Category Archives: shameless self-promotion

It Is Accomplished!

I am pleased to present Santa’s Magickal Ho-Ho Bag, the fifth (!) in my annual (so far) series of radio Christmas cards featuring yule-tunes eclectic and inexplicable (TM), for your hall-decking enjoyment.

If they’re loading slowly and that’s cramping your style, you can also listen here.

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Martyr System: The Saint Plays, reviewed

Betsy Rosen & Allyson Harkey

Last weekend was theaterrific in my life. My esteemed Washington City Paper colleague Trey Graham was not wrong when he set the stage for our discussion of Tricycle Theare’s Afghanistan: The Great Game with the observation that a completely different show, Factory 449’s The Saint Plays “broke [my] brain a little.” But it was fun trying to puzzle it all out. And by “fun,” I mean it was work. I also wrote about GALA’s El caballero de Olmedo, despite my very limited understanding of Spanish. Here’s the review.

Muse at the Patriot Center. Sorry, that’s MUSE! AT THE PATRIOT CENTER!

It’s almost impossible to imagine England’s glam-bastic future-shock trio Muse peddling their warp-speed, Dark Matter riffs and florid piano interludes anywhere smaller than the Patriot Center, the coziest basketball arena on the itinerary of their U.S. tour. Wembley-packing popular in Europe, they traversed American football stadiums last fall supporting U2, a gig they may have cinched for their ability to make the headliners appear restrained and subtle by comparison.

Subtlety was irrelevant at last-night’s retina-singeing ode to space operatic excess. For the 105-minute pageant to express the band’s apocalypse-is-coming, so-shall-we-rock quintessence any more perfectly would have required giant harvester-like robots to wander into the audience and atomize us with their laser rays. A stage comprised of three telescoping video-cube platforms yawned open to reveal the three band members, lightsabering their way through “Uprising,” the pulsing, ominous opener of their latest album, The Resistance. (This is one band where the titles tell you exactly what you’re in for.) Lyrics “They will not control us! We will be victorious!” flashed as the crowd chanted along, implicitly telling Them exactly where They can cram their . . . well, whatever. Continue reading

Patterson Hood, waiting for a Happy Ending

That’s not KISS, it’s the great and good Drive-By Truckers, having a little fun last Halloween. My interview with frontman Patterson Hood about The Secret to a Happy Ending, the new DBT doc by Maryland filmmaker Barr Weisman that will have its world premiere Sunday at the American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre, went up over at DCist yesterday. Patterson and I spoke on Jan. 29 of this year, as the film was supposed to debut three weeks ago, but it snowed a little.

As always, Patterson was a delight to speak with, giving up more good material than I could possibly use at one time. I’ve heard The Big To-Do, the Truckers album due on March 16, and it’s predictably superior. (Sample cut “This Fucking Job” is representative.) As ever, Mike Cooley’s songs have emerged as my early favorites.

The Sweet Spot: Tegan & Sara at the Warner Theatre, review’d

One thing about Canadians: They get that it’s better to promise modestly and deliver in spades, rather than the other way ‘round.

“Overall, I think you will be entertained,” Tegan — point-five of the identical twin folk-duo-turned-tandem-pop-punkstresses Tegan and Sara — undersold before a hormonally supercharged Warner Theatre last night, three songs into a date with an audience that surprised even those sensitive sisters Quin with the pitch and intensity of its lung-power.

The hysteria must have taken them back a little. The duo hadn’t yet outrun their teens before they were playing with Sarah McLachlan and The Pretenders — two useful reference points for triangulating the sort of tuneful-but-tough rock band into which they’ve evolved. Now just shy of 30 and a half-dozen albums in, Tegan and Sara are no longer primarily a sweetly harmonizing emo act beloved by gay women. Continue reading

Loneliest Number: The Four of Us

Dan Crane and Karl Miller

We’re supposed to forgive our enemies, drink less, play fair, love but one person at a time, measure ourselves not against others. When our friends succeed, we’re expected to be happy.

That is what is supposed to happen.

Of easy choices and pain-free obedience are boring stories made. Itamar Moses 2008 two-man-play The Four of Us is never dull, and given the picayune-ity of its stakes, that’s much more than the faint compliment it sounds like.

Moses’s deliberately paced narrative dissects a friendship among two boys-to-men over a ten-year period. We meet David and Benjamin in their mid-twenties. One’s a playwright, the other a novelist who, as comes to light during an increasingly fraught after-dinner chat, has just had the nullifying prefix “aspiring” blasted off of his title in spectacular, quit-your-day-job fashion.

David is still struggling, and Benjamin’s sudden promotion to a more rarefied realm of the cultural stratosphere — and his insufferable aloofness about it, believably conjured by actor Dan Crane — is tough for him to take. He worries aloud if his pal has considered that his $2 million payday mightn’t be, “in some way, totally spiritually corrupting.” It really isn’t about the Benjamins for Benjamin, but try telling that to a guy who doesn’t have any. Continue reading

Mike Daisey: Deleted Scenes

Before you ask Mike Daisey’s opinion on a subject, make sure you’re sure you want to know! (I am, and I do.)

Remember when I wrote that Daisey, raconteurius nonpariculus, was “one of the most imaginative and entrancing talkers in America”? Dude, I was totally right. Daisey generously gave me an hour of his time, and he had way more interesting things to say than I could possibly use in my preview of The Last Cargo Cult, his latest solo show at Woolly Mammoth.

After the jump, luxuriate in the cogent and persuasive glow of a few more of those glorious “lucid, flowing paragraphs” I mentioned, which Daisey freestyled live and uncut into my iPod one week ago.

Enjoy. I’m seeing the show tonight. Can’t wait. Continue reading

Money Talks: Mike Daisey and The Last Cargo Cult

Mike Daisey has a money problem.

It isn’t that he has too little, or, God knows, too much. To hear the 36-year-old raconteur tell it, his money problem is the same one that afflicts us all.

“Money — currency — is corrosive to human relationships,” he says flatly. “It corrodes the human connections that create communities, and replaces them with fiduciary connections.”

Strange talk from a man who once made his living as a business development executive for Amazon, an experience he chronicled in his 2002 monologue and memoir of the late-90s tech bubble, 21 Dog Years. But on a break from preparations at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, four days before his latest solo show opens here, Daisey has the confidence of certainty, however provocative his premise. Even in what is ostensibly an informal chat, he unspools his argument in lucid, flowing paragraphs, seldom restarting a sentence the way amateur conversationalists are prone to do. Continue reading

Julian Casablancas at the 9:30: Is This It?

The New York City that birthed The Strokes, fully formed and never better than on their 2001 debut Is This It?, was as bright and prosperous as the NYC of 23 years earlier — when Strokes singer/songwriter Julian Casablancas was born there — was broke, decadent, and dangerous. Their first album managed, improbably, to conjure both Blondie-era risk and pre-9/11 ennui. It’s lately resurfaced on just about everyone’s list of the aughties’ top ten. Continue reading

Life Imitating Art Imitating Life, or Something

Noire et blanche by Man Ray, 1926

You there: Settle a bet. Would this be art imitating life, or life imitating art? Or life imitating art imitating life?

This is going to take some explaining, so please be patient.

Round House Theatre’s production of Thomas Gibbons’s Permanent Collection, about a racially charged struggle for control of a museum, doesn’t open for three weeks. But the Phillips Collection is hosting a preview of selected scenes this evening. Why the Phillips? Because it’s about to close Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens — a brilliant, unconventional exhibit that touches on many of the same issues vis-à-vis how race impacts art’s perceived value that Gibbons’s 2004 drama does. Continue reading

Becoming Unwritten: The Roots at the 9:30 Club

If NBC ever releases a compilation of The Roots’ performances as house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, the DVD commentary track might make your player explode. The veteran Philly hip-hop band won’t finish a tune without referencing pieces of nine others. Their hyperlinked performance style is reliably thrilling, though you do sometimes want to yell at song-surfing bandleader/drummer/Twitter addict Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, “Hey, I was digging that!”

Last night, at the first of two 9:30 club dates, The Roots offered a sweaty, channel-flipping blitz, packing about eight hours of mercilessly funky rap, rock, go-go, jazz, and soul into 140 breathless minutes. Though they’ve continued to tour since they got their gig upstaging SNL alum Fallon, their return to the 9:30 still had a celebratory, school’s-out vibe. Continue reading

Shoot Out the Lights: Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs at IOTA

Just how retro is the strain of handmade country-blues peddled by Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs? During their ramshackle hour-long set at IOTA last night, the guitarist/percussionist/singer Lawyer Dave introduced two different tunes as “a song about domestic abuse,” and in neither case did he follow-up with a Chris Brown joke.

Violence between lovers has always been one of the major themes of this music, of course. No one goes to counseling in the blues! Continue reading

Viva Christmas! El Vez and Los Straightjackets at the 9:30 Club

Chestnuts roasting. Jack Frost nipping. Yuletide carols being sung by the self-described “Mexican Elvis,” and folks dressed up like luchadores — mask-wearing Mexican wrestlers. Isn’t that how that one goes?

Well, that’s how it went at the 9:30 club last night, where Los Straitjackets — an ace surf-rock quartet out of, um, Nashville, despite their custom of performing in those sharp Mexican wrestling headpieces — were the house band for a bizarro 90-minute Christmas party hosted by East L.A. novelty singer/activist El Vez, who made good on his promise to spread “Santarchy,” and James Brown-like front splits, to the masses.

You could even call it a traditional program of holiday fare, assuming the Burlesque is the tradition you mean. Continue reading

Doolittle Me Like That One More Time: The Pixies at DAR Constitution Hall

Dave Lovering and Kim Deal of The Pixies. Photo by Kyle Gustafson.

I have a lot of thoughts about the play-a-classic album (or a new album) in sequence trend, and I got to discuss some of them in my Blurt! debut, a review of The Pixies’ Doolittle show here in DC. You can see more of Kyle Gustafson’s photos from the concert on his site.

An As You Like It Gone Hollywood

Francesca Faridany’s Rosalind and John Behlmann’s Orlando.

All the world’s a stage, except when it’s a film set.

The Shakespeare Theatre’s new production of As You Like It, the philosophizing romantic comedy set largely in a curative mystical forest, has adopted the trappings of an altogether different wood, one that no one ever accused of being good for you. (That’d be the one that starts with Holly.) The show begins ingeniously as a flickering silent film with title cards, but quickly assumes the props and types of a modern movie shoot, with boom-mic operators and cameramen and headset-wearing production assistants scurrying between scenes. We even hear Ted van Griethuysen growl “Cut!” now and again. Continue reading

Imperfection as Ideology: Kurt Vile at the Black Cat Backstage

Kurt Vile

It’s perfectly reasonable to be suspicious of a musician with as mighty a moniker as Kurt Vile. If that was a stage name (it’s not*) the intimation would be of the most confrontational, petulant punk, but the Philadelphia-based Vile’s defiantly primitive, accident-prone songs are lazier and hazier than that, rarely straying from the long and droning road but hinting at melodic paths untaken. Imperfection is his ideology.

At the Black Cat Backstage last night, Vile ambled through the final date of a month of shows with his three-piece band, The Violators, for what he said was the largest crowd he’d played. Double digits, still — right-sized. He opened the 70-minute set with a solo take of “Peeping Tomboy,” which, like so much of the spectral folk side of his songbook, seemed to waft in from some phantom radio. Even when the combo joined him for the stouter stuff — like “Freak Train,” the self-explanatory centerpiece of his just-released Childish Prodigy album — the cacophony was more ethereal than kinetic. Continue reading

Cate Blanchett DuBois’s Streetcar

There’s a huge star at the center of the Sydney Theatre Company’s much-hyped, Liv Ullman-directed, wholly satisfying new staging of A Streetcar Named Desire, which sold out its Kennedy Center run before the curtain rose on the first preview. I speak, of course, of the dramatist Tennessee Williams.

That’s no slight on Cate Blanchett, who fronts, fights, twirls and finally, crawls her way through a towering, plaintive gut-punch of a performance as Blanche DuBois, the cracked Southern belle at the center of Williams’s oft-revived 1947 Pulitzer-winning war of wills. (She’s also Sydney Theatre’s co-artistic director, with her husband.) Though famous for film roles from Queen Elizabeth to Katherine Hepburn to Bob Dylan, the 40-year-old Blanchett’s almost-as-eclectic stage resume reaches back to the early 90s. Here she proves again that the authority and vulnerability she intimates onscreen is no camera trick. Continue reading

Shut Up and Swing: (The Top Half of) Travis at Jammin’ Java

Fran Healy and Andy Dunlop

More than ever on the concert circuit, nostalgia is the move. With everyone from Liz Phair to Public Enemy to The Pixies (and those are just the P’s) devoting gigs and sometimes entire tours to reviving their seminal albums in sequence, lots of long-lived performers — particularly those strugging to get even their cult to embrace their new music — have glommed to the trend.

Travis are in a reflective mood, too, but they’re taking a different route. Founded in Glasgow in the early 1990s, they were one of the better U.K. trad-rock outfits to arise in Oasis’s mid-90s wake. They’re hardly commercial rivals (or contemporaries) of classic-album-revivalists Bruce Springsteen or The Pixies, but they’ve more hummable, singalong-enabled tunes to their credit than you probably remember, if you remember them at all. Continue reading

Three Guys Walk onto a Non-Metaphorical Dock: Quotidian Theatre’s “Port Authority”

Port Authority

James Flanagan, Steve Beall, and Steve LaRocque in Quotidian's Port Authority.

Conor McPherson’s unshowily devastating three-hander Port Authority is stocked with premises that are, summarized in their most reductive forms, utterly familiar: I Love Her But She Loves Someone Else, I Loved Her But the Flame Has Cooled, I Loved Her But She Died. So it’s a credit to McPherson’s humane, observant pen — and to the three adept actors who illuminate his material in Quotidian Theatre‘s local premiere of his 2001 play — that even when nothing much is happening, it feels like everything’s at stake.

Like so many other contemporary dramas out of Ireland, Port Authority is a tale told in cross-cut monologues. Continue reading

Live Last Night: The Gaslight Anthem at the 9:30 Club

The Gaslight Anthem

Look, Bruce Springsteen and Joe Strummer didn’t invent this stuff, either. The greased hair and the leathers and the overdriven takes of Mad Men-era rock standards already had a blanket of dust on them a generation thick by the time The Boss and The Clash got around to them.

Jersey pomade-punks The Gaslight Anthem are the most persuasive current exponents of this tradition, and they don’t hide it. Hell, they called their latest album The ’59 Sound. At a sold-out 9:30 Club last night, they ripped through that nostalgic long-player in its near-entirety, frontman Brian Fallon balling up his handsome face to yowl about Redemption and car crashes and good girls in trouble with archaic-sounding names like Gale and — of course! — Mary. Continue reading