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08 December 2011 @ 01:12 am
Bp's Song of the Week #136: Trans-Siberian Orchestra "Back to a Reason II" (live)  
The initial camera lens bug would have been planted by my father I believe, way back maybe at the first airshow we attended in Geneseo in 1983. A love of airplanes was passed down to me as it was from his father before him. After an almost four hour drive from rural NY to western NY we saw the sun rise as we descended into the valley that housed the small Geneseo airstrip. The fog was heavy that morning and as the road wound down, our anticipation began to mount with every twist and turn. We didn't know exactly what we'd see down below. A C-47 was circling above in the early morning mist and as the planes started to take shape on the grass fields beside the runway I started picking them out and rattling off what their names, a P-51, P-40, Texans, B-25, etc. My dad tells the story of me pointing, hands outstretched through the open window. It was a moment I'll never forget. One of many wonderful airshow experiences that we shared together on airstrips in NY, MA, and CT in my youth.

My Dad is an aviation enthusiast. Whilst working as a Social Studies teacher for 33 years, he was also working on a historical book (which was published in the early 2000's) about one of the longest running production planes in the U.S., the Beech 18, of which over 9,000 were produced. He collected thousands of slides and photos and tidbits of information about each of those particular aircraft - think of the days before database computer programs, he had over 9,000 half-sheets of paper with detailed info on each plane that came off the production line! I think that helps explain some of my passion to collect music memorabilia and information.

It was at the airshow in Geneseo that I really learned about the power of a camera. It took a week or so (remember those days of non-instant gratification?) for his slides to return from Kodak. We would sit with the slide projector and I would marvel at the wall-sized image of the planes we'd seen a few days earlier. We could relive the moments again and again. A few years later he purchased a set of Single Lens Reflex cameras (one to shoot color and one to shoot black and white) and somehow as I became older and more interested in trying out this camera thing myself I ended up commandeering one of the cameras on air-show day as he transitioned away from B&W to slides and prints. I was a big fan of the telephoto lens and being able to capture the planes as they flew by. It was a new challenge to capture them in all of their grace and beauty, their natural habitat: the air. My Dad rarely complained (outwardly at least) as I would fire off roll after roll of 36-exposure film and the coverage of an airshow grew from maybe 3 rolls of film to 8 or 9. I think there was one Geneseo weekend that we hit 13 over the two-day period. He was very interested in capturing the plane as a historical record of its attendance at the show and to snap a picture on the ground with as few people, or none, as possible. I learned a number of lessons in patience as we would sometimes wait 10-15 minutes to get the right shot. I was very interested in the adventure of shooting it on the move, taxiing by, the wingtips 10 feet away, or in the air. No matter how small the image of the plane actually was in the viewfinder, it was the challenge of capturing it. Tilted shots and more 'arty' shots from the back or front looking down the fuselage while on the ground, would eventually become an interest. As the numerous rolls of prints would arrive in the mail after the events it was the joy of reliving the moment, not only of the precise time the photograph was taken, but the entire experience.

Fast forward to 1991 when I hooked up corresponding with a new Rush friend, Ray, from outside of the Buffalo area. He sent me his Rush Memorabilia list which at the time was about 18 pages of dot matrix printer loveliness. I poured over it for hours and he was nice enough to send me some video footage not only from the 1983 and 1986 tours, but my first Rush show from Albany in 1990! A couple months prior, a Rush fan from CA had sent me a high quality tape of the last show of the tour in Irvine, CA. It was a constant in my listening rotation at the time. To be able to relive the live experience was wonderful! The nuances and textures that were different in a live setting have always been music to my ears - I loved live albums and this was so much more because you were right there in the thick of it, and in the case of the June 2, 1990 Albany, NY Rush video - it was MY show! What better way to supplement my mental memory!

I also tried the old "stuff the recorder in your pants to get past security" on a few occasions to record Rush, Def Leppard, Marillion, Bryan Adams, and others in the early '90s. They were decent recordings, but nothing compared to folks with much better equipment. They served as fun tapes to listen back to for nostalgia's sake. I snuck my Dad's camera into my 5th Rush show in March of 1992 and snapped about 100 shots from the 12th row. That was very cool, now there was a photographic recording of the show that I audio-taped as well.

Following the time line now to January of 2005. I was over 100 live Rush shows deep in my collection, with Marillion and Heart in the dozens as well. The blues-rock band, Bloodline was going to be performing at Hartwick College and in addition to interviewing them for WRHO, I figured I'd write and photograph the performance for the college newspaper. That was my first official photo pass, 1/13/2005, Friday the 13th. After having interviewed Berry D. Oakley, Waylon Kreiger, and Joe Bonamassa (a couple of famous sons, and a now blues master on guitar) I took a stab at photographing. It didn't go too bad. A couple months later I did the same with +Live+ at the college across the hill. Three more Bloodline photo passes that year and I was starting to get the hang of things with the help of a photographer friend, John, from Colorado Springs (another Rush friend) with whom I spent hours on the phone discussing the ins and outs of concert photography. Over the next few years I would have the fortune of scoring photo passes for Van Halen, Phil Collins, Metallica, Blue Man Group, as well as multiple passes for Queensryche, Celine Dion, Def Leppard, +Live+, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and six for Rush.

Sadly, after shooting Rush on their 30th anniversary tour (and on the anniversary of their first show - don't think I didn't plan that one), I retired the manual SLR camera and have not made the jump to a digital SLR (yet). So the days of photo passes are done. But with the advances in technology, I've been getting by from the audience with a digital point and shoot the last few years and while it's not the major rush and excitement of being in the pit at the beginning of a show, it has its benefits. And depending on your seats, it can be even better than having the photo pass.

A couple of years ago I tested out the video function of the point and shoot and was pleased with the results. Now, instead of relying on others to capture memories for me, it was back in my hands. And now with an HD capable camera that can deliver amazing quality video it's a brand new challenge. Most concert goers are content with watching and enjoying the show, but for me it goes beyond that. If I'm not capturing photos or video there's a little less excitement. It's still enjoyable, absolutely, but I miss the challenge and excitement that comes with capturing the moment. I'm not an obtrusive, holding the camera aloft, hands in the air, or irritating those around me, like some who we've all encountered.

But what better memento of the show than the ability to be transported back to the show and relive it anytime you want? The excitement and urge to fist-pump and groove along is just as strong as when you're in the venue...and that to me is worth the minimal amount that you miss by 'working' during the show to capture. And I'm not just there to capture it, but to try to create magic within the magic that is already occurring onstage by knowing where to be. For a Trans-Siberian Orchestra show, for instance, I know who has what guitar solo and who is singing where, and who is featured on what part, so I can capture that. I am already plotting next moves and zooms before they are happening. John from Colorado Springs sent me a lot of material from I believe an ex-Baltimore Ravens football coach who used pre-visualization techniques and tips with his players. Those tips helped me greatly before the intense 15-minute photo pass craziness (where you have a really short and manic amount of time to get what you need) and they still do now. If you know what you're trying to capture before it happens, then you can be one step ahead of the action and in a better position to capture the magic as it's happening.

You're wondering if there's a song of the week in here somewhere, I'm sure.

The question I get the most when I'm talking about Trans-Siberian Orchestra to folks is, "Why are you seeing them twice in the same day? Why are you seeing them again?" It's a very similar show from gig to gig, but there is so much to see. With 18 band members and such a huge production, there is plenty to focus on that you can't get bored even seeing the show four or five times. Different perspectives around the venue just heighten that (although it seems that I can't help myself from being in the first few rows these days). The real kicker lately though, is that with the camera in my hand, there's a whole new world of challenges during each show that just increases the desire to see more shows. There's more video to capture, new things to focus on and highlight. There's more photographic opportunities and perspectives. The show is amazing on its own, but with a camera in hand it becomes that much more of an amazing experience.

Each show holds new promise for better perspectives and different moments captured. The performances themselves are pretty consistent, consistently excellent, but you'll find nuances here and there that create standout versions. For instance in Hartford a few weeks back, Kayla Reeves, absolutely threw it all down during the matinee show for "Someday/Child Unseen" (watch it below). The evening performance was excellent, but in the afternoon she brought an intensity that pushed it over the edge into magical. There is pyro, lasers, and moving light tusses that twist and morph above the stage like transformers - do you zoom tight on the vocalist as they deliver an emotional verse, or do you stay wide and capture the emotional of their vocal as the metal framework of the lighting changes shape above the stage? Do you follow the guitarist as he's soloing and moving across the front of the stage or again, do you stay wide and capture the movement from a distance, and include the flames that are shooting from the floor of the stage? Or is it a mixture of both? All of these things are good to know before you're shooting. You learn how a guitarist plays and when they lift the neck of the guitar, to which side do they move when bending the strings (for example, if you're looking for good footage of Chris Caffery you want to be on his side because he pulls to his right during many solos and you'll have a hard time if you're on the other side of the stage), how do they hold themselves and what are their sweet spots for shooting.

Finally, here's the song:

Trans-Siberian Orchestra "Back to a Reason II"
It's filmed in 1080p HD so blow it up nice and big!

One of my favorite songs from The Lost Christmas Eve record (the song is not a Christmas song though) originally sung by Rob Evan, is being performed live for the first time on this tour. John Brink, a two-year member of TSO is tackling the vocals and doing a wonderful job, putting in a tremendous amount of emotion into the performance. From my 12th grade TV production class I learned that when an interviewee gets emotional you zoom in tight. That perspective is something I bring to my concert filming as well and this example is no exception. Granted, this song isn't a shining example of diversity in filming as the track is primarily a vocal cut without a guitar solo and the focal point is John Brink, but it's a good capture. The end is wide-shot to get the full perspective on the lighting design as in Uncasville a couple weeks prior I stayed with a tight chin-to-top-of-head shot for the final lines as well as the afternoon show earlier in the day in Hartford, so by this point I wanted to change it up a bit.

The afternoon show I was front row on the other side of the floor so it was a slightly different perspective: "Back to a Reason II" 3pm.

More HD TSO links below the lyrics.

Back to a Reason II

Standing all alone
I bled for you
I wanted to
Each drop my own

Slowly they depart
But fall in vain
Like desert rain
And still they fall on and on and on

Got to get back to a reason
Got to get back to a reason I once knew
And this late in the seasons
One by one distractions fade from view

Drifting through the dark
The sympathy
Of night's mercy
Inside my heart
Is your life the same?
Do ghosts cry tears?
Do they feel years?
As time just goes on and on and on

Got to get back to a reason
Got to get back to a reason I once knew
And this late in the seasons
One by one distractions fade from view
I'm looking for you
I'm looking for I don't know what
I can't see there anymore
And all my time's been taken

Is this what it seems?
The lure of a dream
And I'm afraid to walk back through that door
To find that I've awakened

The night seems to care
The dreams in the air
The snow's coming down
It beckons me dare

It whispers, it hopes
It holds and confides
And offers a bridge
Across these divides

The parts of my life
I've tried to forget
It's gathered each piece
And carefully kept

Somewhere in the dark
Beyond all the cold
There is a child
That's part of my soul

Got to get back to a reason
Got to get back to a reason I once knew
And this late in the seasons
One by one distractions face from view
The only reason I have left is

More live TSO in HD:

Someday/Child Unseen
Christmas Canon Rock
Music Box Blues
Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24
Oh Come All Ye Faithful/O Holy Night
Finale: Requiem/Christmas Jam/Sarajevo reprise

The entire Hartford 11/26/2011, 8 pm show, click here