tourmaline: (hugh laurie)
[personal profile] tourmaline
I'd spent most of the runup to last night thinking my tickets were for seats right at the side of the circle, when they were actually for the circly bit of the circle. Birmingham Symphony Hall is fantastic, it's big and intimate at the same time, but their online seating plan isn't great.

We had to pick my niece up from nursery and take her home as my sister had finished a run of nights this morning, so when we got to my sister's she was up, and we had to convince my niece that her Mum would be back late, we were going on a train to hear a man singing and no, you can't come, it'll finish past your bedtime.

We got a train around 5pm, giving us plenty of time to eat first once we got to Birmingham. Our seats were second row from the front in the circle, so further out than at Warwick but a good view. There was a support act, a young man called Bruno - just him & his guitar, which was a nice sound even though I wasn't too bothered about him - except for the fact that before he came onstage, Hugh came on to introduce him, and of course the place went wild when we saw him - no external announcement, just the house lights dimming and then Hugh walked on in his ordinary clothes, promising to be back in his "party frock" with the rest of the band later.

The "party frock" was, as in other shows, a suit with a long jacket & bright red waistcoat - the waistcoat stayed on all evening so we didn't really get to see the frilly shirt. Gaby was also wearing bright red, and most (all?) of the other men were wearing hats. It was great to finally see and hear Jean, she also seemed to assume the role of crowd conductor, getting the audience to clap or stand up or whatever during the evening.

The stage decor - the lampshades, the tassels, and so on - was a first-time for me, the photo was of Tony Hancock, which I spotted immediately on sitting down as the classic image of Hancock is easily recognisable from a distance. I'd seen a set list of previous shows so I knew they would start with Iko Iko, followed by Let The Good Times Roll (once we could sing that line to Hugh's satisfaction - ie all the audience, not "just the Saggitarians") and they went on to do several from Didn't It Rain (including the title song - twice), with Jean and Gaby singing leads or duetting on several songs. They also did You Don't Know My Mind, introduced by Hugh saying he once never believed he'd be in a position to say 'this is from our first album', and I Wish I Knew How It Feels To Be Free, where he talked about how most British people know the song from an unusual source for a song recorded by Nina Simone (an instrumental version has been the theme music for BBC's Film programme since 197-something). There were others that I haven't heard them perform before this tour, like Up A Lazy River which was Hugh singing & playing guitar, with Mark, Herman and Vincent singing too, round a single microphone at the front of the stage. There was a two-part encore, which I knew about having seen previous set lists, but some people tried to leave after the first one, so they missed out on You Never Can Tell at the end, but my sister and I were dancing and clapping along. They also did Professor Longhair's Go To The Mardi Gras, which Hugh said people might recognise - they used a version for the theme music to A Bit Of Fry And Laurie.

Having heard Jean and Gaby on the album, I knew they would be amazing, so it was great to see them live. The rest of the band were fabulous too, I'd seen Vincent and David before, I didn't realise Mark was in the role of Patrick as well as Kevin, though he mostly stuck to the guitar (and only one guitar at once, similarly Vincent only ever played one sax at once this time). Herman was awesome on drums, when I first heard that Jay Bellerose wouldn't be part of the tour I was disappointed because like Jean, he wasn't at Warwick, so I still haven't heard him play live, but it was great to have Herman there (and he replied to my tweet from the train home saying what an awesome night it had been). But the previously-undiscovered star of the show was Elisabeth, on trombone - women trombonists are still a rarity I think, she was so fantastic, great at the full-on New Orleans-style horning and more mellow stuff.

As for Hugh? In contrast to Warwick, I had to tear myself away from watching the band to focus on Hugh, the band were so fantastic but I had to keep telling myself 'that's Hugh Laurie, watch him'. Perhaps if he'd had a notable solo piano moment or two it would've been easier - all the others had a similar thing for their instruments, and he is a skilled musician to warrant such a thing. It was great to see him enjoying himself so much, he's come so far as a performing musician in the two years since Warwick and is now much more confident onstage. His jokes and stories are fun, there was a more lengthy one after Send Me To The 'Lectric Chair because as he rightly said, Jean's performance is a difficult one to follow. His Dad-dancing in front of the band made me think back to his 1980s comedy days, but I think long-term his musical place is more as the vocalist/pianist/guitarist of the Copper Bottom Band, rather than as Hugh Laurie in Hugh Laurie and the Copper Bottom Band - he's great at all the frontman stuff but it's clear he's one of an ensemble.

It was a fabulous evening - also a first glimpse at the refurbed bits of Birmingham New Street Station, but with the old cruddy bits of platform still sadly evident - in contrast to BSH, they're cavernous and claustrophobic at the same time. We got the earliest of our possible trains home but got a slow ride thanks to a faulty signal. And I then had a succession of songs from the evening in my head, which hasn't finished yet.