Craig Box's journeys, stories and notes...

Posts Tagged ‘music’

Review: Barenaked Ladies at Hammersmith Apollo, 15 September 2010

Thursday, September 16th, 2010
Barenaked Ladies

For a large period of my life - pretty much from the moment I first saw them live in Auckland in '991 - Barenaked Ladies were my favourite band. I can't put my finger on when or why they fell from that position – possibly in the quiet period between the release of their somewhat lacklustre Everything to Everyone and the double-CD-in-two-parts that was Barenaked Ladies are Me/Men in 2006/2007 – or even who replaced them; they just wandered out of my playlist, in the way that bands sometimes do. However, they are still undisputedly the best live band I've ever seen (only Green Day have ever come close), and I will jump at the chance to see them play.

The elephant in the room2 is the lack of singer/songwriter Steven Page, who departed the band 18 months ago. Last time we saw the band was in their home town of Toronto in December 2008, two months before the split; I'm glad I got to that show, even if it was a bit Christmas-carol heavy. Since then, after a long break, BNL have returned with All In Good Time, a record firmly at the grown-up end of the spectrum (as you might expect from a band whose last studio output was a children's album called Snacktime).

Last night they bought their All In Good Time tour to the Hammersmith Apollo in London, officially making Barenaked Ladies the third band I have now seen in three different countries.3

While as expected there were a number of cuts from both their new album and their hit album Stunt (you know, the one with the "Chikkity China" song on it), the set had a number of tracks from its follow up Maroon. Older songs were fewer - Old Apartment was the first song where Ed Robertson took Steve's lead vocal, and it's worth noting that drummer Tyler Stewart makes a surprisingly good Ed to Ed's Steve.

Strangely the song where I missed Steve the most was one he didn't even sing - the first single of the new album, You Run Away, which is ostensibly about the circumstances surrounding Steve leaving the band he'd been in for 20 years. The end chorus on the record relies on Ed's double-tracked vocals, and the live version was just crying out for a proper duet.

Barenaked Ladies

However, the new arrangement worked brilliantly in other places. I'm the first to admit that the voice of Kevin Hearn (a taller, thinner Turtle from Entourage) isn't generally to my taste. Sound Of Your Voice from Barenaked Ladies Are Me is my favourite BNL song since the Maroon days; Kevin wrote this song, but Steve sings it on the album. Since Steve left, Kevin has taken lead vocal again, and even if Kevin was a more powerful vocalist, Page's are very big shoes to fill, especially on a belter such as this. The current arrangement features Kevin playing acoustic guitar, and the other three clustered around a microphone singing the backing vocals in a "doo-wop" style, complete with clicking fingers and synchronized swaying. It was suitably different and it bought new life back to a great song.

Many of the rest of the new songs were treated as bathroom breakers; by comparison, It's All Been Done almost got some of audience jumping up and down where the seats should be. The loudest cheers of the evening were reserved for mentions of all things Canadian, no doubt by the gentleman (and ladies!) all in hockey garb.

A trademark of the BNL experience was the live improvised song/rap, which tonight was about English accents and a kid telling Ed not to steal his bike. (Trust me, they're better in person.) The improvised story in the middle of If I Had A Million Dollars told us that in lieu of him being able to find a park to run around, he was doing laps of the Shepherd's Bush Green, and the descriptive story of his hotel (with "snow room" - more Canadian cheering!) no doubt led some of the more intent fans to camp out in front of it the next morning!

More BNL trademarks include the throwing of underwear (placed on guitars) and Kraft Dinner (thrown from the balcony, and hitting everyone in our vicinity!).  Did the "those in the know don't throw" message not get through to those who were super-fan enough to still go through with this?

One of my favourite parts of the old BNL show was the post-Million Dollars medley, a carefully crafted pastiche of current pop songs. I fondly remember the Auckland show, seeing Tyler run up and down the stage singing "Near" and "Far" in the style of Sesame Street, then Steve breaking into "Near, far, wherever you are" from My Heart Will Go On (this was 1999!). From bootlegs I've heard, this was dropped from the set around 2000, but seems to have come back with a vengeance; Kevin's slow start on Oh It's Magic soon joined by a beatboxing Ed and turning into I Got A Feeling by the Black Eyed, Peas, Baby by Justin Bieber and California Gurls by Katy Perry, ending in a triumphant Tyler-carrying-Jim moment.

The encore started great, with Tyler-the-drummer down the front and Ed on drums; it not being Christmas, so his regular Feliz Navidad seemed a bit unlikely: instead, we were treated to a madcap version of Alcohol.4 It all got a little muted from that point on; the new Kevin-lead ballad Watching the Northern Lights was treated as another bathroom break, and the finisher Tonight Is The Night I Fell Asleep At The Wheel is a great song, but one I figured Steve would get in the divorce. The new lineup seems freed from the obligation to finish with Brian Wilson every night, although examinations of other setlists suggests they do still play it. (This is not a game I should play, because examinations of other setlists simply make me jealous that they played songs I like on other nights!)

While it's not the same band any more, it's still fun, and I disagree with comments that suggest it's butchering the memory. No more so than having BNL featuring Thin Steve with stylish glasses.

Update: Check out some professional photos of the evening at IES Photography.

  1. I think it was '99; strangely enough I can't find confirmation on the Internet at all! 
  2. On the subject of elephants in rooms, I gained another chin eating a diet of hot dogs and poutine in my two years in Canada; I don't mean to generalise, but the room at BNL, on average, appeared to weigh a lot more than other, primarily-English audiences I've been in there. Just sayin'. Eat healthy. 
  3. Behind R.E.M. and Crowded House; technically I could include Neil and Tim Finn solo, but I won't. 
  4. Bass player Jim Creegan sings lead vocals on one or two songs an album nowadays, and takes live lead on some Steve songs, but didn't get one tonight. 

Scalping pt. 2

Sunday, June 21st, 2009
Old men make amusing post-punk rockers.

Old men make amusing post-punk rockers.

I see Green Day are touring NZ. The last time they were there was on the American Idiot tour, and it was a fantastic show. Go if you can, I am going to the Hamilton, ON show in three weeks.

The band and their Aus/NZ promoter (Frontier Touring Company) have announced anti scalping measures. This is a topic of personal interest, so I'll mention them here:

  • you only get a receipt when you buy a ticket, and you don't get the ticket until 30 days before the date (so you can't sell on Trade Me, which requires you have ticket in hand to sell)
  • 300 GA tickets, a maximum of 2 per person, are available from the box office of the venue, in this case Vector Arena in Auckland, the day tickets go on sale.

Lets look at the second measure first.  With a total capacity in the 12,000 range, Vector probably has a GA limit of at least 3,000.   Therefore, this would imply that 10% of the audience - those lucky 150 people who work in downtown Auckland and can justify queuing for the morning - will get tickets through.

Or, professional scalpers will pay a homeless guy $10 to queue and then take their place at 7.59am.

90% of the GA tickets, and presumably the total 11,700 other tickets, will go on the 'tubenet like always before.  Which leads back into the first measure.  Even if you're only sent a receipt, without Trade Me taking an active part, there will be auctions that read "$300 pen with free Green Day ticket receipt".  New Zealand is both blessed and cursed to only really have one public marketplace, and it's one that has expressed no interest in not taking its cut of the auction proceeds in the past.

Compare and contrast with what we have here: all GA tickets and the best seated tickets are pick-up on the night only, with the purchasing credit card.  If this were matched with a facility where you can return unwanted tickets to the retailer for a fair refund (minus handling perhaps), and have them invalidated, and made available to the pool again - yes, this means checking back later could actually have good reason! - I consider this the perfect solution.  Sure, there will be people who try and sell the invalidated tickets, but a number-checking web site could clear that up quickly.

Now, on-street scalping will never stop, but it's probably not a bad thing that it exists.  Fern and I went to see The Police on the strength of people standing outside who wanted to sell their tickets at face value (albeit a young couple, not the regular toothless hobo scalpers at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto). I even sold a ticket for R.E.M. in London to a scalper when we didn't have a fourth person who wanted to go.

A couple of weeks ago, tickets for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup, the NHL ice-hockey finals, were going on the street in host city Detroit for 1/3 face value, owing perhaps to the fantastic economic climate in host city Detroit.  Some friends of mine made the 3 hour drive down for Game 7, the final in the best-of-7, but by that point the scalpers had figured out which way up to hold their calculators and were charging between $500 and $2100.  The game was instead watched from the Windsor Casino.  You have to be prepared to walk away.

Ticket economics

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

When a band wants to tour, there are a number of factors that need to be considered. I think this is a problem to be solved by a gaggle of mathematically or economically minded persons.

Some assumptions:

The average band:

  • Wants to choose a size of venue based on the sort of show they want to put on (intimate club, stadium, etc)
  • Wants as many fans to see their show as possible, and at a reasonable price (determined by them and their management)
  • Will have to consider financial return on their tour:
    • Wants every show to be a sell-out
    • Will play more shows in bigger markets
    • Will still go to the odd small place to please fans there
    • Can't be expected to handle ticketing all on their own

So, we introduce:

The ticket agent (Ticketek/Ticketmaster etc)

Their motivations are different:

  • Keep a good relationship with the band (read: "their management")
  • Maximize profit for every show within the constraints they are given
  • Sell each ticket for the maximum possible value

Keeping in mind:

The scalper, or ticket tout

  • Is the nemesis of the band
  • Isn't cared about by the ticket agent at all

The last point is important - ticket agents, notably Ticketmaster, have noticed recently that people are obviously prepared to trade more money for a more guaranteed chance, or less standing in line, etc. They have started auctioning off the rights to better seats themselves, thus making their own profit and the scalper's profit, all in one. And even if they don't do this, if the show is a sell-out, their involvement is mostly over.

A small number of tickets are often put aside for a 'fan club presale'. If the presale were allowed to sell all of the tickets, smaller shows would surely sell out just on the presales. Then, the band only gets the die-hard fans, and loses the chance to show their music to new people. This idea also started to fall apart when scalpers started joining fan clubs.

Presale tickets often go onto eBay or Trade Me the moment they've been purchased. You can't make reselling tickets illegal, or it's not fair on people who honestly can't attend any more. If you make reselling tickets at a profit illegal, economists and free-market wonks complain, saying they obviously are worth what the market is paying. The band set a price lower than that because they don't want an audience full of rich people who don't like their music, they want an audience of their true fans.

U2 could have played two more nights in Dublin or any large world city and probably made more money than bringing the Vertigo tour to NZ. They did that because they wanted to play for fans in this area, and presumably because the more places you go, the flow-on from record sales etc increases.

I went to buy tickets for a gig today, and found that the better seats were reserved for people paying with American Express. So, another financial incentive is added for the ticket agent: the kickbacks from the credit card companies.

Some bands (U2 in NZ for example) save some tickets to release the day before the show, so people who missed out still have a chance at the price that they set, not the inflated-4x price that the scalpers set. This is something they obviously feel they have to do because the system is broken for them.

The problem that needs solving:

  • If you put the best tickets on presale for fans, they will be bought by scalpers and fans will miss out.
  • If you put the best tickets on sale for the people who get in first, they will be bought by everyone, and there's no incentive to run a presale.
  • If you put the best tickets on sale for substantially more (not just one price for Gold Circle and one for GA, but $500 for front row and $100 for everyone else) you will have a show full of rich people in the front row, who aren't really who the band wants to be there.
  • You can't really disallow reselling tickets.
  • To disallow reselling them for a profit would require buy-in from law enforcement and marketplaces, which isn't likely - especially if the marketplace profits from them.


Tim Finn, The Courthouse, Toronto: 7 Feb 2008

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

While Tim Finn shows are a dime a dozen in New Zealand, they're somewhat rarer here. Finn hasn't played solo in Toronto since the early 1990s.

Disagreement between the tickets and the venue about door opening time led to us arriving just on 9pm, which was either just right, or one hour later, missing the support act. Turns out neither of these was true: the venue wasn't even open at 9, for reasons unknown, so we all queued in the cold until everyone was rushed in and not 15 minutes later the support act was rushed onto stage.

Acoustic in front of the stageGlad we didn't miss it, either, because we were treated to a great set by Irish-Italian-American singer-songwriter-guitarist Eileen Rose, supported ably by her nephew Nicholas Ward on guitar and piano (I believe I used up my allocation of hyphens for the day on that sentence). A passionate set was unfortunately a little hampered by technical problems. Playing the final song caused bandsaw-esque feedback after about 20 seconds, so after three false starts (and numerous pleas to the unprepared soundman) Rose and Ward came down off their step and delivered the song unplugged.

The venue is a lovely old building with high ceilings and a good feeling of heritage. Their website has some nice pictures. A nice touch, something I've never seen before, was an LCD TV screen either side of the bar, displaying the output of a camera pointed at the stage. This neatly solved the problem of having to turn your back to the show in order to buy drinks.

Finn travels light: the prohibitive distance between New Zealand and North America has reduced his band The Dirty Creatures to guitarist Brett Adams and his foot-operated drum setup. A show in Milwaukee had to be canceled the night before due to bad weather, which he said was the first in 36 years.

The set was a good mix of songs from his latest album, Imaginary Kingdom; previous solo hits, Woodface and Split Enz numbers, and even a couple of new songs. Adams really adds colour to the performance and with drums from Finn's feet, a surprising full sound rang through the room. After a rough period in the 90s, Finn has been in great voice of late and this show was no exception.

I don't really like the new lower arrangement of How Will You Go that is being toured, but it's different.

Interesting to hear the requests called for after coming back for an encore - Hello Sandy Allen, Time For a Change and I Don't Wanna Dance were called for Tim claiming he could only remember how to play one, and not telling us what it was! (It was Time For A Change, but he didn't play it. "Not like Neil, he remembers everything!") Charley and What You've Done were considered, but we were eventually treated to a stripped bare version of I See Red. This was very unexpected, but karmic payoff after years of Ewan and I chanting "RED! RED! RED!" at encores. Sometimes even at The Feelers and Dave Dobbyn, because it's what you do.

A new album was promised, featuring Eddie Rayner and Miles Golding of Split Enz, along with Adams. It was said to have an acoustic, laid-back vibe, and could have an interesting sound as Golding has been a professional concert violinist since he left the Enz in 1973. He signed off with the obligatory "see you in November", but Counting Crows did that to me once and I'm still waiting.

There were a couple of audience members wearing merchandise from the 2006 Australian Split Enz tour and we overheard a discussion on the way out about Woodface this and Crowded House that. These people should move to New Zealand, where Geoff and Jamie get better seats than Eddie at Crowded House shows.

Bootleg fans may be interested in a copy of the show for themselves. I recorded a couple of videos of the new songs, one of which (entitled Making a Mockery) can be seen here:

Or, check out more Tim Finn and Eileen Rose photos on my gallery.

Small treats

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

Split EnzGeoff points out to me that Split Enz are playing in Auckland, a week from today. I'm not immeasurably jealous, having seen them with Ewan in 1999 (help - that's almost 10 years ago!), but with any band formed in the 70s there's always the chance that it's the last time you could ever see them regroup. Unless it's Elton John, of course. He's bionic, and there's less of him to try and get in one place at once.

One of the good things about living in New Zealand is that occasionally you can see a little private gig from a Finn brother that fans in the US would kill for. In September, I traded that for the land of Celine Dion and apologies. But the treats do sometimes come.

Dan AykroydI took a train downtown for a job interview last September, and was reading the Metro1 when I was alerted to the fact that Steven Page from Barenaked Ladies (another of my all-time favourite bands) was playing a free show, in a concourse2 downtown, that lunchtime. Wow.

The show was organised by the LCBO, the Ontario liquor control agency3, who were launching a campaign for Ontario wine. The attractions were Page and Dan Aykroyd, one-time Blues Brother and now winery investor.

Steven PageAykroyd gave a little talk before Page came out, accompanied by his guitar. He played a five-song set, including starting Old Apartment twice (it was meant to be Brian Wilson, but you know, musicians like to write the same song over and over again, and sometimes get confused). He was then joined by Aykroyd on harmonica and vocal for some 12-bar blues.

Press took pictures, wine was imbibed (including free samples for the audience) and Aykroyd was on hand to sign bottles. I didn't care much for his unfortunately, but I believe there were more varieties on the way. Living in NZ, our standards for wine and food are pretty high!

(See photos of Steven Page and Dan Aykroyd at the LCBO VQA launch.)

Later on I learned from the same paper that Slash would be at a book signing in a week's time but unfortunately I couldn't make it to that.

  1. A giveaway paper targeted primarily at commuters. 
  2. Fancy word for "indoor shopping mall" 
  3. Government controlled: think West Auckland's Portage and Waitakere Trusts. That bureaucracy once ID'd Jamie when he, at age 28 (and lets face it, just a little bald) went in to buy a bag of ice. 

Crowded House at the Kings Arms

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

Neil Finn and Nick SeymourOne of the best reasons to be a member of the Frenz of the Enz is that for $15 a year, every now and then they invite you to little showcase performances. After Crowded House broke up in 1996, I never thought I'd get to see them: even more so, after the suicide of original drummer Paul Hester. But it came to pass that on 12th July 2007 the reformed Crowdies rolled into Auckland, and I was waiting in the audience.

I guess I was the standard musical nerd and worried a lot about the lack of Hester, especially as I find some of the vocal harmonies lacking in the live recordings I've heard of the new songs. However, no less than two songs in, it was apparent that this was Crowded House, as if they'd never skipped a beat.

The new drummer, Matt Sherrod, wasn't just playing as if he was Hester; he added his own flavour to the proceedings. The vocal harmonies were great, if down a little in the mix, mostly because Neil's son Liam was providing most of them from near the back of the stage.

The set was a mixture of new and old; surprises included the B-side "Recurring Dream", played second, though in a rather rough arrangement. And without saying that Greig and I had both picked it from the word go, half-way through Something So Strong, who should hop up onto the keyboard but Eddie Rayner! Geoff tells me that Tim was there also but I didn't see him.

The band were having a lot of fun, and the encore started with multi-instrumentalist Mark Hart playing and singing Born On The Bayou, which ended up with everyone on the wrong instrument. It ended up with various Beatles songs being played, and the promise of requests being taken from the audience. However, they didn't really have any backstage to go to (at one point they decided just to all fall on the floor and wait for an encore from there) and it seems like they were asked to finish up early, as they jumped into Better Be Home Soon and then left the stage.

Check out my photos of Crowded House at the Kings Arms.

Album distribution

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

Guess what year that acquiring music from the Internet really came into its own...

MP3 album distribution

Post-post-post-Floyd coming to town

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

What better way to break the 13 day silence than to point out that Roger Waters is coming to Auckland on January 29. According to his website, he's playing "Stadium". I really like the ambience of "Stadium".

ickets from Ticketmaster from 27 October, but of course their website doesn't know its happening.

Update: according to Brain Damage, the stadium is North Harbour Stadium, and you might be looking at $180 AUD for the cheapest tickets!

Falling asleep on the stage again baby

Sunday, October 1st, 2006

I enjoyed Rockstar: INXS as live rock covers, played by a talented band, with sometimes some crappy singing in front of it. I came to enjoy the competition too (enjoyed it far less after the New Zealand Herald published the winner over four weeks before it aired in New Zealand). INXS's subsequent world tour included four dates in New Zealand (and has so far lasted almost a year, unlike the planned Rockstar: Rock Star Supernova "world tour", which they added a Canadian date to in order to qualify), the third of which I attended last Sunday.

I bought the tickets about three months ago; last week, I stressed for an hour after having lost them. I have three other sets of tickets in my drawer at work, and I turned the office upside down looking for them. I then convinced myself that I didn't actually buy any, but my friend Joe, who I was going with, must have bought them. Then I remembered him paying me for his, etc. Thankfully they turned up in my big stash of shows-I've-seen tickets (between the Rolling Stones and a Black Caps vs WI Twenty20 game).

The last time I went to the Logan Campbell Centre was to see Oasis, in 1998. I can only assume it's got smaller since then! Great venue though, well shaped and coloured - would suit theatre as well as rock. The opening band was Autozamm, who we arrived too late to see most of, but were still good as ever. Mixed a bit too loud for the event.

I was asked how INXS were by a few people: I found it very hard to tell my opinion. I thought I'd sum it up in numbers:

  • Number of songs off Kick played: 6 from a possible 12
  • Number of songs off Switch played: 7 from a possible 11
  • Number of other songs played: About 6, including "Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash
  • Age of lead singer: 33
  • Average age of other band members: 48
  • Average age of the women in the audience: Hard to tell.. probably 35
  • Number of beards on stage: 2.5

2.5 beards? Well, Andrew Farriss obviously has a full beard, so that's one; Kirk, Tim and JD really only qualify for half-each. Kirk however would make a fantastic entrant during Movember.

JD seemed a little too cliched rockstar. "It's fantastic to be here in Auckland Noo Zeeland, two nights, peace and love to the world, man". There was also some strained gangster-rap-esque lyrical riffs between songs, which might have been INXS back catalogue that I wasn't familiar with. However, the band was tight, the vocal delivery was pretty good on the old stuff and great on the new stuff, and without having seen a Hutchence-lead show to compare it against, it was a good night out.