Monday, March 10, 2008

Review of Harry Connick, Jr.'s concert at the Esplanade Theatre, 7th March 2008

It was great! :)

I can't believe there's a Wikipedia page devoted to his My New Orleans Tour. Good reference for my poor memory, haha.

Ahh, where to begin?

I'm not exactly a die-hard fan of his music ( my tastes have developed along the lines of Michael Buble, Jamie Cullum, Peter Cincotti, Peter Grant and Chris Botti ), but I've seen quite a few of his movies ( starting with Memphis Belle - a huge personal fave from my secondary / junior college days - followed by Copycat, Hope Floats and Independence Day ). Love that Southern accent and laid back charm. :)

I have one of his concert DVDs ( i.e. Only You - very nice ), but only purchased my very first HCJ album after getting tickets to this show. It's his latest, titled Oh, My Nola, a tribute to his New Orleans heritage.

The fact that I've played it endlessly this past month or two illustrates how much I enjoy this CD. The style is typical Mardis Gras fare, heavy on the trombones and trumpets, with a soulful, funky tone.

I already knew he wouldn't disappoint in a 'live' setting ( jazz singers are wonderfully pitch perfect on-stage -- it's like a gold standard they all adhere to ), but I've got to admit, what transpired totally blew me away!

The concert started very punctually at 8pm. On the dot. Kudos to Harry and his band for being so considerate.

As the lights dimmed and the curtains went up, I found him standing in the dark ( what happened to the lighting crew? ), next to the grand piano. The audience spotted him after a few seconds, and the applause was deafening.

He said a quick hello, sat himself down, and launched into Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey? - an upbeat swing piece with a prominent big band arrangement ( he came with 12 other talented muscians, ensuring a truly amazing experience ).

The next 2 songs ( can't remember the exact order ) were Hello Dolly and Working In The Coal Mine. I especially enjoyed the latter, on which Harry's exuberant whoops during the chorus reverberated throughout the concert hall. An early sign that he was euphoric that evening ( more details in the following paragraphs! ).

These were followed by a short interlude, as Harry chatted with us, saying how happy he is to be here in Singapore, mentioning how he smuggled a case of chewing gum through customs so he could "sell it on the black market" and make a tidy sum, only to discover that we do sell gum over here ( though they're the sugarless type ).
He expressed surprise at seeing a full house, but was of course extremely appreciative of our attendance.
He then said he'd been told that Asians are usually quite "conservative", but quickly pointed out that there was a guy in the front row wearing "Miami Vice" attire, i.e. a white jacket, white shirt and white shoes. ( This became the running joke for the rest of the night, it was hilarious! )

After this little monologue, he treated us to what I consider the "magical moment" ( something I always look out for at any show ) -- a solo piano performance of On The Sunny Side Of The Street, played "New Orleans style". It's apparently featured on his 1987 self-titled album, but I heard it for the very first time that evening, and was hypnotized from start to finish.

[ P.S. Make sure to do some research before you buy tickets to jazz concerts -- most pianists sit on the left side of the stage ( from the audience's perspective ). I was at a perfect angle in the 12th row ( couldn't get anything closer despite going online the day the seats were released ), and could see his side profile and, more importantly, both hands on the keyboard. ]

He thoroughly enjoyed himself on this piece, tapping ( and occasionally stomping ) his feet as his fingers flew across the ivories. His touch is firm yet feathery light, and the harmonies -- pure heaven! My mom identified the song just seconds into the intro - bravo! - and we absolutely loved his interpretation of the classic.

Other pickings from Oh, My Nola include: Jambalaya ( On The Bayou ), Yes We Can Can, and either Something You Got or Let Them Talk ( or both, I can't recall ).

Another highlight was when trombone player Lucien Barbarin came trotting out to join Harry on a couple of traditional New Orleans songs, namely Didn't He Ramble and Basin Street Blues. The first was more sedate ( but really good nonetheless ), but on the second, I was momentarily stunned when Harry suddenly stood up and started to shimmy around the stage with his pal, as the band continued to play. This went on for maybe 3 minutes ( or longer? ). Obviously I wasn't the only one who was taken aback, as the whole theatre started to clap and cheer at the sight. He certainly didn't behave this way on the concert DVD I have at home! :)

The general tempo of the show was pretty upbeat -- something I am totally contented with. The only major slow-downs were a cover of When I Fall In Love and, for the encore, It Had To Be You ( the When Harry Met Sally song that launched his career ).

The entire concert lasted around 90 minutes, and I'm pretty sure I left a couple more songs off the list. What was he singing when he did that 2nd dance number? The one where he pulled up his jacket and showed off some really fantastic booty-shaking? ( Beyonce, eat your heart out! :)) That alone is worth the ticket price!

The longer period of bantering came near the end, as he talked about a wide range of topics, from his daughter's comment on the Singapore landscape outside her hotel room window ( "It doesn't look like 'Mulan'!" ), to American Idol ( he got a bit confused when someone in the audience told him it's shown 3 times a night -- on cable, that is ), and yes, that "Miami Vice dude" again. Turns out he's in his late 20s or early 30s, Chinese, Malaysian, and a contractor. Harry actually climbed down from the stage ( no stairs, mind you ) to take a look at the man's name card, before reading out his email address and mobile number to everyone in the theatre. The guy's wife then snapped a quick picture of the two men, and Harry paid her a great compliment by telling the fellow, "Is this your wife? You lucked out, man, she's beautiful." Awww... :)

So in summary, it was a fabulous concert, and my mom's a new convert. She didn't really pay attention when I played his album in the car before, but now she loves Harry to bits. Pity he couldn't stay to sign autographs. But considering how friendly he is, he probably wouldn't be able to leave for hours if he did.

My money was very well spent! Extremely happy about it. :)

Just a special mention about his marvelous band, especially Arthur Latin on drums / percussion, and Neal Caine on the bass. Latin ( like all great drummers ) has boundless energy, and kept things interesting with his crisp beats. Caine, on the other hand, was the ultimate cool cat, plucking the strings almost the same way Harry was tapping the keyboard, occasionally caressing his instrument with his cheek ( subconsciously, perhaps? ).

Yes, people, I pay attention to everyone on-stage, not just the hot lead singer. :)

A New-Found Appreciation For Life

A recent anxiety which gave me a week of insomnia was nicely resolved over the weekend.

But more importantly, it helped me develop a new perspective, and made me realize how fragile one's existence is.

For a few moments, I wondered about the future -- my own, my parents', even my cat's. It was immensely nerve-wracking, to say the least.

I had to do something on my own, to gain the peace of mind I so desperately craved. The people who helped me through this dilemma are complete strangers, and the experience itself transiently depressing. But I applaud what these individuals are accomplishing, and if our paths ever cross again, I will thank them properly for the invaluable comfort they provided.

[ note to readers: Don't be alarmed! Everything's okay. :) ]

Anyway, it's on to more tasks at hand. Will be organizing chair ( i.e. kena arrowed ) for next year's local Emergency Medicine conference, and am hoping to bring 2 world-renowned emergency physicians down to Singapore as keynote speakers. Have already met one of them in New York at Mt. Sinai Hospital ( though I actually had no idea who he was at the time, argh! ). A very dynamic and highly accomplished professor, and editor-in-chief of a publication that any self-respecting emergency physician would read.

And on a totally unrelated note, as my mom and I were watching an old recording of a Celine Dion concert on Sunday night, I suddenly suggested to her that American Idol 7's frontrunner David Archuleta could be the only guy on this earth who might do justice to "My Heart Will Go On" ( from Titanic, if you live on another planet and don't know this ). I mean, so far he's been able to sing just about anything and make it sound great, so why not a Celine classic? Only problem is, he's so young and inexperienced, it may come off as too fake ( sometimes you need a bit of pain in your past to sound genuinely distressed, no? ). In any case, I'd still like to hear him try. :)

To end off, an excerpt from an article on E! Online:
"Oh, and speaking of "Awww," you should know that David Awwwrchuleta is literally the most unflappable ray of smiling sunshine I have ever laid eyes on. The kid never stops smiling. Never! I'm convinced he may be the latest version of those cute, mechanical robot-dogs and if so, I want a model. That boy is straight-up adorable.

When asked how he feels about all the glowing praise being heaped on him, and how he's the favorite, David just blushed and said, "Oh, I don't know about that!" But clearly, Awwwrchuleta is the favorite, and his competition knows it: Michael Johns, Brooke White and Amanda Overmyer all picked him to win, and Jason Castro said, "It's pretty much the David Archuleta show." ( For the record, not a one of them sounded bitter, which was sweet. )"

If only fans outside the U.S. could vote! :D

Till next time...

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