Saturday, September 19, 2009

K'naan is a Dreamer

I'm a dreamer but I'm not the only one
Got problems
But we love to have fun
(Dreamer by K'naan)

Well, I was wondering what I would think of my upcoming concerts after seeing what is the spectacle of U2.

It didn't take long to find out since I went to see K'naan last night at The Phoenix in Toronto.

In case you're not aware of K'naan, he is a Somali-Canadian rapper who was born in Somalia but left in 1991 immigrating to Toronto (via New York).

There are some hard to believe facts on wikipedia about his life:
  • As the civil war continued and the situation in Somalia continued to deteriorate, K'naan's mother petitioned the United States embassy for an exit visa. In 1991, on the last day the US embassy remained open as the government of Mohamed Siad Barre collapsed their visa was approved, and they boarded the last commercial flight out of the country.
  • Despite speaking no English, the young K'naan taught himself hip hop and rap diction, copying the lyrics and style phonetically. He then also began rapping.
  • K'naan became a friend and associate of Canadian promoter, Sol Guy, who helped him secure a speaking engagement before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1999, where K'naan performed a spoken word piece criticizing the UN for its failed aid missions to Somalia.
He is a very well respected rap artist who writes about his experiences and world situations especially about Somalia and his dream that violence will end. He is also quite outspoken and doesn't shy away from sharing his opinions like he did about the Somalian pirate situation (many of these he shares on Twitter @iamknaan).

Although he won the 2006 Juno Award for Best Rap Recording, the first time I heard (or noticed) a K'naan song was when I saw this video last winter/spring:

This video spoke to me as I love dreaming (as you know if you have read this blog before) and always thought I was a dreamer going back to my childhood.

Although I wouldn't consider myself a K'naan fan per se...there are half a dozen songs that I love on his latest album. So with my husband wanting to see the concert, I went along.

In contrast to our 6:30 arrival for U2 when we walked right in (doors opened at 5), we arrived at 10:15pm to a huge lineup. Doors had opened at 9, so we were pretty surprised by the lineup...not sure if everyone arrived at 10 to cause it, but from a past experience at this venue, it takes forever to enter and it's not unusual for people to miss the opening band because they're in the queue.

K'naan took to the stage to much appreciation. The crowd seemed a lot louder and enthusiastic than for U2. Is this because by 11pm, people have been drinking for a few hours and the smaller club gives a more contagious excitement? U2's concert was also over two hours long, so perhaps concert-goers were pacing themselves...because there was definitely a lot of jumping and cheering for U2 as well.

I imagine that I am not a typical K'naan fan as I waited for my two favourite songs, only to see him leave the stage after the encore without playing them.

Are my two favourite songs (Dreamer and People Like Me) not as popular or not live-friendly?

There was quite an energy to the show (which may explain why People Like Me wasn't played which is more mellow sounding)...although he did play some quieter songs to his and my annoyance that some people go to concerts to chat rather than listen to the music. At one point when he was singing a more serious quiet song (Somalia if I recall correctly), he actually paused and asked them to "please shut the @S&# up" the cheers of the crowd who were listening...but I think the people who were chatting weren't listening...(mostly on the balcony I think)...but it's not unusual...there are always people chatting so if you sing quieter songs in standing room venues will hear the chatting which is unfortunate.

Here is another of my favourite songs that I recorded last night (I wish I had remembered to add some of its lyrics to my mother's day lyrics about mothers):

The other popular song that got quite a reaction was the song he performed in Ottawa at the Canada Day celebration entitled "Wavin' Flag". It's quite a long video but it really showcases the passion in the crowd.

K'naan is definitely a performer. He loves to be on stage and sharing his opinions that he's not shy to share...hmmm...kind of like Bono. So there are similarities between the two concerts with them both addressing current world situations. At both concerts, viewing was sometimes limited because of people having their arms up in the air (great atmosphere). The atmosphere was also enhanced by both crowds singing loudly to many of the songs. The main difference being in the scale and spectacle that U2 had...but the passion felt by the concert goers was great for both.

Friday, September 18, 2009

It was a Beautiful Day for U2

Wednesday, I saw U2 for my third time at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. I saw them at Exhibition Stadium in the early 1990's and in 2005 at the Air Canada Centre. The photo below was a similar view from where I was in 2005. It's not my photo because although I brought my camera, I forgot to put film in it!

I didn't get tickets initially this year for U2 because either I couldn't get General Admission tickets or I couldn't get any. I wasn't interested in being far again. Floors was all I was interested when a friend of ours emailed to say he had a couple of General Admission tickets...we didn't hesitate (and that was before we knew they were compliments of R.I.M. - does that mean I should finally upgrade my basic cell phone to a Blackberry? at least hubby is on his second so I don't feel too guilty).

Speaking of R.I.M. it looks like they were the solo advertiser last night with much of the Rogers advertising taken down and "Blackberry.lovesU2" signs everywhere.

Snow Patrol took to the stage first. I thought they were amazing. I had seen them a year or two ago at Kool Haus. It was great to see them in a bigger venue with the big screen and extra lighting. Unfortunately with a U2 crowd, not everyone knows them so some people around us were talking...but I still think most people really ended up appreciating their music and their banter, well at least the people on the floor as you can see from this photo.

So now, it's been 3 huge concerts this year that I have seen from up close. The Killers at the Air Canada Centre in January, Coldplay at the Rogers Centre in July and U2 at the Rogers Centre this week. Who would have thought I would have these experiences at the beginning of the year (or even last week for that matter).

This one definitely had the spectacle of the "Biggest Band in the World". In the past I have felt that Coldplay's concerts were more about the music rather than the entertainment. I didn't think anything could top this summer's Coldplay concert. I found Wednesday (and perhaps it was because I was closer than in the past) that U2 was about the entertainment...but also about the music. The musicians were all showcased quite well with spotlights often on them.

I was initially disappointed that the bridges to the circular runway were closer to the back. This is the view from the back of the stage that my husband took (and interestingly I got annoyed at him for because I wanted to get down to the field). I even said "it's not like we would use this photo for anything anyway"...crunch, crunch...that's me eating my words...

The two bridges are covered here, but you can see that they go towards the back of the stage. I had seen a video online of Bono standing on one of the bridges singing, so I thought I wouldn't be able to see him from the front. What a pleasant surprise when I realized that the bridges moved. A few times one of them moved right in front of us so that The Edge or Bono were walking right toward us.

The runway definitely makes the venue seem smaller. They used it a lot more than I thought they would. They would take turns going on the bridges or on the runway so we did feel like we were closer than we really were (to the stage). Even Larry came out on it once playing a bongo.

One of my pet peeves with concerts sometimes is that the lighting is so low and there is smoke from the smoke machines so it's difficult to focus the camera to take a good shot. Last night, we got great shots early, so we didn't feel like we had to keep taking photos.

We could just enjoy the show. I would still get caught up in the moment when they came closer so I did video most of the times they came close, but when they were on stage, I could relax and enjoy the show.

The first time that Bono was on the bridge, I was recording the song...but sometimes, there was this black vertical line in the way. I was a bit annoyed at my "obstructed" view...

I didn't realize what the obstruction was until after I stopped recording as he walked off the bridge onto the runway. He walked towards us to a microphone that had appeared just to the right of us where he finished the song.

I was like a kid in a candy store. Having arrived at the concert at 6:30, I never imagined having such a view, especially since people had started lining up the night before.

This was the second time that the Rogers Centre had the roof open for a concert (the first time for Bruce Sprinsteen). It was so beautiful to see the CN Tower lit up. I panned to it at the end of this video:

Before the concert, I wanted two songs by Snow Patrol recorded on video. Since they were staying on the stage and the crowd were not going nuts, those videos were easy to capture. U2 was not so simple however. For some of my favourite songs, they were behind the stage, or to the side or the crowd was jumping up and down that visibility was minimal. I recorded the songs when they were on the runway or a few quieter ones. For one song (Beautiful Day), I actually recorded the big screen, just to have it because I couldn't see the band at the time.

That is one disadvantage to having floor tickets. Sometimes, you can't see....but you can't beat the atmosphere!

It was truly a Beautiful Day!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Champion: a music formula that works (for me)

The band: Champion; the sound: DJ Champion, aka Maxime Morin. The guitarists: the G Strings. Singers: Betty Bonifassi originally, now Pierre-Philippe (Pilou) Côté. Formula: Base of electronic beats; generous handfuls of hard rocking guitars x 5; interesting singers with straight up blue inspired lyrics. I've only been clubbing in Montreal a few times, but from what I recall from a great night at Fou Founes Electriques, Champion personify all that is cool in the Montreal music scene.

The first time I heard and saw Champion was on TV as
they closed the Juno awards back in 2007, and right away I was hooked.

Their 2004 debut album,
Chill ‘Em All, won a 2005 Felix Award for Album of the Year in the electronictechno category. Chill ‘Em All went Gold and The Remix Album was nominated for a JUNO for Dance Recording of the Year in '07. They also released a DVD called Champion at ses G Strings that perfectly shows the energy of their lives shows, especially playing in hometown Montreal at Metropolis.

They released the second album Resistance yesterday. I had a quick listen at home last night, but it wasn't until I got a chance to listen to the album properly today with headphones that I can now say I like it. It don't think it's as strong as
Chill 'em all and the upbeat tracks are definitely closer to the rock curve. I'm not big on lyrics, and some may find the lyrics somewhat repetitive, but they work well for me as sing-a-long words for the driving, thumping electro-rock sounds. There are a few interesting tracks that explore more electronica and trance themes, with Champion's signature instrumental layering and building of electronic intros and groundwork with guitar riff crescendos and intricate rhythm patterns.I saw Champion at Lee's Palace a couple of years ago and it still remains one of my favourite concerts of all time. Unfortunately I attended solo and there's no photos or video. On a trip out to BC days after the show, my skills of persuasion failed when I couldn't sell my friends on the idea of going to see their Vancouver show. I think one of my Quebec work colleagues has seen Champion perform live (as they do a lot more shows in Quebec) but I don't know anyone else that has seen their fantastic shows in the past. But quiet a few of my friends have loved the music on the first listen ! I've waited a couple of years to see them again, and was over the moon when I found out they were going to play a free concert at Yonge Dundas Square to open the Toronto International Film Festival.

I'm proud to say my 12 year old son is a big music fan (across rock, alternative and electronic music) and in combo of learning to play guitar, he's a fan of Champion just like his old man. So I took him to the concert on Thursday. We got there nice an early as I wanted to make sure we got a good spot so he could see and I could take photographs. We chatted with a few photographers and music fans, including Stranger #22 - Sherlon. With the exception of not playing one of my faves (The Plow), Champion delivered an awesome show. What makes Champion's compositions and performances unique is that while he's live mixing the electronic side of the equation he directing the guitarists with the intros and transitions with hand signals (as you can see in some of the photos on flickr). On the DVD he talks a lot about this technique and I'm still a little amazed at how he pulls this off and creates such a well "produced" sound. I'm not certain how many fans were present, but I'm sure there were plenty of new fans afterward. The free tent in the square was pretty packed and everyone quickly fell into step with Champion's mix of driving dance beats with hard rocking guitars. New male lead singer, Pilou added strong vocals and the special appearance of Canadian Opera diva Measha Brueggergosman topped off the evening perfectly.

A little clip of the YDS crowd showing how you just can't stop moving to the Champion sound ! ( I love the guy in suit and tie holding up his BB on the left at the beginning of the clip)

Playing their hit No Heaven as their encore (poor sound, but you get the idea)

So, for me, Max has created a fantastic formula for an alternative to the often sterile sounds of pure electronic music and the dime-a-dozen unimaginative rock bands who struggle to find that killer riff and a recognizable lead vocal sound. I think his mix of his laptop creation of electronic dance beats and intricate orchestrated guitar melodies, riffs and movements is pure genius.