My close encounter with Doctor Who in NYC

Doctor Who's Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill and Matt Smith
Doctor Who's Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill and Matt Smith walk by me en route to a filming location in NYC's Central Park.

Note: This was originally published earlier on my podcast blog, Tandem With The Random.

When I heard my favorite television show of all time, “Doctor Who”—the greatest sci-fi series in television history (this is fact…deal with it, Trekkies)—was coming to New York City to film part of the episode that would serve as the finale for the characters of Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), I immediately planned to take the train up to NYC and try to catch some of the filming.

In my younger days, I always dreamed about one day living in London and possibly catching some “Doctor Who” filming. Of course, the show went on a 16-year hiatus starting in 1989 (aside from the 1996 FOX/BBC television movie), so I thought that dream was dead. When the BBC finally brought the show back in 2005, I didn’t think it would ever achieve the kind of hip/cool status and worldwide popularity—particularly now in the United States—that would warrant filming in the U.S. But, amazingly, “Doctor Who” is more popular than it has ever been in its nearly 50-year history. And, after coming over to “this side of the pond” in November 2010 to shoot part of series six, the “Doctor Who” cast and crew returned to the U.S.—this time to a city just about 90 minutes away from me by train—for more filming.

I used Twitter and the fantastic (albeit “stalker-ish”) web site, OnLocationVactions.com (OLV) to track when and where they would be filming. After reports of “Doctor Who” stars Matt Smith (The Doctor) and Darvill being seen in NYC earlier this week, the OLV community worked its magic and reported that filming had started near the ice rink in Central Park yesterday morning. I immediately grabbed my work laptop (to continue working on the train) and my camera and rushed to the train station. While I was on the train, I kept thinking it was going to be a complete waste of time, money and energy…that it would be a big, ol’ wild goose chase.

And that’s the way it felt when I arrived at the filming location to find just a handful of crew members and equipment covered in tarps and plastic. I immediately went to OLV on my iPhone and saw that the cast and crew had broken for lunch and would be filming a few more hours in the park.

About 30-40 minutes after I arrived, the cast that was still at the filming location began moving to another area of the park. I, along with a small group of fellow Whovians, followed them. We were about to cross Terrace Drive as we approached Bethesda Fountain from the south, when I looked to my left…coming up the road from that direction were Gillan, Darvill and Smith—Amy, Rory and The Doctor! I said, “Look to your left*,” to the small group that was with me while I frantically searched my bag for my camera (my iPhone was at the ready, but I wanted a true camera for this shot). Fortunately, I found my camera and took a shot of them walking toward me.

*Only true “Doctor Who” fans will get this…but, when it comes to The Doctor, it is always wise to turn left.

But it was the picture above, the second photo I took, that is the real “money” shot for me…I totally lucked into it, but the current stars of my favorite show of all time walked right by me! It made the big, ol’ goose chase totally worth it. A childhood dream had been fulfilled…although I was hoping to see the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), the blue phone box that traverses through time and space. But I can always go use the restroom at the Who-themed Way Station bar in Brooklyn for that (time constraints prevented me from getting there yesterday).

Obviously, I then followed them to the new shooting location on Central Park’s Bow Bridge and watched with several other onlookers as Smith and Gillan filmed a conversation on the bridge, with The Doctor reading out of a book to Amy Pond. It appeared they were trying to find something the book was telling them should be there. Following that, the crew filmed a scene of The Doctor running across the bridge (see video below). Actually, the video seen here is of the second take of the run…Smith had a bit of difficulty stopping on the first take and seemed to be limping slightly after running into some of the crew and onlookers. But he looked OK enough on the second take.

That’s all I’ll say about the shoot. There was something else that took place during filming that may or may not play a crucial part in the final story of Amy and Rory—something I didn’t even think of until one of the girls next to me said she had a theory about what we were seeing. She didn’t expound on that theory, but I immediately came up with some of my own so I am purposely not posting those photos. I will add this, though…from the presence of the book The Doctor was reading and the way Amy was interacting with what he was saying, I think the prevailing storyline of “Amy’s life being a fairy tale” is coming full circle…but will it be a happy ending?

Video: The Doctor runs across Bow Bridge in NYC’s Central Park, 4/11/2012

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Putting a dream into action

Howard Jones
Howard Jones

This post started out as a recap of the notable moments from Thursday night’s Howard Jones show at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pa…but evolved into something completely different.

So, yeah…I went to see Howard Jones perform this past Thursday night, marking the fourth time I’ve seen him live. The first time was a solo performance of “No One is to Blame” on a digital piano during the June 1986 Amnesty International Conspiracy of Hope Tour finale at Giants Stadium (where he was introduced on stage by Michael J. Fox). I saw HoJo again in June 1989, this time in full electronic mode in Holmdel, N.J. (with the incredible Midge Ure from Ultravox and Visage as the opening act). Then, I had the chance to briefly meet and talk to HoJo after seeing him perform in an “acoustic duo” format (even though he was playing a digital piano) in Blackwood, N.J., in January 2008 (I would have had a picture, too, if my camera batteries hadn’t died).

Last night, HoJo was in full electronic mode and, for this tour, is playing all the songs from his first two albums, both of which I probably listened to thousands of times as a teenager.  The first half of the set included all the songs — although not in track-list order — from HoJo’s 1983 debut, Human’s Lib; the other portion of the show featured all the tracks (again, not in album sequence) from his 1985 follow-up album, Dream Into Action.

Personally, what was great about this show was that Howard Jones was the artist who really inspired my teenage love of electronic music and served as the catalyst for my purchasing two pro-grade synthesizers, a sampler, a sequencer and a drum machine by the time I was 17. I felt I had the skills to create songs even though my technical musical ability was — and is — extremely limited. This prevented me from really working with musicians in a traditional band setup so I felt this equipment gave me the means to do everything myself, as well as correct all the flubs due to my craptacular playing ability.

Eventually, I found a like-minded spirit (at that time) in the form of my friend Christian Beach, who was my bandmate from around 1988 until late summer 1990. He lived just across town from me and also owned an array of synths, samplers and drum machines. There were two other advantages working with Christian – 1) his gear was better, and 2) he is much more talented and gifted than I could ever hope to be.

While many people in the mainstream have this idea that electronic music is easy to execute, the reality is this is not the case. You still have to write the music and lyrics, and play all the backing parts into the sequencer…and this took forever back in the 1980s and early 90s. To prepare for playing live, you needed to do a lot of programming of your instruments and saving those settings into a MIDI file stored on a floppy disk in the sequencer. The song sequences (which include the drum and bass tracks, and any other parts not being played live) were also saved on floppy disks. Since the instrument and song data took up a lot of room on those old floppy disks, we needed several disks…that needed to be loaded (quite slowly, mind you)…in specific order during our shows.

As you might expect, this led to some embarrassing moments like having a saxophone coming in as a hi-hat part, or the wrong song sequence popping up, or a footswitch not set up to start a song when it was supposed to be…stuff like that.

And Thursday night’s HoJo show reminded me of all the joy and pain electronic music has brought to me over the years. As exciting it is to create all the parts of a song on your own, I remember all too well the difficulties of making the so-called “easy-to-use” technology work for you when you need it to.

Two such instances cropped up Thursday night for HoJo. During the Human’s Lib portion of the set, it seemed like the sound assignments for his keyboards on “Don’t Always Look at the Rain” weren’t set up right. That threw the whole song off after a few measures, resulting in a total restart of the song.

But that was a minor hiccup compared to what happened during the Dream Into Action half of the show, when “Assault and Battery” — a song I was really looking forward to hearing played live — had to be restarted…TWICE! On the first attempt to play the song, HoJo got through the piano intro only to have the sequence from the previous song kick in (been there, done that…a few times). On attempt No. 2, HoJo completed the piano intro and the right sequence started…and then stopped inexplicably about four measures in. The third time proved to be a charm, however, and the audience was treated to “Assault and Battery” in all its glory.

Anyway, I was just happy to see one of my earliest musical influences. Granted, aside from the more recent organ/accordion work I’ve contributed to some of Christian Beach’s live shows and recordings, I haven’t done anything musically significant in my life (although Christian did use lyrics I wrote for a chorus in the song “What Does It Mean to You?” by one of his old bands, Slave of Id, that received some airplay on long-departed 106.3 WHTG-FM around 1993…that was kind of cool). But I still write songs when I can and still do all the parts myself, thanks to Apple’s GarageBand application…and Howard Jones’ influence.

Here’s Howard Jones performing “Look Mama” from his Dream Into Action album at the Keswick Theatre on Oct. 20, 2011 (courtesy of YouTube user Nostalgicflashback)…

Ben Folds at the Tower, 11-13-2010

Ben Folds at the Tower Theater, 11-13-2010
Ben Folds at the Tower Theater, 11-13-2010 (taken with my BlackBerry)

Alison and I went to see Ben Folds last night at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pa. And, as usual, Ben was awesome and played for a little more than two hours.

Ben usually has really great opening acts. I saw Tegan and Sara open for him a few years ago at The College of New Jersey in Ewing, N.J., just weeks before their song “Walking with a Ghost” (later covered by The White Stripes) from their 2004 CD “So Jealous” became a hit on adult album alternative (AAA) and college radio stations. When we saw Ben earlier this year in Montclair, N.J., the fantastic Australian singer-songwriter Kate Miller-Heidke — who went on to contribute backing vocals on Ben’s new collaboration with author-lyricist Nick Hornby, “Lonely Avenue” — was the opening act.

For this tour, Ben has enlisted the three-piece Lady Danville as the warm-up act and they were quite entertaining. And bonus points go to percussionist/vocalist Matthew Frankel for his use of a cajón (see video of Lady Danville in action at the bottom of this post).

Regarding Ben’s set, it’s amazing how deep his catalog is at this point of his career. He didn’t even touch a Ben Folds Five track until he played “Mess” as his 18th song of the night.

Here is Ben Folds’ set list from last night:

Working Day
Doc Pomus
Belinda
Sleazy (Ke$ha cover)
Gone
Cologne
Saskia Hamilton
Bastard
Still Fighting It
From Above
Rock This Bitch (Tower Theater)
Effington
Landed
Claire’s Ninth
Annie Waits
Levi Johnston’s Blues
The Luckiest
Mess
The Last Polka
Practical Amanda
Zak and Sara
You Don’t Know Me
Kate
Rockin’ the Suburbs
Not the Same

Encore:
Philosophy
Chopsticks (Liz Phair cover)
Army

Related Video

Ben Folds – Philosophy (incl. Mirsilou) + Chopsticks (Liz Phair cover)

Ben Folds – Saskia Hamilton (Tower Theater, Upper Darby, Pa., 11-13-2010)


Note: Apparently, shot vertically…most likely with an iPhone.

Lady Danville – “Frames & Molding” (Live at Largo in Los Angeles 06-28-10)

24 years of Peter Gabriel fandom: “Secret World” (1994)

So here we are…the fifth and final installment of my Peter Gabriel video series this week, marking my 24th anniversary as a fan of PG. This is sort of a wild card for me as I didn’t get to see PG on his recent “New Blood” tour in support of his orchestral covers CD, “Scratch My Back,” and that would have been the next progression in the sequence of live videos. However, I wanted this week to kind of recapture the joy I have experienced during PG’s live shows over the years. Since I didn’t see the “New Blood” tour, I’m basically picking today’s video out of a hat.

Well, that’s not entirely true because I knew right from the start what the last video would be…my favorite Peter Gabriel song of all time, from my favorite PG tour…”Secret World” from its namesake tour!

Strangely, because it’s the last track on Peter Gabriel’s “Us” album and because I had originally purchased that album in cassette format, I never even listened to it until weeks after I bought the tape. And when I did finally listen, I never stopped. It’s an amazing song that is even more spectacular when seen performed live.

I love how the live version of this song builds up to the dramatic, high-energy bridge…only to come back down and build right up again before the very end of the song. As you can probably tell from the ending, this was the number that closed the regular part of the set back on the “Secret World Live” tour. PG and band would re-emerge from the dome a few minutes later for the encore, which usually included “In Your Eyes.”

You may be able to hear how “Secret World” influenced a song I originally wrote and recorded on my old, analog 4-track in 1995 called “The Greatest Love,” which I recorded in digital format on my Mac back in 2004. For comparison, you can listen to the 2004 version of “The Greatest Love” in the audio player below the video.

Peter Gabriel – “Secret World” (Secret World Live, 1994)

Brian Kelley – “The Greatest Love” (1995/2004)

24 years of Peter Gabriel fandom: “Solsbury Hill” (2003)

Well, so far on this journey through my 24 years of Peter Gabriel fandom, I haven’t posted anything really all that mainstream…no “Shock the Monkey”, “Sledgehammer”, “Steam” or “In Your Eyes”.  It’s not that I’m not a fan of those songs…in fact, the live version of “Sledgehammer” is always awesome. But I have wanted to explore some of the deeper tracks from the PG catalog this week. However, after much internal debate about what video from 2003’s “Growing Up Live” tour (during which I saw PG three times…one night at the Meadowlands, the next night in Philly and then the following year at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ), I decided to go with something a little more well known…”Solsbury Hill.”

Thanks to its use in films like “Vanilla Sky” and others, “Solsbury Hill” — a track from Peter Gabriel’s first self-titled solo album in 1977 — has eventually become somewhat popular. What many people may not realize is that the song is about Gabriel’s departure as lead singer of Genesis in 1975.

And really…how could I not include a PG performance that has him riding a bike on stage…

Peter Gabriel – “Solsbury Hill” (Growing Up Live, 2003)

24 years of Peter Gabriel fandom: “Come Talk to Me” (1994)

Here is part 3 of this week’s 5-part series of Peter Gabriel videos marking my 24th year as a PG fan. One of the great concert events of the 1990s was Peter Gabriel’s “Secret World Live” tour (1993-94) in support of his CD, “Us.” Today’s video is the set-opening “Come Talk to Me” from that tour, featuring a then-unknown Paula Cole, who was still about two years away from success with her album “This Fire” (with “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone” and “I Don’t Want to Wait”). PG gave Cole her big break when he hired her to fill the female vocalist spot for this tour.

Peter Gabriel – “Come Talk to Me” (Secret World Live, 1994)

24 years of Peter Gabriel fandom: “No Self Control” (7/20/87)

Well, today officially marks my 24th anniversary as a Peter Gabriel fan and I have decided that my PG video posts this week shall be a chronological journey of my fandom. Yesterday’s video was of PG’s performance of “Biko” the first time I ever saw him live, at the Amnesty International concert at Giants Stadium on June 15, 1986. Today’s video is from the first actual Peter Gabriel concert I ever attended — July 20, 1987, at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. The video quality isn’t all that great, but the mere fact that this footage exists — and on YouTube (thanks to YouTube user Magog64) — is amazing. Here is one of my all-time favorite PG songs, “No Self Control”…and if you ever have time to kill, you should check out all the videos from this show…just incredible stuff.

Peter Gabriel – “No Self Control” (Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA, 7/20/87)

24 years of Peter Gabriel fandom

So I was driving home from a meeting the other day, listening to XM Radio when Peter Gabriel’s “Biko” came on. I hadn’t really listened to the song in quite some time, but I thought it was an appropriate lesson in recent South African history with the World Cup currently being staged there.

While listening, it reminded me of my greatest, personal musical memory. Back on June 15, 1986, my sister and I were in the sold-out crowd at Giants Stadium for the final show of the Amnesty International Conspiracy of Hope Tour. It was an amazing day and night of music that allowed me the opportunity to see the genius that was Miles Davis perform live. Last night, while watching the Tony Awards and hearing so much about the musical “Fela,” it reminded me that I also saw the late, great Fela Kuti perform that day.

Anyway, back to “Biko” and Peter Gabriel. It was the powerful, chilling performance of “Biko” during that show that turned me into a huge Peter Gabriel fan. It also made me truly understand the power of a great song and a great artist.

So, in honor of my 24 years as a Peter Gabriel fan, I will be posting one PG video per day on the ol’ blog here this week. I’ll start it off tonight with the video of his performance of “Biko” at the Amnesty show on June 15, 1986, and continue adding one each day through this coming Friday.

Enjoy!

Peter Gabriel – “Biko” (Amnesty Int’l Conspiracy of Hope, Giants Stadium, 6/15/86)

A night with Coco!

This past Monday night, my wife and I went to the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pa., for Conan O’Brien’s “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television” tour. I love Conan O’Brien and never got the chance to see a taping of his show when he was based in New York and figured if there was any bright side to the whole “Tonight Show” debacle of 2010, it was that this tour would give me the chance to see him live.

But I didn’t really know what to expect. YouTube videos and stories about the tour seemed promising, but I still wasn’t sure how Conan would be outside the context of a television show format. I just knew I wanted to support him during this time of transition.

At the start of the show, Conan told the audience that it was the first time people ever paid to watch him perform (while referencing the fact that people have paid him to go away) and he had set a goal of making the prices we paid for tickets “sort of worth it.” Well, after the show was over, I determined that I may have underpaid for my tickets. Conan and Company were absolutely freakin’ amazing…and it was the best live entertainment event I have ever attended…by far!

Here are just a few notes from the evening:

  • I always knew his band was awesome…but they could pretty much blow any band out of the water.
  • Conan came out wearing a Flyers jersey and soon did a quick impersonation that seemed to be of a certain, unfunny, backstabbing late-night talk show host. But apparently we were mistaken, as Conan explained: “Now, that is not who you think it is…that’s actually my impression of the rapper Ludacris…I hope you all have my back on that one in court.”
  • Andy Richter did a live commercial for a 5-pound Tony Luke’s cheese steak that ended with: “And don’t forget, we also sell 2- and 3-pound cheese steaks…for pussies!”
  • TRIUMPH! It was via video, but the Insult Comic Dog did a bit that included the classic “insert audio of city name, famous restaurant/landmark here” joke, which was hysterical. For instance, “I know everything about the state of [PENNSYLVANIA]…the state animal is [ALLEN IVERSON].”
  • TINA FEY! I kept telling Alison that I thought she would show up since the show was in her hometown, and I was so happy to be right. As soon as he brought out what is now called the Chuck Norris Rural Policeman Handle for legal reasons (on “Late Night,” Conan used to pull this lever and a random clip from the old TV series “Walker, Texas Ranger” would play…with hysterical results) — and said they would need some help, I knew he was going to bring out Tina. And then when he said “the funniest woman on the planet,” Alison and I just looked at each other and started going nuts.
  • OK, and for the finale…during Conan’s final song of the encore, we see him go out into the crowd and I thought to myself, “Damn! I wish I had splurged for orchestra seats” since we were in the first row of the lower balcony. About 20 seconds later, CONAN O’BRIEN WAS STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO US! He ran up to the freakin’ balcony, high-fiving people…I just missed being able to pat him on the back (I came up about 5 inches short). The seats across the aisle from us were empty and there was short wall in front of the first row so he climbed up and stood on top of that, prompting cheers from the crowd. I was too stunned to get my phone’s camera going in time so I lost my chance at an awesome picture.

It was just an amazing night of comedy and music…and Conan proved once again that he has more talent in his floppy red hair than in all of that hack who is still doing Bill Clinton jokes at 11:35. In fact, I will say that Conan O’Brien may be the best entertainer of his generation.

Anyway, here are some videos that members of Monday night’s audience have uploaded to YouTube (and, yes, there is some adult language in these clips)…enjoy:

Conan’s Intro Video


P.S. The song Conan walks out on stage to is “Army” by Ben Folds Five…another element of the sheer awesomeness of the night.

Conan Explains Bringing the Tour to Upper Darby

Conan Talks About His Beard and Making That Night’s Show “Sort of Worth It”

Andy Richter’s Commercial for Tony Luke’s 5-lb. Cheese Steak

Conan Presents the “Bat Out of Hell” Inflatable Bat

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog Talks About [PHILADELPHIA]

Tina Fey Returns Home to Pull the “Chuck Norris Rural Policeman Handle”

Conan Sings “I Will Survive”