Live at The Strand Capitol Performing Arts Center
29 March 2012
2011 was a rough year...
The last time my wife and I saw Chris Botti and his band was in November of 2010 at The Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in downtown Baltimore, Maryland. During that concert, Chris dedicated a song to me from the stage, HALLELUJAH, and Jeremy introduced us personally to Chris during the post-show Meet & Greet. (Not our first time meeting Chris in person mind you, but definitely the most exciting given the circumstances.) We left that show feeling that there would be no way that we could ever top that experience, so we decided to take a break from all things Botti for just bit. Up to that point, we had been going strong with a pattern of two Botti concerts a year, one in the early part of the year followed by one near the end of the year. Our "Spring Concert" would typically be attended by just my wife and I, and our "End of Year Show" would involve our two daughters, my mother-in-law, and - before he passed - my father-in-law. But after the Meyerhoff show, we took a moment to reflect on what we had experienced up to that point. Four stellar concerts in two years, four post-show Meet & Greets in which numerous items were signed and a personal photo was taken with Chris, four never-to-be-forgotten experiences that simply could not be topped. If I am being completely honest here - and I always strive to do so - then I must admit that we actually discussed leaving things alone for good and putting our four Botti concerts behind us. I mean, really... how do you top having one of the best trumpet players in the world single you out from the stage and dedicate one of your favorite songs to you? Not only that, but in each of our four previous shows, Botti and company played essentially the same set list. My wife and I both agreed it was time for a change. We were hoping for some new material in the set if we were going to continue to spend our hard earned money...
"Just put it to rest."
Or so I thought. But I think I knew somewhere in the dark caverns of my mind that we would return, just as Chris always does. I knew we'd be back.
Then circumstances in my job changed, and not for the better. Those who know me on this site know that I USED to be a Detective with the Baltimore City Police Department in Baltimore, Maryland. What many don't know is that in the Summer of 2010, I took the promotional test to become a Sergeant. The final list was released in October of 2010, and I soon discovered that I scored in the top fifty out of some one thousand Officers and Detectives who took the test. And because I did so, in February of 2011, I was rotated back to Patrol and began working the midnight shift. This was ostensibly done to prepare myself and the others chosen for the promotion that was soon to be forthcoming. What followed was ten months of very long nights, incredible sleep deprivation, and a total lack of any free time. Consequently, my wife and I were forced to skip not only all of the concerts that Chris performed in our area in 2011, but basically all concerts in general. In fact, we only were able to see two concerts - U2 when they stopped at M&T Bank Stadium in June of last year, and Bob Seger in November - making 2011 our first year in over a decade where we went to only TWO concerts for the entire year!
But on 16 December 2011, I was finally promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Now that I have made it, I am back on rotating shifts - a month of day work (7 AM to 3 PM) followed by a month of night work (3 PM to 11 PM) and back to days. This has not only freed me from the torturous routine of sleeping (or trying to) all day and working all night, but it has freed up much needed personal time. And what better way to spend such time than at a Chris Botti show!
So when I saw that Chris was bringing his show to nearby York, Pennsylvania's Strand Capitol Theatre... the decision was made for me. How could we pass up a chance to see Chris so close to home? This would be the closest that Botti has ever performed to where we reside; only minutes away from our home. And so what if no songs were dedicated this time. Chris always delivers. And after the year that we suffered through, a Botti concert seemed to be just the thing we needed. The tickets were purchased, the sitter arranged, dinner reservations made, and we were back in the mix once again.
In honor of the upcoming release of Chris's latest effort IMPRESSIONS, (due out April 17th) instead of giving a detailed explanation of every moment from every song performed, I will instead give my impressions of the show overall. I will, of course, list each song in order...
We decide last minute to try a local restaurant for dinner. The Blue Moon Cafe is where we end up, www.bluemoonfresh.com, for a scrumptious meal consisting of mussels in Blue Moon Lager broth, New England lobster bisque, gorgonzola and crispy onion crusted Filet Mignon with garlic and Irish cheddar potato gratin and fresh veggies for me and pan roasted pork chop with spicy pulled pork, cornbread stuffing and orange ginger mashed sweet potatoes for her. A lively discussion ensues in which we debate the nature of the criminal element in today's society and how best to deal with same. Key lime pie for two and $125 later and it is off to the show.
We were having such a wonderful time at dinner that we arrive at the venue after Chris and company have already taken the stage. Normally I detest arriving late to a show, but on this occasion, I am in such a good mood that it does not seem to matter. Chris and the band are well into what I can only assume is a new song from the forthcoming album, but as we arrived a few minutes late, I do not know the title. I also don't know if Chris opened the show with this tune or AVE MARIA, as has been his standard for the last four concerts we attended. My impressions of the song itself, and all the tunes that followed, starts now...
NEW SONG: I am standing in the lobby listening to the sounds of Spain. I am waiting for my wife, who has ducked into the ladies room to part with the several glasses of iced tea that she consumed during dinner, and I am smiling. Then I decide that I too shall make a pit stop. Duck into the men's room, wash up and discover there are no paper towels. Have you ever attempted to dry your hands on toilet paper? Lot of sticky bits left over. Small white flags of surrender stuck to my fingers and palms. Yuck. But no matter. As I said, I am in good spirits. Back into the lobby to wait for my love. Out she strolls and up to the usher we stride, hand in sticky toilet paper covered hand. The usher informs us that we can either choose to sit further back or wait until this piece concludes before taking our seats down front. Without hesitation we inform her that we shall wait. Our seats are in the Front Orchestra, Row K. This is approximately ten rows from the stage and therefore we shall not prefer to sit further back. We enter the dark theatre to the sounds of Chris's trumpet coaxing notes evoking the sights and smell of a Spanish market in summer. These are sounds I have heretofore never heard emoting from Chris's instrument, and I am instantly transported. I lean close to my wife and whisper:
"This must be a song from the new album."
We wait patiently for the song to end, watching Chris stroll back and forth in his usual fashion, dressed in his usual stunning black suit. When it does, we begin our descent into the crowd. Down the row closer and closer to the stage. As the band members take in the applause from the packed audience, I begin to discover that we are closer to the man himself than ever before, save for the post show Meet & Greets. We take our seats and smile at one another as the band rips into...
WHEN I FALL IN LOVE: I notice almost immediately that two members of the band are missing. I first observe that the guitarist that I am so used to, Mark Whitfield, is nowhere to be found. Instead there is a short, brooding man standing where Mark should be. And this fellow needs a shave. Wearing jeans and a long sleeved button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, he stands slightly slumped forward playing what can only be described as an invisible guitar. The body of the guitar is simply not there. The neck descends from the top down into an open space where the body should be. Instead it is framed with a wood outline and nothing more. Striking to look at, but all I can think is:
"Where the hell is Mark?"
I glance left to catch of glimpse of Billy Childs... only to discover band member number two gone. The piano is where it should be, but Childs is not. Instead there is a much slimmer, much younger Caucasian fellow seated at the keys.
"And who the heck is THAT?"
My mind is reeling. This is all too much. Then another blow. The bass, the instrument I care the least about - no offense to any bass players - is currently being manned by yet another replacement. This gentleman, a short, bald, African American man, is the third such player I have seen behind the big lady bass. Now, I have become accustomed to Botti swapping out his bass players, but the guitar and piano? Sacrilege! So far the only constant is Billy Kilson behind the drums.
"Give them a chance..." my mind insists.
And I will. But looking left and looking right and not seeing Mark and Billy is discomforting to say the least.
"You hoped for a different set list, didn't you tough guy?" My mind is nagging me now, drawing me into a fight with myself. "Well you not only got yourself a new list of songs, but a new set of players as well."
I spend so much time indulging my id that I miss nearly all of the song. By the time I silence my inner monologue, the song is winding down. But not before I notice Chris near the drum riser. He is slumped forward... no, that's not right. He is bent in half, wailing into the trumpet with all his might. Screaming into the notes and bending himself over to get the maximum effort into the thing. It's as if he is screaming into my head:
"Shut the fuck up about the band and LISTEN TO ME you idiot!"
Though I doubt Chris would be so vulgar, I take the hint and listen. The thunderous applause denotes the satisfaction of the crowd. And the end of the song brings with it the identity of the piano player: Geoffrey Keezer.
EMMANUEL: Yet another line-up change. No Campbell this time. No Micarelli. This time Chris introduces a new violinist. A Russian - or so I assume - named Yelena Yegoryan. Considerably taller than Lucia Micarelli, and wearing shoes I might add, this pony-tailed stunner marches on stage and takes the spotlight. I am again transported... this time to a Russian bazaar. I have heard and enjoyed this song multiple times, but never in this light. When Yegoryan plays, the notes take on a very Russian feel. There is simply no other way to describe it. She is playing the exact same notes as Micarelli and Campbell before her, in the exact same order, but this time the song is somehow thicker. Much more Boris and Natasha than Botti and Micarelli. That is not to say the song suffers. On the contrary, the song takes on a new meaning and fullness. THIS is what live music is all about. The artists' ability to breathe new life into a song each and every time. Simply stunning. And the crowd agrees. For the first time, the song gives me shivers. Bows are taken and Chris invites Yegoryan to stay on for another new song from the new album...
PRELUDE IN C MINOR: Slow, romantic, moving and precise. Chopin and Botti at their best. I won't say much more other then I can't wait for the album version so that I can play it over and over and over again.
FLAMENCO SKETCHES: Not my favorite Miles Davis song, but it is from my favorite Miles Davis album. (I prefer ALL BLUES from that LP, but Chris would have a hard time playing it live without a sax player in stage.) The usual back and forth ensues, but this time the energy is brought to new heights. My impression of the song is that Chris and his "new" band mates are gelling well together. During the bass solo - usually my least favorite part of any song - the short bald dude brings it. Hard. I think to myself:
"This guy has the goods."
At the end of the song I learn the identity of the bass player. His name is Richie Goods.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE: Before beginning this Michael Jackson cover (yes, THAT Michael Jackson!) Botti finally gives up the name of the scruffy guitar player. He of the "I stole Mark Whitfield's spot!" (My quote, not Botti's.) His name is Leonardo Amuedo, and although he is no Mark Whitfield, the guy is quite amazing with that damn invisible guitar. The rest of the band members leave the stage as Amuedo hums and sings a few lines before Botti joins in. And although I am no Michael Jackson fan by any stretch of the imagination, this version is breathtaking. Yet another tune that I cannot wait to hear on the album.
SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW: Botti looks to his left and gives Amuedo the choice:
"You want Leonard Cohen or Judy Garland? You pick. Just pick one and start playing. Don't tell me which one... just start playing."
Knowing which two songs are in the offing, and hoping to sway the guitar player's choice, I instinctively shout:
But Amuedo chooses the latter and starts strumming. I am not upset. And I am not disappointed. I did not expect a repeat of the Meyerhoff, but secretly I did hope... But RAINBOW does not disappoint. And Garland would be proud.
THE LOOK OF LOVE: As the band returns to join Botti and Amuedo, a familiar face is brought on stage in the form of Lisa Fisher, and I am immediately comforted. She of Rolling Stones fame starts the song with an a cappella version of FEVER, and boy do I ever have the chills. Then it's off to the races; Fisher dancing and emoting with her hands, Botti serenading with the horn. And that voice. Dear God that voice. How is it that this spectacular talent has not found her way into the mainstream world of music? As Botti himself puts it, she could hold her own with the Christina Aguilera’s of the world. At once soaring, then dropping down into registers unthinkable for most women vocalists, Fisher bends the song to her will over and over again. The woman truly makes love with her voice. As the song nears its dramatic conclusion, the entire band is in full swing mode, each member playing for all they are worth. Kilson gives a hint of his skills, and for a brief moment I think we are about to be treated to an early drum solo. Kilson builds momentum as he works the kit, then suddenly takes everything down to the quietest level possible. He works the cymbals and snare softer and softer as Botti waives a hand to silence the rowdy crowd. Softer and softer; lower and lower until finally - in dramatic fashion - Kilson cracks the ride cymbal bell with one final smack to finish the song. The crowd is on their feet in astonishment and Botti simply smiles. After the commotion dies down, Chris invites several younger members of the audience to grab a seat in the front row. The caveat: They MUST play a musical instrument. One of the lucky kids is a vocal major. He - and the rest of us for that matter - are then treated to more from Fisher and her amazing voice. The joy continues with...
THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU: More Botti and more dynamic vocals from Fisher. Fisher's nose ring - a tiny diamond stud - shooting sparks of light dancing into the upper balcony while Botti's trumpet reflects golden brilliance throughout the theatre. Fisher's voice echoing into the lobby while Botti's notes seduce Fisher and the audience. Fisher does her ususal helpful fingering of Botti's trumpet at the end of the song, and it is during this moment that I lean over to my wife and whisper:
"You'd forgotten how much fun this can be, didn't you?"
A smile and a nod is all she gives. And all she needs to give.
ITALIA: Not my first time hearing this song live, but quite possibly the best. Botti takes what he did on the album and shreds it, rearranging the notes into a new order and fashion that speaks volumes about this guy's talent. Some artists duplicate the album version note for note in concert; Botti recreates the song and gives it a whole new meaning. You know what song it is, but you are left wishing that THIS version was the one you had on CD. Chris then invites a few more young audience members (all instrumentalists again at Botti's instance) to exchange their less desirable seats for a spot down in the front row, and a teenage girl in the third row jumps at the chance. As she stands, Chris points out:
"You already have pretty good seats, don't you?"
She returns to her seat as three young teens come running down the aisle from the back of the theatre. Just in time for...
CINEMA PARADISO: Yelena Yegoryan is back for more, and back to the Russian bazaar we go. Happily. During the song I being to take notice of something very strange: There appears to be smoke coming from Yegoryan's bow. Large white puffs are slithering their way into the lights as she plays, and I am struck by the thought that she is making that violin burn! The smoke turns out to be resin powder from the strings, but the visual is quite stunning. We are nearing the end now, and the anticipation of what is to come from Billy Kilson is at an all time high. So much so that I barely listen to the song. I want what comes next. We all do. Botti finishes with a flourish, basks for a moment in the spotlight, and then says the most memorable quote of the evening:
"And now........... HIM."
He does not shout the word "him," he simply punches it. Actually, he simply drops it in your lap. As if to say:
"Alright, I give, you win... here you go."
He says it only once, but it bears repeating because it is so fucking cool.
"And now........... HIM."
INDIAN SUMMER: The crowd erupts. Kilson erupts. Botti erupts. The Strand Capitol Performing Arts Center erupts. York, Pennsylvania erupts. And then the walls come crashing down. Kilson flies into a seizure of ecstasy, flailing his arms up and down, slamming his feet into the bass drum and high-hat pedals. He lurches his left shoulder forward while simultaneously throwing his right shoulder back. Then the reverse occurs; right forward, left back. He thrusts his head to the rear, then to the front; sweat dripping and spinning off into the air. He gnaws on his chewing gum with force and desire, as if the nectar produced will somehow elevate his adrenaline rush. The guy is just obsessed. Possessed. And we are all impressed. Highly.
NESSUN DORMA: Botti yet again invites the crowd into the show, at this point asking if there are any other young member of the audience who play an instrument. I suppress the very strong urge to shout:
"I'm not young, but I play the drums!"
I want so desperately to scream this in the hopes that Chris will invite me on stage to jam with him and the band - and yes, I could hold my own if he did - but as I say, I stifle the urge. Perhaps I should have opened my mouth because Botti then invites three young girls to join him on stage to do just that. He instructs the girls that they will have one task during the song: To play the drums. More to the point, the cymbals. Damn my silence! But this is not about me. Not tonight. The girls, their dad and Jeremy the Intrepid Tour Manager crowd the drums while Lisa Fisher, Yelena Yegoryan and the entire band prepare for the final song. The tune builds as the girls await their big moment. Their dad is filming behind them as they start to smash and crash the cymbals with all their might. And despite what may seem like total chaos, the sound is perfect. Not too loud, not too much. Jeremy is banging away on the floor tom and Kilson is helping the girls on the cymbals while Botti and Fisher exchange notes back and forth. The song ends, the girls grin and creep off stage, careful not to break their heels. Botti thanks everyone, the crowd goes wild and we are done. Or are we?
MY FUNNY VALENTINE: Botti and Keezer give one last performance before they go. It is short and sweet and perfect. And it almost makes me forget about Billy Childs. Almost...
The post show Meet & Greet is all that is left. We are about ten people back from the front, and as soon as Chris appears, the line begins a forward momentum that sweeps us up. Chris is spending about three seconds with each guest, feverishly signing CD covers and the new poster being sold at the merch stand, and I wonder quietly if we will even get to chat him up this time. I can stand not having a special song dedicated to me at every show, but I gotta have my shared experience afterwards! Plus, I spent the entire concert wondering if Jeremy - and subsequently Chris - will remember me from the Meyerhoff. I know somewhere in my soul that this cannot be the case. These guys tour three hundred days out of the year and meet with thousands of people every week. How can they remember one man from one show over a year and a half ago? In the hopes of sort of reminding Jeremy of how much that night meant to me, I had (earlier in the day) posted a note to the Chris Botti Forum. In it, I mentioned my trials and tribulations of 2011, and noted that I had finally made the promotion. But I truly doubted that either man would see my post. All of this is rattling around in my head as I approach Jeremy in line and tap his shoulder. His smile is warm and his face full of joy with not an ounce of recognition.
Oh well, I give it a try anyway:
"I know you don't remember me, I'm the Police Officer who..."
"Oh, I know EXACTLY who you are! And you're a Sergeant now!
I turn to my wife in shock:
"He read it!"
"I just read it about ten minutes ago!"
The line is moving quickly now and we are suddenly upon him.
My wife hands Chris the CD cover from his TO LOVE AGAIN album and he begins to sign; head down. I start my prepared speech and stare at the top of Chris's head as I speak:
"I am sure you won't remember me, but you dedicated a song to me in Baltimore about a year and a half ago...
Chris stops signing and looks up at me. Our eyes meet and there is a slight glimmer of recognition. Or am I imagining it? I keep going quickly, not wanting to lose the moment:
"I'm a Police Officer in Baltimore, and we attended the show at the Meyerhoff. You played 'Hallelujah' for me..."
And then it clicks. You can almost hear the pop of recognition. The line that was moving so fiercely has come to a screeching halt. And I have all of Chris's attention.
"I DO remember that!"
And lest anyone think that Chris Botti was faking it, I can assure you he was not. I have spent the better part of my adult life as a Police Detective, and in that capacity, I have become very skilled at knowing when someone is lying and when they are being truthful. I have sat with child molesters (when I worked as a Child Abuse Detective) and with rapists (when I was a Sex Offense Detective) and I have honed my skills to a razor point. I can get a child molester to confess his darkest sins just by sitting and talking with him, and I assure you, when I am being lied to... I instantly know.
Chris Botti remembered me.
"That was such a perfect night for me. I cannot thank you enough."
Chris is smiling wide now, genuinely happy to have had an impact. The line is at a dead halt and Chris could care less.
"Oh, I should have played it for you tonight!"
"No. No, no, no. Don't try to top it. And I want you to know how excited I am that you are going to be on Mark Knopfler's new album and he is going to be on yours. He is my favorite guitarist and you are my favorite trumpet player. "
"Just wait until you hear the vocal on 'What a Wonderful World.' It's incredible."
"I can't wait. Can I ask what song you played on Mark's album?"
Chris looks puzzled by this comment. At some point during all of this I drop my ITALIA CD cover into Botti's hands for him to sign, but our conversation seems far more important to both of us at the moment. He begins to sign to cover while trying to figure out what I am talking about. He then offers:
"I didn't play on Mark's album. Wait... no wait, I DID. I did play on it!"
"I KNOW you did! Are you allowed to discuss the songs?
"Oh yeah, I played on a track about an Irish cop in New York. I think it was called 'My Irish Heart...' something with Irish in the title."
He seems truly relieved that he got his facts straight and we both smile warmly. I think at this point we have held the line up long enough, but I swear it seems that neither Botti nor I want to conversation to end. But I have taken and he has given enough for this meeting. I extend my hand and Chris offers his, still holding the black marker. He grasps my palm and gives a firm, pleasant and genuine hand shake.
"Thank you so much..." I say. "It is such a pleasure to see you again."
"Thank you ******."
Chris Botti called me by name. He remembered my name. And that I will never forget.
As my wife and I exit the theatre, an usher smiles at us and says:
"Leaving with a smile, eh?"
"We always do. That guy is the best."
I hold my wife's hand tightly against the cold air and mention one last thing to her:
"How come you never speak when we meet with him?"
"Oh, I'm just staring at his eyes. He has the coolest eyes..."
So we both got something out of it after all.
THE SET LIST:
WHEN I FALL IN LOVE
EMMANUEL - FEATURING YELENA YEGORYAN
PRELUDE IN C MINOR
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBBOW
THE LOOK OF LOVE – FEATURING LISA FISHER
THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU - FEATURING LISA FISHER
CINEMA PARIDISO - FEATURING YELENA YEGORYAN
MY FUNNY VALENTINE
The signed items: