There are events that reset everything and put your priorities back in order. When this happen is time to have a break (it’ll be short don’t worry) and move to something different.
The Event was Neil Young’s concert at Hammersmith. I was there as audience, no photographers allowed, no desire to snap anything, pure steer passion for his music.
Neil enters the stage and an hour long acoustic set permeates the Apollo. Eight guitars design a crown, Neil is in the centre. Listening to lost gems as Ambulance Blues or Harvest’s favourite A Man needs a Maid, Heart of Gold and Old Man is an heartbreaking experience for anyone owning a heart.
A short break, then Neil Young plug his black Gibson to his Fender amp and is backed by a full band. The rock sound that emerges in the first 4 or 5 songs is enough to put the entire history of rock’n’roll back into the right perspective.
Neil Young, over 60s years old plus a recent brain haemorrhage, still rocks as none of his grandchildren do. From Dinosaur Jr to Queens of The Stone Age, passing through the whole Seattle age, countless bands have tried to imitate the sound of that distorted, feedback fuelled, electric guitar. In vain.
Now, almost a week away with Powderfinger opening chords still playing on the back of my mind, what I can do is to give indie-rock a break and introduce you to someone who plays different music.
If you are not Italian you probably have never heard of Vinicio Capossela. Trust me it is a shame. Statistics show me that visitors reading liveon35mm are mainly from UK, USA and Australia so this is my little chance to disclose his work to English language countries.
Most of you love the music of Tom Waits, fancy the guitar sounds of Marc Ribot (who often recorded with Capossela), read the literature of Bukowski and perhaps some are into the mythology of ancient Greece.
Capossela mixes all of these, which are the images of foreign lands visualized into the mind of an Italian guy, together with his own Mediterranean culture.
From North to South, islands included, Italy is positioned in such an accessible geographical position that in the last three millennium any kind of music brought from our “visitors” has permeated popular culture.
What comes out of Vinicio Capossela albums is an impressive bulk of music to match his poetic lyrics. You find Balkan’s brass and Tom Waits fractured stories, traditional legends and 21st century burlesque theatre, echoes of Fellini’s soundtracks meeting Coleridge’s romanticism. All is slowly cooked in the same pot to deliver a delicious listening.
He sings in italian but don’t be inhibited, the official site contains the English translation of the most important albums.
Indie-rock press has recently been enthusiastic about Beirut, an American youngster that seems to have discovered a gold mine singing in English over Eastern Europe influenced harmonies.
He is actually not bad, the reason why he never clicked on me is that, being Italian, I have been constantly exposed to this kind of music. If you are from Rome those sounds aren’t as exotic as if you come from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
British magazine Mojo recently put Capossela’s Ovunque proteggi album second in its world music top ten list. It lies behind the unsurpassable Savane by Ali Farka Toure’.
This contributed to open Vinicio’s band the door of a packed Dingwalls in Camden Town.
If you were lucky enough to be squeezed in this tiny venue to attend the British debut, you experienced the emotion of listening to his music together with the significance of seeing his live performance.
On stage Capossela builds a show that is at the same time a concert and a theatrical happening. Combining pagan mythology, beast masks, animal skin dresses, sacred symbols, American visions and Italian folklore his performance is a must see event.
His band, an impressive mix of musicians which wouldn’t look out of place in any world music ensemble, follows him in these journey through time and space.
Lead by Alessandro “Asso” Stefana, a guitarist who records and collaborates with the likely of Mike Patton and Marc Ribot, these six multi-instrumentalists brings on stage an assortment of conventional, folk, traditional and bizarre musical instruments which are key to achieve such a refined sonic result.
This set of pictures wants to mark the appearance of Vinicio Capossela at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, today.
If you are not lucky to be there or to have seen one of his concerts you can check his official site which as an English version with lyrics translation and his myspace where you can listen to some of his music. [website] [myspace]
I was quite proud to photograph an Italian act in London.
It didn’t last long. The time to realize that Italian “organizers” took control of the Dingwalls on the night, pride was gone. The combination of Italy and organization is worldwide recognized, appropriately, as unthinkable.
While a huge Italian queue was impatiently (you know what I mean) waiting to enter, people at the door was realizing that any reference e-mail released by wegottickets.com was lost. Ticket holders were being kept there waiting, God knows what. I fear they are still there, frozen.
I handed my “photopass agreed” e-mail to a girl at the box office who managed to lose and find it 5 times in 15 minutes. Noone has ever heard of the guy who approved my photopass and I almost lost the start of the gig trying to convince them that spending my time faking e-mails is not my favourite hobby. A sympatethic person in the end got my hand stamped and allowed me to get in. I even had the nerve to ask about photo policy… “photo what?” Someone was staring at me as if I spoke Mandarin. “I don’t know, do what you want”. “Fine thanks, I will”.
I entered the venue to realize not only that there wasn’t a photographers’ pit, but any space was packed in the Italian way. In numbers it means three times the number of people in the same square meter compare to a sold-out English gig. It is not about body size, it is about a sick, baseless need to be closer than physically possible.
Packed venues with no pit are a pain for concert photographers. It is important to know in advance.
You want to opt for a lighter kit and eventually some accessory to keep all your stuff with you any moment.
When you are in, there are two phases to overcome.
1) How to get close enough to be able to photograph and where to stand.
My first (not really a) suggestion is to sense the right spot. Definitely is not the central bit.
Die-hard fans queue since the morning and pretend that is their place. They won’t leave you, freshly arrived, to work between them and their hero. The microphone pole and its bloody shadow will also spoil most of your photos. Avoid it.
Try to step a bit on one side. Experience helps to choose between left or right. Look where the amplifiers and stage monitors are located, this tells you where the musicians will be. If there is a piano, left is the side you definitely want, unless the piano is put in an anomalous inverted position (bloody Nick Cave!).
Google in advance about band composition, you may also find useful live pictures.
If you are there and don’t know anything, the audience is always a source of precious information, don’t be shy, talk to them. It breaks the ice between photographers and fans and make easier reaching your ideal spot.
2) How to get good pictures.
Now that you managed to triumph over the fans and be in the first row with your kit intact, working squeezed with scarce chances to move isn’t optimal, is it?
You’ll be surprise to know there are advantages. The security won’t be bothering you. Consider yourself allowed to shoot after the third song and to use flash even if you were told differently. Anyone close to you will be using mobile phones, compact and video cameras so you cannot be blamed, but don’t exaggerate!
If the big security guy reaches you and tell you to stop, apologize and use the defensive excuse: Complain about the impossible situation you are working and implore him to understand you. Then put your flash away to please him and keep shooting. Usually it works.
Considering that you cannot move, to avoid that all the pictures look the same you must take advantage of the artist’s stage presence.
Use different lens lengths in order to get different perspectives. Longer lenses allow you to crop the frame and avoid to have the same repetitive background.
Changes of light settings and instruments are also handy but they are out of your control.
Keep some film or memory to the end of the show, that is when the best bits happen.