Friday, July 23, 2010

Florence + the Machine | The Auditorium, Rome | 22 July, 2010

It's just over a year since Lungs, the debut album by Florence + the Machine, exploded onto the British music scene, eventually becoming one of the best selling albums of 2009 (and 2010 so far) and scooping countless prizes including the coveted Mastercard Best British Album at the 2010 BRIT Awards. Last night Florence Welch brought her seemingly never ending world tour to Rome, where she closed her recent European round of Summer Festivals at the Auditorium Parco della Musica as another highlight of this year's Luglio Suona Bene programme.

Dressed all in white in a flowing gown, Florence was the second barefooted singer to take the Cavea stage this week - Graham Nash was the other for any trivia fans reading this – although I'd secretly rather hoped to see her repeat some of her death-defying dancing on spectacularly high heels! It was another steamy night in Rome, but this girl had boundless energy and a strangely ethereal presence. Maybe it was the way she was dressed, but she moved with such light footed steps as to appear almost angelic – an innocent appearance that was dramatically at odds with the darkness of some of her eerie lyrics - My Boy Builds Coffins was particularly good early on in the show – or the (self) destructive energy of Hurricane Drunk and the song that has caused a flurry of controversy since it appeared as her debut single, Kiss With a Fist.

The Florence + the Machine live show presents a pared down version of her music where the power of Welch's extraordinary voice takes precedence over the veneer of studio production. It was a downright boisterous crowd at the Auditorium last night who cheered deafeningly between and even during songs if there was a moment's silence, but also, unfortunately, it was one of the noisiest audiences I've encountered for quite some time where people chatted distractedly throughout the show and it felt rather like being in a field at a rock festival rather than at the Cavea. Looking around at the predictably very young audience, I was painfully aware of a yawning generation gap with myself at the furthest end! Despite efforts of the youngest around me to ruin the evening, however, it was still a wonderful concert, which was one of discovery for me as I went primarily out of pure curiosity to see what all the hype was about. I discovered that Florence Welch is the real deal and by the end of the show I was a newly converted fan! The cheers after the encore, which included an absolutely stunning Dog Days Are Over, would have blown the roof off the venue if it had had one! I'm really curious to see how her career develops as she is a performer with amazing stage presence and huge talent.

Watch Dog Days Are Over below or click here to watch on YouTube.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Jónsi | The Auditorium, Rome | 21 July, 2010

Jónsi on stage in Rome - 21 July, 2010

Of all the events in this year's Luglio Suona Bene open air concerts in the Cavea at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, it was last night's appointment with Sigur Rós frontman Jon Thor Birgisson, better known as Jónsi, that I had been most eagerly anticipating. I'd been following the development of the tour on Jonsi's website and knew that it was going to be a visually stunning show with gorgeous animation work and projected graphics specially designed by 59 Productions. When I bought the tickets way back in March, however, I was given an almost pitying look by box office staff who clearly thought my eagerness to get what I thought were surely the hottest tickets in town was exaggerated! As it turned out, it wasn't a sell-out show last night, but the devoted fans in the audience made up for its size in enthusiastic applause and cheers during what was an amazing performance by the Icelandic musician - it was everything I had hoped it would be...and more! Hearing Jónsi use his extraordinary vocal gifts and that achingly beautiful falsetto live on stage is something you really have to experience in person.

Last year Jónsi released an exquisite ambient instrumental album Riceboy Sleeps recorded at home in Reykjavik with his boyfriend Alex Somers, who also joined him on stage last night in Rome on guitar, sound effects and keyboards, together with the other three vital musical components of this tour - Thorvaldur Thór Thorvaldsson on drums, Ólafur Björn Ólafsson on keyboards and Úlfur Hansson on bass and monome. The focus of last night's show was firmly on Jónsi's stunning first solo studio album Go, released in April this year and he performed all nine tracks on the album, with the sheer euphoria of Go Do and Boy Lilikoi totally bringing down the house, as well as several so far unreleased songs - the gorgeous opening acoustic number Stars in Still Water, the heartbreaking Icicle Sleeves, Saint Naive and an unnamed piano song.

When Jónsi came back out on stage for the encore in full Native American headdress and launched into a joyous version of Sticks and Stones (from the score to the 2010 film How to Train Your Dragon) and then totally let rip in ecstatic oblivion with the pounding grand finale of Grow Till Tall with blizzard and thunderstorm visuals playing on the screen behind him, it was as if we were thrust into the very heart of a storm and made to experience that awe of the elements that city dwellers so often ignore. Throughout the night, animals – running wolves and deer, butterflies, swooping owls and scurrying rats and insects - had all come to life on the backdrop screens reminding us of the terrible beauty and sometimes destructive power of Nature. It was a wonderful journey that kept the audience rapt. Thank you Jónsi for taking us with you.

Watch Boy Lilikoi below or click here to watch on YouTube.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Crosby, Stills & Nash | The Auditorium, Rome | 19 July, 2010

Last night's appointment at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in the open air Cavea saw yet another of the highlights of this year's Luglio Suona Bene programme with living legends of folk rock David Crosby, Stephen Stills and recent OBE recipient Graham Nash performing on stage again together as Crosby, Stills & Nash. Throughout their various permutations – with and without Neil Young, as solo artists and duos too – and their widely reported fallings-out over the years, what has remained a constant has been the quality of the music, and seeing them play last night, reconfirmed the fact that over forty years since the release of their eponymous debut album, these men are still consummate musicians who sing songs that resonate as much today as ever before.

Crosby, Stills and Nash on stage in Rome - 19 July 2010

Crosby, Stills & Nash opened the show in spectacular fashion with a Joni Mitchell song that is synonymous with their status as cultural icons of American music and was a clear nod to their very beginnings when they performed at the most famous music festival of all time - Woodstock. When, towards the end of the show, somebody screamed out a request for this very song, David Crosby smiled and replied, “We already played Woodstock” and Graham Nash added with a chuckle, “You missed it!” A blistering first set took in several of their absolute classics - Long Time Gone, Marrakesh Express, Southern Cross and a gorgeous Long May You Run (their Neil Young tribute of the present tour – aka the "tall skinny Canadian", as Crosby described their sometime collaborator) - wrapping up the first hour with a breathtaking Wooden Ships.

After a short break they were back on stage for an acoustic, close harmony set that kicked off with a lovely Helplessly Hoping and then moved through a series of cover versions – rumour has it they have a cover album in the works – the Beatles' Norwegian Wood, Gregg Allman's Midnight Rider, a fabulous Bob Dylan cover with Girl From The North Country, which perfectly suited Stills grittier vocals, as well as a Rolling Stones classic, Ruby Tuesday, which saw the audience singing along. Another surprising cover would come later on in the evening with a rocking homage to The Who with Behind Blue Eyes. The sell-out crowd last night whooped and cheered every time Nash and Crosby made magic with their still perfect vocal harmonies (Guinnevere, Delta and Cathedral were stand-out songs by Crosby and Nash) and each time Stephen Stills amazed us with some seriously impressive guitar work. When they closed the main show with Almost Cut My Hair - David Crosby's vocals soaring over the Cavea, the ever defiant hippy-at-heart standing with his long white hair blowing behind him, whilst Stephen Stills and Graham Nash duelled guitar licks – it was simply spine-tingling! And it wasn't over yet...they had already been on stage for more than two hours in torrid temperatures, but deafening applause called them back for an extended encore and one more chance for us to join in on the chorus of the civil rights anthem Chicago (We Can Change the World), Stephen Still's solo hit Love the One You're With and one final crowd pleaser, Teach Your Children. A truly wonderful evening.

Watch Almost Cut My Hair below or click here to watch on YouTube.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Arrivederci Roma! Closing awards ceremony at Roma Fiction Fest

Hollywood stars and some of the most famous faces on television were at the Auditorium Conciliazione for the closing awards ceremony of the Roma Fiction Fest 2010 yesterday and the crowds were out in force on what was a steamy hot Saturday evening in Rome to see them take their turn on the festival's distinctive orange carpet.

Veronica Pivetti, the “godmother” of the 2010 festival was the compere for the night and was accompanied on stage by the Pino Jodice Orchestra who provided musical diversion throughout the show with their arrangements of some of the most popular TV themes from television history. Marg Helgenberger and Andy García both picked up prizes for Artistic Excellence, whilst Claire Danes scooped the top prize for Best Leading Actress in a TV Drama for her riveting performance in Temple Grandin. Jason Priestley was joined on stage by this year's Roma Fiction Fest jury president A.J. Buckley of CSI: New York fame, who presented him with the Best Leading Actor in a TV Comedy Award for his latest incarnation as Richard Fitzpatrick in the hilarious Call Me Fitz. The Best Leading Actor in a TV Drama Award went to Estonian actor Margus Prangel for his moving performance in Klass: Elu Pärast, which also won Best Product in the TV Drama category. There were also plenty of prizes for Italian TV shows and stars with national treasure Virna Lisi receiving the warmest welcome on both the orange carpet, where she was greeted with spontaneous applause from fans outside the theatre, and when she took the stage to receive the Best Actress in a Continuing Series Award for Caterina e le sue figlie 3.

To get a taste of the event scroll through the images in the gallery above or watch the video of Marg Helgenberger collecting her prize below (or click here to watch on YouTube).

Saturday, July 10, 2010

'Midsomer Murders' star John Nettles at Roma Fiction Fest 2010

John Nettles at Roma Fiction Fest 2010
Day 5 of Roma Fiction Fest 2010 saw more stars of the small screen tread the orange carpet at Cinema Adriano – Claire Danes was there to promote the recently Emmy nominated Temple Grandin, whilst British actor John Nettles arrived to present an episode from Season 13 of the hugely popular Midsomer Murders, entitled The Sword of Guillaume. As the show's producer Brian True-May explained in an encounter in Sala 9, this is will be Nettles' final series playing Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby – indeed, they had wrapped shooting on the very last episode only the evening before – but that the show will continue with Neil Dudgeon taking over in the 14th series as Barnaby's cousin DCI John Barnaby. The Sword of Guillaume – another cracking Midsomer episode, with the mandatory gruesome slayings and fairly modest body count – is, in fact, the first time audiences are introduced to the “new” Barnaby.

The meeting with the star of the show might easily have been advertised as “An Evening with John Nettles”. The man is a marvellous raconteur and spoke easily and at length about his favourite moments from working on Midsomer (he particularly cherished the episode in which Oliver Ford Davies is pinned down on a croquet lawn, whilst pelted with bottles of his favourite vintage wine from a replica Roman catapult), his earlier TV career playing Jim Bergerac and his work in theatre with the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as his recent OBE for services to drama – all interspersed with amusing anecdotes and infectious laughter! I was thrilled when he paused to sign autographs at the end of the event and I was able to exchange a few words with him in person.

Watch some highlights from John Nettles' appearance at Roma Fiction Fest 2010 below (or click here to watch on You Tube).

Jason Priestley launches 'Call Me Fitz' at Roma Fiction Fest 2010

It may have been twenty years since Jason Priestley first appeared as teen heartthrob Brandon Walsh in the smash hit TV show Beverly Hills, 90210, yet on Day 4 of Roma Fiction Fest he was asked the inevitable question about the impact of playing that part and answered with remarkable patience and wry humour, saying that every actor has baggage that they carry with them throughout their career and that Brandon is his...or in Brandon's case, not baggage, but a steamer trunk!

In Rome with writer Sheri Elwood, Jason Priestley is here to launch a vehicle for his talents that couldn't be further from Brandon - an offbeat post-PC era comedy entitled Call Me Fitz – in which he plays a morally bankrupt second-hand car salesman and all-round sleaze-ball called Richard Fitzpatrick aka Fitz. The show is highly cinematographic and looked great on the big screen in Sala 7 at Cinema Adriano – it's also very rude and very, very funny and I look forward to seeing the whole series when it's released!

Watch highlights of the interview with Jason Priestley at Rome Fiction Fest below (or click here to watch on YouTube). The opening sequence was shot a few days earlier on the orange carpet outside the Auditorium Conciliazione on 5 July when he paused to sign an autograph.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Marg Helgenberger in conversation at Roma Fiction Fest 2010

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has been one of my favourite TV shows for years, so I had been eagerly awaiting Marg Helgenberger's appearance at Roma Fiction Fest 2010 and the Italian premiere of the Season 10 finale - Meat Jekyll - which she presented yesterday evening in Sala 4 at Cinema Adriano. Having already seen her generosity towards fans on the orange carpet on opening night, yesterday we saw her extend that generosity to an entire room – she looked absolutely radiant, gave long and considered answers to numerous questions from the public, all the while smiling, posing for photographs and making eye contact with individual members of the audience. She clearly loves to connect with people and succeeds brilliantly at it!

Watch Marg Helgenberger talk about the development of her CSI character Catherine Willows, the impact of the departure of William Petersen (Gil Grissom), working in Las Vegas and much more in the video below (or click here to watch on YouTube).

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Naveen Andrews and Kevin McKidd at Roma Fiction Fest 2010

Naveen Andrews and Kevin McKidd at Roma Fiction Fest
Day 3 of Roma Fiction Fest featured one of the most highly anticipated events of the week with not one, but two British actors from two hugely popular US TV dramas sharing the stage together – Naveen Andrews (Sayid Jarrah in all six seasons of Lost) and Kevin McKidd (currently playing Dr. Owen Hunt in Grey's Anatomy). Predictably, this was the event that has drawn the largest crowd I've seen so far and there was a full and enthusiastic house in Sala 4 at Cinema Adriano to hear the actors talk about working on their respective shows and introduce the recent season finales. The interviews were informal and relaxed, with both actors coming across as down to earth individuals of enormous professionalism, combined with humility and sense of humour. Whilst they may not be colleagues on the same show, one felt a sense of complicity and mutual respect between the actors on stage as you can see from the video below of the event (or click here to view on YouTube).

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mark Valley, Wendell Pierce and Khandi Alexander at Roma Fiction Fest 2010

Day 2 of the 2010 edition of the Roma Fiction Fest brought another full programme of TV gems – so many, in fact, that I was forced to pick and choose between concurrently running shows on the numerous screens at Cinema Adriano. Yesterday saw the Italian premieres of two excellent, if entirely different, shows with the actors present to introduce the pilots.

Wendell Pierce and Khandi Alexander introduced the stunning opening episode of the post-Katrina New Orleans-based drama Treme, directed by Agnieszka Holland, which centres on the first second-line musical parade after the devastation of the storm, reuniting jazz musicians and residents as they start to face the rebuilding of both the destroyed city and their personal lives. Pierce was born and raised in New Orleans and said that his own family had lost everything and also mourned the loss of neighbours, so for this reason could verify the absolute truth and authenticity of Treme, which out of respect for the city and for those who had died, tells it like it really is. Mindful of the mostly Italian audience he invited us to make the connection with Italian neorealism which showed an Italy struggling to recover after the devastation of the Second World War, whilst Khandi Alexander suggested we should watch the episode as if it had been filmed for the cinema, rather than for television. I was totally absorbed by Treme and could have happily watched it all afternoon!

Mark Valley is a familiar face on the small screen having appeared in hugely popular shows such as Boston Legal and ER, and most recently Fringe. Yesterday evening he was in Rome for the Italian launch of his latest hit show Human Target in which he stars as the body guard with a difference Christopher Chance. Based on the DC Comics character of the same name, this was an adrenalin packed action show – think Bourne movies – with smart and droll dialogue and an undeniably charismatic central performance by Valley. I thoroughly enjoyed it and after one episode am completely hooked! The actor gave a lengthy interview beforehand – even speaking a little Italian at the beginning, to the delight of those present – talking about his military career prior to becoming an actor, the demands of filming the spectacular fight scene in that particular episode, the special effects in the show and also his own influences, naming Steve McQueen as an actor that he really admired.

Watch some moments from Mark Valley's appearance at the festival below or click here to watch on YouTube.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Roma Fiction Fest 2010 – Star-studded world premiere of Body of Proof

Auditorium Conciliazione
The fourth edition of Rome's festival of television got off to a star-studded start yesterday evening at the Auditorium Conciliazione with some of the biggest names in TV drama gracing the orange carpet at the Roma Fiction Fest. Home grown stars were represented by the festival “godmother” Veronica Pivetti and Christian De Sica (there to receive a festival prize for artistic excellence). It was clear, however, that the diehard fans outside the theatre were waiting for the stars of the ABC produced shows - Naveen Andrews (Sayid Jarrah in Lost), Matthew Gray Gubler (Reid in Criminal Minds) and Kevin McKidd (there to promote Grey's Anatomy, although fans of Trainspotting will remember him from way back, not to mention his brilliant performance as Lucius Vorenus in Rome) - who also appeared on stage alongside ABC's Executive Vice-President Barry Jossen to collect the prize for Industry Excellence.

The premiere of Body of Proof, starring Desperate Housewives' Dana Delany, was another first – ABC have never shown a preview outside North America for the launch of a new TV drama before and the audience was asked to fill in an audience appreciation survey at the end. Personally, I loved it!

Jason Priestley is also in town to launch his new show Call Me Fitz and graciously stopped to sign an autograph, as did Kevin McKidd and Jim Caviezel (here to promote a remake of The Prisoner). My personal highlight of the evening, however, was the arrival of CSI:Las Vegas star Marg Helgenberger who spent time not only signing autographs, but also chatting with fans and thanking them for watching the show.

Watch our close encounter with Marg Helgenberger below or click here to watch on YouTube.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Roma Pride 2010 – Every Kiss a Revolution

Emperor Trajan - A gay couple is a family too!
The path to Rome's gay pride parade this year has been even rockier than usual. Whilst we have sadly become used to indifference or even outright opposition to the event by politicians - Italy's Minister for Equal Opportunities Mara Carfagna, for example, in a statement that sets her well and truly apart from her fellow Europeans, said she was against marriage between gay couples in a recent interview in the magazine Famiglia Cristiana (Christian Family) – this year the opposition also came from within the gay movement itself. At a time when homophobic attacks are becoming all too frequent and the introduction of civil partnerships for gay couples and serious legislation against homophobia in Italy would seem to be mere pipedreams, political in-fighting and bickering between different factions saw a boycott of the Rome Pride march by longstanding gay rights organisation Mario Mieli yesterday, with an inevitable impact on attendance figures which were only in the tens of thousands.

Those of us who feel it's better to stick together as a minority group regardless of our individual political beliefs for the good of the larger cause may have been fewer than usual, but the atmosphere was as noisy and colourful as ever, as the parade snaked its way from Piazza di Porta San Paolo to Piazza Venezia taking in the tourist hotspots of the Imperial Forum and the Colosseum on the way. A brief thunderstorm and shower failed to dampen spirits and if anything came as a welcome respite from the blistering sunshine.

Here's hoping that next year's pride will be a celebration of real changes in this country and will once again be a pride parade for everyone.

Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club ® featuring Omara Portuondo | The Auditorium, Rome | 2 July, 2010

Summer may have been a long time coming in Rome this year with one of the coldest and wettest springs for decades, but July has heralded its arrival with sudden torrid temperatures. Summer in Rome means a rich and varied programme of music concerts all over the city and one of the best is surely Luglio Suona Bene which takes place every year in the open air Cavea at the Auditorium Parco della Musica. I can think of no better way of passing a balmy Rome evening than enjoying the perfect acoustics of the Auditorium's amphitheatre.

Omara Portuondo dancing on stage in Rome July 2010

Friday evening saw the return of the Cuban band Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club which features many of the surviving veterans of Buena Vista Social Club who became surprise international stars after the success of Wim Wenders' documentary about them in 1999 and the release of a concert recording they made at Carnegie Hall the previous year. In fact, the original line up only ever played two concerts together and whilst many of its already elderly members such as Compay Segundo, Rubén González and Ibrahim Ferrer have since died, the Orchestra continues to tour the world celebrating the Havana club and its performers that gave the group its name, as well as promoting new Cuban musicians such as the brilliant young pianist Rolando Luna, who was joined on stage by Social Club stalwarts like Guajiro Mirabal on trumpet, orchestra director Jesus Aguaje Ramos on trombone, guitarist Manuel Galbán and lute player Barbarito Torres.

Setlist - click thumbnail to enlarge
It was a young and exceptionally enthusiastic crowd that packed the Cavea on Friday night and having seen the guest star of the evening, Cuban diva (the diva “sexy” as she was teasingly nicknamed by the band in introductions) Omara Portuondo twice before in more demur circumstances, I was genuinely surprised and delighted by the ecstatic welcome she received with twenty-somethings giving her a standing ovation and cheering her appearance for the second half of the show. At almost eighty she is still in incredible voice and would seem to have limitless energy, dancing and joking on the stage. When the band came back on stage for the inevitable encore of Candela, it was Omara who called the other members back - she herself had remained on stage, seeming reluctant to leave the party!

After the show I was lucky enough to get a setlist from one of the roadies who kindly let me have the last one left. The running order isn't quite as listed, but it's a great souvenir of the night nevertheless.

Watch the finale of the concert below or click here to watch on YouTube.

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