highlight of Dylan’s 17 song performance, including one encore, for me was “Blind Willie McTell.”  My husband, a true Dylan fanatic, while also happy to hear “Blind Willie,” thought other highlights were “Visions of Johanna” and the revised lyrics to “Tangled Up in Blue.” He, and much of the crowd also relished shouting “No” when Bob sang, “You think I’m over the hill. You think I’m past my prime.” Indeed with Bob’s posturing and prancing throughout he proved he was neither.

The crowd was the usual Dylan-mix of aging baby boomers and young folks, who gave every indication of enjoying the show. But one baby boomer, gray-haired and attired in casual, yet dapper clothes, caught my eye in the midst of all sorts of behaviors and dress. Apparently he simply was unable to contain his dance steps while the music was playing. At one point, the gentleman, while standing in the wide corridor in front of our section was asked by security to return to his seat. Channeling Gene Kelly, without the rain or umbrella, he gracefully danced his way back to his row.

Dylan’s sound technicians evidently have mastered the acoustical challenges at the Pavilion. His performance was excellent, with none of the muffled, shushy sounds we have heard previously. I only wish the PNC Pavilion sound technicians would find out Dylan’s solution so in the future other performers too might avoid the annoying muffling sounds associated with that venue.

Dylan, singing and playing the harmonica, was joined by the McCrary Sisters, four female vocalists, as he ended with “Blowing in the Wind.”

All told, the evening was a delightful way to remind yourself just how talented Dylan, the so-called “Prophet of his generation,” actually is. We had a “whoppin’ good time.”

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Not a Crotchety Doctor But Still Brilliant

So here is the first follow-up to how we were surprised by two of our “family room acquaintances.”

We’ve had Hugh Laurie on our TV so often over the past few years as Dr. Gregory House on the now-ended TV show named for the crotchety, but brilliant medical diagnostician that we hardly expected him to sing or play music. So it was a delightful surprise to hear how well he sounded when we heard him perform.

Friday night we saw and heard Hugh Laurie and the Copper Bottom Band, his six person back-up, perform New Orleans-style jazz and old-time music. What a treat. Laurie demonstrated not only his musical and vocal talents but also comic timing and the ability to captivate a live audience for well over two hours on stage at the Singletary Center at UK in Lexington Ky.

The stage was set as if it were your Great Aunt Nelly’s living room.  With lamps covered by shades askew, cloths draped over the pianos and tables, and an old-fashioned chandelier, you immediately felt as if you were in Nelly’s living room. That is, along with a few thousand of your closest friends and family.

Laurie sang, played piano and guitar. He was supported by a vocalist, an upright bass player, a percussionist who gave a fair impression of a one-man band, a keyboard player, as well as one musician, who, in Laurie’s words, played “blowy instruments” and another who played all manner of “plucky instruments.”  The music brought the audience members to their feet numerous times in delight.

Laurie also told tales of his motorcycle ride earlier that day from L’avul (the only time he departed from his native British accent) to Lexington, complete with a wrong turn where he found himself in a self-storage complex with gates that locked behind him. He credited his escape to the motorcycle dealer in the audience who had lent him the Harley.

Laurie also delighted the audience with reminiscences of his piano lessons as a child. Lessons focused primarily on posture and practices of songs “intended to destroy” any child’s incipient love of music. Except for one song, “Swanee River” which the teacher decided to skip. Thank goodness Laurie and his band did not make the same mistake. They rocked a wicked boogie-woogie version to the sold-out crowd.

If you have an Aunt Nelly in Louisiana who invites world class musicians to her parlor by all means skip Hugh Laurie’s tour. Otherwise, check out the tour’s schedule and get to the next performance anywhere near you. That’s as close as you will get to having Hugh Laurie and his world-class band perform in your living room.

You can read in Laurie’s own words about his inspiration to immerse himself in the music of the American south at


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Couple of Familiar Faces

When someone regularly is in your family room you tend to take them for granted. Then when you see them out and about you may either remember, or discover, just how talented they are. In the next two posts I will tell about two concerts by  performers whom I recently saw with fresh eyes.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Time for a Change: Pink Paws Anyone?

It’s been over fifteen years since we redecorated. OK. Closer to twenty. The love seats in the living room are fraying and starting to remind me of an old person’s house.  Where they have such old, out-of-date styles and worn furniture that you know they never invite company and don’t really look at their surroundings any more. Or maybe they just can’t see and don’t really care. 

So we began the big redecorating event. Before I even get to the pink paint paw prints all over, let’s just say it has been an adventure.

First getting fabric samples for the love seats. Endlessly.  

Phase1: I had this idea of Hawaiian prints. We lugged home and looked through fabric samples of tropically-themed prints. Seemed like a good idea. In this digital age it also seemed someone should be able to show us photos of what our love seats would like covered in splashy tropical prints. I sure didn’t want to repeat my late ‘70’s decorating fiasco of orange mushroom wallpaper all around the kitchen.  

I found a design store that employed a youngster who said she could send me photos of what our love seats would look like. Only problem was it took her about two weeks to respond to my emails. And then my emails to her started to be “postmaster returned.” I guess she did not survive employment in the brutal world of decorating design. And her employer was not any more adept than she had been. We were not ready to start all over again with another clueless youngster. 

Phase 2. I looked online at photos of couches in tropical prints. Thank goodness. What a disastrous decorating idea that would have been. Big splashy floral prints all over two matched love seats, totally covered in fabric. I quickly filed that idea with the rejects.  

Phase 3. More fabric books, this time in neutrals. Directly from an upholstery re-covering store. Or maybe it’s us who are recovering, as they say about other types of mental and physical problems. Nevertheless, we decided we would do our own design work and save money. And we didn’t need to wait two weeks for comments from someone who was likely to be fired next week. Three trips back and forth with fabric samples and we settled on a fabric. The couches were picked up.  

The living room now was nearly empty and it was time to get on with the painting. Also time to pick paint colors.  I bought a few accent pillows and silk flowers to help select a wall color. Time for everything else in the living room to be packed away. Soon the painting would begin.  

You may think now is time you will learn clever tricks on how to decorate with painted paw prints? But no. You have to wait for the mauve paint for that part of the story. We picked a neutral wall shade for the living room. The painting stage had begun. 

But it is time to tell you more about the dog, an aging sheltie.  Like any sensible senior citizen who likes his house undisturbed, he was not happy with the redecorating. And that’s not surprising. His hearing is shot. Or else his dementia has reached the stage he no longer responds to verbal cues. His eyesight too is pretty much gone. And his hips are weak. But his one good sense, smell, is still working. And he could smell trouble. So he responded with his only real remaining communication method to show his displeasure. He christened the living room carpet. Oh well, the carpet needed a good cleaning too. 

Final phase. Do something with the dining room. Two decades ago when we bought our house, the living room and dining room were decorated with the help of a designer with a vision. Vast sweeps of mauve in different tonal depths, strips of floral wallpaper to highlight, and swaths of busy floral fabrics in mauve with blue undertones were the essence of that designer’s vision. And in his defense I should say mauve was sort of in style. And we had no clue what we wanted.  

Now I knew I wanted anything but mauve. But here we were in the dining room that had sort of matched the living room.  With the busy, florally-mauve window toppings and wallpaper trim, mauve walls that were old, faded and especially dirty from several dogs over the years taking the dining room as their favorite sleeping spot. The latest dog being the elderly sheltie who refused to sleep anywhere but on the hardwood floor of that room, with his back against the deep mauve wall. At least he is mostly blind and can’t be blamed for choosing this as his bedroom. 

After months of agonizing over redecorating the living room, we had forgotten about the need to make some selections for the dining room.  The painter had practically been living with us for the last month. He could strip the wallpaper and spend another few weeks painting coat upon coat of new paint over the old, dark mauve to lighten up the room. But then we’d also need to do something different with the windows. And I haven’t even mentioned how long it took to select and order window toppings for the living room. We decided in ten minutes to just re-paint the dining room mauve. After all, how often did we entertain? And the dog would only be kept out of his favorite room one day and night. Or so we thought. 

I was making some banana bread in the kitchen when the cry went up. “Quick. Catch the dog!”  The painter had not yet started painting. So no barriers were up. He had just placed the paint tray with the light mauve on the floor. The dog could not stand without assistance. Or so we thought. What were the chances the aging dog would get in the paint?  Well, the odds are really irrelevant when it happens.  

Luckily, three aging adults (the painter, my husband, and I) were faster than one aging sheltie. We caught him before he hit the carpet.  

At first we thought some wet paper towels would clean the paint off his paws. After we tried wet paper towels and released the dog, he was still leaving pink paw prints everywhere. Have you ever noticed how close light mauve is to pink? Well, it is on hardwood floors.  My long-suffering husband scooped the dog up and deposited him in the yard. After thoroughly hosing and wiping the dog’s paws, and seeing the water finally run clean we let the dog dry outside.  The painter mopped up the tracks.

Thereafter, a baby gate closed off one door to the dining room. And a large buffet chest on wheels blocked the other entrance. The dog paced. 

As promised, however, the painting was quickly completed. And our sheltie finally settled down. That night when we went to look for the dog to help him get up and go out for his nightly yard visit, to our surprise, he again somehow had defied our expectations. He had maneuvered his way into what we now call “the mauve room” and was lying in his favorite spot up against the wall. But it was no problem. As the painter had promised, this was quick-drying paint.

We all are glad we had gone with one coat, even if it is mauve. I think our re-decorating is finished for 2012. Probably we also are finished with redecorating for the rest of this decade and the next. By then, if we are still around, we will be in our 80’s and no longer care. And, who knows, maybe mauve will be back in style.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Three Nights of Music

Kris Kristofferson, Jackson Browne, and Keltricity. We enjoyed listening in person to all three on three magical nights in the past few days.

Kris, at Iroquois Amphitheater, Thursday night to a huge, (and please forgive me) with a largely old-timer crowd like myself.  Keltricity on Friday night to a small gathering in an intimate room of The Bards Town. And Jackson Browne Sunday night at the Kentucky Center.

Kris, who for at least half a century has been writing and performing intelligent and now iconic songs, at the same time sustaining an extensive acting career, appeared on stage alone with a guitar and harmonica.

The five musicians in Keltricity, in contrast, called on not only their voices, but guitar, violin, keyboard and accordion as well as other instruments. As the group’s name implies, Keltricity performs Celtic music. But much more as well, including a diverse sampling of other genres to which their voices and instruments are well suited. Lively contra dance music, slow waltzes, and even French Canadian tunes were part of their offerings.  

Jackson Browne, like Kris, apparently is billed as performing solo acoustic. However, for Jackson that means electric guitars, piano and at least two to five musicians as back up. Jackson joked the solo acoustic billing merely means he can do whatever he wants.  

By far the biggest production of the three musical nights, Jackson Browne at the Kentucky Center, at least as seen and heard from a balcony box, was polished and yet laid-back. And to my subjective ears, Jackson has the sweetest voice of the lot. Though the vocalists in Keltricity and also Sara Watkins, who opened for and sang with Browne, were beautiful in their own rights. Sara Watkins described in the program as “offer(ing) both sweetness and a certain swagger” deserves special mention for her vocals and fiddle-playing.

Kris, at least a decade older than any of the other singers, shows his age, but in a good way, the craggy face and lean frame still handsome.  Though I wonder whether his performance might be enhanced a bit by a solo acoustic performance as Jackson Browne defines it, with an occasional back-up musician or singer.  

Kris performs his repertoire of love and break-up songs, now with a wink and nod to his age. For example, following the lyrics, “I don’t care what’s right or wrong,” in “Help Me Make It Through the Night”, with a “Yes I do.” 

While Jackson may always have had a sweeter voice, Kris had the greater pull on the audience. The Kris crowd largely kept a hushed silence except for cheering and standing ovations. In contrast, the Jackson Browne crowd, almost to the point of heckling, continued to shout out requests and even questions about the no-photo rules of the Kentucky Center.  

Kris now sounds most convincing on “Why Me Lord?” as he intones the gospel-like lyrics asking how did he come to deserve all the blessings he has known. I suspect it was a lot of hard work combined with a prodigious dose of talent. True for all the musicians we recently had the pleasure of seeing and hearing in person.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Little Voices in My Head

They went home two days ago. But I can still hear their voices. 

 “I wanna play… Can I get out the Lego’s? I’m hungry.” 

 “Grandma, can we sew? What are we doing today? Can we watch TV?” 

Our grandkids visited for a week. Sure, we are still catching up on sleep. But it was, oh, so worth it.

Our five-year old grandson, whether out of imitation of TV characters or vocal differences, already has the deeper voice. And endless energy. He wakes up bouncing on the bed, ready to play and run. Our eight-year-old granddaughter is more cerebral.  

I’ve read temperament and personality are in-born and fixed at a very early age. I can see them as athletes, scientists, doctors, or maybe farmers.  The world is waiting for them to come explore and solve its riddles.

Our grandson is even better at picking cherry tomatoes than I. He can worm his way into the garden recesses and emerge with a handful of the sweet, juicy fruit, or vegetable, depending on your view. The kids debated fruit vs. veggie without any prompting. The granddaughter, like her “Gramps,” a title she bestowed this trip, also has the sweet skin mosquitoes love. The two of them stayed out of the garden-harvesting events. 

But there were many other events in which all participated. For example, being chased by an ostrich and emu at a nature zoo. And both of the youngest family members were delighted to play with belongings left behind by their father and uncle. Lego’s, books, blocks and water guns were big hits. “Oscar the Grouch” and “Howliday Inn" (from the vampire bunny series their dad had loved) even had to be packed for the trip home.

One of our favorite supper time games surprisingly was borrowed from the PBS news program “McLaughlin Group”: Tell me something I don’t know. And it was the youngest generation telling the oldest something we didn't know. But, the most interesting things the grandchildren knew that we didn’t were what they showed rather than told us. 

Both grandchildren are more technologically advanced than their grandparents. My iPhone no longer is gameless. A rather shocking state I had not realized it was suffering. Together we figured out how to stream movies. And somehow the youngest generation quickly mastered the multitude of TV and other remotes, programming in a season pass for “Phinneas and Ferb” and “Good Luck Charlie.”

In the aftermath I am left wondering, do any “Phinneas and Ferb” plot lines deviate from the same formula? I suppose I will find out. I now have an entire Playlist from which to choose. I can’t wait until the next visit to see what else I will learn.