Coldplay LIVE!

Posted by AJ Harbison at 4:55 am

On Tuesday evening, I picked up my lovely fiancée for a surprise date; she knew we were going out but didn’t know where we were going. I took her to the Honda Center, and with a hint she guessed beforehand what we were doing: seeing Coldplay perform live!

As my loyal TLB readers know, I love Coldplay; they’re one of my favorite bands of all time, right up there with U2. I was stoked out of my mind to get tickets to a show of theirs, and I came in with high expectations, looking for my world to be rocked.

Ticketmaster hadn’t said this, but there were two opening acts. The first was Sleepercar, a band allegedly from West Texas whose lead singer had an English accent. Their style was generic rock blended with country elements–a pedal steel guitar and harmonica joined in periodically. It was an interesting contrast to Coldplay’s style, and while I understand the thought behind not wanting too much of the same style of music in one night, I bet a lot of the people who were at the show were not very fond of Sleepercar’s music. I didn’t hate it, but it certainly wasn’t worthy of a second listen to my ears.

The second opener was Jon Hopkins, an electronic musician slash DJ who contributed electronics to Viva La Vida, Coldplay’s latest album. He mixed along with a synced animation video by Vince Collins, who apparently has no personal website; Hopkins’ site indicates that the animation was from the 70s and 80s, and he got Collins’ permission to use it in his show. The animation was really trippy, very M.C. Escher-like (as Eleanor commented) in that the image would start as one thing and morph into another in a way that was very smooth yet discomfiting to the eye. Very interesting. I enjoyed his music, although the set went on a bit long for my tastes. Most likely a great deal of the crowd was more into electronic music than I was, because many fans of electronic music are also fans of Coldplay (like my roommate Mike) and vice versa, so that demographic of the audience probably loved it. Hopkins did lots of “whoosh” and electronic “swish” sorts of sound effects as he was mixing, and I thought they were a bit overdone. But I liked his choice of music, and I definitely enjoyed the transitions between songs. He often would bring in a new beat but keep elements of the previous song, and then build to a climax–and drop suddenly into nothing but the beat, and build back up into the fullness of the new song. It was a different type of musical experience for me, one I’m not very familiar with, but it was profitable.

And then Coldplay. I was very excited about this show, not least because I would get a chance to see one of my all-time favorite bands, but also because I’ve heard that this is the best tour they’ve ever done. Mike and I remarked to each other that it’s probably the best time in their career for a tour, because they’ll be playing a lot from my favorite CD X&Y but also a lot from Viva La Vida, which is similarly excellent. (I’ll include links to previous TLB posts about Coldplay at the end of this post.)

The show was incredible. I have to admit that I was just the slightest bit skeptical, because I’d heard a previous review of a friend who said they were disappointing in concert, and I’d seen them live on TV–perhaps on the Grammys–a few years ago, and they were terrible (Chris Martin, the lead singer, was probably drunk at the time). But this concert dispelled all my fears almost immediately. They started with “Life In Technicolor,” the song that opens Viva La Vida, beginning with the recorded electronics but then adding in all the band members, and then transitioned straight into “Violet Hill” (instead of transitioning straight into “Cemeteries Of London” as they do on the album). Chris Martin danced around the stage but never to the detriment of his singing, the whole band was full of energy, and the whole arena was rocking along.

Eleanor commented afterwards that it was one of the best performing arts shows she’s ever seen–and that says a lot coming from her, as she’s including classical performances, other concerts and her background and wide experience in musical theatre. I would have to agree. Everything about the show was excellent. Of course the music is good; the performances by each of the band members was terrific; Chris Martin’s interaction with the crowd was perfectly balanced, always adding to the show and excitement but never waxing too long; the lighting and stage design perfectly complemented the music; I could go on and on. But instead I’ll highlight a few things.

The lighting and stage design. Of course a show like this is going to have cool lighting effects: blinding lights for strong drum hits, lights sweeping over the audience during sing-along choruses, lasers. This show had all that. But the stage design was also very impressive. When they began, a digital curtain raised itself on the screen behind the stage, revealing the painting that serves as the cover art for the album; and at the end of the show, the curtain lowered back down over the word “VIVA.” There were also five spinning globes, suspended above the stage and out over the audience, that were used to display various images, patterns and views of the band. Very cool.

The musicians. I certainly didn’t doubt that the members of Coldplay were good musicians. But I didn’t know they were this good. Each of the four members of the band played at least three different instruments throughout the course of the night. There were multiple songs that featured Chris Martin playing piano, rather than just singing or playing guitar; a few of them required some stage rearranging after the song, and to cover for that he would play a minute or so of a classical piano piece. I think he even incorporated Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp minor into the outro of one of their songs. I was very impressed, again. The only mistake I heard was when he was playing the last few lines of one of the piano songs (I don’t remember which it was)–he came down on a clearly wrong chord, quickly said “Oh f—,” and kept going. The crowd went wild.

The crowd interaction. The whole show was very theatrical, as mentioned, and Chris Martin is a consummate showman. He danced around, he laid down on the stage, he rocked out on guitar, piano and harmonica. Several times during the night he substituted a lyric from a song with something about California, and the crowd loved that as well. His banter in between songs was very funny and added to rather than detracted from the show. And at one point, the whole band left the stage and walked over to a small enclave near the back of the arena, where they picked up two guitars, a mandolin and a harmonica, and proceeded to play an acoustic version of “The Scientist,” right in the middle of the audience. It was awesome and again the crowd went wild.

The music. Have I mentioned before how much I love Coldplay’s music? In addition to rocking everything they played, they played almost the entirety of Viva La Vida during the course of the night. The only songs they left out were “Yes” (although they did play the “Chinese Sleep Chant” by itself) and “Reign Of Love,” which I’m not very fond of anyway. The rest of the material was lots of X&Y and some of A Rush Of Blood To The Head; they only played one song from Parachutes, “Yellow,” which was the single encore. They began with “Life In Technicolor,” and they ended (before the encore) with “Death And All His Friends,” which
was the epic climax that it is on the album; after the encore, the recorded version of “The Escapist” played to finish out the night. It was basically a live performance of Viva La Vida, bookended with the recordings, with other songs thrown in the middle. Awesome.

The show was just incredible. I had to keep reminding myself that I was actually there, seeing Coldplay live. I paid lots of money for the tickets, but it was worth every penny and then some. Now all I have to do is see U2….

Click on the links below to read previous TLB posts about Coldplay and Viva La Vida:

Viva La Vida, Coldplay: First Impressions (my original review of the album)

Viva La Vida, Coldplay: Revisited (my further thoughts, and the intro to the week of song posts)

“Lost!”, Viva La Vida, Coldplay

“Death And All His Friends,” Viva La Vida, Coldplay

“Viva La Vida,” Viva La Vida, Coldplay

“Violet Hill,” Viva La Vida, Coldplay

“Cemeteries Of London,” Viva La Vida, Coldplay


Wedding Music, Part 2

Posted by AJ Harbison at 3:55 am

As I mentioned in my first wedding post, I’ve taken on the responsibility of planning the music for our wedding, and that includes the music for the wedding ceremony itself.

TheKnot.com is a wedding planning site that I would normally stay far, far away from, as a guy, but as a fiancé I guess I get a bit of extra slack. I decided, after spending an hour or two or three on Gigmasters, that I would check it out just to see if it had any good suggestions for wedding music. In the sidebar of an article entitled “Ceremony Music: The Basics,” I found the following list of ceremony music suggestions, which was rather amusing and entertaining in itself:

Your selections will speak volumes.

Processional: Bridal Chorus (Wagner)
Recessional: Wedding March (Mendelssohn)

New Traditional
Prelude: “Apotheosis” (Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty)
Processional: “Spring” (Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons)
Bride’s Processional: “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” (Bach)
Recessional: “La Rejouissance” (Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks)

Prelude: “Amazing Grace” (John Newton)
Processional: “In This Very Room” (Ron and Carol Harris)
Bride’s Processional: “St. Anthony’s Chorale” (Haydn)
Recessional: “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” (Hans Georg Nageli)

Prelude: “You and I” (Stevie Wonder)
Processional: “In My Life” (The Beatles)
Bride’s Processional: “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” (Lauryn Hill)
Recessional: “Beautiful Day” (U2)

Prelude: “J’ai Dormi Sous L’Eau” (Air)
Processional: “Luna” (The Smashing Pumpkins)
Bride’s Processional: “Fade Into You” (Mazzy Star)
Recessional: “Love Song” (The Cure)

It was funny just to note my own knowledge of these pieces–I recognize all the songs listed under “Traditional” and “New Traditional;” about half of the songs under “Gospel/Religious” and “Modern;” and none of the songs under “Hipster.” I guess that tells you where I fall in my musical tastes….

Several years ago, an old friend of mine asked me to write a bridal processional for her wedding–the song that would accompany her as she walked down the aisle. I wrote it, incorporating a lot of musical symbolism–even basing the melody of the middle section on her name–and in the end she decided against using it. (She already had music in mind for the bridesmaids’ processional, and I guess it didn’t flow well with my piece. She ended up using the piece that she had sent me as an example of what she wanted it to sound like.) A short while ago, Eleanor and I were talking about music for our ceremony, and I mentioned that piece (which I had entitled “Passion and Purity,” based on this book). She got very excited, and asked if I would want to compose music for our wedding ceremony. I got pretty excited myself.

After that I looked at the Passion and Purity Wedding March again, and was horribly disappointed–it’s really not well-written at all. I composed it in the spring of 2006, which I suppose is not very long ago but rather a long ways away in terms of my development as a composer. So, for our wedding ceremony I will be rewriting the Passion and Purity Wedding March. (Not least among the revisions will be the middle section, which will no longer feature the name “Hannah.”)

In further discussions, Eleanor said that the more music I composed for the ceremony, the happier she would be. I don’t know how much I’ll have time to write, but I love the thought of writing all the music for my own wedding. Seán Dunnahoe did it for his, and (although his style was very different from mine) it was really cool and worked out very well.

Most likely we’ll have just a piano (to keep costs down, and make my writing easier); I guess if I wrote everything I would compose the processional, the bridal processional (a new incarnation of “Passion and Purity”), and the recessional. I’ll keep you all posted on thoughts as I go!

P.S. Amazon is having a Black Friday sale all through this week and next, with different deals each day. And, as always, if you click through any of the Amazon links here on TLB, your favorite starving composer-blogger gets a commission on whatever you buy, with no extra cost to you! If you’d like to do some of your holiday shopping online and support me in the process, please click here: Black Friday 2008 Deals.


Wedding Music, Part 1

Posted by AJ Harbison at 4:49 am

First off I must apologize for my lack of posting this past week, and the general lack of substance in my posts of late. I’ve been quite busy, planning a wedding and all. I hope I haven’t lost any readers. But (I must say) I’ve been a bit disheartened by the lack of comments lately as well. I like to hear what you think, even if it’s not a particularly brilliant comment–I like to know you’re listening!

I never had any idea of how much planning goes into a wedding. My lovely fiancée and I have four months, almost to the day, between my proposal (and her acceptance) and our wedding day, and there is so much to do. In any case, one of the aspects of the wedding planning that I’ve taken on is the music. (I wonder why…?) Of course, there are two components to wedding music: music for the ceremony (which I’ll post about in a few days) and music for the reception.

Eleanor has really only one non-negotiable for the wedding, and that is that the reception must have a live band instead of a DJ. One of the things she loves most about weddings is their ability to bring together people from all different circles and stages of your life for one big party, and she wants that party to be done right, and that includes having a live band. (And much dancing, and much wine.)

I’ve found Gigmasters.com to be a very helpful site. It organizes bands by style and genre but also by type of event (they have different sections for weddings, corporate parties, etc.), and provides a wealth of information about each band including audio and video samples. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a band as a great place to start.

Since Eleanor grew up in New Orleans, she wants to have a wide variety of music played by our live band. She was pretty stoked when I found some zydeco bands, a style of music created by the Creoles of southern Louisiana; but upon further listening we decided that a full-on zydeco band would be too much of a good thing. So we’re looking for a band that can do zydeco, but also styles like jazz, blues, swing, salsa, Latin, Cuban, etc. We’re still doing research, but the best band that we’ve found so far (and that we might end up hiring) is Bonne Musique Zydeco–French for “good zydeco music.” They have a West Coast-influenced zydeco sound, incorporating electric guitar as well as the traditional accordion and rubboard and such, but we like their sound and it looks like they play a pretty wide variety of styles. I’ll keep you posted on further developments. And if any of you know any Orange County/Southern California bands that might fit our bill… let me know!


I was going through some old emails today, and I came across this Washington Post article that my friend Stephen emailed to me May 3rd, 2007:

“Pearls Before Breakfast: Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour?”

I don’t think I ever actually read the whole article until today. It’s very long–about 18 Microsoft Word pages–but it’s really, really good. It’s an experiment that the Post conducted: having Joshua Bell, one of the world’s greatest violinists, play in a busy Washington D.C. Metro station to see if anyone stops to listen:

“No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?”

In addition to reporting on what happened and interviewing Bell and many of the passersby, the article reflects on the philosophy of beauty, comments on the intricacies of violin-making, and describes the pieces that Bell played. It’s very well-written, dramatic and poetic as well as journalistic, and it includes several video clips showing some of the people who stopped to listen and toss change (and many who didn’t). I would recommend reading the whole article, even if it takes a few sittings. It’s an interesting commentary on our culture, and an intriguing take on the human perception of beauty.


New Photos Over At AJHarbison.com!

Posted by AJ Harbison at 9:16 pm

As promised, I’ve finally posted the photos from the 2nd Annual Rauxa Art Show in my Picasa Photo Gallery. Courtney is a great photographer and got some good shots, and as always, they’re captioned with a particular thing to note about each one. You can get there through my website www.ajharbison.com, on the “Links” page, or you can go straight there by clicking this link: AJ Harbison’s Picasa Photo Gallery. Enjoy!


BeachFire Audition

Posted by AJ Harbison at 5:06 pm

My very talented friend Seán Dunnahoe found a posting on Craigslist a week or two ago, calling for acoustic solo and group acts to audition for a live and possibly weekly gig at a bar’n'grill called the BeachFire in Ladera Ranch. So he suggested that he and I get together, work up some of my original songs and jam there. So we did.

Tuesday night was the audition, which we discovered was really more of an open mike event. The general manager was there and listening, so in that sense he was gauging the acts to see whom he might want to hire; but there were plenty of customers there listening as well, and it was just like playing a short set on stage.

Seán plays hand percussion (as well as drum set and a zillion other instruments), so he brought congas, bongos, a fish-skin tamborine and (as I mentioned before) Irish bones, which I called “clickety things” for the benefit of our listeners during the set. We were the first band to play, after a “house band” guitar player warmed up for us. We did five songs altogether: “Who I Am,” “Too Far,” “Remember,” a Dave Matthews Band song called “Grey Street,” and as an encore my all-time most popular song “Coastin’”. We rocked it–I did a good job playing and singing, and Seán was awesome as I knew he would be. We got lots of compliments afterwards; many people asked us how long we had been playing together, and were subsequently surprised when we told them this was our first gig. “He’s played stuff before, I’ve played stuff before, but this is the first time we’ve played together.”

The BeachFire’s general manager told us that he’s pretty much booked through January; but he said he would get back to us at that time and see what his schedule looked like, and I said we’d be more than happy to fill in if he had a last-minute cancellation. He seemed to like what we did, and I know that if we were to be hired to play it would be a paying gig; so we’ll see what happens in January!


Glass Violin

Posted by AJ Harbison at 8:07 pm

I’m going to apologize in advance for not posting much this week; I have something scheduled every single night from yesterday (Monday) all the way through Sunday. But I’ll try to post an update on Sean’s and my audition tonight in a day or two, and in the meantime, you can enjoy this post!

On our road trip last fall, one of our stops was in Colonial Williamsburg, a reconstruction of Williamsburg, VA as it existed in colonial times, complete with artisans plying trades the way they were plied at the time and reenactments of historical Revolutionary War events. I was particularly interested in a musical demonstration by Dean Shostak (www.crystalconcert.com), a musician who plays all manner of glass instruments from colonial times (such as Ben Franklin’s glass armonica of 1761) up to some crazy instruments of the present. On my cell phone I captured a video of him performing on a glass violin–a marvel of modern musical engineering, and one of only two that exist in the whole world. The video quality is bad, and you can’t even really see the violin because of the lighting, but you can hear how the sound is different from a normal violin: more silvery, thin, sparkling yet haunting–much like you’d expect a glass violin to sound.

And here are some photos, for those of you who didn’t believe that he was really playing a glass violin:

Wind instruments have a long history of being made from lots of different materials, flutes in particular–everything from metal to wood to glass to clay. But stringed instruments less so. Props to Shostak and whoever had the engineering and musical savvy to construct a violin made of glass.


A Music-Filled Weekend

Posted by AJ Harbison at 10:34 pm

One of the vendors I work with asked me yesterday if I had any big plans for the weekend, and as I explained to her what I’d be doing, I realized that I have been and am going to be playing guitar. A lot.

First of all, this past Wednesday was the 2nd Annual Art Show at my company, Rauxa Direct. It was a free show whose participants were employees and friends and family of employees (basically anyone who wanted to enter), and although there was technically a contest it was really just an exhibition. It was pretty cool and I recruited several of my artistic friends to submit art pieces; I myself played guitar as a representative of a non-visual art. I played a two-song “showcase,” and then later a longer set as “background music,” although by that point there were only a few people left (one of which was my lovely and loyal girlfriend). It was a lot of fun performing, even if it was not the most flattering of venues, because I hadn’t played for a while. Pictures will be forthcoming next week and will show up on my website. (If you’d like to check out my photo gallery before then, feel free to click here.)

On to the weekend! Last night (Friday) I had a rehearsal slash jam session with my composer/percussionist friend Seán Dunnahoe, whom I mentioned in this post. We’re going to be auditioning for a performing gig at a place in Ladera Ranch on Tuesday night, performing a few of my original songs and a Dave Matthews Band cover. I’ll be playing guitar and singing, of course, and Seán will be rocking out on congas, bongos, shakers and Irish bones. (Bones are, by the way, THE single coolest instrument I have ever seen played. And Seán ROCKS on them.)

On Saturday, I’ll be in Redlands playing guitar and singing with the Jeff Mercer Band at the Saturday night River of Worship service (I wrote a TLB post about the band here). It looks like we’ll probably be playing “Just As I Am” again, as well as some more of the Jeff Mercer Band original songs that are being worked on for the CD.

Then on Sunday morning, I’ll be back in the OC, playing guitar and singing for the first time with the worship band at the church that my lovely girlfriend and I attend. That should be exciting as well.

My fingers are going to be rather sore, come Sunday afternoon….


"Just As I Am" Is A Hit!

Posted by AJ Harbison at 11:50 pm

I traveled to Redlands this past weekend to play in the River Of Worship service with my friend Jeff Mercer and his Jeff Mercer Band. I wrote in my last post that he and the band are working on a recording, which we hope to have finished by the end of the year, and I had told him a short time ago of my arrangement of “Just As I Am” (written about on this blog here). It will likely be on the recording, now, and he agreed to add it to the set for Saturday night as well, so the band (led by me on guitar and vocals) played it for the first time in the service. It was very cool to hear it done with a full band; being a song with little structural variation (it doesn’t have the advantage of, say, a bridge or a chorus to break up the repetition of the verses), it was a great help to have the band to add variation in other ways: different rhythms, more or fewer instruments playing on different verses, differences in dynamics.

Of course, as a worship song, the point is not for people to like it or to get praise for myself; but it went over very well. I was hoping that Jeff wouldn’t bring attention to the fact that I had done the arrangement, but he did, and I got a number of compliments afterwards on it. One friend in particular (who may or may not be named Nate) told me he really, really liked it; at a later point in our conversation, I told him as I often do, “I like you a lot,” and he responded, “I like you a lot too–and I like you even more after tonight!”


The Jeff Mercer Band

Posted by AJ Harbison at 5:00 pm

Jeff Mercer, my good friend from Redlands (although he actually lives in Beaumont now), leads a monthly worship service at his church, The River CRC, called River Of Worship. While I was living in Redlands I got the chance to go with him and some members of his ROW team out to Harvest, Greg Laurie’s megachurch in Riverside, to lead worship for their singles group. Thanks to a terrific sound tech (his name was Shea although I’m not sure of the spelling), we got a recording of our playing for the night, which actually turned out very well for a live recording. Jeff cleaned it up using GarageBand (insert shameless plug for Apple products here) and it turned out even better. You can hear the recording at the ROW Myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/riverofworshipmusic. Jeff plays the piano and sings; the acoustic guitar is me. My favorite tracks are “He Is Exalted” and “That’s Why We Praise Him.”

I recommend you go check it out for several reasons. One: Jeff is a great singer and a great pianist, and it’s just fun to listen to him. Two: His band is terrific, particularly the two female singers (Courtney and Teri) and the bass player we had that night (Mike; check out his bass solo on “He Is Exalted”). Three: It’s good worship music. And four: It’s an original style. Jeff leads from piano, whereas most of the songs as originally recorded are led from guitar, and his playing style is unique, creative and effective. Most of the musicians of his band and the singers, although they change from time to time and from gig to gig, have been playing together for a long time, so they know how to play together well; and at the same time Jeff is a great leader who knows what he wants musically, and knows how to get what he wants out of his musicians. All this to say, it’s good, it’s interesting and it’s worth listening to.

Rumor has it he’s planning a studio recording for the Jeff Mercer Band, possibly including some of my original music. I’ll keep you all posted.


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