Mar 15, 2010

Event Reviews @ The Temple

U of A Dance: Premium Blend – Wow, this show was amazing. I was totally not expecting such a great show. We got free tickets, but I totally would have paid for this. The theory behind premium blend, as you might guess, is a mixture of a bunch of different styles. There were 5 sort of acts. The first what seemed to be a fairly classical ballet. Granted, I don’t know anything about ballet, it could have been totally revolutionary, but it seemed classic to me. I’m not much for ballet, but I did rather like it. It didn’t amaze me, but I was happy to see it. If it was 2 hours of this for 20 bucks, I wouldn’t be too thrilled, but 30 minutes of it as part of a set was great. I don’t really like the solos, but the group stuff was very good. It’s all kind of corny, but in a traditional way that I’m sure is appropriate. They all have the most awful looks on their faces, and they enter and exit stage in goofy poses and patterns. Not bad, just kinda weird, I’m sure very appropriate. I didn’t like the sexuality of it. Mostly because there was nothing sexual about them. The girls were these skinny, tall, alien, most certainly asexual creatures. It was kind of unnerving. Next up was a thing called Hush. Of all the pieces definitely the most heady, the most conceptual. The stage was covered, at waist-height, with a bunch of golden sheets. The dancers would pop up among them and thrash around, with only their upper bodies visible. Though it’s kind of overly artsy, it’s enjoyable in as much as you enjoy the concept. I found it pretty cool and interesting. Sadly, it went on about 10 minutes too long. Eventually they come out of the sheets, which is good because I wanted to see actual dancing too. But then they started talking and that was horrible. The theme was apparently losing a loved one, and the talking was painfully corny and awkward. That was matched with projected words on the wall of similar sentiment. If it had been just the words, it probably would have been okay. But the talking was just much too much. The music on this one was up and down. It was largely trumpet, and there were parts that were really really good. But at least 1/2, if not 2/3, of it was just shitty smooth jazz. It was overtly obnoxious and hurt the performance over all. Third was the stand out of the night, a high energy frenetic awesome short thing called Volt. Extremely up tempo music, almost industrial but not really, just very percussive and fast. The dancing matched the music, it was suuuuper cool. There was even a little 5 seconds of b-boying,  a lot of pop, almost hip-hop, it was totally awesome, I would have watched 2 hours of that. Then came this little jazz thing. This is also not the type of thing I’d totally be into, but as a very short little vignette amongst all the rest, it was great. It was sort of Chicago styling, but the music wasn’t as good, just very very jazzy. But it was cute and enjoyable. I really liked that they danced during their bows, that was cool. Last was a really quirky thing about teaching parakeets to smoke. It was very 4th wall, on the nose, videos of tucson in the background, endless loops of this (presumably authentic) old tape of some lady teaching a parakeet to talk. The dancing was very joyous and fun. The dancers were able to put a lot more personality into it, which some of them were very good at. The colors were bright, the dancing was bright, the music was bright, it was a very enjoyable ending to the show. Overall I am incredibly happy with this thing. I will absolutely do my best to attend premium blend shows in the future, I might even consider a season pass to get in on it. Super great!

Fiddler of the Roof – This was actually very good! I saw the movie for the first time a couple months ago, and now I get to see the stage performance. To be fair, this show has a place in my personal life that gives it a contextual advantage over a lot of things. Even if it was kind of bad I’d probably give it a pass in an “in the moment” sort of happy experience. But even besides that I thought it was very well done. There was a little shakiness in some of the choreography early on, but that went away. Partially that might be my awareness that TWO lead actors playing Tevyeh cancelled! We got the third string! But this guy was actually fantastic. The lead was supposed to be Topol, the guy who played him in the movie, which would have been amazing. The second string was Harvey Firestein, which I can’t imagine and I’m very glad he dropped out. The third guy has played Tevyeh some 2000 times, so he knew it pretty well. Everyone else was good too, I thought. There’s no point in reviewing the story, it’s the same as the movie I already talked about. It’s funny, if this was a sitcom on TV, it would be the groaningest piece of shit, the whole nagging wife, abused husband, stereotypical characters. But in this setting it’s charming and cute and sometimes actually funny. I thought the sets were really cool. They swished the pieces about and had a fairly dynamic setup for such a small area with limited pieces. The singing was really good, the dancing was pretty good. The russian vs. jews dance wasn’t as good as the movie. But the bottles-on-the-head jew dance was freaking awesome. As with the movie, it is really sad. Now that I’ve seen both film and stage, I officially have no need to ever see this story again, it’s too much of a bummer. But this was very well done.

Video Games Live – Wasn’t totally sure what to expect from this one. Honestly hadn’t heard much about it. But it, like Fiddler, has personal life connection that gives it a leg up, but I think even without that I’d have enjoyed it. Going chronologically, maybe, the preshow was pathetic. We were convinced to go early for the “guitar hero contest” – i.e. a 13” black and white magnavox with a copy of Geetar Hiro purchased in a back alley in china playing on it. Okay, it wasn’t actually that, but it was a pretty pathetic. Mostly it was a bunch of nerds crammed into the lobby of the TCC trying to discreetly check out the 3 or 4 legitimately hot girls trotting around. There were costumes, not as many as expected, only maybe 20 out of the hundreds there, but a decent variety, some actually quite good. There was a costume contest, I’m pretty sure people voted for hot chicks and the modern warfare 2 guy cuz modern warfare 2 is the roxxorz or whatever the fuck kids say now. I rather liked the Grim Fandago guy, even though I never got into that game, just because it was the most random and indie. But there were ice climbers, final fantasy, only one WoW person (!), street fighter, assassin’s creed, and more. Back to the lobby – one would expect the problem with a crowded room of nerds is BO, yeah? Well, apparently nerds have learned this lesson and have moved right on into “16 year old boy / 26 year old man wearing Ed Hardy clothing / 80 year old woman who has lost her sense of smell” territory and promptly decided to start wearing a greater volume of cologne/perfume than the body contains water. I honestly don’t know which is worse, the former is nasty, but the latter gave me a headache for, without exaggeration, the entire show. But, in the crowd’s favor, I was rather impressed with its diversity. Yes, it was mostly 15 – 25 year old boys, but there was a shocking number of girls (20%?) and even some folks older than me, gasp. Lots of youngins, though, jeez, I have a real fear that these folks think that Halo invented guns and aliens. But that’s the elitist in me, let’s save that for later. On to the show itself, it was quite fun. I was personally very glad it had a fair amount of audience participation. Honestly, a good deal of what they showed was glorified you tube videos. Yes, its very cool to have an orchestra, and very very cool to have a choir, and that does make a world of difference. But rather than the multimedia feeling like an addition to a symphonic experience, at times it was like the symphony trying to add something to a youtube experience, which is a distinctly different class of entertainment. I mean, as much as I loved the entertainment during the intermissions (rather than just sitting there with my headache), the pac man video, while hilarious, is a music video by the go team, it’s on youtube. Michael jackson video was great, but felt like youtube. I can’t remember the other ones, but they all had that sense. I’m not really complaining, as an addition, they are great fun, but if that was the entirety, I would have felt like it wasn’t worth real life money. I think part of the problem is I didn’t necessarily find the orchestrations of the video game music to be mind blowing. The music is great, that’s why we love it, but it didn’t get any greater in the translation. And the multimedia wasn’t super impressive, I felt like more could have been done with the videos. Maybe show amazing time trials or tricks, or something to integrate it instead of just clips produced by the distributor. It wasn’t bad, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a failure, I just had this nagging feeling that there should have been a whole other level to it. It did bring me to a realization, however, which I already shared with my fellow concert goers. Sprite games will never look better. We will never have a FF3 or Super Metroid that looks better than that, they are beautiful to this day. PS1 games, however, look like luke warm ass. As soon as we moved into 3D, we doomed ourselves to a couple decades of embarassment. Even now, as amazing as things are, I’m sure in 5 years we will hang our heads in shame regarding facial models, the uncanny valley stuff, even some basic animation and collision detection stuff. But wow, those bright shiny pixels of an old SNES game still look wonderful, weird, huh? Speaking of missed opportunities, though, how in the fucking hell did it not occur to anyone to show the PS3 boot up screen while the symphony was warming up?? That has to be a rights issue, I have to imagine Sony is being a dickhole about that, it seems too obvious a thing to do. And yes, Sony, you are a dickhole, I mean, why in the world would you want thousands (10s?) of nerds across the country to associate your brand with this great concert they just went to? But they didn’t show any Squeenix videos either, which was mega lame, and must be a rights issue. To be fair, I’m amazed they cobbled together as many copyrights as they did. That must be monsterously expensive, and christ, Disney?! Disney protects their copyrights like a guy with a hot girlfriend at a VGL concert. So good on them. The host was fine, some video game music creator. He was animated and jumping around and excitable, which is of course what you have to be. He is also a wannabe rock star and I’m half convinced he orchestrated (no pun) this entire thing to give him an excuse to literally run around a stage literally jumping in the air and literally windmilling his arms literally playing 4 fucking chords to the most basic songs ever put to strings (see that kids, every one of those literals was literally true!). Kind of a douche, but he also created something cool, so he still wins. Plus, headbanging along with a first chair cello-ist can hardly be anything but great. Anyway, I’m bitching, cuz that’s apparently what I do, but I did enjoy a lot of it. I was completely unprepared for chronotrigger, and it was awesome, though I would have murdered my entire row to hear Magus’ song. FF7 was pretty great with the choir, though I would have rather FF3. The cosplay tribute was kind of hilarious (way to make due with a lack of rights!). Mario, Zelda, and Metroid were great, but… underrealized, they should have been more. Halo was lost on me, as was WoW, but that’s not their fault, nor is it a bad choice for them. Civ4 is pretty lost on me, but it was a cool arrangement anyway. Moving up in coolness, the guitar hero contest winner got to play on stage, did rather well, though technically lost, he still got his prize. The girl who played spaced invaders by running around the stage was awesome, even if she was kind of a dunce, and nearly half the age of that game. Easily the most amazing thing was the “video game pianist” who gained youtube fame years ago playing mario bros blind. He did that, and other stuff, including playing the piano so fast the camera was simply unable to display his hand as less than a pale blur, it was shockingly good. They had intros and such from video game creators and composers ,which was cool in theory, though not much in real life. They skyped to the inventor of video games, which while boring was awesome in a “new age of communication, entertainment and media” sort of way. So, I’ve talked more about this than either premium blend or fiddler, even though I liked fiddler nearly as much and blend more, though that’s really an unfair judgment given how different each event was. But, I guess I am a nerd after all, so I will babble on to no one in particular besides myself in 3 years when I’m trying to decide if I want to go see these guys again. Oh, and hey, I thought there were going to be lasers? Where the hell were the fucking lasers? EDIT – upon a night’s reflection, and a little insomnia, I’ve decided I’m being too harsh here. In any other medium with any other crowd, I would be extremely derisive toward people who simply didn’t get youtube, or skype, or the way things are now. Who cares if the go team video is on youtube, it thoroughly entertained me while I would have been otherwise bored. And though the packages for the actual songs were somewhat lacking, it’s still a multiple media step that has to be taken by the new generation before the next amazing things can happen. I stick to my belief that this is not those amazing things. My mind was never blown, except maybe by the pianist. But then, I’m a hard audience, what are you going to do to impress me, technology or media wise? I’ve kind of seen a lot of it, more than that I am very aware of the industry itself. So it’s not fair to complain about it. I’m sure for a lot of the kids there, having youtube was like having the violins, virtually a requirement to make it a concert. I do think there’s a lot of room to grow. Right now they are playing great music, that is really only reproduced, instead of built upon. Look to the internet, in fact, and see the amazing work being done by chip tunes, by oc remix, by the black dragons, by mashup artists, by the minibosses, by nerdcore, and know that VGL simply did not innovate in their music. But, they still did something really cool, and that’s points. And the integration of media was just not integrated  enough, but it is still cool. They did make a concerted effort to time big moments in the videos to the music, and that is not only really freaking hard, but great fun. I think there’s potential here too. This is what we expected, some day I’ll see something we didn’t expect, and that will knock me over. So I feel better about it when I look at the broader view and see that I really did have a great time, and less at the details and where I think this type of show could be going or should have done.

Tucson Festival of Books - Ok, I'm really starting to stretch what gets included in this section, but I did like 3 things this weekend, I want to mention them all! This is a big thing on the UA Mall, in its second year (I went last year too). It's largely about local authors, which means I largely don't have much of an interest. I'm not really sure I get why local authors is a thing? Is a patriotism, except city-based? Maybe if they write ABOUT the local stuff? I don't really get it. But there are lots of other things. We spent most of our time in the kids area. We saw korean dancing and drum playing. We saw 6 year old irish dancers, which was amazing and disturbing. We saw an african story teller, which sadly wasn't that good. The one story we heard was ok, but she was a kind of low key speaker. Meanwhile, the jewish story teller was jumping and yelling and getting people to participate. He was much more dynamic and interesting, even though the story was of the same quality. He was cool. There were some sciencey demos, which is always neat. We went to a green living talk, which was, ridiculously, the only talk we saw that was in an air conditioned room with 5 kW of lighting in it. Most stuff was outside in the beautiful sun! The green talk was a roundtable, some lady who wrote about green weddings, fine, but boring. Some punkish hippy who wrote about urban farming, she was obnoxious. As soon as she proclaimed herself an arachist (who writes books... and flies in airplanes... and speaks at organized events... riiiiight...), I signed off. The third was a cute metro hippy who wrote a book about making a green change a day.  Seems like a cool book, but she was kind of annoying as hell. Just sort of a sorority-ish personality. The ringleader was this "Mrs. Green" lady. She apparently has a radio show about green stuff. I say apparently, because she only mentioned "my show" 500 times. I think a 501st time would have really helped solidify whether she has a show or not. Also - radio? really? To be fair, she does post mp3s, she doesn't have an rss feed for some reason, so I wouldn't call it a podcast, but it's something. Anyway, the talk was fine, kind of interesting. Walking around was fun, lots of stuff going on, I'm very happy to see so many people out for it, I'm very glad it exists. And there were lots of other talks that we couldn’t go to, border issues, cultural issues, things about writing, sci fi stuff, a video game talk, a really good variety. It’s a pretty cool event.

Renaissance Festival - Why the hell am I talking about this? Is anyone not familiar with it? Well, the answer is ego. The answer is, I paid $18 to get in to the show, and then I paid $8 to climb a rock wall, and then I recieved $25 for getting to the top of that rock wall, and then I decided that's awesome. But while I'm here, I'll mention the shows. I did the least amount of window shopping I'd probably ever done, due to both limited time and limited desire to spend money. We saw Barely Balanced, some family acrobats that were pretty amazing. The girl of the group was tiny and we couldn't believe she didn't just break in half with some of the stuff they did. Ded Bob was ded bob, pretty stale at this point. He used to be a family tradition (even had an uncle, and maybe mom? who got called up years back). But he hasn't changed much. Though the actor changed, I think, his voice sounds different and not as engaging. Maybe it was cuz it was the last show of the day. We saw part of Tartanic, scottish music makers, I would like to see more. Bellydancers were pretty neat, though I've elevated to a godly state a woman I saw several years ago who could move her considerable belly in ways I cannot move my entire self, so anything short of that is a bit lacking. We left Dextre Tripp early due to a couple unhappy children that left us feeling a bit funny. We saw the final joust, which I had never seen. It honestly is nothing more than professional wrestling with armor and horses. Speaking of which, I don't love that they use the horses. The elephant rides are truly heartbreaking. I know these horses have good lives and all, but as much as I love middle ages stuff, I'd rather not. Then the question becomes am I okay with them in movies and stuff. Can't hardly make amazing war movies that I love without animals, it's tough. Anyway, the joust was pretty silly, I'm glad to have seen it once, don't need to again. That's pretty much all, fun day, need to get there earlier next year and see more shows and look at more stuff!

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