Monday, June 29, 2009

Concert Review: The Derek Trucks Band - Pantages Theatre, Winnipeg, MB, 6/23/09

The last time the virtuoso guitarist and his band (formed in 1994) played Winnipeg, it was in a smaller venue with rush seating. I lined up for over an hour outside but I ended right at the front of the stage, in the centre, close enough to grab a set list at the end of the show. This time, however, the band performed in one of nicer places in town, the Pantages Theatre, a larger venue with assigned seats.

With no introduction, the unassuming baby-faced, pony-tailed Derek Trucks (June 8, 1979) strolled on stage, and began to fiddle with his red Gibson SG guitar, not stopping to survey the audience who were hooting and hollering with great anticipation. It wasn't until the third number that he spoke into a microphone and introduced the band members, doing so by simply mentioning their names and instruments, without hyperbole. For the most part, Trucks stood in one place, near the back, beside the drummer, and simply let his fingers do the talking.

At a Derek Trucks Band show, you're going to hear a variety of guitar playing, from subtle, subdued notes to fast and fiery intensity that borders on shredding and pretty much promises to erupt in flames.

Apart from a few different blues styles, sometimes performed with a slide, they also performed a tune with a sitar-inspired opening played on guitar, "I Know," from the new album, 2009s Already Free. It was among four tracks performed from the new album. I was really hoping to hear Indian flavored "Sahib Teri Bandi/Maki Madni," from the 2006 album Songlines but it wasn't played. It's one of his most recognizable songs and possibly the most exotic.

The highlight of the evening for me was "My Favorite Things," the well-known Rodgers and Hammerstein song from the film The Sound of Music. It began quietly, in a jazz style, and evolved into a stunning, sublime, 20-minute long jam, played in homage to jazz legend saxophonist John Coltrane, who also recorded the tune in a 1960 album of the same title. That performance alone was worth the price of admission and it had me wanting to hear more of Trucks perform jazz. Fortunately, he actually recorded a couple of jazz tracks on the 2008 McCoy Tyner album Guitars.

The band members were tight, with some of them having been around since the groups's beginning, which now spans half of Trucks' 30 years of age. Every step of the way, the band members kept up with Trucks’ creativity and flawless playing. Song after song features different sounds, with the group not willing to take it easy by settling into a single style. Trucks utilized just a few guitars, never posing or doing anything approximating showing off for the audience, save for his superlative playing. He plays without a pick and has the fortunate distinction of having his own sound, something cherished by all world-class guitar players, but possessed by so very few.

About half of the songs performed featured the band's brilliant blues-soul vocalist and contributing songwriter, Mike Mattison, who sports an unmistakable afro and looks not unlike a young Mohammed Ali. Mattison may not look like he's much past his twenties, but he sings like he's channeling great singers of the past and has his own band in Scrapomatic.

At the end of the show, the lead guitarist from the Weber Brothers, Sam Weber, the backing band for the opening act, Romi Mayes,was invited on stage to perform the encore number, "Get Out Of My Life Woman."

Trucks is one half of the lead guitar team in the Allman Brothers, the veteran southern rock band. Both he and guitarist Warren Haynes were cited as being among the top 100 guitarists in the world by Rolling Stone Magazine in 2003.

If you think the blues is the domain of septuagenarians, you really must take in a show by this exciting band. They literally tore the roof off of the building.

Set List:
Get What You Deserve
I Know
I Done Got Over
So Close, So Far Away
Down Don't Bother Me
Meet Me at the Bottom
I'll Find My Way
This Sky
Leaving Trunk
Sweet Inspiration
My Favourite Things
Key to the Highway
Get Out My Life Woman

My rating for this show is 5/5.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Concert Review: Coldplay, MTS Centre, Winnipeg, MB, 6/15/09


attendance: 13,550 (sold out)

Upbeat openers the Howling Bells from New Zealand had some nice moments with their infectious indie-pop, including playing "Blessed Night," a catchy song that I did not realize was theirs, that I have heard when I randomly play music on one of my computers at the office. I'd like to see headline a smaller venue, as the cavernous MTS Centre seemed too large for them to really connect with the audience, who were largely unfamiliar with their material.

Glasgow, Scottland's Snow Patrol sold out Winnipeg's Burton Cummings Theatre (capacity 1646) in April of 2007, without being a widely recognized band. Clearly, they have a larger following than I expected, based on the audience response to their romantic indie-pop songs, which are not too far removed from what Coldplay offer up. They really caught my attention with their urgent, anthemic, U2-esque sound. I can only see these guys getting bigger. Lead singer Gary Lightbody (1976) performed with confidence, sang beautifully, and won over new fans. The band are touring in support of their 2008 album, A Hundred Million Suns.

It was pretty obvious that Coldplay were going to incorporate some backing music to flesh out the exotic sound of some of their material, such as the opening number "Life In Technicolor," from last year's Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. Released in May, 2008, Coldplay's fourth studio album was the number one selling album in the US (over 2 million) and internationally (7.8 million) and it debuted at number one in 36 countries. It's also the most paid-for downloaded album of all time, with over 700,000 downloads to date and counting (statistics courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Early in the show, the burst into "Yellow," one of their first hits from their debut album, Parachutes (2000, 4 million sold.) As the first few notes rang out, members of the road crew walked into the floor area, bearing large yellow balloons, some much larger than beach balls. The fans proceeded to knock them around the floor and stage, but nothing made it into most of the stands. Occasionally, a balloon would burst, spraying yellow confetti. By the time the next song rolled around, only a couple of the yellow orbs were left. The 2005 album X&Y sold over 8 million copies, but was seen as their weakest effort. Still, it was heart-warming to hear so many sing along to the ballad "Fix Me," the only track performed from this recording.

Coldplay could have played it safe, but despite having a bevy of commercial pop songs, they served up songs that were quite quirky in nature and not exactly hit single material, like the moody "Cemeteries of London," the tabla-accented "Lost!," and the atmospheric "Death And All His Friends.". They played every track from the new album, save for "Yes." Of course, it was all eagerly consumed by the crowd who went nuts for all their antics. Lead singer Chris Martin ran around the stage and sang at the same time, without huffing and puffing. At one point, he ran down one of the two ramps that jutted out either side of the stage and lept to the very edge, seemingly defying the law of physics as his momentum should have sent him sailing into the audience on the floor. I couldn't help but turn to my friend and crack a big smile.

The end of the ramp near me served as a mini-stage from which all four members huddled onto the illuminated tiles and played a few tunes, to the absolute shock and delight of the fans who crowded around. There was more. Well into the show, each member briskly walked off the left side of the stage and made a bee line for the back of the floor. From there, they walked up a few rows at the very back of the 100 section and proceeded to play a few unplugged songs. It was all captured for everyone to see on the huge video screens, which were suspended over center ice, roughly. Why at that location and not just over the first few rows near the front of the stage like most bands do? More on that later. The screens showed everyone just how giddy with delight the surrounding fans were, who had purchased some of the less desirable seats in the house, but not with Coldplay just inches away. From this unlikely spot, they performed the Monkees' classic "I'm A Believer," before some more audience participation. Chris Martin asked everyone to turn on and hold up their cell phone. When the audience complied, it was looking into a galaxy of stars. He then asked everyone to hold them to their sides, to hide their lights, and then asked that one section begin to hold theirs up and put them down again, causing the first "Mexican wave" at the MTS Centre. For several minutes, fans played along and the result was an unusual but spectacular.

I really wanted to hear their other night song from Parachutes,"Shiver," which I have recorded onto many mixed CDs for friends, to introduce them what I considered to be great but lesser-known indie pop songs. They may have had indie pop roots, but for a few years now, Coldplay are clearly part of the mainstream, with their fourth album probably outselling even the latest U2 offering. Martin referred to Winnipeg and Manitoba in some songs and rantings, like acknowledging that they were supposed to play here about a year ago, and mentioning the Jets (who became the Phoenix Coyotes) to great applause. Even the lead singer of Howling Bells referred to a few things that makes Winnipeg renown, such as being the Slurpee capital of the world and being the home of the Crash Test Dummies (interesting Neil Young and the Guess Who weren't mentioned.)

It was a four-hour event. During the prelude to the two-song encore, Chris Martin asked us to remember a few things, including to download the song "Nightingale" by Howling Bells and to pick up a free copy of their new 9-track live album on the way out of the MTS Centre, LeftRightLeftRightLeft,which is also available as a free download from the band's website. Why have the screens at centre ice, roughly? I believe it was so that the fans at the side and sitting behind the stage, could look up and see the show, even though the band had their backs to them most of the time. You could see the video feed on the creens from both front or behind the screens. Bravo Coldplay for caring about those fans.

This was the fastest-selling concert in MTS Centre history (8 minutes), and for the first time in a long time, I wasn't able to score floor seats. We ended up on the right side, in the lower bowl.

Set List:
Life in Technicolor
Violet Hill
In My Place
Glass of Water
Cemeteries of London
Fix You
Strawberry Swing
God Put a Smile Upon Your Face
The Hardest Part / Postcards from Far Away
Viva La Vida
Green Eyes
Death Will Never Conquer
I'm a Believer
Lovers in Japan
Death and All His Friends
Encore 2:
The Scientist
Life in Technicolor II


Monday, June 15, 2009

Why Your Library Needs Open Source

A friend who is taking in the Special Libraries Association conference, sent me this article, based on a session at the conference.

Why Your Library Needs Open Source from

Severe budget cuts. Increased demand for services. Lack of adequate staffing. Sound familiar? At LibLime, we realize that your library is facing these challenges--and we can help. We're not just your average library vendor in a highly competitive and heavily saturated market. We're different, our products are different and our business model is different. That difference is open-source.

Open source is the difference

Open source has been a buzzword in the library community for several years now. You've heard the hype: open-source software is free, more reliable, more secure, boasts faster development cycles, and is just plain cooler than proprietary software. Here are just a few of the reasons why open source is an especially attractive solution for libraries.

Reduce costs

Open-source software is free (visit our downloads page to see for yourself). You pay only for the product support and training (if any) that you need. When an open-source user sponsors development of new functionality, the whole community of users benefits. Software functions are paid for only once making open-source software extremely cost-efficient. Libraries using open-source software benefit from many advanced technology solutions that they otherwise could not afford to develop themselves yet they still have the option to steer development if they so desire. Moreover, since open-source software developers like LibLime use a business model that relies on providing support and training for software rather than selling the right to use the software, the per-library support costs go down. Just think how you can re-allocate monies currently tied up in high annual licensing fees.

Innovate and collaborate

Open source empowers libraries to innovate and collaborate. Not only can you download and use open-source software for free, you're free to alter it in any way you see fit, provided you redistribute the result for free. This isn't just a theoretical model: as you read this, libraries worldwide are actively involved in improving open-source software. In early 2002, the Nelsonville Public Library System (NPL) determined that in order to switch to Koha, an open-source ILS, they would need to sponsor development of two lacking features: MARC support and a Z39.50 server. At the time, NPL didn't have the resources to develop the MARC support in-house, so they hired a professional software developer, Paul Poulain (who was also the release manager for Koha 2.0). On the other hand, NPL did have the means to develop the Z39.50 server for Koha. Since NPL's contributions, many libraries have benefitted from the MARC support as well as the Z39.50 server for Koha. In turn, NPL would never have been able to sponsor those improvements had the stable code-base not been available. Libraries like NPL are collaborating together to develop software that suits them. You can too.

Choose your support

In a proprietary software development model, you pay high license fees to use the software. If your vendor isn't providing you with adequate support or isn't allowing you the freedom to customize and improve the software to meet your needs, switching vendors means switching software. And then there's the matter of migrating your data from one vendor to the next: with open-source software, since all you're paying for is support, switching to another service provider or migrating to an in-house solution is simple. In fact, at LibLime, if managing your library software in-house is an eventual goal we can help you achieve that goal. Further, an open-source software development model means that your data is YOUR data. Our customers have unfettered access to all of their data all of the time in standard formats at no additional charge.

The future is 'open'

Open source in libraries has its challenges as well. Till now, library software vendors have built their businesses around a proprietary software development model, and, as a result, libraries have been slow to adopt open source. Many libraries simply do not have the in-house expertise to support open-source software development, and also don't have the ability to train staff on the use of the new technologies. They rely on software vendors to provide them with solutions. This is where LibLime comes in. We're informing libraries about the superiority of the open-source development model so they can provide their patrons with better technology services, faster and cheaper. And we make it possible for vendor-reliant libraries to use open-source software by providing them with outstanding support and training options.
Open source is here. It's growing. You can be a part of it.

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Concert Review: Fleetwood Mac, MTS Centre, Winnipeg, MB, 6/6/09

Around 11,000 fans showed up for Fleetwood Mac, the legendary Anglo-American band almost as famous for their internal romantic strife as for their 40-million-selling 1977 album, Rumours, as well as other multi-platinum records in their extensive career. The promoter expected a sellout, but at nearly $200 a ticket, prices may have been a deterrent, especially in a year in which the concert market in Winnipeg has been over-saturated with shows. Seats in the first two rows on the floor were still available just days beforehand, for example.

The focal points of the group are still Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, who completely revitalized the Mac's career in the '70s. They walked out hand in hand, reminding everyone of the tumultuous love affair that almost broke up the band but which also yielded some fantastic music along the way. Joining them on stage were drummer Mick Fleetwood (who bashed out a drum solo near the end and was mostly unintelligible whenever he spoke), docile bassist John McVie (who never cracked a smile), a keyboardist, a second guitarist and three back-up vocalists. The performance — which included no opening act — lasted around two and a half hours.

Despite being billed as a greatest hits tour, the show was aimed at long-time fans as it featured — almost exclusively — '70's material. I was hoping to hear tracks from their smash "comeback" album, 1987's Tango In The Night, but all that was played was a fiery, acoustic version of "Big Love." They performed nothing from their four '90s albums.

Buckingham proved every bit the showman, blasting out his signature guitar style with tremendous speed. At times, he would lean over the edge of the stage on bended knee while soloing and allowed fans to touch their fingers on the fret board. Once in while, after intensely performing a song, he would stomp on the stage and yell out "Yeah!" as if to prove to himself that he still had it in him. He clearly carried the band on his back with his performance, both visually and musically.

Stevie Nicks had earlier on began teasing us with her outstretched arms, grasping her shawl as if she was about to twirl around and around; she finally did so towards the latter part of the show. Whenever she and Buckingham walked on the stage, they did so hand in hand with gentle kisses of goodbye to each other before making their way to their respective microphone stands.
Her distinctively warm and husky vocals were clearly worn down. She didn't sound as clear on some lines and not as intense as Buckingham. While Buckingham was busy discharging massive amounts of adrenalin through his finger and feet, Nicks seemed to conserve her energy. Still, fans were going all out with digital cameras and cell phones to capture the photogenic duo.

For some songs, Nicks and Buckingham told the stories of their origin, which also related to how they met each other in high school and subsequently became band mates. Nicks mentioned performing gigs with rock legends like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, which drew great applause, making me think about how young she was when she started out and how well she now still appears more than four decades later.

The band opened the performance with "Monday Morning," from the 1975 album, Fleetwood Mac. Two solo tracks found their way into the set, Nicks' "Stand Back" as well as Buckingham's "Go Insane." I had hoped to hear his other well-known solo hit, 1981's "Trouble," but that wasn't to be. For some songs, Nicks and Buckingham appeared together with a single acoustic guitar while the other bandmates took a break. In such moments, their selections included "Landslide" and "Never Going Back Again."

Near the end of the show, Mick Fleetwood introduced each band member, beginning with the backing singers and ending with John McVie, who was praised as being the foundation of the group. He then credited Buckingham as being their mentor in the studio and their maestro on stage. And at the end, Nicks bent down and shook one lucky fan's hand while Buckingham carefully gave out guitar picks and handshakes to fans up front.

Despite the best efforts of the back-up singers, the unique vocals of singer/keyboardist Christine McVie — who retired in 1998 — were missed.

Unlike most shows at the MTS Centre, there was no barricade between the front row and the stage, which inspired some clever fans to flee their seats further back on the floor to stand in the aisles for a better view. This proved a frustating situation, sometimes resulting with those who were already standing by their seats having to ask the newcomers to move aside so as not to block their views.

Set List
Monday Morning
The Chain
I Know I'm Not Wrong
Go Insane
Second Hand News
Big Love
Never Going Back Again
Say You Love Me
Gold Dust Woman
Oh Well
I'm So Afraid
Stand Back
Go Your Own Way
First Encore
World Turning
Drum Solo
Don't Stop
Second Encore
Silver Springs

My rating for this show is 3.5/5.


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