Josh Groban Awake in Calgary

Josh Groban Awake in Calgary

The finale of my summer of indulgence came with a bang. August 15 is going to be a memorable date. Close to 20,000 of us at the Pengrowth Saddledome, home to the Calgary Flames hockey team, witnessed an electrifying concert brimming with talents. Everyone who had a part in the production of the show, from the set design, the sound, the visual and stage effects, the arrangement of the music, to the performance on stage, had demonstrated superfluous expertise in putting together such a show. It was a non-stop, 2 hours of pure entertainment and inspiration.

The concert “Awake” was opened by “You Are Loved” (Don’t Give Up), with Groban rising to the challenge, literally, from beneath the stage to appear in a charismatic presence, to the cheers of a long-awaiting audience. Yes, over an hour had passed since we’d settled in our seats, the first 40 minutes listening to a spirited West African band led by Kidjo, the several-times Grammy nominee. Well prepped and roused up for the main event, the audience was left waiting for another 25 minutes. As soon as the curtain opened I realized it was all worth it. The initial attraction was the tastful and grandeur stage design, and the corresponding video and lighting in the background, as well as movable lighted panels above for added effects. Groban was backed by a 15-member orchestra, a 6-piece band, and at the front, on one side, cellist Vanessa Freebairn-Smith, and the other , violinist Lucia Micarelli.

Other numbers from the album Awake soon followed, including “Mai”, “So She Dances”, “Machine”… But it was “Un Giorno Per Noi”, the adapted theme “A Time For Us” from the movie Romeo and Juliet that convinced the audience early on that it was going to be an unforgetable night. We were spellbound by Cellist Vanessa Freebairn-Smith’s introduction and accompaniment to the piece. Watching her play answers the question: “Why go to concerts when you can listen to the CD, or your iPod?” You go to a concert to see music in-the-making; you experience the sights and sounds and excitement of a massive conglomeration of talents displayed in producing the sounds you hear on your electronic device. Last night, all 20,000 of us were witnessing art-in-progress. In the same way, Lucia Micarelli’s solo rendition leading to Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” was electrifying. She transformed the music into a visual fusion of exuberant energy and poetic dance.

It was a much more mature, confident, and relaxed Groban last night since his last concert in Calgary three years ago, commanding the stage with his energetic prance from one end to the other, without compromising the quality of his vocal deliverance. Always a crowd pleaser, but last night Groban showed a more mature side than the “every-mother’s-dream-son” image. Yes, he’s still that clean, wholesome, good humored, and gorgeous looking young man with a mesmerizing and powerful voice. On top of that, Groban also showed he has a social conscience. As clips of his visit to South Africa’s impoverished Soweto area were shown, with his cheering on the local children’s dance and songs, meeting the historical figure Nelson Mandela, he appealed to his concert audience to support the children charities projected on the giant screen.

“I am not a hero, I am not an angel, I am just a man…” as the lyrics from “In Her Eyes” were sung, Groban was spotlighted at the back of the dome weaving his way in through the enthusiastic crowd, touching the eager, out-stretched hands from both female and male audience. I know, Groban’s good guy persona irritates some, and turning away those who see being cool as being foul. He’s even been criticized for being ‘conservative’. But tell it to this crowd of thousands who paid up to $125 to see him, seems like ‘conservatism’ is alive and well.

Later on, Groban also demonstrated his versatility in several numbers in which he played the piano and the drums, like “Remember When It Rained”, and “Canto Alla Vita”, from his previous albums. The evening ended with a few encores, including the satisfying “You Raise Me Up” and a new piece that has not been recorded on CD.  This is the success of a singer performer, you don’t need to know a song to enjoy it.

Don’t get me wrong, the concert was not without flaws. In several places the lower registers seemed to pose some voice projection glitches for Groban. And towards the end physical exhaustion appeared to affect his act. All in all, such shortfalls paled in comparision to the whole night’s captivating performance. To the critics who may have deleted words synonymous with ‘wholesome’ from their dictionary, I’m glad mine has just a few more words. A most memorable concert experience.

~~~~ 4 Ripples

Photo Source: Sun Media

Curse of the Golden Flower

Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)–The story took place in 928 A.D., during the Tang Dynasty in China; the movie was produced in 2006, released in January, 2007. Over a thousand years have passed, and times sure have changed the art of storytelling. What Zhang Yimou has constructed is a postmodern fusion of literary classics and cinematic productions: King Lear, Hamlet, MacBeth, Caligula, The Lord of the Rings, and yes, even Braveheart, concocted in a Chinese imperial court setting. Those with the appetite for a smorgasboard will not be disappointed to find something that they like, but COTGF is no gourmet cuisine. Zhang has aptly depicted the decadence behind the facade of opulence and glamour with his trademark exaggerated colours in cinematography. Under the skin of gold and jade hides the rotten flesh of incest, treason, deceit, murder, and rebellion; but one begs to ask, so what’s the difference between this story and others throughout history, or even just movie history? Hailed as the most expensive movie ever produced in China, Zhang seemed to have answered with the massive visual effects of a thousand real life, spear wielding actors in armour (plus the additional help of computer-generated images I assume), swarming the palace gates as ants, the elaborate set designs, and the choreography of uniformity, from the female courtiers to the massive foot soldiers. One gets the feeling that the movie is a spectacle made for foreign markets, and with Zhang himself being the chief director of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, COTGF seems like a dry run for the programs. Nevertheless, kudos go to the actors whose intense performances have supported the storytelling, and newcomer singer-turned-actor Jay Chou has held his ground in front of veterans Gong and Chow. The ironic outcome though is that the intimate, authentic art of storytelling has been overshadowed by the sights and sounds of ostentatious movie-making.

~~1/2 Ripples

Mr. Brooks

Mr. Brooks (2007)– What a departure from his past filmography! Mr. Brooks is Kevin Costner’s attempt to cross the great divide, from the heroic and noble to the villainous, from Eliot Ness, Mafia annihilator to Earl Brooks, serial killer. Wait, did he cross that divide or has he got one foot on each side, straddling in a precarious position with shifting identity? Maybe that’s the point this movie is trying to get across. Mr. Brooks is a successful businessman, philanthropist, loving husband and father, and at the same time, serial killer. What an interesting theme to explore, but ironically, the purpose seems to be marred by the attempts at making it work. The film itself is a schizophrenic struggle between classic Hitchcockian psychological thriller and dark humor with a contemporary flare, thanks to comedian Dane Cook fanning the flame. William Hurt’s role as Brooks’ alter ego also is both effective and self-defeating. At times he is the tempter, at other times he is the companion and friend, still other times he is the clairvoyant, predicting the future…Seems like he too has crossed that line from reality to fantasy. The action sequence though is crisp and captivating, particularly in the kidnapping scene of detective Tracy Atwood, played by Demi Moore. Unfortunately, the intersection of Costner and Moore is a story line that the film fails to dwell into, one that could enhance both character development and certainly thicken the plot. Such lack is compensated by the twists in the story, and the ending is thought provoking. Mr. Costner, nice try at being nasty, but somehow your look and demeanor betray your attempt. This movie makes me appreciate all the more the many heroic and redemptive roles you have played in the past. Having said that, I look forward to the new turn of film making you’re venturing out into and I must say, for love of the game, go for it.

~~1/2 Ripples

A Perfect World

A Perfect World (1993) — The title itself is hint enough that Eastwood is not bringing out another Dirty Harry sequel, even though it has all the ingredients: an escaped convict, a kidnapped child, an eager sheriff, a host of law enforcement officers whose ammunition is hubris and self-importance. In A Perfect World, the convict is a conscientious man torn between good and evil, a typical human being in any typical town. A kidnapped child is a friendly ghost, just wanting to have some fun, and willingly went along for the ride. And the Law, the law is the ever uncompromising, unbending authority seeking justice without mercy, revenge without compassion. At the end, Eastwood has us thinking, who actually is the good, the bad, and the hybrid? Costner has presented a very convincing character, tormented by his own demons, yet striving to right any wrongs driven by almost quixotic passion, an imperfect man righting the wrongs in an imperfect world. What do we know? As Eastwood’s character concludes at the end…nothing….well worth the time in finding out.

~~~ 3 Ripples