Thursday, July 30, 2009

Antony and the Roma Sinfonietta Orchestra | The Auditorium, Rome | 28 July, 2009

After his sell out performance at Sala Santa Cecilia in March this year, Antony Hegarty was back at the Auditorium, Parco della Musica on Tuesday evening in one of the most eagerly anticipated appointments of the Luglio Suona Bene calendar. Rather than appearing with his usual band, the Johnsons, this time he was accompanied on the Cavea stage by the Roma Sinfonietta Orchestra - under the direction of Johnsons stalwart Rob Moose, with another Johnsons regular, Julia Kent, as guest performer on cello. The performance was one of a small number of very special shows during a Summer Symphony Tour which sees both old and new songs by Antony and the Johnsons presented in a totally new way with orchestral arrangements developed by Antony and long term collaborator Nico Muhly, who also worked on the orchestral scoring of the last album The Crying Light. This exquisite album was well represented in the set list - the haunting Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground and a devastating Another World, as well as Dust and Water and Everglade, and the title track The Crying Light itself as the encore.

As is usual in an Antony concert there were also some brand new songs - tantalising live performances that may, or may not, make it to a recording session in the future - such as the exhilarating Salt,Silver,Oxygen and the hypnotically beautiful Christina’s Farm - as well as the often played but ne’er recorded Everything is New. It was also thrilling to hear Antony’s take on BeyoncĂ©'s Crazy In Love - we were quite some way into the song before I clicked that this was what he was singing “Got me hoping you'll page me right now” isn’t a typical Antony lyric, but as ever, he made the line his own! Of the earlier recordings Cripple and the Starfish stole the show with a stunning arrangement that made one feel this already wonderful song had finally found its definitive reading.

As I said in my last review, Antony is an artist at the very height of his powers – both vocally and creatively - and this concert, the fourth time I’ve seen him perform, reconfirmed to me that he is indeed, one of only a handful of artists that one feels privileged to be alive at just the right moment in time to hear them sing live… one of those artists truly touched by genius. Unmissable every time!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tracy Chapman: Our Bright Future | The Auditorium, Rome | 27 July, 2009

Tracy Chapman in Rome 2009The hugely talented singer-songwriter and guitarist Tracy Chapman has been a frequent visitor to the Eternal City over the last few years, and judging from the warmth of the welcome she was given by the audience in the Cavea at the Auditorium Music Park as part of the Luglio Suona Bene concert programme, Rome is happy to have her back!

She seemed in a buoyant mood and the sometimes shy performer chatted between songs about visiting the sights of Rome the previous day, inviting us to look up at the gorgeous crescent moon that was rising over the Auditorium, and introducing and explaining a little about the new tracks on the set list. The concert last night, in fact, was the closing date of a full band European tour promoting her eighth album Our Bright Future, and she played several songs from this latest outing - the lovely Sing For You, the humorous I Did it All and the ironic take on religious fanaticism Save Us All - as well as some of her greatest mainstream successes. After opening with the powerfully political America from her penultimate album Where You Live, she surprisingly went straight into one of the great sing-along crowd pleasers Baby Can I Hold You. I’ll never tire of hearing Tracy Chapman sing those early songs and was delighted that she included four further tracks from her first self-titled album - Fast Car, Talkin’ Bout a Revolution, For My Lover as well as She's Got Her Ticket as part of the encore - but one of the absolute highlights for me has to be Give Me One Reason. After one full slower blues version she then decided to ratchet up the volume and gave us part two - a full, start-to-finish rock-blues version too! Brilliant.

During this tour she’s been playing a special cover version each night, although she confessed that they’ve sometimes repeated themselves, however, the cover version for Rome for the evening was a one-off. If you wanted to catch Tracy Chapman play Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi you had to have been there last night! She closed the show with a stunning Proud Mary. A wonderful evening - can’t wait for next time!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

David Byrne: Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno | The Auditorium, Rome | 20 July, 2009

David Byrne - Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome
As sometimes happens over the summer months in Rome, there were a couple of major events running concurrently yesterday evening with a huge free concert in Piazza del Popolo to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first moon walk featuring Moby, whilst at the Auditorium Music Park a smaller but enthusiastic crowd had turned out to see an exhilarating show by ex-Talking Heads front man David Byrne. To see such an important musician and artist, whose back catalogue includes songs such as Once in a Lifetime, which occupy an almost iconic place in popular music history, is already an event in itself - that this tour sees him accompanied by an all-singing, all-dancing backing band reminded us that we were also in the presence of a consummate showman!

The Rome date was one of the stops in a mini-tour of Italy and included many tracks from last year’s collaboration with Brian Eno, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, as well as revisiting their earlier, groundbreaking work together on the seminal My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and even earlier albums with Talking Heads. From the moment that Byrne et al walked on stage dressed entirely in white, lending the show a simple yet strikingly stylish look, a sense of sheer enthusiasm and fun pervaded the whole performance - when each and every band member appeared on stage wearing a tutu during one of the encores to play Burning Down the House and STILL manage to look cool, they brought the house down!

The perfect set list which mixed both old songs and new tracks underlined how classics from the Eno-produced Talking Heads albums Fear of Music and Remain in Light are timeless, sounding as fresh today as when they first appeared, and how absolutely relevant Byrne and Eno’s continued collaboration remains today. Coming back on stage to ecstatic whooping and hollering and foot stamping for a third (or was it fourth…I lost count!) encore, the concert came to a close with the alt-country/gospel strains of 'Everything That Happens Will Happen Today'.


David Byrne was joined on stage by:
  • Mauro Refosco - percussion
  • Paul Frazier - bass
  • Graham Hawthorne - drums
  • Mark Declination - keyboards
  • Kaissa Doumbe Moulongo, Ray Frazier, Jenni Muldaur - backing vocals
  • Lily Baldwin, Steven Reker, Natalie Kuhn - dancers

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mogwai | The Auditorium, Rome | 18 July, 2009

Mogwai - 18 July, 2009, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome
The annual season of open air music events during July at the Auditorium Music Park - Luglio Suona Bene - continues this year with an eclectic programme of concerts, with Saturday evening seeing Glaswegian post-rock band Mogwai take to the stage in the Cavea. I’ve mentioned before on this blog how much I love the Auditorium and in particular sitting below Renzo Piano’s insect-like pods in the open-air arena during the summer - concerts usually start at 9pm when it’s still just light outside in Rome, and the mood of the concerts intensifies as night falls. Hardcore fans posting on online forums prior to the Mogwai gig had been bemoaning the seated venue, preferring standing space in front of the stage, yet for me their particular brand of atmospheric, hypnotic music suited the venue perfectly! As the first notes of Helicon 1 rang out a flock of dozens of seagulls flew above the stage and screeched through the opening bars, setting the mood somehow for something quite magical. As dusk turned into night bats were swooping overhead through Friend of the Night - spooky - and by the time they played the ethereal 2 Rights Make 1 Wrong, it was already dark and looking up Pegasus was clearly visible in the starry night sky.

This concert was one of discovery for me as I went out of pure curiosity knowing Mogwai really in name only, yet with the final blistering version of Mogwai Fear Satan ringing in my ears, I left the Auditorium a brand new Mogwai fan. Highly recommended!

Full setlist (thanks to Jacopo)

Helicon 1
I'm Jim Morrison I'm Dead
Christmas Steps
Scotland's Shame
Friend Of The Night
Auto Rock
I Love You, I'm Going to Blow up Your School
Killing All The Flies
Thank You Space Expert
2 Rights Make 1 Wrong
Hunted by a Freak
Mogwai Fear Satan

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Oggi sciopero - Italian blogger strike!

Today, July 14, 2009, Italian bloggers will muzzle themselves on the Web as well as in Piazza Navona in Rome, at 7pm where they will meet to protest against an Italian government bill (the Alfano decree) introducing a number of new rules which will limit the freedom of expression on the Internet in Italy.

For this reason all Italian blogs and websites are invited to participate in a day of silence, on the day in which newspapers and TV networks will also remain silent. It is a joint message to the political world: "We do not want to be gagged".

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kenneth Branagh awarded the 2009 Roma Fiction Fest Lifetime Achievement Award

The British actor and director Kenneth Branagh, star of stage and both big and small screens, was awarded the 2009 Roma Fiction Fest Lifetime Achievement Award yesterday evening in recognition of his long career in television drama.

Branagh, who was in Rome to collect the award in person at Cinema Adriano, was extremely generous with his time and read a long, prepared speech, before posing with the award and signing autographs. The audience was then shown an episode from the first series of the atmospheric Wallander - a BBC mini-series in 3 episodes - based on the best selling thrillers by Henning Mankell, in which Branagh plays the title role of Kurt Wallander, the Swedish detective.

House MD star Lisa Edelstein dazzles crowds at Roma Fiction Fest

Lisa Edelstein at Roma Fiction Fest
I confess that as soon as I heard that House MD star Lisa Edelstein would be appearing at the Roma Fiction Fest I knew that if I got to see only one celebrity during this edition, catching a glimpse of "Doctor Cuddy" was going to be top of my list!

After the Grey’s Anatomy debacle of earlier in the week, we were taking no chances and arrived at Cinema Adriano hours in advance armed with both accreditation badges and tickets. With the precision of a military exercise we mapped our strategy to find the best vantage point to see her arrive and watch the ritual of the photo call on the festival’s Orange Carpet, and then join the stampede to Screening Room 6, where she then made a brief appearance to a large audience of what can only be described as adoring fans, answering a few questions about her role in the enormously popular television medical drama. She looked stunning in an elegant evening trouser suit and heels, but exuded warmth and sincerity. Asked how she felt about playing a “normal” character who is a doctor rather than other characters she has played in the past, such as a prostitute and transsexual, she replied that
every human being is normal no matter if they’re a hooker, a transgender, or a lesbian, or an orthodox Jew
to spontaneous applause from the audience. What a star!

The audience was then treated to a special showing of the DVD extras which will appear in the Italian edition of Season 5 of Dr. House, as the show is known over here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pandemonium at Roma Fiction Fest for stars of Grey’s Anatomy!

Grey’s Anatomy stars Eric Dane (accompanied by his wife Rebecca Gayheart) and Justin Chambers were swamped by crowds of fans at Roma Fiction Fest yesterday evening when they made a special appearance at a showing of the first episode of season 5 of the hit medical drama.

Sadly, the organisers of the Roma Fiction Fest seriously underestimated the appeal of the show and we were informed by a member of staff that they had sent out a staggering 2,000 invitations for the showing, as well as giving away free tickets at the ticket office during the day and having promised fast track entry for any accredited badge holders (like myself) - for an auditorium that seats only 500 people. Needless to say, tempers were short and pandemonium broke out when badge holders were then REFUSED entry to the event until all ticket holders had taken their seats. As our US cousins would say - “Do the math!” - what were they thinking?!

In spite of the organizational shambles which left us high and dry, we decided to cut our losses and managed to make it downstairs in time to witness Eric Dane and Justin Chamber’s arrival at Cinema Adriano and the superstar welcome they were given, and also catch an enjoyable BBC sci-fi drama in competition - Survivors - starring Max Beesley whose unexpected introduction to the showing was a complete surprise as there was no mention of it in the festival programme.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Roma Fiction Fest launches with Buzz Aldrin!

Premiere of 'Moonshot' at Roma Fiction Fest with Saint Peter's
When Buzz Aldrin walked out on stage last night to the strains of Elton John’s Rocket Man - a corny but effective touch - he was given a hero’s welcome by the packed audience at the Auditorium Conciliazione. The Apollo 11 astronaut, who on 20 July, 1969 followed Neil Armstrong down the steps to become the second man to have walked on the moon and enter into history, was interviewed on stage as part of the opening evening of Roma Fiction Fest. He was the very special guest before the world premiere of British-made TV movie Moonshot directed by Richard Dale and starring James Marsters as Buzz and Daniele Lapaine (also present) as Neil Armstrong, a highly enjoyable drama exploring the background story of events leading up to the moon landing launch forty years ago. The film was applauded with enthusiasm as the credits rolled and there were spontaneous cheers when Armstrong uttered …one giant leap for mankind!

The Roma Fiction Fest - now in its third year - is an annual international festival dedicated to television drama and judging from the attendance at last night’s event, seems to be growing in popularity each year.

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