Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Boney M in Vancouver: I have questions

Went to see Boney M at the Queen E. with my wife yesterday. Twas her birthday gift.

It was a curious experience. I was kinda detached from it. It was odd to see how many 70 year olds were in the audience, even some apparent 80 year olds. A lot of walkers, wheelchairs, crutches. It was kinda fun to see 80 year olds waving their arms in the air to disco, you know? You kinda expected Richard Simmons to leap out from the wings, at times: there was a bit of a "senior's calisthenics" vibe, and a somewhat sweetly naive, game, TV-watchin' innocence to the crowd, which reminded me a bit of my Mom, singin' along to Kris Kristofferson when we went to one of his casino shows. It's really nice to see old people having fun, though it's a bit weird when it's at a rock concert you're also at.

I wonder what concerts I'll be making it to if I get to age 80?

Erika really enjoyed it, but aspects of the evening were puzzling, even for her.  When Liz Mitchell, the sole original Boney M. member on the stage, made a kind of apology for the absence of live musicians on stage, explaining that it was meant to be a "disco show" and the live band had gone home ("so we can't really 'break it down,' you know?'), it raised  questions. It was kinda nice, in contrast to how it would have been amongst the hardened cynics I count as peers, that no one heckled her explanation. But it was kind of odd seeing Liz, her two nieces, and one male dancer/ singer for the male vocal parts doing, essentially, big-budget karaoke, that many in the audience had paid upwards of $130 to see. I think if, you know, the Sex Pistols played the Commodore, with tickets in the $130 range, and John Lydon showed up with a recording of a backing band and did a solo vocal over it, people would throw literal bricks at him, then storm the exit, demanding their money back.

The Boney M. crowd, however, were game, and not wanting to let anything get in the way of their having a good time, so they just rode with it, not a jeer to be heard. They were, in fact, a more polite audience all round than these chatting, whooping punk sonsabitches I go to shows with, so hey, that's sweet, if they're happy I'm happy...

I wonder, though: is canned music often a part of Boney M's act? They're a vocal group, and have only ever been thus, I gather; that's how they're described on Wikipedia, where no actual instrument-playing musicians are listed as members. Photos on their greatest hits show the four of them with microphones, not guitars. Session musicians get thanked for their support on their albums but - at least on the two I have (thrift store finds for Erika) there is no bassist credited, no drummer, no guitarist. While live footage from 1978 - very, very different from the minimal stage show last night - shows live musicians onstage, if they're not actual full fledged band members, it does make a degree of fiscal sense to just go with canned music. Why pay to fly a band around the world when you're already paying for four vocalists, and playing in front of a crowd who may think nothing of hearing canned music at a concert?

(I mean, that's the way these things look on TV...).

Their 2013 Moscow clip on Youtube - also a much LARGER, more elaborate, more expensive production than we saw last night - also doesn't appear to involve live music (though it does have an elaborate stage show to distract you from the fact). So why did Ms. Mitchell explain that the band had "gone home?" Had there actually ever been a band, or was it just an easy way of conveying to a somewhat naive audience that this - a mostly bare, black, prop-free stage, one dancer, canned music, and Liz and her nieces, in simple black dresses - was all they'd be getting?

Anyhow, no matter. Ms. Mitchell was in fine form, her personality quite winning. She reminded me a bit of Mavis Staples, right down to her speaking about God from the stage, and her nieces both made fine backup singers. The male dancer/ singer had a fun thing he did where he made his muscular pecs bounce in time to the beat, which got big cheers the first time he did it, during "Daddy Cool," I think (you can see him workin' the pecs in that Moscow clip, too). Boney M. fans seemed to eat it up, getting on stage with the band to dance to "Rasputin," singing along with "Rivers of Babylon," waving their arms, tapping their canes... I don't begrudge anyone a good time.

ABRA Cadabra, the ABBA-themed Vancouver-based opening act, were a terrific warmup, however, a pretty satisfying experience in their own right (especially if, say, you're an ABBA fan, which I'm not, but people sure did seem to enjoy them, and I appreciated how well they did what they did). Their Facebook page (linked above; their homepage is here) lists some very unusual accomplishments - playing shows for the Malaysian Royal family, for example (tribute bands go over pretty big in Asia, as I understand it; it explains their very polite, professional demeanor, when introducing songs, if they're used to playing concerts like that!). I won't say they exactly stole the show, but they had actual live music, better choreographed dancers, a wider range of costumes and lighting effects, and two female lead vocalists who perfectly delivered the songs (but whose names aren't quickly findable on their websites so I'm not going to work too hard on this; the brunette in particular had great pipes). There were a couple of glitches - as when the keyboards made an unwelcomely screechy sound we thought maybe was supposed to imitate flutes - but overall, ABRA Cadabra did a game job of warming up the crowd, and returned to dance with Liz and her nieces onstage during the climax of the night, which was nice of them, and lent to the "big party" atmosphere, ensuring that people went away satisfied.

Which most people seemed to do, though you can imagine which famous line of John Lydon's echoed in the back of my mind. Whatever - I would have felt like an alien no matter what. Erika and I ended up in better seats than I'd paid for, by a pleasant (and not-at-all-underhanded) turn of fate, and she had fun, which was the point, so it's fine. ABRA Cadabra joins Betty Bathory's versions of the Sex Pistols (the Fuck Guns, wasn't it?) and GG Allin (BB Allin) as one of the few tribute acts I've taken in.

I wonder - if Tesco Vee had been in town, and faced with a choice of a GG Allin tribute, and an ABBA tribute, which one he would choose?

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