Monday, March 17, 2014

Going On Holiday - At Last!

OMG, I can't WAIT to get away, relax and recharge!

Will be travelling a long distance again, after 2 short trips to nearby countries last year. Counted a total of 11 separate flights ( yikes! ), but will be covering places I've always dreamed of visiting. Might as well cross them off the list while I'm still young and able. :)

First stop: Hawaii. I'm not a big fan of sand and surf, but the islands offer lots to do, the tour includes accomodation at gorgeous resorts, and activity options range from surfing / hula dancing / lei and cocktail making lessons, to snorkeling, nature trail hiking and helicopter rides.

I'm especially interested in paddleboarding, snorkeling and learning to play the ukulele ( also on the lesson list ), as well as some spa time. Going to get a good dose of sunshine, walk around barefoot and sip LOTS of cocktails. Aaaahhhhh... :D

Next is Washington, DC - another destination I've wanted to see for a very long time. Recently, House Of Cards rekindled my interest, and an added bonus is the cherry blossom season, which we may very well hit during peak bloom, woohoo!

There's LOTS to do but I've narrowed my options down to a manageable few - the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and US Capitol can't be missed, Arlington Cemetery is a must for a JFK fan like me, and weather permitting, lengthy strolls along the Mall and Tidal Basin, with a possible day trip to Georgetown for some food and window shopping.

We'll be on our own after Hawaii, but being alone in the US has never been a problem. I love map reading and navigating, and Americans are very nice to tourists. :)

Last but not least, New York City - my 2nd favourite city in the whole world, so far. ( #1 is Paris - very tough to beat! )

This will be our 3rd visit but activities will be completely different. Previous trips included a lot of sightseeing, while this time, I'm getting the most out of Broadway.

Through some unbelievable stroke of good luck, the spring 2014 season is jam-packed with celebrity casting, from Denzel Washington to Zach Braff and Daniel Radcliffe.

However, due to schedule constraints and expected fatigue as we near the end of our travels, I could only pick 6. These were chosen for one simple reason: I would KICK myself if I missed any of them.

First is Cabaret, a revival directed by Sam Mendes ( Oscar-winning director of American Beauty and Skyfall ), starring Michelle Williams and Alan Cumming.

Yes, I realize Williams is the headliner and probably the main draw, but I'm much more eager to see Cumming, whom I LOVE in The Good Wife!

Second: The Realistic Joneses, a dark comedy with a jaw-dropping cast, gah! Toni Collette ( The Sixth Sense, In Her Shoes, Fright Night, Hostages ), Marisa Tomei ( Oscar winner from My Cousin Vinny, also acted in Someone Like You, The Ides Of March ), Tracy Letts ( actor from Homeland, writer of Killer Joe and August: Osage County ), and Michael C. Hall ( Six Feet Under, Dexter ).

Having followed Dexter through 8 seasons ( = 8 years ), seeing Hall in person will probably give me palpitations, haha. And Letts' Killer Joe ( movie adaptation starred Matthew McConaughey and also gave me palpitations ) is astounding. If I get to meet them at the stage door, I will pass out... :)

I'm not particularly fond of James Franco, but have a soft spot for Chris O'Dowd ( Bridesmaids! ). I gave up Denzel Washington and Daniel Radcliffe for these two, so please don't disappoint! I'm mostly interested in seeing how they do on stage, after Franco bombed as Oscars host. Could go either way.

Next on the itinerary is All The Way, with Bryan Cranston as American president, Lyndon B. Johnson. Cranston's enjoyed immense accolades as Walter White on Breaking Bad, and I leapt at the chance to catch him in this. Will be in the 4th row, and the play lasts a whopping 3 hours. In my world, that's the equivalent of heaven. :)

The day after that, I will see Tony Shalhoub in Act One at the Lincoln Center. Covers material that's foreign to me ( something about an American writer's life from childhood to old age ), but I spent 8 years watching Shalhoub play a brilliant OCD detective in TV series Monk ( he also won Emmys for the role ), and can't wait to watch him 'live'.

The grand finale is another revival: Les Miserables, with an excellent cast that includes Ramin Karimloo ( West End star of Love Never Dies and Phantom Of The Opera's lush 25th anniversary performance ). I've never seen this on stage before ( Hugh Jackman movie, yes ) but am familiar with the music, and couldn't be more pleased about the prospect of listening to Karimloo once again ( after swooning in Tokyo at the 4 Stars concert a year ago :)). That voice of his can kick planets out of orbit!

Side-tracking a bit with tickets to a gala tribute to Kevin Spacey, organized by the Museum of the Moving Image. Stumbled upon this on Playbill and couldn't believe my luck, because it takes place the day after we arrive in New York.

Promises a star-studded lineup which has not been confirmed yet. We'll be sitting with 8 other strangers at the table, but I don't care. And I reaaaally hope there'll be an opportunity to speak to Mr. Spacey that evening. Must prepare my thick skin mode. :)

Currently unconfirmed: possible tickets to a Late Night With Seth Meyers taping, and Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon's monologue rehearsal.

These two are the HOTTEST guys in NY right now, and I'm a huge fan of both. Cross fingers!

Looks like by the time I get back, I might be even more exhausted than before I left. But at least I'll be super happy, and that's all that matters. :D

Monday, March 03, 2014

Review - Jamie Cullum, Singapore Jazz Festival, 27 February 2014, Marina Bay Sands Grand Theatre

Writing this review is making me feel really old, for the following reasons:

1) I realize that 10 years have passed since I first saw Jamie Cullum perform.

2) Reading my previous blog entries about him, it's become apparent how my memory isn't what it used to be.

3) I no longer have the energy to write lengthy, gushy blog entries. ( Maybe some readers are happy about this haha. :))

Nevertheless, last Thursday evening was still incredibly awesome - yet another high-octane show from the little dynamo, and the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when reunited with someone you're immensely fond of.

And speaking of reunions, before I launch into the review proper, here're 2 flashbacks for those of you who're interested:

My very first encounter with Jamie in 2004, and

My favourite Jamie concert in Singapore in 2010.

I'll be making a few references to each event later on.

Jamie kicked off the set list with a trilogy of uptempo songs - 2 from his latest album, 2013's Momentum ( opener The Same Things, and 3rd piece Everything You Didn't Do ), and 1 from way way back ( Get Your Way from 2005's Catching Tales ).
Aside from showing off his skills on the piano, he also spent a considerable amount of time on the drum, at one point whacking it so hard the drumstick flew out of his left hand. But in trademark Jamie Cullum form, he didn't bat an eyelid and carried on until a suitable interlude presented itself, allowing him to stroll over and pick it up before continuing.

The crowd, which had remained sedate throughout opening act James Morrison's set, immediately roared its approval and woke up. THIS was the star we'd all come to see! :)

The next 90 minutes seemed to go on forever, as Jamie powered through 18 songs in total, featuring selections from all his albums over the past decade ( excluding Pointless Nostalgic which was released before his meteoric rise to stardom ). Personally, I was quite surprised and just a tad disappointed, partly because this was the 4th time I was seeing him in concert and had already heard quite a few of the old songs 'live', but mostly because I consider Momentum his best album to date and was eager to hear as many tracks from it as possible.

Still, Jamie delivered beautifully on every song, especially What A Difference A Day Made ( from 2003's Twentysomething ), which was performed with only the piano, and sung flawlessly.

He also whipped the audience into a frenzy with inspired covers of Blackbird ( The Beatles ), Royals ( Lorde ), Get Lucky ( Pharrell Williams / Daft Punk ), I Could Have Danced All Night ( My Fair Lady ), Don't Stop The Music and Diamonds ( Rihanna ).

In between songs, Jamie bantered with the crowd, sharing tidbits about what he did during this latest trip ( "spent time on top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, taking pictures of myself and posting them on Instagram" ) and expressing horror over his inexplicably super-tight jeans. The latter occurred within the first 15 minutes of the show, and to his credit, he didn't let the discomfort affect his performance in any way, even as he climbed onto his Steinway ( he ships the piano everywhere when he's on tour ), pounded the instrument like a drum and plucked its strings, and leapt off it multiple times ( I was on high alert to assist if he injured himself :)). Of course, I'd seen these antics before and never tire of them, but at age 34, it was obvious that he'd toned the stunts down considerably these past few years, something I support because hey, I care about the guy okay? :)

During Love For Sale ( Momentum ), he jumped off the stage and walked up the aisle to get close to the audience ( also a well-known Jamie move ). And luckily for me, he grabbed my hand as he strolled past, not just slapping my palm or limply holding it for a second, but actually hanging on tightly for a few seconds, which I never expected. Brought back memories from our 2004 encounter ( read blog entry ), and his hand is still as clammy as ever! :)

The crowd was surprisingly well-behaved, so he wasn't mobbed as he stood in the aisle for the next few minutes and finished the song. Really envy a pair of young ladies sitting right in front of him - he focused his attention entirely on one of them and bent down to sign an autograph before returning to the stage. Ahhh, such a nice chap. :)

One of my favourite songs from Momentum - When I Get Famous - sounded phenomenal 'live'! This is another trademark of his - the concerts ALWAYS surpass the studio recordings. Not because of the physical stuff or repartee, but rather, the simple fact that his musicality shines most brilliantly in person. The sound system is nowhere as great as what's available at the Esplanade ( my favourite Jamie gig so far ), but he had us all hypnotized.

My choice for magical moment? Hands down, an extended version of Save Your Soul ( also from Momentum ). I'd heard this many times but never quite connected with it ( When I Get Famous is much catchier ). But that night, Jamie started off with a drawn out acoustic intro, before the rest of the band gradually joined in. The percussion sounded amazing, pulsating throughout the theatre and hitting you right in the gut. And when they reached the chorus and full backup kicked in, the effect was anthemic.
I love it so much I've started blasting it on constant repeat mode on my car stereo.

Towards the end, Jamie asked those seated at the back to go forward. Not sure if people right in front were happy about it, but nobody was going to complain! The good part is, everyone stood up 'cos that was the only way we could see him, and this changed the overall mood tremendously. We grooved to the beat, sang enthusiastically, even jumped up and down in unison on Jamie's cue.

When he closed the show with Mixtape ( from The Pursuit ), the crowd's cheers were deafening, and Jamie looked very pleased indeed. Wish he could've performed a couple more pieces, but he had to fly to Jakarta for another headline event the next day, so he couldn't stay any longer.

Getting back to the 2004 blog entry about my first encounter with him - it's really great that he hasn't changed these past 10 years in terms of audience interaction and overall friendliness. Jamie's actually played a huge part in my life, because he's the very first celebrity I ever had any physical contact with, and broke down barriers by showing me that international stars can be nice and approachable. After that experience, I lost all inhibition where celebs were concerned, and as a result, have managed to find ways to meet many artists I greatly admire. It's entirely possible that if I'd never shaken Jamie's hand that night a decade ago, my existence would've taken a very different turn.

So thank you, Jamie, for the simple yet profound gesture which transformed your fan's life forever. Also thank you for your continuing contribution to the music industry, the songs that lift our spirits and the shows that leave such awesome memories. I know there will come a day when you'll have to stop leaping around - for your own safety! - but your talent is more than enough for us.

Wishing you a long and successful career ahead, and please come back to Singapore as soon as possible.

p.s. Also, please consider moving the show back to the Esplanade Concert Hall - much better acoustics and a gorgeous venue which I love - and omit the opening act completely ( we're not interested ). :)