Sunday, February 04, 2007

An eclectic musical weekend ...

... and it was. First up, on Friday night, was the great Dave Alvin and his band The Guilty Men at New York's Bowery Ballroom. Alvin, formerly of the Blasters, is one of America's great unheralded songwriters. Whether you've heard of him or not, chances are you've heard one of his songs - "Fourth of July" (recorded by X and featured on a SOPRANOS episode last season), "Marie Marie," "So Long Baby Goodbye," "Long White Cadillac," "Bus Station," "Dry River" ... the list goes on. Alvin, sharing a bill with James McMurtry and The Heartless Bastards, opened the show with an 80-minute set that included only one song (Jackson Browne's "Redneck Friend") from his latest album "West of the West," but leaned heavily on material from previous albums, including 2004's "Ashgrove." Foremost among these was his noir epic "Out of Control" ("Baby's gotta make a living/ And I don't mind waiting out in the car/ I've got some nine-millimeter muscle/ In case things go too far"), which he introduced as a "new economic blues."

I was listening to Alvin a lot while writing THE HEARTBREAK LOUNGE, and a handful of his songs - especially "Interstate City," "Abilene" and "Out in California" sort of made their way into that novel by osmosis. As a nod to Alvin, when Johnny Harrow goes to ground in a seedy Asbury Park motel in HEARTBREAK, I put him in room 503, which figures prominently in "Interstate City."

Saturday night was quite a different event: Legendary Italian film composer Ennio Morricone's first-ever U.S. performance, held at Radio City Music Hall. With a 100-piece orchestra and 100-member choir, Morricone conducted selections from his film scores over the years (he's done nearly 500), and the two-hour program featured excerpts from, among others, CINEMA PARADISO, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, THE MISSION and, of course, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY.

Having had much of that music as a personal soundtrack in my head for many years, it was slightly strange to hear it in a cavernous hall like Radio City, with audience members rapturously air-conducting with closed eyes and yelling "Bravo!" at the end of every movement. In addition, the Westerns that Morricone scored for director Sergio Leone (at right with Morricone in the photo above) are so irreverent and sardonic (lots of squinting and sweating and scratching), that hearing their music performed in such a formal concert setting was odd. To have the maestro (in tux and tails) walk off-stage and return with the soprano on his arm, preparatory to her singing the coyote howl of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, seemed a weird and not totally comfortable collision of worlds.

Still, it was a magic night (though a pre-concert announcement calling it "one of the greatest events in the history of New York" brought snickers from the waiting audience). Reviewer Bradley Bambarger summed the whole event up beautifully in his review for the Newark Star-Ledger, which can be found here. Morricone picks up a well-deserved honorary Oscar later this month, but why it took so long is an answer only the Academy knows.

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