Monthly Archives: January 2009

Live Last Night: The Killers


The Man with the Affleckian Jaw:  Brandon Flowers photo by Torey Mundkowsky.

Let’s have a hand, please, for the stage-crasher who seized his 15 seconds of fame during “Bones.”  It’s a dull song from The Killers’ worst album, and while the invader, dressed like a solider in the Kaiser’s army, might have given singer Brandon Flowers an anxious flash of getting sucker-whupped like Oasis leader Noel Gallagher did a few months back, all he did was inject the sold-out Wednesday-night show at the Patriot Center with its sole spontaneous moment.   Otherwise, the 20-song, 95-minute gig was as gaudy and efficient a pleasure machine as the theme-park casinos that have overrun The Killers’ native Las Vegas.  (Of course there were confetti cannons.  And pyrotechnics!)

The interruption only cost Flowers a second.  This quartet of new wave dance-pop revivalists keeps a tight schedule. They probably still have a day planner from 2004 with “Take over the world” written on to-do list in it somewhere, or at least “make Duran Duran seem kind of cool again.”  They’ve fumbled a bit since Hot Fuss, their debut, spawned four (four!) resistance-is-futile hit singles, but the gig betrayed no shrinking of their confidence.  Or, his confidence, rather:  This band, on stage at least, is all about its frontman, and in 27-year-old Flowers – the fey fellow with the faux-hawk and the Affleck-like cheekbones – they’ve got a great one, perfectly at ease beating his chest like Bono and twitching like Stop Making Sense-era David Byrne.  Oh, and not that this is a perquisite for fronting a synth-pop dance outfit, but he can sing, too.  He occasionally parked himself behind a center-stage, chest-high, illuminated “k” logo to tap a few quick notes on the eastern end of his keyboard, but otherwise he spent the night on vocals and stage patrol.

How good is this guy?  He managed to put over the group’s recent, so-so Day & Age album almost in its entirety, turning even clunkers like the ludicrous “Joy Ride” (reminiscent of the Rolling Stones’ horrific mid-80s forays into dance music more than New Order or Depeche Mode) into crowd-pleasers.   And if he can do that, you know he’s going to knock the group’s A-material (the one-two of “Mr. Brightside” and “All These Things That I’ve Done” that closed the set proper) out of the, er, basketball arena.

Tricked out in neon and a half-dozen fake palm trees, the stage looked like a neglected mini-golf course until the backdrop – a latticework of tiny electric lights — blinked to life.  The visuals suited The Killers’ songs, which at their best soar and shimmer with visceral brio without troubling themselves to be about much of anything.  (Hey, we all still sing along when “Devil’s Haircut” comes on, right?)

Flowers eschewed banter, except to mention that the band had visited the White House earlier, and that they “were having a really good day.”  Words: not this group’s strong suit.  But the line “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a solider” sure feels like it makes sense when bellowed aloud with the head tilted back at a 45-degree angle.  If 10,000 people do it at once, the line bypasses mere rationality and becomes obvious.  Oh, you still want to know what it means?  Maybe the guy in the German army uniform knows.

A slightly shorter version of this review appears in today’s Paper of Record.

I Wish I Were Blind: The (Often Terrible) Album Covers of Bruce Springsteen


The cover to Working on a Dream. I know, right?

Bruce Springsteen once wrote a song called “I Wish I Were Blind.”  The tune appears on Human Touch, easily the most reviled album in a recording career that goes back to 1973.  Released  in 1992, after a five-year drought of new music wherein Springsteen — gasp! — fired the E Street Band, Human Touch gave us The Boss at his Billy Joel-iest, a synthy, syrupy snoozefest that even die-hard Boss fans (Hi!) omit from their iTunes libraries.

But while Human Touch might be the worst Springsteen album to listen to, it’s far from the worst to look at.   No, that dubious honor might have to go to The Boss’s imminent Working on a Dream, which officially arrives tomorrow (though it leaked online two weeks ago and has already been streamed via NPR’s website) wrapped in a velvet-Elvis style tableau that looks like something a member of the Backstreets staff paid an art teacher at Freehold Community College to paint on the side of his van.

That the album’s cheesy grill stands out as particularly egregious in the Springsteen oeuvre really says something, because it would be tough to find another musician with career album sales far north of the 100 million mark who has shown such consistently guileless aesthetic judgment when it comes to packaging.   Many of the Boss’s releases would have looked better  the way Bruce spent much of the 1984-5 Born in the U.S.A. Tour: sleeveless.  Don’t believe me?  Walk with me back through Boss-time; you’ll see.  We’re including only albums that Springsteen (presumably) had some say in how they looked, so no bootlegs.


Magic (2007)

The canonical predecessor to Working on a Dream (released only 16 months before; an eyeblink in Bruce-time) employs sepia-toned Photoshoppery to get around the fact The Boss (who just has to have his mug on the cover, again) was 58 years old when this thing came out.  The message?  Seven years after George W. Bush came to power, the world is a coppery, piss-colored cloud.


Live in Dublin (2007)

Here’s a no-frills cover that gets it done.  The live album/DVD documenting Bruce’s surprisingly successful roadshow marriage of his boisterous live aesthetic to that of old-timey, pre-rock-and-roll folk and Nawlins jazz, suggests a Hatch Show Print-style handbill.  This was the only tour (so far) on which Bruce was regularly seen taking shots of whiskey onstage.  Curiously, it’s not one of the several album covers on which The Boss appears to be sporting a ’69-chevy-with-a-three-ninety-six hangover.  (See:  Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River, Devils and Dust.)


We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006)

Not nearly as exciting as Live in Dublin, this is an album recorded in four days over the course of ten years.  The subtitle The Seeger Sessions is kind of a misnomer, as Seeger popularized many of these songs but wrote almost none of them.   The cover is is a photo of the sprawling band Bruce assembled for these raucous sessions, dirtied up with that coppery-gold wash Bruce loves, suggestive of dust-bowl grit, with a logo that wouldn’t look out of place on a bottle of whiskey.


Devils and Dust (2005)

This  solo-Bruce outing in the style, sort of, of Nebraska or The Ghost of Tom Joad, greets the world with an acid-washed image of Bruce wincing in pain, implying a more morose album than this ultimately is.  Aside from the Iraq-set title track, these songs are rumored to have been sitting around since the late nineties.


The Rising (2002)

On the People’s Glorious Don’t-Call-It-a-Reunion Tour of 1999-2000,  Bruce introduced a number of top-shelf new songs written for the E Street Band, among them “American Skin (41 Shots)” and the show-closing anthem “Land of Hope and Dreams.” A new album with the E Street Band seemed certain swiftly to follow.  In fact, it took two years — and the 9/11 attacks.

The Rising attempted nothing less than to bind our national wounds and to vest us with the strength to see our way safely through The Valley of the Shadow.  Marketed (inaccurately) as the first E Street band album since 1984’s mega-selling Born in the U.S.A., The Rising swung for the fences and did a lot of things right.  But its cover — a blurry, out-of-focus medium shot of a white guy whom we infer to be internationally famous rock star Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen, underneath the album’s almost-as-vague title rendered in fiery orange Impact font — was not among them.


Live in New York City (2001)

Recorded on two nights at Madison Square Garden during the ten-night stand that closed the first E Street tour since 1988, this album did a pretty good job of capturing something of the grandeur and flow of a typical gig of this era, along with the superb new arrangements of many of the songs in the setlist.  The cover is courtesy of Hatch Show Print, the great southern shop that made smart-looking posters for Elvis and Johnny Cash and pretty much everybody since.  The depiction in silhouette of Bruce with the unmistakable Clarence “Big Man” Clemons is a callback to the iconic Born to Run cover 26 years earlier, instantly communicating that the E Street Band is back.  Simple but effective.

51cjcujptwl_ss400_Tracks (1998)

Springsteen has always been an artist of Prince-level prolificacy, holding back many more complete songs than he’s ever released.  Much of the material that surfaced on Tracks had circulated among hard-core fans for decades prior to its sanctioned release in this four-disc, 66-song collection, but this was just the tip of the iceberg.  There’s material from every phase of The Boss’s career here — the set opens with legendary A&R man John Hammond’s voice introducing Bruce’s 1972 demo of “Mary, Queen of Arkansas,” and ends with a couple of songs recorded with the E Street Band in 1995 as bonus tracks for that year’s Greatest Hits.

And how does Bruce chose to allude visually to this treasure trove of riches from every Boss era — even the wilderness of the early 90s?  With a photo of himself reclining on the couch.  If you weren’t already a fan, would seeing this  make you want to sample this box set’s contents?  I mean, not that a newbie would ever start here, but still.


The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995)

A dusty, somber, E Street-free (though Roy Bittan is around) collection of ballads about twitchy ex-cons, conflicted border guards, and luckless Mexican immigrants, this one — named for the hero of John Steinbeck’s dust bowl novel The Grapes of Wrath, long a Bruce favorite —  might be Springsteen’s single most underrated album.  Eric Dinyer’s painted  cover is a winner.  Who cares if that’s Bruce or not?  It’s a guy who looks like he’s not having a lot of luck trying to put together a few peaceful hours of sleep, a luxury few of Tom Joad‘s richly-drawn characters enjoy.


Greatest Hits (1995)

The cover of the 1995’s misnamed Greatest Hits (it’s neither a strict assembly of Springsteen’s best songs nor his chartologically-determined most popular) looks like a hyrbid of the cover for Bruce’s two monster Born albums,  . . . to Run and  . . . in the U.S.A. In fact, the shot is one of the 899 other photos Eric Meola shot at the Born to Run cover session in 1975.  But there’s no Clarence, even though the E Street Band are present on 15 of the 18 songs included.  Two long-requested Born in the U.S.A. outtakes, “Murder Incorporated” and “This Hard Land,” finally see the light of day here (though “Light of Day” does not).

“Murder Incorporated” was released as a single in 1995 (with a Jonathan Demme video) and performed at every show on the 1999-2000 tour.  And the latter?  Only one of the most joyous Springsteen songs ever.  Anyway, pretty good cover.  Rumors swirled of a 1995 tour with the E Street Band, but other than a few video shoots and an appearance at the opening concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that year, the E Street train would remain stuck in the station for almost another half-decade.  The fact that this image looks like it could be a scarecrow Springsteen, a Bruceelganger if you will, is pitch-perfect (if accidentally so) reflection of where Bruce was at this point in his career: struggling to break free of his own myth and to make trenchant new music — with his old pals and without them.


Plugged (1993)

Yeah, so Bruce showed up to tape a concert for MTV’s popular “Unplugged” series and plugged in after one song.  The sole acoustic number was the previously unheard “Red-Headed Woman,” the first Springsteen track I can think of with a cunnlingus reference — and he’s totally talking about his wife! (Springsteen and the carrot-topped Scialfa married in 1991, when Scialfa was pregnant with their second child.)   The show was a mixed bag, redeeming some of the Human Touch numbers from their limp studio incarnations and presenting some E Street-era classics like “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and “Atlantic City” in exciting new ways.  Plugged also contained a performance of the 80s leftover “Light of Day,” and it smokes.

The cover seems like another, probably unintentional, summation of Bruce’s confusion during this period.  Two Bruces, looking in opposite directions?  From this picture, you’d think them album had failed to synthesize Pre and Post-Breakup Bruce rather than (largely) succeeded.  Most bootlegs look better than this.  Embarrassing.


Lucky Town (1992)

Ladies and Gentlemen, short-lived Latin hip-hop star Gerardo!  Does Bruce not have a wardrobe person on staff?  Or a graphic designer?  Does Columbia Records?  The unbuttoned-shirt thing is a matter of taste, but those sunglasses?  Clearly, Bruce had no one to tell him “no” by this point in his career.

Lucky Town happened when Bruce returned to the studio near the tail end of the meandering 18 months of sessions that begat Human Touch to record one final track.  He came up with the fantastic “Living Proof,” and producer/manager/svengali Jon Landau told him to keep writing.  Thus the 10 songs on this album were all conceived and executed in a few weeks, and show no sign of the limpness and uncertainty of the Human Touch stuff.  The decision to release those two albums on the same day in the spring of 1992 is second only to the formal dismissal of the E Street Band as the dumbest call Springsteen and Landau ever made.  Lucky Town is actually quite good — better than you think, anyway — not that you’d ever be moved to give it a chance if you happened to catch sight of its cover in one of the countless used CD bins it has inhabited for 15 years.


Human Touch (1992)

The knee-jerk aversion I have to this cover has nothing to do with its base aesthetic properties.  I love the idea of Bruce making solo albums (like Nebraska), or albums outside of his usual idiom with non-E Street players (like The Seeger Sessions).  But an album in the E Street style, that could have benefitted from the presence of the E Street band, made without them?  Heresy.  That’s all this cover makes me think about.  Admittedly, it’s more semiotic weight than this boring image of a vaguely gypsyish, studded-belt and bracelet-wearing cat holding a guitar, can possibly bear.  Hate is not a rational emotion.  But I hate this cover, along with about 70 percent of the album.


Tunnel of Love (1987)

Troubling:  Bruce’s last beginning-to-end brilliant album is more than 20 years old.  Born in the U.S.A. was the unstoppable singles machine, but its 1987 follow-up, taking on the mysteries of fidelity, is a stronger, more cohesive album.  (Its release prefigured Bruce’s separation from his first wife, Julianne Phillips, by a matter of months.)  Annie Leibovitz shot the cover, once again, and once again, it’s just about perfect.  Bruce looks like he’s arriving to take you on a date on this, the first  cover for which he appears to have showered, combed his hair, and donned clean clothes.  The bolo tie clues you in that things might be a bit different from what you’re expecting.  This is appropriate, in that this is an album entirely concerned with romantic relationships, and while the E Street Band is here, they’re present in a more subdued role than before.  Newly ascendant are the synthesizers that date the album and have prevented it from getting its due , even though the album did win Album of the Year in Rolling Stone‘s 1987 critics poll, beating out even The Joshua Tree, U2’s very own Born to Run.

51btfcks-ml_ss500_Live 1975-85 (1986)

The only album in the canon credited to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Bruce is in a funny pose in this photo, lifting his left leg slightly like a dog visiting an unfamiliar tree.  Is he walking forward?  Is he preparing to do the crane kick that allows poor, wounded Daniel LaRusso to put down “Sweep the Leg” Johnny at the end of The Karate Kid?  (“One of 1984’s best movies,” raved Roger Ebert.)  Despite this, it’s a great, even iconic image of Bruce staring out into the fog of the audience, blinded by the footlights — and by the sheer exhilaration of being probably three-and-a-quarter-hours into a three-and-a-half hour performance at, say, the the Roxy, where nearly a quarter of the album’s 40 songs were tracked.  I’ve always imagined that this cover is, in effect, the video for “Raise Your Hand” (track 11 on disc three), wherein he stops mid-song to chide the crowd for not cheering fervently enough:  “Do you think this is a free ride?” The Boss demands.  “You want to play, you got to pay!”

The album was originally released as five vinyl albums, but by the time I got around to it in the mid-90s, it was available as a three-CD set.  Live 1975-1985 remains the second best-selling live album ever in the U.S., behind Garth Brooks’ Double Live. Garth is an even commoner common man, it would seem.  Maybe if Bruce had had Garth’s saavy, he’d have called his album Triple Live on CD or Quintiple Live on vinyl.  Then, perhaps, the crown would still be his.


Born in the U.S.A. (1984)
People who know nothing about rock and roll can sing the chorus of the title track and recognize this image.  “The picture of my ass looked better than the ones of my face,” Bruce once said of the Annie Leibovitz session that produced the iconic cover.  (Other photos from the sessins showed up in the 1995 Greatest Hits set, and — appropriately — on the cover of the 1990 issue of Rolling Stone that summarized the eighties.)
Born in the U.S.A. even accomplished the unlikely feat of turning Bruce into a sex symbol, briefly, kind of.  Think that  shot of Bruce’s caboose had something to do with it?  Much later, Bruce said the photos from this period look like “a caricature to me.”
Nebraska (1982)
Recorded on a four-track TEAC in Bruce’s bedroom on January 3, 1982 (the date was going to be the title for a while), this spare masterpiece was birthed from the same sessions that produced the original, ascetic “Born in the U.S.A.,” as everybody knows, but also “Downbound Train.”  The photo, a grainy monochrome image shot out the windshield of a car hurtling through, presumably, “the badlands of Wyoming” (as we hear in the title track), is perfect.  The little peel of snow on the hood of the car one of those details that say everything, like the way Bruce punctuates so many lines on the album with “Sir.”

The River (1980)
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.  The River, like Born in the U.S.A. later, was a long-delayed album for which Bruce wrote dozens of songs, only a fraction of which made the record, even though it was a 20-song double LP.  A whole bunch of them finally came out on Tracks 18 years later, confirming that Bruce held back a lot of Grade A material in favor of a lot of filler in 1980, and even some outright crap.  (When I saw Springsteen play the Richmond Coliseum last August, he responded to a fan’s sign requesting the deep River cut “Crush on You” by pointing out, “That’s the worst song we ever wrote!”  Of course, he played the tune anyway, for the first time in 28 years.)
The back cover photo — a closeup of a paper-cutout wedding-cake figures — would have been a great image for the front cover, what with the title track’s story of an accidental pregnancy, and a premature, soon-to-be-loveless marriage, not to mention the deep cut “I Wanna Marry You.”
The front cover is another forgettable shot of a haunted (or hungover) Bruce — but in black-and-white this time!  Yawn.
Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978)

Yeah, he looks like he went and knocked up Mary, all right.  Oh, wait, wrong album.  Born to Run may have been all about the fantasy of “pulling out of here to win,” but the guy on the front of Darkness on the Edge of Town — released three years and one protracted legal battle with former manager Mike Appel after Born to Run — sure looks like he’s settled in the “town full of losers” referenced in “Thunder Road.”

This is the cover my Bruce-loving friends and I have most often cited as evidence of Bruce’s poor taste in choosing album covers, but in retrospect, this image is a pretty good representation of the dark turn Bruce’s writing takes on this album.  The street operettas like “Backstreets” and “Jungleland” are done now, not to reappear for three decades.  (Working on a Dream makes an awkward attempt to revive this aspect of Springsteen’s legacy.)  So this one gets its own special award:  Most Improved!


Born to Run (1975)

So it was 1987 or 1988, and it must have been the Friday  before a school vacation or something, because Mr. B., the teacher I and everyone else in m sixth-grade class at Oak Hill Elementary just adored, was playing the radio in the classroom.  And this corny song comes on with this goofy saxophone vamp, and I start singing along for the amusement of my friends:  “Doo-wop, shoo-be-do!  Doo-wop, shoo-be-do!” And Mr. B — ordinarily a cool car, patient and unflappable  — gets flushed like I I’ve never seen him, and demands, “Chris, do you know who that is you’re making fun of?” He was really mad.

And I’d be mad too, nowadays, if I was grooving out to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” from Born to Run, the kingmaking album of Bruce Springsteen’s career, and some chubby little 11-year-old know-it-all started shoo-be-doo-ing along.

The funny thing is, I knew who Bruce Springsteen was then.  We had MTV at my house.  I had Bruce’s other Born album,  . . . in the U.S.A., on cassette.  And when Mr. B told me I was mocking Bruce Springsteen — the man who wrote “Glory Days!” — I was  crushed.  Secretly. I kept making fun of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” in a hapless attempt to save face, but my heart wasn’t in it.

Anyway, Born to Run is where the Springsteen myth reached its cruising altitde, and part of that legend is the Band of Brothers that he would 30 years later refer to as the “hip-shakin’, history-makin’, booty-quakin’, viagara-takin’ E Street Band.”  “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” is the creation myth — “Well there came a change uptown, and a big man joined the band” — and this album cover, of Bruce leaning on Clarence’s shoulder, is part of that myth, too.


The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle (1973)

The album is a staggering progression from the folky Greetings, though it came only eight months later.  The cover photo becomes more meaningful as the years wear on because of how shaggy and hippie-ish the 23-year-old Bruce looks.  But I’m not sure what this photo might have expressed upon the album’s initial release, other than that facial hair isn’t for everyone.

Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. (1973)

Madman drummers bummers and Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat!  Or something!

I’ve always liked the postcard motif cover of Bruce’s debut, released in the first week of 1973, the year of Bowie’s Aladdin Sane. Who ever heard of Asbury Park before they heard of Bruce Springsteen?  Bruce’s romanticization of the boardwalk and the nobodies who populate it would get more evocative and specific not much later, but it all begins here, as the title and the cover image portend.

“Under Lincoln’s Unblinking Eyes”: We Are One


U2 perform “Pride (In the Name of Love” at the Lincoln Memorial Sunday.  Photo by Martin Locraft.

Yeah, words largely fail me these last few days here in Our Nation’s Capitol.  Or more truthfully, my will to sit at home trying to think of the right words has failed me, because there’s been too much to do, see, and experience.

I covered the big We Are One all-star concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday for DCist.    But after watching our new president take the oath of office yesterday  (albeit via  Jumbotron), down on the National Mall with one to two million of my closest fellow citizens, that seems like no big deal now. 

Read all about it anyway!

Constellation’s Succesful Marriage


Katy Carkuff and Joe Brack rehearse a scene from The Marriage of Figaro.

“Apollo’s warrant” and “Wag-errant” do not rhyme — not really — but Allison Stockman doesn’t want to hear it. By which we mean she does want to hear it: “Embrace the rhyme,” she instructs her charges. “Make it rhyme!”

Words to live by, or at least to perform by.

It’s a Sunday afternoon half a week into the new year, and Stockman is dismissing the cast of Constellation Theatre Company’s The Marriage of Figaro from the Source building’s second floor rehearsal room overlooking fashionable 14th Street NW. Their homework? To parse the rhythm of the play’s spoken prologue. But “Embrace the rhyme” could just as well be a glib reduction of the company’s mission statement, which promises “visionary, expressive design with heightened physical movement and elevated language.”

That probably reads well on a grant application, but Stockman’s self-descibed “epic ensemble” has built a reputation for delivering the goods, establishing itself less in barely more than a year and a half as a destination for actors and audiences alike. Constellation made its splashy debut with a June 2007 production of August Strindberg’s obscure A Dream Play, as reworked by Caryl Churchill. (“Brisk, accessible, and surprisingly humorous,” praised This Very Newspaper at the time.) An imaginative, highly popular The Arabian Nights followed the same year.

Since then, Constellation has taken on — with varying degrees of success — critiques of socioeconomics and ethics (Brecht’s The Good Woman of Szechwan), Greek tragedy (The Oriestia) and Faust-as-political allegory (Vaclav Havel’s Temptation).

The texts, which Stockman selects with the company’s seven “associate artists,” outwardly have little in common except that they call for large ensembles (a trait Stockman looks for) were all written, or derived from source material, in languages other than English (which she says she hadn’t even noticed). But the 34-year-old Baltimore native and former teacher has nonethless made her productions reflect a unified artistic vision. The link is Constellation’s house style; one that incorporates original music, dance and unabashedly outsized performances.

But — this is important — they’re still plays. Not musicals.

Not even Figaro, best known as a Mozart opera.

No, this “Figaro” comes more or less from the source: Pierre Beaumarchais’s long-censored 1778 sex comedy (or “comedy of manners,” if we must) wherein, as in the movie Braveheart, a nefarious regal type stirs up trouble by invoking his right of primae noctis — basically, dibs on a local virgin before she’s married off to some other dude. (And you complain about your taxes!) Stockman needs a little prodding to admit she stitched the script together herself from a half-dozen translations, though she’s quick to share credit with dramaturg Christie Denny, and to point out that on-the-fly revisions have come from the entire cast.

For this “period-Lite” production, Stockman is emphasizing the play’s roots in commedia dell’arte, treating her actors to a workshop conducted by mimes Mark Jaster and Sabrina Mandell.

Visually, Stockman and resident designer A.J. Guban are using the oblong shapes of Gaudi’s buildings and Goya’s “light, pastoral” paintings as their touchstones. Costumer Yvette M. Ryan has dressed the title character and his bride — both servants — more modestly than is historically accurate, to help the audience grasp the hierarchy of the characters, given that class is one of Beaumarchais’s major themes. It’s a liberty Stockman was happy to take.

“We’ve got this French play, set in Spain, that’s best known for being an Italian opera written by an Austrian, and we’re doing it in the U.S.” she laughs. “So we felt like we had some freedom.”

Constellation Theatre Company’s The Marriage of Figaro is at the Source, 1835 14th St. NW. (800) 494-8497. Thursday-Feb. 22. $20. Tickets are here.

A slightly shorter version of this story appears in today’s Paper of Record.

Live Last Night: James Hunter and Ryan Shaw


Reviewed last night at the Birchmere; showed up on Post Rock and in Thursday’s Paper of Record.   My all-new, all-earlier deadline makes we write things like this:

“If melisma is The Force and Mariah Carey is Darth Vader, then Shaw would be Obi-Wan Kenobi, a steady, beneficent presence who uses his potentially destructive powers for good.”

Chorus as Punchline


My John Eddie (who?) review is my first since the Paper of Record scaled back its music coverage in the paper-paper, and against expectations, it’s in the paper-paper. But much easier to find here.

How Theater Failed America


I reviewed Mike Daisey’s deeply personal indictment of the theatre for DCist.