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Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on the Secrets to Aging Gracefully

Mikael Wood wrote . . . . . . . . .

Robert Plant picked up the phone at his home in western England and offered a detailed weather report as he peered through a picture window in a sitting room.

“It’s a beautiful evening here,” said the 73-year-old singer best known as the golden-god frontman of Led Zeppelin. “That said, in the U.K. we’re unaccustomed to 38 degrees Celsius” — about 100 degrees Fahrenheit — “which is what’s been going on today. There’s a major panic around the country with the water supplies.

“So: lovely, but also a little ominous.”

The description isn’t a bad one for the music Plant makes with Alison Krauss, the veteran bluegrass singer and fiddler he met nearly 20 years ago when they sang together as part of a Lead Belly tribute concert. In 2007, the two teamed with producer T Bone Burnett for an album, “Raising Sand,” which showcased their haunting vocal interplay in lushly arranged roots-music renditions of old songs by Gene Clark, Allen Toussaint, Townes Van Zandt and the Everly Brothers. Commercially speaking, the LP was hardly a sure thing (though Burnett had recently overseen the smash soundtrack for “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”); nevertheless, “Raising Sand” went on to sell more than a million copies and win six Grammy Awards, including album and record of the year.

Now, Plant and Krauss, who’s 51, are on the road behind a long-awaited follow-up, “Raise the Roof,” which came out late last year — inside the eligibility window for the upcoming 65th Grammys — yet sounds like it could’ve been made just weeks after its predecessor. Produced again by Burnett, who assembled a top-flight band including guitarists Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot and drummer Jay Bellerose, the gorgeously spooky “Raise the Roof” features more tunes by Toussaint and the Everlys along with oldies by Bert Jansch, Anne Briggs and Merle Haggard; it also has an original by Plant and Burnett, “High and Lonesome,” and opens with a relatively new song in “Quattro (World Drifts In)” by the Arizona-based indie-rock band Calexico.

Krauss, who recently lent her vocals to Def Leppard’s latest album, joined Plant on the call from Nashville ahead of the duo’s Thursday night show at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.

How would you describe your relationship beyond the music?

Krauss: We’re happily incompatible.

Plant: That’s probably right. I do still like you, though.

Krauss: I still like you too!

Plant: We’re not Dale & Grace or Sonny & Cher, but we’ve definitely got something going on. We’ve got two totally different lives running. Alison’s a lot more private than I am. I’m out in the flood. I’ve lived where I’ve always lived.

You’ve both been singing for decades. Talk about how you take care of your voices.

Plant: I don’t. I just go out and sing. I know a guy from a famous band that Alison’s quite friendly with — he’s gonna pour some sugar on me or something — who creates a complete hullabaloo backstage. I was back there one time and he was making such a bloody noise. I said, “Why are you doing that?” He said, “I’m warming up.” I said, “Well, you won’t have anything left by the time you get there.”

A voice changes over time.

Plant: I know that the full, open-throated falsetto that I was able to concoct in 1968 carried me through until I was tired of it. Then that sort of exaggerated personality of vocal performance morphed and went somewhere else. But as a matter of fact, I was playing in Reykjavík, in Iceland, about three years ago, just before COVID. It was Midsummer Night and there was a festival, and I got my band and I said, “OK, let’s do ‘Immigrant Song.’” They’d never done it before. We just hit it, and bang — there it was. I thought, “Oh, I didn’t think I could still do that.”

Plenty of fans would love to hear you do it with Led Zeppelin.

Plant: Going back to the font to get some kind of massive applause — it doesn’t really satisfy my need to be stimulated.

Does that make you feel like an outlier among your classic-rock peers?

Plant: I know there are people from my generation who don’t want to stay home and so they go out and play. If they’re enjoying it and doing what they need to do to pass the days, then that’s their business, really.

You and Alison recorded your two albums at Nashville’s Sound Emporium Studios, and you returned there for an NPR Tiny Desk Concert. Why always work in Nashville and not in England?

Plant: I’ve been making records and traveling through America since 1966, and we just don’t have the flexibility that American players do. The culture here and the schooling — English players haven’t been exposed to the wide variety of music forms that are in the States. If Allen Toussaint were around and it was another time, maybe we would have gone to New Orleans and tried to pick up on where he was going with Betty Harris and people like that. But in the U.K. we don’t have that lineage of music — of telling a musical story.

Krauss: I love Fairport Convention and skiffle and all the things that came from that. I appreciate the land that it came from. And the rock ’n’ roll singers that come out of that area of the world — Paul Rodgers and Frankie Miller — they always reminded me of the Ralph Stanley kind of singers. There was always a link for me between the way they sounded and what I would see in my head when they sang.

What’s the link?

Plant: To my mind, with the guys from the northeast of England — Paul and Frankie and Eric Burdon and Joe Cocker — it was all about the blue notes, same as the Stanley Brothers. It’s that flattened third in the scales, which ultimately leads back toward Bert Jansch and Davey Graham — a sort of British transposing of the folk music that was present before the Industrial Revolution and made its way across to Kentucky and West Virginia. Many of the songs we do are blueprinted on both sides of the Atlantic.

Is the point of Plant & Krauss to delineate those historical through lines?

Plant: It’s not just a historical monument, though. What’s the album by Rod Stewart? “The Great American Songbook”? I mean, “Come Fly With Me” is fine. But the guys from Calexico, they’re giving us the new American songbook. Their records “Feast of Wire” and “Garden Ruin,” they’re echoing the circumstances in contemporary America. I have a little blue book that I carry with me everywhere and continue to add songs — threads for the future, if you like — because with access to music now, you’re hearing new stuff all the time.

Which kind of encourages an ahistorical perspective, right? It’s so easy to hear something without understanding what it was building on.

Krauss: But isn’t that part of it? You don’t know why you love something — you just love it. It seems very natural and innocent.

T Bone Burnett recently introduced a new audio format that he says represents the “pinnacle of recorded sound.” Is high fidelity particularly important to the two of you?

Plant: Eh. I prefer something that crackles and bangs. I don’t mind if it sounds like it had a better time earlier in its life. I just want to hear what the musicians and the engineer and the producer at the time were going for. I’m sitting here looking at all these records I got from these record stores in Oslo when Alison and I were playing in Scandinavia last month — fantastic compilations of Muscle Shoals country-funk, stuff by Gregg Allman, some of Cher’s early recordings when she got down there. Remember when Otis Redding was a driver for that session with whoever it was, and everybody went to lunch and he got up and sang, and suddenly we had a new voice on the planet? For me as a listener, I just want to hear the spirit.

Last thing: Don Everly died last year, which means very few of early rock’s pioneers are still living. Obviously their music lives on, but what does it mean when the actual people are gone?

Plant: It’s tough, isn’t it? Great players remain, but maybe it’s a different kind of romance that we’re left with now.

Krauss: We recently lost [the bluegrass guitarist] Tony Rice, who was a huge influence, and I couldn’t believe how hard that hit me for so many reasons. Those people that made you who you are — when they go, they take some of you with them.

Plant: That’s exactly right. I remember when Bo Diddley passed, I was on a bus somewhere with Buddy Miller. It came on the radio and it was like the whole bus just slumped. I mean, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry — they’re part of your DNA, you know? As British kids, we spent our adolescence just furiously ruining their songs.

Source : Los Angeles Times

Chart: Cost of Streaming vs Cable in the U.S.

In July, streaming surpassed cable consumption for the first time. Even so, the median price American consumers pay for streaming is $20-$30 per month, a far cry from the $79 per month the average cable plan costs.

Source : The Hustle

Did ‘God Songs’ Kill China’s God of Rock?

Cai Yineng wrote . . . . . . . . .

Quick, catchy, and inane, short video-optimized “god songs” have taken over Chinese music. Does anyone still have the patience for an old-school album?

Last August, legendary rocker Cui Jian released his first album in six years to a largely indifferent response. “Flying Dogs” won Cui the “Best Male Singer” prize at the Golden Melody Awards in Taiwan — a first for a mainland singer — but 35 years after his iconic live performance of “Nothing to My Name” at Beijing’s Workers’ Stadium, his new music barely registered as a blip on the Chinese mainland.

The album’s lukewarm reception stood in sharp contrast to Cui’s virtual concert in April, which was viewed live by over 40 million people. With regular tours all but impossible due to China’s strict COVID-19 protocols, livestreamed concerts have become a rare bright spot for the industry over the past three years. In addition to Cui, millions have logged in to streaming platforms to see performances by pop pioneer Lo Ta-yu, early 2000s idols like Stefanie Sun and Jay Chou, and boy bands like Westlife and the Backstreet Boys.

Perhaps inevitably, the most popular of these shows have leaned heavily on viewers’ nostalgia for earlier eras of Chinese music, whether the heady, intellectual rock of the 1980s or the pop idols of the ‘90s and ‘00s. Although this nostalgia has helped artists weather the storm of COVID-19, it’s also laid bare some brutal truths about China’s music business, which even before the pandemic was growing increasingly dependent on partnerships with tech companies for survival. What does it say about the traditional music-making and marketing model when audiences are more willing to spend multiple hours watching ad-laced virtual concerts than listening to short, cohesive albums by the same artist?

In contrast to the United States or United Kingdom, where rock music was born out of working class culture, the early Chinese rock scene, at least on the mainland, was largely dominated by the political and cultural elite. As China’s economy and politics became increasingly liberal in the 1980s, a wave of cultural change took place both within and outside the system. Cui himself is a representative example: His father was a trumpet player for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force; his mother was a professional dancer. Passionate about literature and music from a young age, he became enchanted with Western musical styles such as jazz and rock after they were reintroduced into China in the late 1970s.

Cui’s ability to mix these diverse influences propelled him to stardom in the mid-1980s; his 1986 performance at the Workers’ Stadium is considered a seminal moment in the history of Chinese rock and helped set the template for a generation of literary-minded rockers. Although wildly popular, Cui and other members of the 1980s rock scene like He Yong sought to present themselves as poets and polemicists, rather than merely commercial acts.

This elitist model of cultural production came under sustained challenge in the 1990s. To start, the Chinese government began reasserting more forceful control of the arts: Cui’s nationwide tour in 1990 was called off halfway; He Yong was quietly blocked from performing to large audiences for over a decade after 1996. Meanwhile, and perhaps more fundamentally, the music industry, fueled by the craze for pop music from Hong Kong and Taiwan, became increasingly commercialized.

This mirrored trends in other sectors of pop culture on the Chinese mainland throughout the 1990s. As economic liberalization took root and spread, the “culture fever” of the 1980s receded, giving way to a market frenzy. In music, there was the rise of pop; in film, Hollywood-style blockbusters ruled the box office; and on TV screens, melodramatic Taiwanese dramas competed for eyeballs with locally produced shows.

At the time, the commercialization of Chinese music was hailed as a sign of the “democratization” of culture, if not Chinese society. Key to this narrative was the rise in the 2000s of reality shows like 2004’s Super Girl, where TV viewers across China could vote for their favorite contestant via phone.

Rather than fight back, the heirs to Chinese rock retreated into ever smaller subcultures. An oft-quoted 2001 declaration by Wu Tun, lead singer of the band Tongue, sums up the prevailing attitude: “Seeds must be planted underground.” Distancing themselves from both officialdom and capital, rock musicians mocked their contemporaries for attending bureaucratic forums or performing at state-backed events. Cui Jian himself turned down an invitation to perform at the 2014 Spring Festival Gala.

Meanwhile, the “democratization” of Chinese pop music accelerated with the rise of short-video apps like Douyin, the mainland Chinese version of TikTok. A 2021 survey found that, in December 2020, mobile internet users in China spent an average of two hours a day on short-video apps, compared to just 28 minutes a day listening to music online.

As users migrate to addictive short-video apps, contemporary pop artists have been forced to adapt their approach to music creation and marketing. With only 15-second blocks to work with, artists in the short-video era eschew traditional song structures in favor of simple, cheaply made melodies that influencers can dance to and listeners can memorize quickly. These shenqu — or “god songs” — have replaced singles as the dominant form of music consumption among young Chinese. Even Douyin itself has been unable to steer users back to more traditionally produced tunes.

Unsurprisingly, breaking songs down into 15-second bites does not make for meaningful music. Critic Li Wan sums up the predicament faced by the music industry in China and abroad as a kind of unbearable “lightness”: Distracted by inane melodies and shallow sentiments, people have gradually lost their concern for the human condition. “The kind of intense soulfulness that music demonstrated in the past is now nowhere to be found,” he bemoans. Even rock music has become “inarticulate.”

That’s not to say all is lost. Somewhat optimistically, Li believes “Flying Dogs” represents a return to form for Chinese rock. He also cites Omnipotent Youth Society’s 2020 album “Inside the Cable Temple,” which deftly evokes social issues such as pollution, corruption, and declining class mobility. Crucially, unlike “Flying Dogs,” “Inside the Cable Temple” was a hit, selling hundreds of thousands of digital copies in a matter of days and proving that there’s an audience for carefully crafted albums — though bassist Ji Geng still felt the need to thank fans for their patience in listening to the whole album in the liner notes.

There’s no particular reason to hope that Chinese music will return to the elite-centric model of production and consumption that reigned in the 1980s, but that doesn’t mean accepting the fast-food approach to music being pushed on us by tech companies, record firms, and the cultural authorities. “Flying Dogs” might not have been a commercial hit, but there’s something appealing about an artist who, after nearly 40 years of making music, insists on making music their way. As Cui himself puts it in the lyrics to “The B-Side of Time”: “I haven’t changed at all.”

Source : Sixth Tone

In Pictures: China’s New World-Class Theaters Under Construction

The Sub-center Theatre in Beijing’s Tongzhou district

Shanghai Grand Opera House

Yiwu Grand Theater

International Performance Center in Shenzhen

Shenzhen Opera House

The Zhuhai Jinwan Civic Art Centre in Zhuhai

Nanchang Poly Grand Theatre

Xingtai Grand Theatre in Hebei province

Hainan Performing Arts Centre

Huanghe Song Theatre in Henan province

Source : Caixin

Video: A Father in China Made Intricate Automatons for His Daughter

Chart: Streaming Accounts for Just 30% of U.S. TV Screen Time

Source : Statista

In Pictures: Food of Lido 84 in Gardone Riviera, Italy

Classic and Innovative Italian Cuisine

No.15 of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021

Happy 100th, Bloody Mary: Paris Marks Cocktail’s Birthday

Alex Turnbull wrote . . . . . . . . .

Harry’s Bar in Paris is celebrating the 100th birthday of the bloody mary, the vodka-tomato juice cocktail believed to have been invented at the iconic watering hole in 1921.

The centenary events this week bring a welcome respite from winter gloom and worries about the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The bar is carefully checking COVID-19 health passes as foreign visitors gather to sample the drink closely associated with Harry’s Bar, whose patrons over the past century have included writers Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

According to the history of Harry’s, bartender Fernand Petiot invented the cocktail, and the recipe was first published in a book called “Harry’s ABC of Cocktails” in 1921. The bar serves an estimated 12,000 bloody marys a year.

“It’s a classic drink,” bartender Dante Agnelli said while demonstrating the mixology behind the drink, ingredient by ingredient: salt and pepper, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, vodka and tomato juice.

“You make it directly in the glass,” Agnelli said as he stood at the counter where Petiot first performed the now well-established ritual 100 years ago, at the dawn of what became known as the roaring 1920s.

Harry’s Bar plans to host a celebration on Thursday night despite concerns about the spread of omicron variant of the coronavirus in Europe and a surge in new virus infections across France.

Franz-Arthur MacElhone, a great-grandson of bar founder Harry MacElhone, said the celebration would take place in line with government regulations: the health passes of patrons from around the world will be checked, hand sanitizers will be distributed, and bar staff will wear masks.

In recent days, the French government expanded the places where passes are required, including all restaurants and a growing number of events and venues. To get one, people must show proof of full vaccination, a negative virus test less than 24 hours old, or recent recovery from COVID-19.

The French government closed nightclubs and tightened social distancing measures but is trying to avoid a new lockdown.

The health protocol is the only visible change inside the bar that used to be located on New York’s 7th Avenue before it was dismantled, shipped to Europe and rebuilt in central Paris in 1911.

For Harry’s patrons, the timeless décor is a reassuring fixture, particularly at a time of uncertainty due to the pandemic.

“Once you walk in, you leave all your worries aside,” said Ihab Hassan, 61, a retired businessman from Egypt and a regular at the bar since the 1970s.

The coronavirus pandemic was not enough to get in the way of his favorite Paris pastime, Hassan said with a bloody mary on the counter in front of him.

Sitting next to Hassan were an American, Jay Sing, and an Australian, Renée DiGeorgio. They shared their thoughts on the famous cocktail with an Associated Press reporter, acknowledging they had already consumed a few.

“Sometimes, with breakfast, for my hangover, we drink bloody marys,” said DiGeorgio, 42, who works in the mining industry and is based in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“This is a really nice bloody mary,” he said. “It’s actually the first time I’ve ever drunk a bloody mary when the sun’s down!”

All three men said they took the necessary health precautions to be safe and in compliance with government anti-virus regulations.

“I have four vaccines in me,” said Sing, 28, a tech industry worker from New York. “I’m like the Iron Man. Nothing is touching me!”

MacElhone, the great-grandson of the bar’s founder, recounted different legends surrounding how the bloody mary got its name.

“Petiot said it was for a dancer that he was very fond of called Mary,” MacElhone explained.

“She used to work in a place in Chicago called the Bucket of Blood,” MacElhone said. But that’s only one explanation for the name of the famous drink.

There are others, MacElhone said.

“There’s a Hemingway story,” he said. “It was just before he got married, and he had been dating somebody called Mary.”

As that story goes, Hemingway allegedly did not want to have alcohol on his breath and asked for a drink mixed with juice.

Tomato juice was added, and “while he was drinking it, he was saying ‘bloody Mary’”, MacElhone said.

Source: AP

In Pictures: Stiletto House in Singapore

In Pictures: Food of Geranium in Copenhagen, Denmark

Fine Dining Scandinavia Cuisine

No.2 of The World’s 50 Best Resturants