Fri 22 Apr 2011
We’ve had a few culturally edifying days this week at the Humphrey family Australian outpost! Kim and I saw some legendary musicians in concert on Tuesday, watched a Tony Award-winning play on Wednesday and went on Thursday to the cinema to see the Adelaide premiere of, uh … Thor! Here’s what I thought of all that!
Concert: Bob Dylan with B. B. King
B. B. King is nearly as old as my grandmother. He sat in a chair for the entire concert, wore a funny little pastel coat and grumbled about the various personality flaws of his band members. Every once in a while he would casually break into an incendiary little blues riff, almost just to show that he still could. Those riffs were always too short, as King tended to rely heavily on his seasoned backing band, but they were otherwise flawless. Half the songs he sang were about impending death, a common theme in the blues and one even more poignant coming from a man in the coda of his life, but King never made the proceedings feel dour or oppressive. B. B. King may be 85 years old, but he’s been touring for over half his life and had an easy, captivating stage presence despite. He sang with a spirit you believed would never give up, and still might not yet. He had the audience in the pal of his hand until he was finally helped up from his chair at the end of his set. And then, like those guitar riffs, it was over all too quickly.
B. B. King constantly bantered with the audience, but from the moment Dylan came on stage clad in a wide-brimmed hat and a black and red nudie suit, until he introduced his band members at the end of the concert, the so-called “voice of his generation” only opened his mouth to sing. These days his singing sounds more like a growl, but I think that suits many of Dylan’s songs. “Ballad of a Thin Man” for example, was appropriately sneering, although I almost didn’t recognize “Tangled Up in Blue.” I was actually surprised at how many of the songs I knew, considering Dylan’s massive catalogue and the fact that I’m only really familiar with about four of his albums. He worked in a surprisingly large selection of material from his “classic” ’65-’66 albums, and I was thrilled to hear “Gonna Change my Way of Thinking,” from his ’79 gospel album as the opener to the night’s set. His was in great form and did justice to all the classics while usually sounding quite different from the recordings. Dylan himself shifted between guitar, keyboard and harmonica. The music was excellent, although I got the feeling that it was not what everyone in the audience came to hear. Dylan remained, as always, something of a sphinx.
Theatre: Red, a play by John Logan
We ended up going to see this because Kim learned that it had won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Play and playwright John Logan had authorized its only production outside of the original Broadway version to be staged here in Adelaide. It’s set during the late period of Mark Rothko, an abstract expressionist painter whose work I’ve seen but who I knew very little about. Rothko was a passionate man and an intellectual as much as an artist, and much of the play consists of him debating art theory and art history with his assistant who is a young, aspiring painter as they listen to classical music on Rothko’s record player and stare at some of Rothko’s paintings, huge canvases which consist almost entirely of large swaths of red and black. On paper it sounds like it could be a terrifically boring way to spend an hour and a half, but the production was actually engrossing. The two actors gave energetic performances and the lighting design made the reds on those canvases really pop and shine, which was important since they were quite nearly the play’s third character. Despite most of the play feeling like a dramatized lecture, the climax still made me want to stand up and cheer, so I’ll say Red did its job. And it made me go read more about Mark Rothko as well.
It’s 2 AM in the morning, so I’ll write about this tomorrow. Short version: it’s a pretty good film!