Wednesday, July 13, 2011

NKOTBSB + Britney Spears

It's been a long time between posts on this blog. But I'm happy to report I'm getting back into shooting concerts! The film I've been working on is nearing completion of principal photography, and soon after that, life should start returning to a fairly normal state. But for right now, let's talk New Kids On The Block, Backstreet Boys, and Britney Spears...

It's Britney, bitch!
This post is actually covering two separate shows: Britney Spears did her own tour through Phoenix, and shortly after, the NKOTBSB came through. I wasn't sure when I started this if I'd have enough to say for each concert to necessitate separate posts. But let's see what happens!

Believe it or not, I'd never attended a Britney Spears show before. And I've never had the opportunity to photograph her. But I'd always heard wild stories... like: "We were only allowed to shoot for the first 22 seconds of each song, and we weren't allowed to shoot her straight on... and if you made eye contact with her you'd be escorted out of the show." So I'd never really jumped at the chance to shoot her. But I was asked to shoot her this time around and I figured it'd be a good reason to dust off the still camera... and maybe even get a snap or two for the old portfolio. It IS Britney Spears... you can't deny she's a pretty big deal for our time. Might as well put a Britney notch in my belt.

On to the show itself. The restrictions weren't too crazy, but they also meant "amazing" photos were out of the question... 3 songs from behind the mixing board. This meant the back of the house... all the way at the opposite end of the arena floor. It also meant shooting over the entire arena of screaming fans. This was a challenge to be sure, but luckily I'm a bit taller than most 13 year old girls, so I was able to get my shots.

Oddly, or probably not actually odd at all, the crowd was made up of girls, young and old, and really gay guys. In fact, the one person I could actually hear singing OVER the loud speakers was a twenty something dude in a bedazzled Britney t-shirt. This kid was going NUTS for Britney!

During her performance, which was basically just a lot of skin and on-display crotch, Britney called a guy up from the audience and performed a lap dance on him. Initially I thought it was a "safe pick" to grab a clearly homosexual guy... but as I looked around, I reckon she'd have had a pretty tough time finding a straight guy in the house. All that aside, the people looked quite pleased with the show. Whether or not she was lip-syncing didn't matter to these kids... it was just about the show... and seeing her up there. They definitely got that.

Next was New Kids On The Block and Backstreet Boys. Again... I was reminded of Stephen Fry's "Last Chance To See" program, and thought I better shoot them while they're still here. Plus my sister was a huge Joey fan. For all the snickering you could imagine I heard when I told people I was shooting this show, it actually turned out to be a good shoot. I know at least one of the photos will be going in my portfolio, and anytime I can walk away from a show thinking that, I'm pretty happy.

This was a weird show tho... don't get me wrong. It started with a screen showing a bunch of photos of the boys to get the crowd warmed up. You can imagine screaming. Especially when Donnie Wahlberg popped on screen. "Oh my gawd damn!! It's Donnie!!" Then Joey McIntyre, forget it... "Oh my holy JESUS!! It's Joey!! Joey!!!!" Then those photos stopped showing. Lights kicked on... more screaming... then another video presentation with each member posing for the camera with their name in lights flashing behind them. Again, screaming. The tired and tucked away, not to be spoken of out loud fantasies of thirty thousand girls were reignited. Then the lights went down again. Then a giant, floating frying pan carried both boy bands to the stage.

The cat walk at this show was probably the longest I'd ever seen. They put it to good use. The first song was both bands together performing a re-imagining of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida". It didn't strike me right away, but towards the end of the song, I realized what I was actually looking at was the meat counter at my local grocers. The boys were strewn evenly from one end of the cat walk to the other, and on either side, the chairs were pointed AT the cat walk. (That's never usually the case.) The boys would sing to one side, then turn like clockwork to the other side. They was like a rotating electronic tie holder of leather clad boys.

These shows were, in truth, a bit weird to shoot. But you know... it's work other people would kill for. And I like getting thrown into uncomfortable situations with a camera. I think it forces you to adapt and open your mind. Good times.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Film project... "Intersect"

Hello friends, and random passers-by... I wanted to take a moment to post about a project I'm working on. It is a feature length Sci-Fi film called "Intersect", and I am working as the Director of Photography on it, my brother Gus wrote it and is directing. It will be shot on RED, and stars Jason Spisak of Piranha 3D and FOX's Lie To Me. Over the course of preproduction and shooting, I have been blogging about the experience on a different blog, click here to see. During the shoot, I will be curving my concert photography to focus on the film. Please check it out and feel free to comment! Here are a few pics from the set, and the most recent "behind-the-scenes" video. Thanks!

Intersect blog.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Perfect Circle @ The Marquee Theatre

I heard about this show through an A Perfect Circle super-fan. The band booked three consecutive nights at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe to welcome the fans back to the music, and to try and spark a new flame between the members themselves. Did it work?

I don't know. I wasn't able to watch the entire show, you tell me pal. Plus, sometimes it's hard to tell if band mates like each other on stage when they are performing. Especially when one of those band mates is Maynard James Keenan. Maynard has some sort of (Caution: wild outsider accusation about to fly) front-man-egomania-slash-I'm-just-a-normal-person-don't-put-a-spotlight-on-me-I-need-to-keep-my-anonymity thing going on. To be very honest, and brutal, I just don't get it. I could try to understand it if Maynard was a bigger celebrity... I don’t want to say "more relevant"... but not as obscure as he is now. Tool has a huge following, and you could no doubt argue that most people with at least a respectable working knowledge of the music world have heard of Tool. But would they know Maynard from Mike Patton? Probably not. The only image I had of Maynard for the longest time was him laying naked on top of a great big fat lady on the CD sleeve of a Tool album.

Weird band/ego/politics aside... let's talk about the gig! I was contacted by Spin Magazine to cover the show. Every time I hear from them, I'm always humbled. The first time I shot for them I was really nervous. "Can't mess this opportunity up!" But now I try to just accept things as the come. I think there is an AA mantra in there somewhere. "Lord, give me the Grace Under Fire box-set to help accept the shoddy American TV schedule that I can't change."

I was a bit confused why they chose the Marquee as the starting point for this short "reunion tour starter". But, that is really just my own personal bias. Shooting at the Marquee is never easy. The lighting is always such a struggle there. Couple that with Maynard's "stand-at-the-back-of-the-stage-with-no-light-on-me" modus operandi and you've got a pretty serious shit sandwich... then to add mustard to the mix, the front of stage is lit with red and pink lights. I don't want to wax camera operation too much, but camera's don't like the reds. Especially not BRIGHT red. You loose definition, color is blown out, and photos turn out bad. This was a tough shoot, no doubt about it. There was a lot of work done in post to make some of these photos passable. "No, Luke, we think they look great! You're being over critical." Well, thanks. That's nice, just don't look too hard.

Seeing as this ended up being one of the harder shoots I've done in a long time, and the fact that the photos only turned out "ok" by my standards, I'm curious to see if I hear from Spin again.

Here is the link to my photos on the Spin page. Words by fellow New Times-ite, and Gundam warrior, Jonathan McNamara!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Gorillaz @ Dodge Theatre

I have to admit, upon walking down to the stage of the Dodge, seeing the lights and set up, I wasn't sure if this was going to be a cool show or not. The little I know about the Gorillaz tells me it should be.

The Gorillaz have always been very 'theatrical' with their approach to the music world, sort of a BIG art band. The idea being that the Gorillaz are a 'virtual' band, and the performers are comic book characters. Lots of neat videos, I believe all of which are cartoons... starring animated caricatures of the band mates. When the curtain fell before the start of the show, I could tell they had something neat planned. Large glowing letters that spelt Gorillaz on the back of the stage, a giant projector screen, then maybe a 10-piece brass band, a string section, 3 back up singers, and a slathering of 'other' musicians took the stage. Then a really colorful video started the show. Neat, if indie/art-band style, miniature-based sweeping footage of a sort of island fortress in the ocean played out to an excited audience. (Check out the cover art to their new album "Plastic Beach") Then Snoop-Dogg showed up on the screen and performed (via prerecorded underwater video footage) with the live band. None of which I was allowed to photograph.

When lead singer Damon Albarn took the stage, the crowd went nuts. Let's not forget he's also the singer of the seriously influential British band Blur as well. Sadly, we photographers were locked to one side of the stage, in a very tight section. Which just meant, in lay terms, the photos would suffer. Albarn stayed on the 'other' side of the stage for the duration of my shooting time, save for a few times when he hopped on a piano in the middle of the stage with his back to me. Then, the one time when he came closer to me than just middle stage, this weirdo in the front row jumped out in front of me for the shot, and blocked all the photographers. I say ‘weirdo’ because he WAS a nut job. He was taking pictures of all sorts of things with his iPhone 4. Like, the floor. After he jumped in front of me, he turned around and took my picture. I bet he drives a BMW.

The lighting was cool, but none of the band mates were actually lit themselves. It was a case of watching the spot light on Albarn, and anticipating when some of that light will spill on to the other members. I got some neat silhouettes, but an entire show of that would get boring. If only I was allowed to move around with my camera!

All in all, it was neat. I actually wished I knew the band more than I do, and that I could have watched the show. I bet it was a lot of fun. And who doesn't love that Clint Eastwood song?? Hearing that live probably made the night for a lot of people. Next time...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Jack Johnson @ Cricket Pavilion

I thought America was just "going through a phase" when Jack Johnson became a hit here. That sappy, folky, pseudo-Jamaican, island music style got really old to me, and really quick. Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz, and lets not forget ... actually, I can only think of two. I suppose OF the two, I'd prefer to shoot (photograph with camera) the former. Still... Cricket Pavilion? For serious?

Yes, for serious. Cricket Pavilion. Serious like cancer. A cancer that an awareness walk downtown won't cure. When I pulled into the parking lot, to where they let press people park, I was shocked at how full it was. They were actually ushering people into the press lot. Madness. Inside, the place was jam-packed. The last time I saw Cricket this full was for Jimmy Buffett... hmm. I kind of GET the appeal of this sort of music... something simple, soothing, and easy to listen to while people smoke pot all day. I get it. But I can't believe that this many stoners can remember to purchase tickets for the show, or have enough spare cash to buy an album in between purchasing bags of drugs.

But in all seriousness, I don't like this sort of thing. I don't know if I'm being clear enough. Regardless, he is a viable photo-op, so I went for it. Luckily, the other photogs in attendance were wrong in thinking he wouldn't bring any lights with him. In fact, it was a relatively easy shoot, none of the band mates really moved from their predetermined allotments... and the stage was sufficiently lit as well... I didn't use the word 'lit' as a pun for everyone on stage being high and using the same flowery style cup to drink juice from in between songs, I meant there was a lot of light... surprising a bunch of stoners would have it THAT bright actually.

Jack Hody Johnson, America's greatest American hero.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

KISS @ Cricket Pavilion

When I started this post I realized that it was blog #101. I've cracked 100 posts! But since I didn't notice it while I was posting #100, we aren't celebrating.

KISS, back again... feels like just last December 1st they were here. But, we wanted the best, again... right? Yeah, I'm pretty sure we did. I was up for it, but I can't speak for you. But KISS gave us the best, so stop complaining, this blog just started.

It's not until the heat from multiple 30-foot tall fire balls hit you that you realize we don't actually live on the surface of the sun here in sweaty Phoenix, AZ. While that rank smell and the pit stains on the people to my left, right, and rear would suggest otherwise, after the warmth of the flame left my face, the temperature actually resembled "cool". Thanks KISS, for that at least.

Getting to the front of the stage riding a giant floating platform with smoke shooting out from the underside of it while fire is streaming from all sides of you, is one way to start a show. Sure. But there's always the stand-by 'just walk calmly out and quietly say hello into the mic without looking and be all indie' beginning... but you know, for purposes of good photos, I'd take the platform entrance any day! So thank you KISS once again.

Boredom is not allowed at a KISS concert. Even if you don't know the songs, and God knows I don't... You can still have a pretty ridiculous time. I mean, where else can you see a dude in makeup play his guitar between his legs with his ass up in the air? "Is it Creed? That sounds like a Creed concert. Creed is so awesome." ...No, not even at a Creed show can you see that. How about a dude in 10-inch, bedazzled platform shoes doing a jump in the air after having just been doing a one legged side split at the front of the stage? "ABBA??" No, not ABBA. How about a dude who sings, plays guitar, and crawls on hands an knees to shove his face into your camera? Ok... this is all just Paul Stanley, the Star Child as I refer to him... and then there are 3 other guys in the band still! Well, they don't do as much. Let's be honest here. But still, the show is nuts.

Photo-wise, a guy can't ask for much more. "What about a girl, could she ask for more? Sexist!" When did this blog turn into a discussion? Photo-wise, conditions we're superb. Lighting was ample, the stage was giant, and the players really sell to the camera. Honestly, all I could have asked for would have been a little more room in the pit, and maybe some of those sweet platform shoes... as if I don't tower over all the other photogs already... brew-ha-ha-ha!!

Pyrotechnics, giant video screens, animated characters, and a catalog of hit songs... what more do you need? Nothing! So stop asking! Next time KISS is in town, just buy a cheap ticket and go watch them! It's real life. And whether you like them or not, this band is legendary. You might as well go see them before it's too late.

It's rare that I actually get to meet the band... and it was just as rare this time, since it didn't happen... but I got close... shaw!