Saturday, February 10, 2007

"Show" Off

That's what I'm going to do.

In the last 3 weeks I've attended five (yessiree!) shows (I love the Bay Area). First was Bobby McFerrin. Now saying that this man has an amazing voice is akin to saying that Beethoven's Fifth is a pleasant little ditty. He performed with Voicestra, an 11-member a capella group which had an interesting improvisational style for a choir: Separating them into the traditional platoons of bass, tenor, alto and soprano, Bobby would start a purely improvisational groove and get one section to follow, while leading off and improvising a melodically distinct groove with another section which wove seamlessly into the previous ones.

Knowing that I'd missed watching Ladysmith Black Mambazo perform in each of the previous two years that we've lived in the Bay Area, Jayita had made sure we didn't do the same for their appearance at Stanford this year. As expected, these jewels of South Africa were stunning. The tightness of their vocal harmonies are unmatched, even if the melodies got somewhat wearisome over the course of the evening.

A few days later, I was driving back up to Berkeley to catch Paco de Lucia and his group of flamenco musicians and singers. A true luminary of the flamenco guitar, he impressed us most with how easy he made it look. For me, an eye-opener was the performance given by the two female flamenco singers. I'd never heard a singing style like that ever. I'm definitely going to try to acquire some of that music.

Three days later, we were back in Berkeley for Kodo; a Japanese taiko drumming troup. The sheer visual spectacle of this art form can't be missed. The incredible physical endurance displayed by some of the performers, as well as the virtuosity in improvised rhythms made it an evening to remember. They performed on several different types of drums from the smaller rope-tightened ones, to the large o-daiko, measuring four feet across and carved from a single tree trunk. The piece composed for this beast was supposedly inspired by the sound of a mother's heartbeat as heard by a baby in the womb.

Final trip to Berkeley for the month: Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me!, one of our favorite NPR shows was being recorded live at Zellerbach, so yesterday we toodled back across the bay. What's truly amazing is how much of the show doesn't make it to air. Between Paula Poundstone making repeated references to the phrase "crap a pineapple", just to see how the sign-language interpreters would translate, and Linda Ronstadt (the special guest) discussing the absolute uselessness of the brassiere, we rolled in the aisles.

Good times.

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