Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Electrifying! D’Angelo and the Vanguard at Luglio Suona Bene

D'Angelo and the Vanguard on stage in Rome
When a singer releases a comeback album entitled Black Messiah after a fourteen year hiatus, and then takes that album on the road as The Second Coming Tour, he is clearly being provocative. But when that artist is as charismatic and talented as D’Angelo, whose artistic return from the wilderness has been welcomed as nothing short of a miracle by fans and critics alike, it is very easy to forgive the hyperbole. Black Messiah is an enigmatic and utterly addictive gem of an album. The man himself came blazing into town yesterday evening backed by his 10-piece band The Vanguard in an electrifying performance at the Auditorium Parco della Musica that amply demonstrated why he’s still the undisputed king of neo-soul.

What was wonderfully apparent throughout the evening was that this consummate showman appeared to be so happy to be back. On one of the hottest and steamiest nights of the year, D’Angelo must have broken some kind of record for getting the audience up and dancing – a minute into the opening song Ain’t That Easy, the Auditorium security guards were powerless to block the rush of fans to below the stage, where they stayed throughout the show, exchanging kisses, handshakes and fist bumps with D’Angelo.

The setlist was presented as one continuous flow of music, with musical interludes between songs from not only Black Messiah, but also from his first two albums, Brown Sugar and Voodoo as well. There was very little chat – only The Charade was introduced formally, by a hooded D’Angelo in the most overtly political moment of the show, with a dedication to victims of police brutality everywhere and an invitation to raise our fists in the air. D’Angelo is an artist who wears his musical inspirations on his sleeve, so there were instantly recognisable nods to James Brown in the counting out of the vamps in main set closer Sugar Daddy, and also to Prince in his dexterous use of falsetto, not to mention the densely layered guitars played by erstwhile Prince guitarist Jesse Johnson.

D’Angelo is no stranger to building audience anticipation, and there was a protracted wait before he returned to the stage for the closing encore, where he playfully teased us with feints and false starts at the beginning of Untitled (How Does It Feel). This turned out to be a glorious fifteen minute farewell, that saw each member of the band – including the legendary Pino Palladino on bass guitar - enjoy a brief moment in the spotlight, then leave the stage, one by one, until D’Angelo was finally left alone at the keyboards.

An amazing show by an extraordinary performer - miss him at your peril!

Full set list:
• Ain’t That Easy
• Vanguard Theme
• Betray My Heart
• Spanish Joint
• Claire Fisher – Interlude
• Really Love
• The Charade
• Brown Sugar
• Sugah Daddy
• Drum solo by Chris Dave
• Untitled (How Does it Feel)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Impeccable performance by Bob Dylan and his Band at the Terme di Caracalla

Bob Dylan and his Band at the Terme di Caracalla
I’ve lived in Rome for over a decade and yet for some reason I had never visited the Terme di Caracalla, the spectacular ruins of the Roman public baths. During the summer months the Rome Opera House presents an outdoor programme of opera, dance, and contemporary music events at the Terme, so last night I finally got to see them as the most extraordinary setting for Bob Dylan and his Band in concert. There is always a palpable air of excitement before any Dylan show, but wandering slowly through the grounds of the Terme before the show, and waiting patiently for showtime as dusk slowly descended into darkness, was a magical experience. And then, right on time, the man himself appeared on stage, dapper in dark suit and white hat, and was met by an immediate standing ovation by the entire audience. As he launched into Things Have Changed it was clear that Dylan was in fine voice, and the band were as tight and rhythmic as ever. The sound was perfectly balanced - the venue was not only beautiful, but also possessed remarkably good acoustics. This was going to be a wonderful evening!

When Bob Dylan last played in Rome in 2013 he confounded pundits by performing a totally mixed bag of songs from his long career, instead of presenting the carefully honed and mostly unchanging setlist of more recent material that has been the staple of recent tours. I was lucky enough to attend the first of those two Rome shows and was thrilled and totally surprised by the evening. When I heard that His Bobness was returning to Rome, however, my secret wish was that I would finally get to hear “The Set”. With last night’s concert my wish came true with no less than six songs taken from his 2012 album Tempest, including very powerful performances of Scarlet Town and Pay in Blood. In fact, the setlist was an absolute joy from start to finish. I loved Forget Heart (from Together Through Life), while the new arrangement of Workingman's Blues #2 – always a favourite track of mine from Modern Times – was another highpoint. There were few concessions to the casual fan, but the only older tracks were absolutely stunning. It was a thrill to hear Tangled Up In Blue and Simple Twist Of Fate from his 1975 classic Blood on the Tracks sung with such impeccable vocals and with gorgeous harmonica breaks. Both halves of the concert were closed with exquisite showstoppers from his latest album of Sinatra covers Shadows in the Night. Even the heavens seemed to be in league with Bob yesterday, as the (not quite full) moon rose in time for Full Moon And Empty Arms at the end of the first half of the show, a performance only matched in its melancholy longing by the final song of the second set Autumn Leaves.

Security was exceptionally tight throughout the show with strictly no photos or standing allowed, in fact an early attempt to rush the stage during Long And Wasted Years was immediately blocked. The first encore of Blowin' in the Wind, however, saw the entire audience on its feet and a mass rebellion – there was huge a surge towards the stage and a sea of cameras and smartphones suddenly lit up the arena! This was followed by a blistering rendition of Love Sick to close an unforgettable concert.

Full setlist:

1. Things Have Changed
2. She Belongs To Me
3. Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
4. Workingman's Blues #2
5. Duquesne Whistle
6. Waiting For You
7. Pay In Blood
8. Tangled Up In Blue
9. Full Moon And Empty Arms
Intermission
10. High Water (For Charley Patton)
11. Simple Twist Of Fate
12. Early Roman Kings
13. Forgetful Heart
14. Spirit On The Water
15. Scarlet Town
16. Soon After Midnight
17. Long And Wasted Years
18. Autumn Leaves
Encore
19. Blowin' In The Wind
20. Love Sick

Full band:
Bob Dylan - piano, harp
Tony Garnier - bass
George Recile - drums
Stu Kimball - rhythm guitar, maracas
Charlie Sexton - lead guitar
Donnie Herron - banjo, electric mandolin, pedal steel, lap steel

Friday, June 26, 2015

Pet Shop Boys light up Rome at Luglio Suona Bene!

Pet Shop Boys on stage in Rome
After over a hundred dates in 45 countries British synthpop duo Pet Shop Boys finally brought their thrilling Electric Tour to Rome yesterday evening as part of the Auditorium Parco della Musica’s annual open air concert programme Luglio Suona Bene.

Electric Tour light show at the Auditorium Parco della Musica
The concert was initially devised as a launch pad for their 2013 album Electric, so the show naturally opened with Axis, a track from that release, but the evening that followed was also crammed full of songs from their extensive back catalogue of timeless pop classics culled from every decade since the 1980s. It’s been a while since I’ve returned from a concert hoarse, but from the outset this was nothing short of an enormous Pet Shop Boys sing-along party. As is often the case in Rome, the audience wriggled politely in their seats for the first few songs, until Suburbia got everybody up and dancing and saw a sudden rush of hardcore fans to below the stage. The momentum never waned for a second after that point, with song after song met with huge cheers.

Pet Shop Boys at Luglio Suona Bene 2015
It would be hard to pick a best moment, but I particularly enjoyed I'm Not Scared, West End Girls, It’s a Sin and Always on my Mind, and the wonderfully anthemic Go West, which was the first of the two encores. The evening ended with a perfect show closer - Vocal – leaving us with the lyrics "This is my kind of music, They play it all night long" …ringing in our ears.

With endless costume changes, dancing Minotaurs, mirror balls, confetti canons, and a visually spectacular light show projected onto Renzo Piano’s distinctive roof of the Sala Sinopoli concert hall, not to mention a stunning performance by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, this leg of the Electric Tour was simply unmissable! A fabulous time was had by all!

Full setlist:
 1. Axis
 2. One More Chance / A Face Like That
 3. Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)
 4. Fugitive
 5. Integral
 6. I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing
 7. Suburbia
 8. I'm Not Scared
 9. Fluorescent
10. West End Girls
11. Somewhere
12. Leaving
13. Thursday
14. Love Etc.
15. I Get Excited (You Get Excited Too)
16. Rent
17. It's a Sin
18. Domino Dancing
19. Always on My Mind
Encore:
20. Go West
21. Vocal

Friday, February 20, 2015

Standing ovation for dazzling Yuja Wang performance in Rome

Sala Santa Cecilia, Auditorium Parco della Musica – 13 February 2015


Recitals by the immensely talented concert pianist Yuja Wang have been a regular fixture on the Santa Cecilia programme for several years now, where she has always amazed and delighted audiences with her ever-more dazzling performances. Her formidable technique, combined with an irresistible force-of-nature stage presence, have made her appearances the must-see event of every season. Yet Yuja’s return to Rome last Friday evening saw her scale even greater heights. Alongside the fireworks and breathtaking virtuosity she brought yet more to the table – even greater tenderness and emotional depth. This was absolutely stunning playing from start to finish.

The versatile recital programme opened with three brief, yet utterly delightful, Liszt transcriptions of Schubert, followed by an exceptionally sensitive reading of Chopin’s Sonata No. 3, which emphasised the sheer beauty of Chopin's melodies. I particularly enjoyed the searching subtlety of the third movement.

With 2015 marking the centenary of Skriabin's death, the second half of the evening was almost entirely dedicated to the Russian composer. Opening with the Prelude in F-sharp minor for the Left Hand, Yuja then led us on a mesmerising journey through the composer’s musical development, with works of increasing harmonic complexity, culminating in the unsettling and menacing dissonance of the “Black Mass” Sonata. It was a thrilling ride. The final item on the scheduled programme, Balakirev’s Islamey, was an exhilarating display of bravura that brought thunderous applause at its close.

The Rome audience was rewarded with not one but three stunning encores: the exquisite Der Kontrabandiste, a rarely performed Schumann composition, followed by two hugely popular crowd pleasing gems that earned a well deserved standing ovation: Tea for Two, which proved yet further that Yuja is at home playing just about anything, even 1920s jazz, and the wonderful Horowitz arrangement of Variations on Bizet’s Carmen.

Absolutely unmissable!

Full programme:
Schubert - Liszt
Schwanengesang D.957, No. 1 and No. 5
Die Schöne Müllerin D795, No. 19
Chopin
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op 58
*
Scriabin
Prelude for the Left Hand, Op. 9 No. 1
Prelude, Op. 11 No. 8 in F sharp minor
Fantasie In B minor, Op. 28
Prelude, Op. 37 No. 1 in B flat minor
2 Poèmes, Op. 63
Sonata No. 9, Op. 68 “Black Mass”
Balakirev
Islamey
Encore:
Schumann - Tausig
Der Kontrabandiste
Youmans - Tatum
Tea for Two
Bizet - Horowitz
Variations on a theme from Carmen

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