Category: General

14: Engelbert Forever

Last Friday, my wife and I went to Reno, NV to see Engelbert Humperdinck. Yep, the famous Engelbert. Yep, live. Yep, he still performs. The man is 79 and he tours and performs like he was 19. Wow. I suspect when I’m 79 (if I even make it), I’ll be glad if I remember whether I already went to the bathroom today.

As I’m sure all people a million years or more old will agree, Engelbert was one of the great heart breakers of… the last million years, especially for girls. I don’t think I need to explain much about those great years when he was young and handsome and all. Young people will not understand anyway. So I will focus on the show.

First of all, the audience. Anybody who would look at the audience would determine that this was a special event for a retirement house. I think from all the people there, my wife and I were the youngest. It was really funny and amazing. Bent people, white hair, canes, limping, wheel chairs, the works. Some had nannies, some, younger family members, who “brought them in”. Right next to us was a young Asian couple, probably in their 20s. They didn’t know Engelbert but his dad was a great fan, so they bought him a ticket to make the old man happy. And they came along to see what’s the story with that dinosaur. They were very puzzled that it was very hard to get tickets for the show. In their young generation, they no longer remember (or care) who was the big star 5 years ago.

About the show itself. It ran nearly two hours with no intermission! That in itself is a big accomplishment. Physically, his age shows and it’s not surprising. In terms of his singing, his voice is still strong and good but I think it is now harder for him to maintain a note for a long time. He sings his phrases in short bits, generally in a lower scale, etc. to avoid challenging his chords too much. He can still reach high notes (and he did) but it seems to be harder for him and he didn’t do it much. Probably for the same reason, his singing was softer and sometimes was hard to hear over the orchestra, especially as he has the habit of moving the mic away from his face when singing more loudly (professionals usually do).

But honestly, at the end of the day, that was all minor stuff. He started to sing and we all got lost in the sound, the music, the memories, the emotions. The audience (remember: average age was probably 70) suddenly came to life, just like they were back in their 20s and it was all magic.  We yelled and whistled and waved hands and relived the dream. Humperdinck is very experienced and knows how to deliver a show. It was worth every cent and every minute, including the 4-hour drive in each direction. My wife even had a few tears.

A few interesting moments:

Humperdinck ran a video of comedian Eddie Izzard making fun of his name. Funny. Nice to see Engelbert took this whole name thing lightly:

Recently, Humperdinck finished a new album of duets. It’s called Engelbert Calling and includes hits with many big icons from the music world. In the show, he performed one of those songs – Something About the Way You Look Tonight – with Elton John. Engelbert sang his part live right there and then with Elton’s voice playing in a video on the screens. Was a nice trick. And I love the song and Elton John, so it was a treat all around.

During the show Humperdinck sang a song I didn’t know: How I love You. What a beautiful ballad. I loved the lyrics. Anybody old enough (as we all surely were) recognizes and appreciates the words and the emotions. Not sure how I never heard it before. So there you are, old Engelbert still teaches me things.

It turns out that Humperdinck has an old tradition in his shows that I didn’t know about: He uses red handkerchiefs to wipe his face during the show and at the end, he gives them out to people in the audience. Shortly before the end of the show, most of the people in the audience suddenly got up and rushed towards the stage, as if by some secret command. My wife and I were puzzled what was happening but decided to go with the flow and joined them. Since we were among the last to arrive at the stage, we found space only at the very side of the stage. I took that opportunity to shoot the last few minutes of the show. That includes the part when he started to give out those red handkerchiefs.

As you can see in the video, just by coincidence, he threw the last handkerchief more or less in my direction, as I was shooting. And you can see how at that very moment, the video becomes all crazy and blurry for a few seconds. You might imagine why. Yes, I caught it! What a cool bonus to a great experience. My wife just couldn’t be happier.

Engelbert Humperdinck-20150911

If you look carefully, you will see his signature embroidered into the handkerchief at the lower left corner (zoom in). Turns out this is a desirable collectible. Sellers are asking for hundreds of Dollars on eBay for these.

So there we are. A beautiful experience. Humperdinck is not young and we are very happy we had this opportunity to experience this legend.

9: I Saw Them Playing There

I always thought the Beatles were the greatest pop/rock band ever. I still think so. Yes, today much of their work sounds naive and sort of silly/childish. But back then they were by far the trail blazers. They didn’t just bring a new style of singing. They defined a whole new culture. Only people, who grew up with the Beatles, can understand and appreciate their groundbreaking work. And I’m not even talking about their commercial success, still unrivaled to this day.

I am generally not a big fan of covers of great originals. If the original performance was good, any cover just “kills the fun” for me. No wonder then that I am even less excited about covers of Beatles songs. How dare somebody imitate the Fab Four? But as time goes by, here and there I encounter a nice surprise – a cover of a Beatles song that I actually like. Here is one I “discovered” just a few days ago.

I was watching A Musicares Tribute to Paul McCartney. One of the songs there really made me jump up and dance, more even than the Beatles’ original performance. Neil Young and Crazy Horse doing I Saw Her Standing There.

I am generally not a big fan of Neil Young either. I just don’t like his high-pitched and nosy voice. But here it worked great. The band just felt down to earth, unpretentious, having fun. Felt more like a bunch of people in a bar just standing up and having some improvised fun. The performance wasn’t the cleanest and highest quality but they produced a great sound and rhythm. You just have to get up and dance. Good job guys.

8: The ABBA Legacy Lives On

Last Friday, I watched the weekly news magazine on Israeli TV Channel 2. They reported that a production of the musical Mamma Mia was coming to Israel. The item was followed by a cover story about ABBA. The story showed short clips of many of ABBA’s great hits. Wow, that was a trip into the past. Both my wife and I had these shining eyes and silly smiles,  reminiscing about the good old times when the whole world sang and danced ABBA.

Personally, I think they were one of the greatest pop groups of all time. Obviously, millions of people all over the world share this sentiment. I always wondered what was the secret of their magic? What was their formula? Not sure there is a simple answer to the question. I do believe the lyrics of their songs were above average. I’m not comparing their lyrics to Shakespeare or the greatest poets of the world, but within the pop music world, their language was good and verses very precise. The melodies were beautiful (IMHO) and the arrangements great. And perhaps best of all, the beautiful voices of Agnetha and Anni-Frid, merging together in great harmonies. It’s been over 30 years since they broke up and still their songs are as beautiful as ever.

Which pop group was your best ever?

1: Who is B.B. King to You?

I was a teenager when I first heard the name B.B. King. It was in Israel, back in 1971. One day, all of a sudden, the media was all abuzz with the news: B.B. King is coming to Israel for a concert! I had never heard the name before, but the excitement was very clear. I paid attention. Listened to the music on the radio. I had always liked Blues and now I was suddenly treated to a wonderful serving of it. Listening to B.B. King back then, was a big factor in my love for Blues. I still remember that special short period. Short, yet enriching.

Fast forward to 2008. I was working for a company in California. There was this African American lady in my organization. She was a project manager contractor. Very lovely person. We would talk about the company, project management, etc. and sometimes just idle chat. Then one day, almost by accident, she told me she was B.B. King’s relative (I think niece). What a surprise! Here is somebody I had been working with for a while and I didn’t even know she could tell me things, so much more interesting than project management. Turns out they were close and she would help him a lot with managing his schedule, plans, etc. It was fascinating to hear first hand – from this unique point of view – about him. We talked more about his personality than his music. About his smile, graciousness, friendliness, being down to earth, non-patronizing. I could hear her voice soften when she spoke about him and got a first-hand feel for the person behind the brand.

And just a couple of days ago, I discovered another connection through my workplace. I found out that one of the employees in my company – Charles Sawyer – is King’s official biographer. They had been friends for many years and traveled and performed together. Sawyer spoke on Canadian TV after King’s death.

Those events are not anything big but they are my personal “encounters” with B.B King from unexpected angles.

So what were your encounters with the King of Blues? Who is B.B. King to you?