Thursday 9 May 2013

Semi 2 - what we think

We have spent two more days in the aforementioned darkened room, working our way through successes and disappointments and, well, Azerbaijan's version of 'logic'. And as a result, we have now prepared some errounous predictions for you to disagree with! The four of us present (Martin, Sam, Yair and the moi) have predicted as follows:

Latvia - 0
San Marino - 1
Macedonia - 0
Azerbaijan - 4
Finland - 4
Malta - 2
Bulgaria - 2
Iceland - 4
Greece - 4
Israel - 4
Armenia - 2
Hungary - 4
Norway - 4
Albania - 0
Georgia - 4
Switzerland - 0
Romania - 1

Seems we agree quite a bit, with no less than eight entries getting a green light from all of us there! Poor Latvia, Macedonia, Albania and Switzerland, though...

Now, what do you think? Send us your predictions by postcard or fax, or simply in the comment field.

Norwegian drummer for you!

Thursday afternoon rehearsals

Good afternoon! I was actually supposed to be blogging this morning's rehearsals, but due to far too much wine last night and an epic hangover this morning, I only got here for the end of Armenia. As punishment, I've been put on duty this afternoon, which means I get the pleasure of listening to Romania four times in a row.

(For what it's worth, I blame Ireland entirely. You've already read about the free drinks at their party, and then I had my last round of drinks at Euroclub bought for me by the lovely Stuart O'Connor, the producer behind the Irish entry. And then I ended up having a conversation with hot-dancer-Alan, the content of which I have no recollection of. Oh dear...)


The most important thing we were waiting to hear in this rehearsal was how the Norwegians would cope with replicating the multi-layered vocal track from the studio version in the live setting. Thankfully, the answer to that is 'very well'. Margaret is joined on stage by three backing vocalists, but other than that the staging is much the same as in the Norwegian final, with a single drummer off to one side and Margaret alone up front.

Margaret is wearing a very similar white dress to the one in the Norwegian final, and the background is suitably dark and electronic-looking. There are a lot of shots from the back of the stage, which look a bit odd now, but will be very effective with an arena full of fans.

Overall, I'd say it's coming across very well, and the Norwegians have got everything right with the staging. Still a potential winner? Maybe...

You'll be shocked, I'm sure, to hear that the colour scheme here is red. Red and black, with some yellow lights. Sofabet have written numerous pieces on the effects of red and black lighting to an act's chance on The X Factor UK, the general conclusion being that it's the colour scheme the producers use when they want rid of someone, as it has a vote dampening effect.

It would be hard to do a similar study on Eurovision, since Albania are almost the only country to use red and black. It worked for 'Suus' though. The effect here is pretty striking, and it certainly stands out from what's come before.

Albania have placed Adrian and Bledar up front, with four backing musicians behind on high podiums, including two guitarists and a man with some very big drums. I do think opening the song on the remarkably un-telegenic Bledar is a mistake - he really doesn't come across well on camera, and seems to barely know where he is at times. After his verse he mainly ambles around at the side before positively skipping down to the end of the catwalk for his guitar solo, which comes complete with obligatory close-ups of his frets.

I like the Albanian song a lot, and they're giving it everything, but I'm really not convinced it comes across here. It's fighting with Armenia for some of the same votes, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if it were Albania that misses out.

The final run-through added a whole fuckload of fire and pyro, including a stream of sparks from Bledar's guitar during his solo. It looks great, but if you're standing down at the front on Thursday, be warned - it's going to get hot!

Big cheers in the press centre for this one, though I'm mostly disappointed that Sophie only has simple ear-studs in so I can't use my Noddy and Big Earrings joke again.

Nodi wears a black suit, with Sophie in a flowing white dress. Either they're going for a wedding theme with the styling here, or they're just huge fans of 'Apopse as vrethoume'.

On the first run-through it's vocally a little wobbly, particularly early on, and neither performer is quite sure of their positioning just yet. The last minute is great though, and there's clearly going to be some effect, or huge shower of sparks at least, that we aren't seeing just yet. That might be why we've been waiting more than ten minutes for the second run-through - or perhaps someone just forgot to turn the screens on.

Aha, here we go now! No effect still, but the whole thing was much more assured, and excellent vocally. I even went all goosebumpy, and I don't even really like the song that much!

The third run-through (which will also be the last) adds some very effective dry ice at the beginning, with great use of spotlighting. And going into the key-change we get some very loud hissy plumes of smoke, before the expected Running-Scared-curtain-of-sparks, which is actually surprisingly uneffective - most of the sparks fizzled out well before they reached the floor. They'll obviously hope for a little better next time.

Overall, a strong rehearsal, with a few kinks to be ironed out. My instinct is that it isn't really a winner. It's going for a lot of the same votes as 'Running Scared' got, and will get many of them, but in a year with more clear contenders, I don't see it topping the scoreboard. But it's a safe qualifier, and probably sailing into a typical Georgian result.

There's something of the family band about Takasa. Brother and sister on lead vocals, dad on the trumpet, slightly batty aunt with a big drum, granddad on the double bass and sexy, bad-boy cousin on the guitar.

The performance is much the same as in the Swiss final, with all six in a line at the front of the stage. The uniforms are gone, replaced by black trousers and white shirts bearing a 'together we're one' motif, which have much the same effect. There's some ineffectual attempts at 'spontaneous' interaction, particularly between the girl and the granddad, which all too often involves her wandering out of her shot. Stick to the script! And then there's some cuddly stuff in the middle, which is all a bit creepy if you bought the family-band scenario.

As expected, it's pretty static, and there's not much happening behind them either - wood effects on the backdrop. They're all singing well and the harmonies are well mixed, important for this song. Borderline qualifier based on this, I'd say.

We'll go hunting for Gygax photo opportunities later.

(Margh, I just wrote this and then Blogger ate it. Bastard.)

Gales of laughter greeted the first shot of a sweaty Cezar, dressed in his oversized sparkly black jacket, complete with huge shoulder-pads and a neckline that Moran Mazor would be proud of. He's surrounded by swathes of red fabric, from which three dancers emerge and perform what might generously be termed 'interpretive dance'. Cezar goes up-up-up-up-up-up-up for the last chorus, just like Aliona did the other day, and it's fair to say that it was much more effective for Moldova. At the end, the dancers get on each others' shoulders, draped in the fabric, and... god, I don't know...

They're doing the right thing here, making the whole thing quite ridiculous, and focussing on the routine and the 'circus' of the whole thing, rather than Cezar himself and his vocals. For his part, Cezar sings... not well, as such, but... he's singing it like he's supposed to be singing it.

It's horrible, obviously, but it really stands out, and is probably sailing through the semi.

The hairy side of Malmö

After a slight lie-in, in part due to Irish generosity, and during skippage of this morning's rehearsals, I decided it was time to test out other local industries than just those involving liquids of various kinds - the hairdressers. We do our utmost to get to know our host cities here at ESC Nation, you see! Alternatively, my mane had gotten unflatteringly fluffy.

I'd done my research and discovered a suitable establishment just around the corner from our apartment, and set out on my quest. Only to be met by a locked door... Off to the next one a block away, and it was closed too - is Thursday the official resting day of Swedish hairdressers, or what?! Thankfully, the area of Malmö where we're staying is densely dotted with immigrant style mini-hairdressers (not midgets, sadly) with horrendous signs on the outside, so eventually settled for that, and had a bit of an awkward and language-confused encounter with a bored-looking girl and the Arabic-speaking hairdresser.

"Can I get a haircut?"
[Blank stare]
"Can I get a haircut?"
[Blank stare]
"Ehm, cut my hair...?"
"Well, yes..."
"Är du dansk?"

Erm, thanks? He eventually did his duty to my satisfaction, though, and it all ended well. Especially since I got a nice big bucket of dispenser coke at Burger King right after. OMNOM

In an ironic twist, Margaret Berger is now performing the ass off I feed you my love, forcing my neck hair up - but it's gone! :-(

Thursday rehearsals: Armenia and Hungary

Alcohol was free last night, multiple times (thanks Ireland), so many of us missed the first two rehearsals, thanks Martin for filling in!

Well, this confirms many's suspicion that the sound in the Armenian final was horrible, and they're sounding just fine in this setting. I couldn't see any planet in the background, mostly black/red with white/yellow spotlights, which look quite nice. The non-Gor members get a lot of camera focus (there was a chuckle when the cameras caught the keyboard player looking all awkward), I guess the concept behind this is to look very much a band doing their thing. A few more tweaks and this should work in a Compact Disco kind of way.

What they still need is an audience, as many shots rely on it being there - especially one from above and behind them at the climax part towards the end. But this should be fixed. They also need to look more interested and engaged. But this will hopefully be fixed too. I used to think that they also need scissors, but somehow after seeing this, the whole hair thing kind of makes sense.

Third runthrough with my attention to sound - Gor carries almost all of the singing by himself (and quite well, too), the band joins him by reflecting his words before the last chorus and then with him in the last one. I can barely hear them, their voices are mixed in just right. Press area doesn't seem convinced by this, but I'm quite enjoying it all.

Last go and there's smoke on the ground, and, arrrrrgh, not again - pyro towards the end (fireworks from the floor followed by flames). I don't think it adds anything to the song and it looks quite cheap to me. A shame, but still an overall positive impression.

I'll refrain from commenting on how it came across on the first runthrough, as it was all very experimental still, with lots of visible camera equipment and changing sound mix during the song. Basically the setting is quite similar to the national final, Alex, a guitarist on a tall stool and the woman backing singer with the animated background and lots of green everywhere.

Second go and they got the sound right now, as Alex and the backing singer's voices blend perfectly and it all sounds great. Camera work is still all over the place though, and it's difficult to tell what's meant for us to see (the confused looks from the guitarist? Alex checking his watch during the instrumental? Hmm)... We'll see in the next runs.

Well, they're really playing with our feelings now. Sudden keychanges, exchanges of words between Alex and guitar player, too many things we haven't seen or heard and we have no idea if we'll see or hear them on the semi night. Probably the most unpredictable performer so far. At least the cameras are starting to get it right.

Much to everyone's relief, no pyro was added in the last go. And for a change, the performers were actually taking it seriously now - all looking a lot like the NF performance now, so if you loved it (as I do), you'll probably love it again. I have a feeling that this isn't the last we've seen of Alex's unpredictable sense of humour though.

Thursday rehearsals: Greece and Israel

There are some sore heads around the press centre this morning - we weren't the only ones out partying last night! - but Koza Mostra quickly cleared the cobwebs with a set of lively, dynamic rehearsals. The key to this one will be in the camerawork, since the band and their hairy old uncle are perfectly capable of delivering the song, and the rehearsals duly focused on capturing the energy and motion of the performance.

So far so good, I think. The boys bounce around as you'd expect, using the full width of the stage and the catwalk, while Agathonas remains rooted to the spot throughout. There are some neat tricks, such as when the lights go out during the instrumental break and the boys' instruments are illuminated, and there's something about the way it's filmed that makes the acceleration in the last 30 seconds towards the ending seem particularly effective.

All  in all, a good start for the Greeks I'd say!

There were no huge surprises here, but "Rak bishvilo" certainly comes as an effective change of pace and style after the Greek entry preceding it - and that'll probably benefit both entries.

Moran is still wearing that rather unflattering outfit that manages to show off her boobs, her arse and pretty much everything in between - but it's a look she's clearly comfortable with, and the contrast between the visual image and the elegance of the stage presentation (dark blue lighting, piano, backing singers, all very "ESC as it used to be") is... if not necessarily effective, certainly quite striking.

Quite a lot of long shots and sweeping crane shots being used here, and I'd say they could do with a bit more eye-to-camera action from Moran, but I suppose it's not exactly the most cheerful of songs so that could come across a bit fake, I don't know. Anyway, it's been a strong enough start to the day from both countries so far, so I'm sure Yami is delighted that I'm handing over to him for Armenia!