Monday, April 26, 2010

Norah Jones @ Dodge Theatre

"Do you want to shoot uFest?"
"Yeah, I'll do that"
"How about Norah Jones on Sunday?"

I didn't know what the surprise was about. Maybe it was because I was happy to shoot uFest it meant I wasn't in to Norah Jones? Either way, I was pretty excited to photograph her. She's definitely carved herself a neat little niche. I was familiar with her when she got her start, but it was when she collaborated with Mike Patton, one of my musical icons, that I sort of "respected" her. I thought that was quite a leap for someone of her stature. Singing the line "The truth kinda hurts don't it, motherfucker?" was not probably something the mothers and tweens were ready to hear from her.

Of course, my initial reaction was "Cool, I'll be able to get some nice photos of a hip, young thing to class up my portfolio"... but then that old gauntlet came down... "You'll be shooting from the sound board." Now, I won't go on and on about it... I've written about it in previous posts... but I wasn't expecting it from someone like Norah Jones. But you take what you get.

In fact, I will say that Norah is the answer to the argument I was having internally and with Eagle fans when it came to my post on last week's Eagle's show; If the band is going to confine the photogs to back of house, fine. If the band doesn't want to move around, fine. But why not dress it up a bit? The Eagles, who have much deeper pockets than Norah Jones, put on a very minimalistic show... spot lights and a few colored bulbs. On the other side... Norah Jones' production team at least decided to gussy up the stage with some long flowing back drops to catch light... get the band in some smart looking clothes... use some interesting colored lights... and just looked like they tried with the budget they had.

I can't fault the show. Norah Jones is not Kiss or the Scorpions... I didn't expect LED backdrops. But she did what she does, and it looked fitting. The sound was great. Her voice was great. And the jazzy vibes from the band was a very welcome and relaxing counterpoint to the scream-rock band's I heard the night before. Since I was far away from the stage, there were only so many angles and things to shoot, which made it possible for me to stop and listen from time to time. It was a nice and easy shoot. I wish I had better pictures to take away from it, but that's how it goes.

uFest @ Fear Farm

Last year, the New Times passed on covering KUPD's "uFest"... this year, I think, after I made a fuss about covering more smaller "arty" gigs in lieu of big festivals... they decided to at least want photos.

Granted, none of the bands playing are anywhere near "my style" of music, however, I can recognize the necessity or "newsworthiness" of an event of this size. The festival took place on the Fear Farm, utilizing two stages with lots of space in between. I can't say it reminded me of Coachella... but the idea of festivals are exciting to me. uFest felt half way between a music festival and a county fair. Of course they had bands playing non-stop, but all around the outside of the grounds were knick-knack shops, a rock wall, lemonade stands, and stripper poles. (??)

All that aside, the production level was pretty high. The bands all sounded great... it was loud... it was flashy... and the people were having a great time. The first band I shot was Powerman 5000. I think I remember first hearing of this band when I was in high school. At that time my musical tastes were even less "normal" or well-rounded then they are now. I think because I was a late musical bloomer, I missed out on all of those important youthful musical moments. I didn't have a high school "anthem" or anything like that. I was never into Green Day, Blink 182, or NIN... and I didn't even know what Rancid sounded like. However, I don't feel like I missed out on anything, and in fact I'm much happier not having fallen into that circle. How's that for disclosure?

So no, I wasn't doing cartwheels when I got the call to shoot uFest... but I still knew it would be a cool thing to cover. After Powerman 5000 finished, I made my way through the crowd and over to the other side of the grounds to catch a band called Adelita's Way. Wikipedia describes them as "a hard rock band from Las Vegas, Nevada that broke into the mainstream in 2009 for their song "Invincible", which is the official theme song for WWE Superstars on WGN America." I feel like a tool saying "the audience seemed to like this band"... but with no real background in hard rock music, it's hard for me to make very critical comments... so I will stick to reviewing from MY point of view. The band was very animated on stage... which made for much more interesting photos. Guitar and vocalist, Keith Wallen, at one point jumped out on a speaker in front of me, which gave me one of my favorite shots of the day.

Walking back to the main stage I shot a few pics of the people I saw along the way. The New Times loves people shots... and as I realize every time I shoot... so do the people themselves. "I'm gonna be online??? Awesome!!" In fact at one point a dude chased me down and asked me to come back and take a photo of his group. I walked with him, he sat down on his blanket in the grass, and his girlfriend lifted her shirt for the photo. It's not as exciting as it sounds... her bra was autographed by the members of one of the bands playing... I didn't hang around to ask which one.

Danzig was next in the lineup... however as part of his contract, he insisted that no photographers were allowed to shoot him. I think the rest of the contract was "No yellow M&M's and only Tampax brand tampons." Mother...

3 Days Grace were the headliners for the night. The crowd was definitely getting ancy before they went on. A number of people were being pulled out of the pit by security... either for being too rowdy, or too drunk. The band did take quite a while to get set up... and it was the longest pause in between bands for the whole day... as there was no one on the second stage between Danzig and 3 Days Grace. I'd say the show was worth the wait. Lots of different types of lights were peppered around the stage to make their performance more interesting. Strobes, floods, and even flames after the photogs left.

I can't say 3 Days Grace "stole the show"... it was pretty clear the people were there for them, and they delivered. Again, not my style of music, but I like a loud rock show as much as the next guy, so I had a good time. I actually watched a little more of the show from backstage. Steve Esparza from KUPD and I watched from behind the drummer's kit while they played "Home", one of their big hits. Interesting point of fact... the drummer plays a right handed drum kit, but keeps time with his left hand.

One last nugget about uFest 2010... while I was watching Powerman 5000 play, after I exited the pit... a young Mexican kid hopped his way out of the mosh pit, very evidently in pain. His girl friend sat him down and helped him situate himself, while security called for paramedics. I asked if his leg was broken, he said yes. I asked if I could take a photo for posterity... he was surprisingly unaccommodating.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Eagles @ US Airways Center

That magical sheen of being a concert photographer starts to wear thin when it seems like every big band that comes to town insists on placing you at the back of an arena to take photos to promote them. I can't really "complain"... but it gets boring, and I think "what is the point?"... these pictures end up sterile and uninteresting. They are made exponentially worse when the band is lit solely by spot light. Spot lights are so bright, that to be able to have decent exposure the camera is cranked way up... losing any of the interesting ambient glow from the gelled lights on stage, and any color they provide... and so harsh and unforgiving to the appearance of skin and hair, you have to wonder why the older acts prefer it??

All that nonsense aside... I was at the US Airways Center to photograph The Eagles. Meeting up with the bevy of other photogs, we started marching down to the floor around 7:45pm. We were shown to the sound board and given our orders... "Don't move farther forward than the sound board, don't get in anyone's way, and you can shoot the first four songs." At first, everyone was impressed by the fact that we had four songs worth to shoot... and once the show started... (at 8:40!!)... it was apparent that the Eagles were at least trying to give us SOME time with the cool lights they brought.

The first two songs were all white hot spot lights, the first being an a-capella four-part harmony driven song, which served as a nice way to introduce the band. The third song brought a bit of warm colors on front of stage, and some cool blue ambiance at the back of the set up. (I'm at a complete loss for song titles... as it turns out, most of the first songs were from the new record.) By the fourth song the band had some, if I'm honest, very cheesy artwork projected on the screen behind them, while Joe Walsh took on lead vocal duties. It wasn't very "interesting", but it at least brought some more color to the stage.

I find myself being overly critical of big bands lately. I think it's because I expect more out of them. I expect more thought to be put into the SHOW. I'm positive some of the people on the floor that night paid very decent money to see this band play. Why not wow them with more than just a catalog of old tricks and new songs they aren't into? When I shot the Muse show recently, I was amazed at the stage set up... there was no one in the arena that that left unimpressed. Granted, the Eagles can't, with a straight face, ascend from large LED-screened pillars in the ceiling with lasers and strobes all around them... but they could do more. Am I wrong?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Arctic Monkeys @ Marquee Theatre

I listened to "505" and "I bet you look good on the dance floor" online before I got the Marquee Theatre... I wanted to at least see if I knew the Arctic Monkeys through subliminal messaging. I was familiar with their sound... and remembered seeing them play on Conan (RIP) a while back, so I got in a pretty good mood thinking I might enjoy this show.

For the first time in a long time, I had to sign a waiver at the Marquee. Usually, bands of this caliber aren't prone to being picky with their photos, but what can you do? Then I was told after the third song I would have to leave to put my camera in my car... never been asked that here... but again, no big deal. Really, it just meant I couldn't watch any of the show after I was done shooting, but that is standard with the bigs.

When the band's roadies were setting up the gear, I was excited to see that they had brought some of their own lights. Even if they did look a little "Guitar Center-y"... on tripods along the back wall. But all that mattered was "did it look cool?" Yes. It did. For the first time, ever, I think... I had an enjoyable time shooting a band at the Marquee. Normally, the lights are so dull and dark that the photos always suffer. But, with the Monkeys I had room to play, and experiment. I could really "paint in" the background lights, making the photos more colorful and interesting. I even played with silhouettes more than I normally do. It was a good time, and I was actually a little down that I had to leave after the first three songs... I was digging the music and would have liked to watch the show.

I used my 17-40mm and my 100-400mm on this shoot. I left the 5D MkII set between ISO3200 and 4000, and my shutter jumped between 1/50 and up as high as 1/250 at times. It was fairly decent conditions and it meant I was able to take my time with my shots. Good times.

I didn't want to start another blog post, but I felt I should throw in some pics of the opening band, Sleepy Sun. This, to me, from what I saw and heard, was a sort of southern rock-y, bar band, with two singers... type act. They played pretty familiar sounding songs... but different enough to still be enjoyable to listen to.

When I walked in the venue for the first time, Sleepy Sun was already on stage... and behind them was a veil of pink light. Which, sounds a little Elton John, but it looked cool in person. It was an odd effect for a low key rock band, but it worked... and didn't change for the duration of their set. I suppose they found their thing and stuck with it. Or the venue said "ah... pink", pressed a button, and that was it. Either way, cool photos.

I got some great shots of the lead guitarist, lots of similar poses, but all very cool. Drummers, unfortunately, are always in the dark. Either the light is too much extra heat, or they are just forgot about. But I always think how cool the photos could be if someone would just point a bulb their way every now and again.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Muse @ US Airways Center

I almost didn't get to shoot this concert, and now I'm even more glad that I did. I have been a Muse fan for a little while now, they still strike me as a "more straight-forward rock version of Radiohead", but I don't say that as an insult. Last time Muse was in town I asked to photograph them and the New Times passed on even reviewing the concert... and this time around they are playing US Airways Center and I'm fighting to be able to photograph it, what happened?

While on the floor waiting to shoot, I met the owner of Luckyman Concerts, and talked to him briefly about Muse and the AZ concert market. He recalled the last few times they played AZ and the smaller venues he booked them in.... but suddenly, they've blown up. The only thing either of us could contribute that to was their inclusion on the Twilight soundtracks. So many more people have discovered Muse through Twilight than radio nowadays I'd guess.

Regardless of how they got here, they are here... and they put on a MASSIVE show! When the photogs were escorted down we were told we'd be shooting from the sound board, which always sounds like a death sentence to us... but then we were told that the stage setup was huge, and we wouldn't want to miss it. When I first saw the stage set up, I was impressed by it's size, but I still wanted to be closer to it. It looked like three skyscrapers were sitting on the stage... with a scrim over the front of them mimicking the look of windows. When the show started, all the lights went down and ghostly images of people walking up stairs were projected on the buildings. As the first song, "Uprising", kicked in, the scrims fell and the three brits were revealed to be towering over the crowd, 20-feet up in the center of the large columns... which were now lit up by LEDs... with the band's faces projected on them, along with lots of other colorful video.

It was a very cool thing to start with, then it just kept getting cooler. By the third song, the respective platforms that each band member was on had lowered to the stage, and lasers from all sides of the stage covered every angle of the arena. I can't express how much I like lasers in concert. It sounds so cheesy, but when you see them in person, you can appreciate how bizarre and different they are... and Muse used them to the fullest. The lasers were strobing, fanning, and beaming all over the place. It made for some great photos.

Sound wise, again... excellent! The start of the "Uprising" was a keyboard, played off-stage by a touring fourth member of the band... and then followed by vocals, drums, and a crazy fuzzed-out bass. It sounded so full even without the guitar, but when Matt strummed the first piercing notes that doubled the vocal line "Come on!", it really woke everyone up! Matt plays all custom guitars, each very unique sounding and looking... and some are even crazy modified. A few of them have a Zvex Fuzz Factory pedals built in to the body, and others have Kaoss pads installed for modulation effects at the touch of a finger. This would have been one of those things I would have loved to see up close. Because I am a nerd.

All in all, it was an amazing show! However, I still would have loved to be closer to the stage. Even with a 400mm lense, it's still hard to get those ultra dramatic angles... and with all the cool lighting everywhere on stage, I can only imagine what could have been.