Last night, on August 8, Greek composer and pianist Yanni performed at the Jubilee. Fast Forward Weekly contributors Jeremy Curry and Kevin Stebner were in attendance, and here's their account of what happened:
Jeremy Curry: What were your feelings on Yanni before we had the idea to go and see his live show?
Kevin Stebner: Well, my parents definitely had a Live at the Acropolis CD while I was growing up. So a lot of the "hits" he played tonight I recognized. But truth be told, I didn't know much about him, certainly not as much as you seem to.
JC: Well, actually I had just seen Live at the Acropolis many times over. It was on PBS often. I think that's how I recognized so many songs. I used to hate Yanni, but he became much less offensive as I got older. Even sort of relaxing at points. What were your expectations for the show?
KS: I was expecting something a little more tame, less bombastic. I did expect a high level of hokey-ness which was definitely delivered. Did you think he was going to blow minds the way he did?
JC: I knew there were going to be a lot of hokey moments as well, but knowing some of the songs, I kind of figured he was going to have some heavy hitters. I was surprised I enjoyed some of the ballads. Those were actually some of the highlights. Or, when he would jam out, and then sink into a slower jam. What were some of your favorite moments?
KS: Wait, wait, wait. Hang on right here. Even beyond the favorite moments. Did you really enjoy the show?
JC: I did! I thought it was a really fun time. It was really over-the-top, but there were some really cool parts, and even during moments I thought were cheesy or just plain annoying, I knew something crazy was about to creep up on me. What about you?
KS: See, this is the part I can’t reconcile. Obviously all his players were virtuosos, every one of them. Their playing itself was astounding, truly. Yanni even said he travelled the world searching for the best musicians. But ultimately, I was pretty perplexed by the whole show. Cheeseball melodrama, then shredding virtuosity. So much spectacle, really. The part that really got me was seeing the crowd reactions. That place was going BAZONKERS!
JC: The whole thing is supposed to be a spectacle. It's the circus of music. It's all over the place. Every one of those musicians was incredible, and the audience ate it up. But let's get back to my question. Favourite moments?
KS: Okay, definitely his bizarro hand gestures and the times when Yanni really "rocked" out. Whenever he was up at his keyboards, he was half conducting, half headbanging, or doing his little James Brown maneuver, or flirting with the crowd. OR dropping notes out of the air like moonbeams. A wave of the hand, and a twinkle of piano flourishes appear out of nowhere.
JC: His hand gesture where he would drop the notes into the air was one of my favourites as well. I noticed that you were the only one who was really digging the "rocking" tunes. When he would play riffs that sounded like Evanescence ripped them off. I was more into the ballads. The song "Nightingale" was a great one. I know you enjoyed it!
KS: No way. That song "Nightingale" was a single melodic line played over and over for 10 minutes. With the single exception of when the singer sang one measure really high. But you're right — I was pretty interested in the songs that sounded like nü metal. It was like Metallica's S&M or something like that. I was thinking about it after, the similarities between adult contemporary and nü metal. I mean, we weren't exactly watching something high-culture, we weren't at a Stravinsky concert. But it's difficult to deny people's enthusiasm for that music. The audience was basically Family Values Tour, but for the older generation. Indulgent solos and all! Could you believe the abundance of solos?!
JC: I think there were way too many solos. Yes, it was impressive that these people were great at playing their instruments, but my god... I cannot deal with a 10-minute drum solo. It was funny when he started ringing a bell, but otherwise I just couldn't deal with so many solos! Also, Yanni had a lot to say between songs. Is there anything specific that you remember him saying that blew you away?
KS: The man was given a panda by the nation of China! This is seriously one of the most insane things I have ever heard. He said that this sort of honour was usually only bestowed upon whole nations, but Yanni was gifted with an endangered animal! This is the real-life equivalent of being gifted dragon eggs. It’s like something ripped from the pages of The Adventures of Rupert Bear! I'm still flabbergasted about that. A panda!
JC: That was one of the most insane stories I have heard. It was also interesting to hear that he got to play at the Kremlin, and in front of the largest building in the world, in Dubai!
KS: How does that kind of thing even happen? Is the music of Yanni truly that uniting?
JC: If you think about how different genres are sprinkled lightly throughout his blown-out compositions, I'd have to say.... Yes.
KS: He even painted his band as if they were a United Nations of sorts. A veritable Planeteers of adult contempo.
JC: Yanni is the Andrew W.K. of an older generation.
KS: Which was your favourite of all the players? Angry Ben Kingsley? Bassy Venezuelan? Vesty McHarpy? Wispy-haired Ming in his towering fortress of synths?
JC: The duo of fiddlers. Angry Ben Kingsley and his lady friend. What about you?
KS: Oh, Lady Friend was amazing. Her smile! It was like she was trained in North Korea the way they are famous for having smiles pasted on. But she looked like she was having a blast. I got a kick out of Trombone Grumperson. He looked so bored most of the time. He might as well have has a "I'd rather be fishin'" sticker pasted to his horn. I thought you were floored by Bassy Venezuelan?
JC: Mostly for laughs. It's hard to do a crazy bass solo without sounding like a goof. On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to go to another Yanni show?
KS: With a companion as stoked as you? Eleven. I don't even have to ask, I know you'd go again. Next time you'll be wearing your new Yanni t-shirt! (Look for Jeremy around town, rocking Yanni's smiling face emblazoned on his chest.)
JC: Well, it's good that you say that because he said he is coming back here annually. We are going every year until the end of time.
KS: Well, with an audience like that one, I don't blame him. Did you see that guy rush the stage? People were rushing the stage like he was a rock star. 50-year-olds, rushing the stage! And at the end, Yanni gave one nonsensical and heartfelt speech.
JC: Well, I understood he was just talking about peace. It's hard to make a speech as a musician and get into specifics. I think he just wanted people to leave the show feeling good and peaceful.
KS: The man painted himself of this humanist exuding love and unity. He was basically Vissarion! You couldn't even take a picture of him. Every time you tried, all you got was a ball of white light.
JC: He was a glowing beam.
KS: A shooting ray of musical unity. A panda-owning one in white pants.