Euphonium Rocks!

Unemployment during the Good Depression is no time to be extravagant. I tend to be stingy during good times as well, but blowing a fair amount of money for top seats for The Who on Valentine’s night in Tulsa was crazy-right.

Roger Daltrey (left) and Pete Townshend of The Who, 2008. Credit Wikipedia
Roger Daltrey (left) and Pete Townshend of The Who, 2008. Credit Wikipedia

The stop was on their Quadrophenia 2012-13 tour, playing through that double album then further flame the fans with a handful of biggest hits.

It was so wonderful — those in the founding generation of rock ‘n’ roll who continue arena concerts as they move into their 70s leave no stagecraft to chance — that my adding another review to a newsprint pyre seems unnecessary.

Second, these guys (Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Neil Young whom I’ve seen) continue to hire great opening acts. Thursday we got Vintage Trouble.

Lastly, nearly soil-my-cargo-pants shocking was seeing a euphonium horn on the stage of a true rock show. Images and sounds of Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, of the fellows in Trouble would fill my mind in the hours since — but for that baritone horn behind the bass and second guitar.

Somewhere in the very early 1970s when I was a preteen I read about the 1969 rock opera Tommy, by The Who. My brother’s fiance bought it for me, on audiocassette. The only other Who album I’ve bought since was Quadrophenia, soon after the rock opera’s 1973 release.

Around Thanksgiving 2000, I visited my wife in London where IBM sent her; getting last-minute tickets for The Who’s show at the Royal Albert Hall proved too complicated.

They broke up in 1983 so the occasional tours since have been reunions. While that London show happened to have been filmed, I hoped not to miss any further chance to see Roger and Pete, now ages 68 and 67, respectively, the survivors of the original quartet. Fortunately, Tulsa is a two-hour drive.

Also in the early 1970s, my junior high band director recommended I play baritone, a three-valve tenor horn (same range as trombone) that resembles a half-size tuba. In the U.S. a four-valve version (for better intonation and hits lower notes) is called a euphonium.

Teeth braces kept me from smaller brass, and I didn’t want to play reeds because my older brother and sister did.

I grew to love euphonium: Imagine the mellow sonority of French horn, lower in pitch. It taught me the value of competing in small groups. It is simpler to achieve first chair among three other euphoniums than 14 trumpeters or seven trombonists. Also, I got solos and more intricate parts than being in the middle of a popular section. This has been a lesson that’s stood me well in a variety of non-musical circumstances since.

Its disadvantage is that if you love rock and jazz (as well as classical), “they” won’t let you play in the school jazz band. You can’t have everything, another damnable life lesson.

Shift to the late ’70s, I bought a valve trombone to play in the college (marching) band so at last I could rock, although all of the slide trombonists would disagree, albeit amiably.

Another fast-forward to about 1982, when I learned in a Dallas newspaper about Rich Matteson (1929-1993), apparently the world’s only jazz euphonium player. He played in the city with his band one night, probably at Poor David’s Pub. This was before the routine of musicians selling recordings and other “merch” at gigs, but I contrived a question to ask him between sets, just to meet him. He told me what mouthpiece he used, and he shook my hand.

Now, on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, at Tulsa’s BOK (pronounced B-O-K for Bank of Oklahoma, by the way) Arena, the man Townshend introduced as J. Greg Miller played a side-facing curved-bell euphonium as harmony during the “Love Reign O’er Me” Quadrophenia finale and earlier whenever that melody was sounded.

Miller’s horn sported a fabric bell cover of a Union Jack. Miller though is not a Brit but born in Pennsylvania. For most of the set he played trumpet, with the tour’s other trumpet player. Otherwise, Miller apparently is at heart a French horn player, which he played at times Thursday. Notably a French horn is heard in Tommy; the Internet reports that The Who’s beloved late bassist John Entwhistle played it originally.

The euphonium turns up as a component of the 1960’s British Invasion, as since evolved.

All things are possible, aren’t they?

The opening band Vintage Trouble has an accurate name, rhythm and blues of the 1950s with the lively lead Ty Taylor channeling the youthful moves and shout-singing of James Brown and guitarist Nalle Colt driving a raging 21st-century instrumental blend.

No concert review here, not really. Oklahoma City’s The Oklahoman and naturally the Tulsa World published highly competent write-ups with great pix.

Mellowed out, with ears rested, what’s striking for me is seeing two giants of rock music. Roger nursed his throat with bottles of water, cups of cool tea and mugs of hot tea, not to mention a constantly steaming humidifier immediately behind him on stage. Lead guitarist and composer Pete displays age-defying energy, pumping through dozens of guitar solos. His charming character-driven singing cracked at times. He could use Roger’s regimen; the fellows have quite a few months to go on the tour.

The tour’s sidemen left the stage at last, leaving the remaining duo the last word. Pete accompanied Roger on Pete’s “Tea and Theatre” from 2006 — “… A thousand songs / Still smolder now / We play them as one / We’re older now / All of us sad / All of us free. …”

Copyright 2013 Ben S. Pollock

Concerti on Love in Minor Keys

TULSA — We left Oklahoma six days ago, but the memories are fresh, details helped by notes on the Oct. 14 Neil Young concert. The show, overall lasting 3:40, amazed me. I expected a great time, and it surpassed that.

Crazy Horse, Tulsa, 14 October 2012
Crazy Horse, Tulsa, 14 October 2012 Photo by Christy Pollock

Reviews remain a parasitic genre: You should’ve been there.

Careful essays on Young’s current Alchemy concert tour are a flick of the mouse away. All to be found in this Brick, after days of consideration, is an annotated set list, with links to the songs.

Song 1. “?” reads my notes.

Here is the set list of an aficionado, and it’s confirmed by an official, commercial one:. So Song 1 is “Love and Only Love.” This YouTube recording is from earlier in this tour, and is similar to how Young and his band Crazy Horse performed it at the Tulsa Convention Center. We see on the jumbo video screens that Neil’s right wrist is taped up in an elastic bandage.

Yes, this is about 15 minutes long. That explains how Young’s single set lasted two hours — he didn’t even take a drink of water — with only 13 songs. The song was new to me. Knock me: It came out in 1990, 22 years ago.

Song 2 — “Powderfinger” an old hit I knew, though only from its first line — “Look out, Mama, there’s a white boat comin’ up the river” — and not the title. It’s from 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps, the one Young album I ever bought,* not counting my big brother’s college cassette collection that he gave me, containing Deja Vu by Crosby Stills Nash & Young.

Song 3. “Born in Ontario” — a new song. It may be on the upcoming album from Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Psychedelic Pill.

Song 4. “Walk Like a Giant” — the best song of the night. It’s also new. There’s an official video. It’s interesting and not too long, but the live, overlong version drills into your soul. All the musicians whistle in the refrain: Neil, guitarist Frank “Pancho” Sampedro, bass player Billy Talbot, drummer Ralph Molina.

Song 5. Another oldie, real old, “Needle and the Damage Done.” From about 1971. Crazy Horse left the stage for this, and Neil played an acoustic guitar. It’s short, and Neil didn’t extend it with any riffs.

Song 6. “Twisted Road,” a new song. It’s about nostalgia for the best early rockers — Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Roy Orbison and others. I am positive I missed references to other musicians. Maybe we can hold a contest.

Song 7. “Singer Without a Song” is what I wrote down, and that is its most likely title, bloggers at this point agree. Neil accompanied himself on piano.

Song 8. “?” Turns out this is “Ramada Inn.” A new song. A sad love ballad, it has this refrain, “She loves him so, she does what she has to,” alternating with “… does what she needs to.”

View of Neil Young off the jumbo video screen
View of Neil Young off the jumbo video screen Photo by Christy Pollock

Song 9. “Cinnamon Girl.” The band now has returned to the stage, and they’re all back to electric. I know it was a hit, but it was new to me Sunday night. This post’s title occurs to me during this song. Even when Neil sings about global or philosophical issues, he’s singing and playing guitar (or piano or harmonica) about love. Actually, most of his songs would be considered set in major keys, but the improvisations, and certainly the feedback loops, roam all over.

Song 10. “?” The skilled set lists say this is “[Effin’] Up.” All I knew was at the end of a long guitar duet or maybe it was a duel with Pancho, Neil said, “That was [eff’ed] up.” I thought he was apologizing, but it must have been the title, eh? Anyway, it’s from 1990.

Song 11. “Mr. Soul.” Another old yet unfamiliar song that has a “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” beat. Ah, it’s 1967, and with that early band Buffalo Springfield.

Song 12 and the last song. “Hey, Hey, My, My,” from Rust Never Sleeps. I still have the old cassette, but all that’s left is some bass, all the highs have deterioriated. Yes I still own an audiocassette player. “Rock and roll is here to stay,” yet cassettes don’t really “burn out” — turns out they “fade away.”

Finale: “Tonight’s the Night.” From 1973. I’d heard this one before, at some point in my memory. Interesting that Neil and Pancho chose to close with a reflective song.

Ben and Christy, after the show
Ben and Christy, after the show Photo by Christy Pollock

Show’s over, and we look tired, don’t we? And we didn’t do anything more strenuous than stand in line 35 minutes for beers during the opening act, a retro heavy metal group called Infantree. Within its first 15 seconds, I chose to save my ears for Crazy Horse (famous for going to “11”) and the listed opening act, the wonderful Los Lobos.

I wish Los Lobos would play Fayetteville. We’d show them a great standing-room-only crowd. (Tulsa Convention Center was just over half capacity — pretty sad for Neil’s stature.) And: Los Lobos in the Ozarks needs to be someplace where people could dance.

Note on theatrics

We had theater. I don’t mean Neil did moonwalks. Hanging on either side of the stage as the audience entered– hung a pair of two-dimensional (flat) giant renderings of the front of a old-fashioned powder blue portable TV set. Each screen depicted a version of the old black-and-white “Indian Head Test Card” — coinciding with the Crazy Horse logo. At 9 p.m. exactly, Los Lobos was off the stage and these screens went live — the jumbo video.

The roadies at this point were in costumes — about a third in the black T and denim tradition, another third in dayglow orange vests and hardhats (props, not needed) and the remainder in white lab coats, walking like B-movie scientists. On the backs of the coats was embroidered “Alchemy,” the title of Young’s summer-fall 2012 tour.

The lead “scientist” pretended to use an iPad. He was an older fellow who despite his beard and long frizzy curly hair reminded me of the comic Professor Irwin Corey (who has straight hair and apparently is still alive at age 98!). His pantomined role was of stage manager.

Sitting on the stage the whole evening were gigantic, 20-30-foot-tall shipping containers. With the entry of the crew, the background recorded music turned to the Beatles’ “Day in the Life,” with the sound of chains and winches. The boxes were pulled up, revealing giant, old-model Fender amplifiers. While these were obviously fake, due to their huge size, real amps were inside them, behind the brown tweedy grills, so Neil could aim his guitar at them and do his feedback thing.

* The Tulsa tickets came with a CD of Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s sort-of traditional album from this spring, Americana. I do intend to buy Psychedelic Pill when it’s released later this fall.

Copyright 2012 Ben S. Pollock

A Legacy of Carnegie

Laurence “Larry” Luckinbill should be a more familiar name. Sure, he’s from Fort Smith and I’ve seen a number of his movies, but if you start thinking about all those solid character actors from say childhood on — sigh, it’s a lot of folks.

Why it was just the week before last that a stray Facebook message revealed that Robert Walden has a home in central Arkansas; the actor’s wife has been charged with running a major nonprofit there. You know, the no-nonsense “Rossi” on Lou Grant.

It must drive actors nuts to be remembered mainly for one role. Luckinbill may be lucky in that respect, having worked a lot a wide-ranging career. On the other hand, his two introducers this morning at the University of Arkansas delivered about six too many Star Trek jokes. Luckinbill played Leonard Nimoy’s Vulcan half-brother in the movie Star Trek V. So not Sulu or Scotty, or spots in the original series, the previous four movies or the next six (the 12th is reported to be due out in a year)

It’s more impressive to know he’s had a long-lived stage career, including, recently, several one-man shows profiling Americans from Teddy Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson, Ernest Hemingway to Clarence Darrow.

This morning, he formally presented his papers to UA Libraries’ Special Collections. The glass cases along the back of the Helen Robson Walton Reading Room in Mullins Library displayed programs, posters, stills and scripts, as well as make-up kits and so forth. Tim Nutt of Special Collections produced from behind the lectern the archives’ first-ever action figure, Luckinbill as Sybok, Spock’s sibling.

For his part, Luckinbill told the audience that his pointy ears — but not his Emmy, yet (for Lucy & Desi: A Home Movie) — will be in the boxes bound for Fayetteville.

the old Carnegie Library, Fort Smith
Carnegie Library, Fort Smith, 1908 through the early ’70s. (credit)

I got a kick out of his speech, and how he delivered it. Luckinbill, who’ll be 78 in November, only walks like he’s that age. His face, overall physique and diction put him 15 years younger.

He wanted us to know he loves books. He recalled his first trip to a library, Fort Smith’s old Carnegie, at age 7, and how magnificent it was, through those young eyes.

I loved that building, too, so those sentences won me. He recalled its stacks, then of libraries he’s enjoyed since, including the New York Public Library. Luckinbill earned a bachelor’s at UA, explaining he caught the acting bug in its Fine Arts Building, and a master’s in playwriting from Catholic University.

The Carnegie was replaced by a wonderful new building in the early 1970s, which I also loved. New library buildings are fun. That one now is a Webster University campus, and the newest library is even grander.

KFSM old wing, formerly Fort Smith's Carnegie Library
KFSM old wing, formerly Fort Smith’s Carnegie Library, 2010. (credit)
KFSM new wing, abutting the former Fort Smith Carnegie Library
KFSM new wing, abutting the former Fort Smith Carnegie Library. (credit)

Luckinbill did not mention how a TV station took over our hometown’s grand old building, or how a two-story concrete block shoebox was epoxied to the side of the Carnegie.

That either means he hasn’t come home in a while or, more likely, he excised what would have been a distracting tangent from his focus.

He was talking about the United States when he concluding with, “know that we are safe [pause] as long as there are libraries.”

As a zinger he added that he wants epitaph to read, “Well, this is nice, but where are my books?”

Amen, brother.

Crotchety Old Ppl

Copyright 2011 Ben S. Pollock

Reflections on the Paul Simon concert at Kansas City’s Midland Theater on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When a conversation turns to popular music, sometimes one is lectured on who has the definitive voice of the generation. Most of the time one learns it’s Bob Dylan. A dissenter will insist on Bruce Springsteen. No pontificator, interestingly, ever calls Paul McCartney our singular icon, despite his phenomenal musical strengths.

My choice for voice of our era is Paul Simon, for the poetry and incisiveness of the lyrics, the haunting or danceable melodies, that few of his songs become dated. Talented or mediocre musicians can cover many of Mr. Simon’s songs and sound pretty good, that’s part of the definition.

Sure, I admire Bob Dylan — and have seen him perform once, Little Rock mid-1990s (with Trout Fishing in America opening for him) — but his list of classics is far shorter. And what’s he done lately? Longevity may not be fair. One or two or a half-dozen tunes that everyone knows can define a musical genius — Woody Guthrie or Yip Harburg, say.

In the first full year of the second decade of the 21st century, 70-year-old Paul Simon has released So Beautiful or So What. He is touring to promote the album, and one week ago he played at Kansas City’s Midland theater. My Beloved bought us tickets; it was my birthday weekend.

“Rewrite” is my favorite off the CD, the narrative (fictional) lament of a Vietnam-era veteran who believes he has a book in him. He labors at a car wash, at night he writes, and revises, his novel. “I’m gonna change the ending / Gonna throw away my title / … All the time I’m spending / Is just for working on my rewrite, that’s right / I’m gonna turn it into cash.” This is a dancing song. (Want to be a great songwriter? Quit writing about yourself and talk through characters.)

The title track: “Ain’t it strange the way we’re ignorant / How we seek out bad advice / How we jigger it and figure it / Mistaking value for the price / And play a game with time and love / Like pair of rolling dice.” A haunting song.

Fortunately, he played both last Tuesday. He skipped my third favorite, the multigenre and partly spoken “Waiting for Christmas Day.” (Lyrics for all tracks can be found here.) But if he performed the whole album he’d have less time in his nearly two-hour show for those classics.

“So beautiful …” He played the main oldies: “Kodachrome” and “Mother and Child Reunion” from the second decade (the duo Simon & Garfunkel being more or less the first decade), “Diamonds in the Soles of Her Shoes” and “Graceland” Continue reading

A Columnist’s Scrapbook

The following is my president’s column for the June 2011 edition
of the monthly newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

The NSNC Conference, three days out of 365, is a highlight of my year. Apparently, I mustn’t have a life. Actually, I do have a grand life, and NSNC has been a huge part of it. So there.

The conventions are a blast. I have a huge amount of fun, meet extraordinary people I wouldn’t know otherwise, and learn a lot, narrowly and broadly, about writing. Every time.

Detroit will be my 13th conference, going back 20 years; I’ve had to skip a few. With that many, I’ve gathered five secrets of getting the most out of them. The tips aren’t secret, and they work elsewhere.

  • Know your limits
  • Set your goals
  • Be flexible to ignore your limits and goals
  • Don’t be shy
  • Take notes

This is a weekend workshop, not a cruise, though a few years have included boat rides. Which is to say, we’re the envy of other journalism groups so far as imparting solid knowledge amid informality and improvisational prankishness.

Besides the speeches and hijinks, you’ll get column material from our host cities you can’t have expected. You travel to NSNC conferences. For a vacation, call AAA. Paul Theroux said it better: “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been; travelers don’t know where they’re going.”

Limits. Stamina is a better term. These 60 hours pass quickly. As I want to get the most from them I tend not to stay too late in the hospitality suite. Goals: You come to our conference mainly to learn. You might gain more insights if you flex and stay past your limit in the suite, or Continue reading

Hail to The Chieftains

Before The Chieftains review — which it’s not, because I lost my Lamy Al-Star pen following a disaster of a restaurant meal so I couldn’t take notes — a roundabout.

I try to be a jack of all journalism tricks. I even covered a lecture and poetry reading by ex-NBA star Tom Meschery in about 2000 at the University of Arkansas for The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas — almost sports reporting. In about 1982, I photographed a workshop in Irving, Texas, taught by jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour. Later I realized I heard little and saw little, except for notes I made for the photo-page captions and what came through my Minolta’s lens. In the 1990s, reviewing occasional plays and classical and jazz concerts for the Arkansas Democrat then Democrat-Gazette, I found that deadlines changed my appreciation of the stage. It wasn’t just plot and character, but more story and acting. Was that a dramatic pause or a missed cue? Are those French horns in tune? Reading books evolved with reviewing a few a year.

We all do this though, without writing. Honey, did you like the movie? We exchange experiences and opinions. Maybe it’s that the critic needs specific sentences immediately, not fuzzy impressions, especially if the show is over at 9:45 and the copy desk needs the 10-12 inches by 10:30. Notes are necessary.

In the last decade, outside of Brick I’ve written no reviews. I still jot a rare note during a show. I fear I’ll forget. Yet in the last decade I have forced myself to sit back, just absorb. You leave the theater then glowing, with a total impression, hard to summarize and, too soon, hard to recall. So when I buy $48 tickets for us to see Randy Newman on Jan. 22, at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, I want to leave with something besides, “Duh, rockin’ show, durn, he’s funny.” The value of a top-dollar entertainment only starts with the two hours in a dark auditorium. It continues with memories and any enrichment afterward. On Newman, the first revelation was as a young man he wrote 3 Dog Night’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come”; when he sang it that night you realize, with that croaky voice and singsong pacing, who else? Continue reading