October 26, 2018

String Theory: Atlanta & Nashville

This post picks up right where the last one left off, at 4am coming home from Phoenix. The abridged version is this: I am an idiot who planned a cross country trip to see two shows, then three days back home, and then a six hour drive to the next two shows with a four hour drive in between and then a nine hour drive home again. The problem is I (perhaps willfully) forgot those three days "off" from traveling were actually full overnight shifts for me at work. The day before I left for Atlanta, I worked 11 hours overnight, took a three hour nap, packed, and somehow slept again that same night and got up at 6am to leave. These shows did an excellent job of reminding me that while I am physically not the same stupid college student that once drove nine hours home overnight from Birmingham, AL to run straight into my 9am English class, sometimes I make the mistake of acting like it. It's a miracle I made it to Atlanta and back home on my own, and I sure hope I remember this feeling next time I look at flight prices and think "Nah, it's just a six hour drive."

Both of these shows were packed. Nashville was definitely sold out, and Atlanta must have been really close. For the Atlanta show I was in the last seat on Zac's side a few rows from the stage. The drums seemed a little overpowering from there at times, and I noticed during the second half of the show I had trouble hearing Zac and Taylor's vocals on a few songs, but I think that was more of a technical issue than my seat location. This particular venue had a light pattern projected on the back wall behind the orchestra that changed with each song, and I had to appreciate the fitting starry backdrop during "Reaching for the Sky."

Despite having rehearsed and performed this show plenty of times by now, this one brought out the kind of technical difficulty no amount of practice can fix. It wasn't bad or even all that noticeable if you hadn't already seen the show, but Taylor's acoustic guitar didn't work during "No Rest For The Weary."  You can't exactly stop an entire symphony for one instrument, so he kept playing silently. Isaac tried to give Taylor his guitar at first, but there wasn't time to switch mid-song. They handled it like true professionals, Taylor strumming his heart out on an oddly silent guitar on the off chance that it would work, and Isaac picking up the chords on his electric guitar to fill the void. They played the whole song that way, and it was a weirdly good performance to see them soldier on and another beautiful show overall. And as for instructions on how to act at these shows? Fear not, the Atlanta Symphony souvenir shop has us covered:

(I only wish there were a few to distribute later when people screamed bloody murder and literally chased Taylor and Zac from the stage door to the bus. This is why we can't have nice things.)

I was really excited for Nashville because it looked like a cool venue with lofty ceilings, chandeliers, and some unique tiers of box seating all around the room. We opted to sit side-stage similar to where I sat in Denver, but behind Taylor's piano instead of behind the drums. It was fun to hear some bells (and a giant xylophone?) that my ears hadn't picked out at any of the earlier shows. The crowd was pretty respectful, though come to think of it, so was Atlanta pre-bus. Way to uphold the stereotype, southerners! There was a funny moment during "Chasing Down My Dreams" when Zac started early. He sang the opening line "Now that I've started" before anyone else actually started. If you're going to screw up a line, it might as well be that one. We all had a good laugh at the irony and he sang it again, this time with the rest of the orchestra. I had a ton of fun at this one and was so ready to stand up and clap during "I Was Born" when the invitation finally came. As much as I'm loving String Theory, I know I'm going to be so excited to see a "normal" Hanson show again the next time I have that opportunity.

I've really enjoyed seeing this show from so many different angles, and by this point I have seen it just about everywhere from front row to the balcony to the side of the stage and behind the orchestra. They've all offered something a little different and I've enjoyed each one for different reasons. If you only get to do it once, I do think going for center in the middle of the crowd or balcony is the best sound and view, even if you love front row every other time. Of course if you have front row for your only show, you also aren't going home disappointed. In any case, see it if you can, and try a few different views if you get the chance. You know the drill. Get out there and Do, Go, and Be(have). If you're not sure why, just ask the Atlanta Symphony. 😉

October 16, 2018

String Theory: LA and Phoenix

Los Angeles
Confession: I enjoyed the String Theory show at The Greek Theater way more than I thought I would. I'm not a big fan of outdoor venues, our seats were good enough but not amazing, and it didn't seem like the show sold all that well. I feared that the show would be lacking in energy or that I wouldn't be able to see or hear or that I'd be freezing by the end of it. None of that happened (partly because I realized blankets were allowed inside with enough time to hit up Target beforehand). The sound was surprisingly good and it felt like the entire orchestra was being piped through the speakers for the first time. I don't know if it was due to my seat location or the bowl shape of the venue aiding the acoustics, but the sound seemed way better than it was at the outdoor venue they performed at in Vienna,VA back in August.

The crowd felt excited to be there, and what we lacked in numbers we made up for in respectful enthusiasm. I knew before it happened that this crowd would be a vocal "Something Going Round" crew. I pulled my phone out just in time to capture the moment, and I wasn't wrong. At the end during "Tonight," I noticed lights coming from somewhere behind me. I turned to look and saw a sea of cell phone lights swaying in time with a chorus of "Don't wait for tomorrow." No one asked us to do it; it was a weird piece of magic that happened on its own.

I remember being in awe at their voices at one point (Zac's in particular was absolutely flawless during "Battlecry") and feeling overwhelmingly happy sitting there next to one of my best friends wrapped in a cozy blanket and listening to the closest thing to musical perfection. I began to notice how nice the orchestra members looked and my mind wandered to Hanson's unexpected choice to wear relatively plain clothing, all in muted shades of gray. I've never been one to care about their fashion choices or their hairstyles, but it hit me in that moment that Hanson has never been flashy and has never needed to add sequins or smokescreens to detract from their talents in the way that so many seem to do to distract from a lack of the same. They are truly artists rather than showmen, and I think they'd prefer us to all leave chattering excitedly about "Did you see the way they played the drums in perfect unison on 'Siren Call'?!" than "Did you see that sequined jacket Isaac changed into during the second act?!" (don't worry, he didn't).

It was a beautiful show, possibly the best yet. I promise I'll try not to say that for every subsequent show, but I can't promise they won't keep getting better and better. I told Zac after Phoenix that the sound at these two shows seemed even better than the rest, and the girl next to me made a joking comment about it being insulting. I meant it as a compliment. Doesn't everyone strive to be better than before?

We had better seats in Phoenix and the sound was still great, but the crowd took something away from the experience and kept me distracted at times. The girl next to us showed up drunk, standing, and screaming from song #1, and there were others that were over the top, too. There's nothing wrong with drinking and having fun as long as your fun isn't encroaching on the enjoyment of others, and I think that line was crossed a few times in Phoenix. Let's just say my first draft of this was a little too snarky and needed to be watered down a good bit, much like many fans' drinks at this particular show.

It was still worth the trip, and Zac got to play on the most gorgeous turquoise drums I've ever seen. The crowd surprised me and kept singing at the end of "Something Going Round," but quieter. I can really only say how good Hanson sounds so many times, but I went home with "Dream it, Do It" and "Battlecry" on loop in my head. I can't wait to have them and the entire String Theory album on November 9th.

My trip home was a nightmare. First, my 2pm flight out of Phoenix was delayed 25 minutes. No big deal; that would leave me with a layover just under an hour and still enough time to get to my connecting flight in Houston. We somehow landed in Houston another 10-15 minutes or so later than expected, even calculating in the 25 minute delay. My connection time was dwindling. Then we sat on the tarmac for longer than made sense, everyone crowded into the aisle waiting to deplane. "Sorry folks, there's a jet bridge malfunction." Another 15 minutes ticked by as they fixed the jet bridge, and I hit that critical point of if I run, I *might* make it. I checked my phone while we waited and was relieved to see that my connecting flight had been delayed an hour. I was safe after all.

I made it to my connection without having to run. The flight was never officially delayed longer, but we boarded another 20 minutes past the hour delay time. We boarded the plane and proceeded to taxi for a full hour around the airport behind an infinite line of planes. And then they made an announcement that there was a crew shortage issue and that we'd be returning back to the gate. It turns out we had taxied for so long that it would no longer be legal for our pilot to fly us by FAA regulations; he had maxed out his hours. We traded pilots fairly quickly, but at that point, they told us, we'd burned through too much fuel taxiing and would need to refuel as well. We finally took off again, but apparently taxiing for an hour, having to replace your pilot, and needing to refuel does not give you line cutting privileges at IAH. We went to the back of the line and taxied for another 45 minutes. I literally spent 2 hours driving in circles around the Houston airport before taking off for my 2 hour flight. I landed at 2am, where I then had to drive another two hours home. I made it home at 4am, which in the grand scheme of things was only a three hour delay overall. It was just a very odd, very annoying sequence of events one after another. Still beats being stranded overnight in Miami, and I have to give United credit for being so transparent about the reasons for the delays. I even received detailed text updates from them explaining and apologizing about the pilot.

And though I tweeted it about five issues before I knew just how bad my night would be, I still stand by what I said during the whole ordeal: