Monthly Archives: July 2009

21s Century Hoedown: Green Day at the Phone Booth, Reviewed


Do-It-Yourself is forever cited as the governing mantra of punk, and sure enough, it inspired Green Day leader Billie Joe Armstrong to put his own band together 20-plus years ago. But on the evidence of the sturdy Bay Area trio’s combustible circus at the Verizon Center last night, Armstrong’s progression from Buzzcocks-style petulance to Townshendian hero rock had at least one side effect: He’s discovered the benefits of outsourcing.

In a stunt that felt more American Idol than American Idiot, the 37-year-old guyliner-wearing frontman summoned a half-dozen fans to share his stage. There were the two dudes he had up, separately, to sing competing versions of “Longview,” the 1994 megahit that brought punk’s DIY ethos into the bedroom. Later, he pulled up a sweaty young comer in white tube socks to play guitar on “Jesus of Suburbia.” The kid’s awkward appearance made it feel twice as triumphant when he nailed the song.
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Capital Fringe Festival 2009: Bad Hamlet

Claudius at Prayer Hamlet, Delacroix 1844

To be, or not to be. That is the . . . point?

Mayhaps. Every script goes through revisions. The script of a play — Hamlet, say — that predates copyright law, and that was often scribbled down as it was performed and passed around in incomplete or inaccurate transcripts, could diverge in innumerable directions, like a game of telephone (albeit 280 years before the telephone). ‘Twasn’t until 1623, seven years after William Shakespeare’s death, that two of his former colleagues in the King’s Men compiled reliable versions of 36 of his plays in what’s now referred to as the First Folio.

In his absorbing experiment Bad Hamlet, playwright/producer John Geoffrion pares Shakespeare’s longest play to its most iconic scenes, but stages it in a kind of binary format, with the First Folio version and an earlier version attributed to 1603 performed simultaneously. Continue reading

From the Vault: Ira Glass, Interviewed March 2008

Nancy Updike photo of Ira Glass appropriated from This American Life's marvelous website.

Nancy Updike photo of Ira Glass appropriated from This American Life's marvelous website.

It’s not every day you get to talk with one of your heroes for half an hour. I interviewed Ira Glass 16 months ago for this thing. Presented here for the first time is the (mostly) complete transcript from which that piece was excerpted, albeit still edited to excise boring and/or redundant material. 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .

Ira Glass began his public radio career as an intern at NPR in DC in 1978. But it was This American Life, the Peabody, duPont-Columbia, and Edward R. Murrow Award-winning weekly story anthology — mostly nonfiction, but with some fiction, too — he created in 1995 that’s made him famous, at least among public radio listeners. Continue reading

Face 2 Face with My Beloved Readers

In RE: the latest iteration of Elton John and Billy Joel’s Face numeral-two Face Tour, which played Washington last weekend, the commentariat has spoken. Fifty-three postings when the board shut down, and nine or ten of them actually agreed with my review or spoke up in my defense.

The majority, of course, believed I’d called it wrong.

I suppose we’re never going to see Eye 2 Eye on this one. It seems that most folks willing to pay a C-note-plus (before fees) to see these two relive their glory days are seeking something different from a concert than I am. For many of them, that “something different” seems to be something exactly the same as whatever they got the last time they saw one or both of these guys, in 2003, or 1994, or 1972.

Well, fair enough. For what it’s worth, one of the best music critics in the biz, the Chicago Tribune‘s Greg Kot, reviewed last night’s Face 2 Face date at Wrigley Field, and made many of the same observations I did. He even broke out the epithet “mook,” which one particularly overstimulated commenter came after me for using. Continue reading

Sing Us a Song, You’re the Piano Repair Man


The umpire calls it: Safe!

Safe as houses. Safe as milk. Safe as Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits. Hey, did Bruce Willis grow a goatee and take up the piano? Wait, that is Billy Joel!

For Nationals Park’s opener as a pop music venue, the reeling concert trade deployed two of its dwindling stock of big guns, Elton John and the “Uptown Girl” guy. The Rocket Man and the Piano Man began co-headlining their Face-numeral-two-to-Face tours in 1994, shortly after Joel stopped writing pop albums.

The lumbering double-header they brought to Washington Saturday night could have been staged in that year without any alteration to the 31-song setlist. Continue reading

Kraftwerkin’ on a Dream: Jeff Tweedy (the interview)

Jeff Tweedy maintains that Wilco is a collaborative enterprise, though he's the man who wears the hat.

Jeff Tweedy maintains that Wilco is a collaborative enterprise, though he's the man who wears the hat.

I conducted this interview with Jeff Tweedy on June 17. It was excerpted for a “Conversations” box that appeared in the Paper of Record on Sunday, July 5. Here’s the interview in something close to its entirety, albeit lightly edited for clarity. It’s up on Post Rock, too. Wilco are at Wolf Trap tonight with Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band.

There are bands that have sold more records during the past decade than Wilco, but few have been the subject of more discussion among rock’s cognoscenti. Guided by the songs and voice of Jeff Tweedy, 41, every Wilco album since 1996’s Being There, (with the arguable exception of 2007’s Sky Blue Sky) has explored new subjects, textures, and song structures.
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Live, Like, Three Nights Ago: Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett

We’ll just get this out of the way, music lovers: Tony Bennett is, er, classic. As in: He was discovered by one Bob Hope. He’s got more years onstage than all the guys in Animal Collective put together. His guest appearance on The Simpsons was way back in Season Two.

So, yes. He is advanced. Eighty-two, in Earth years. But when he crooned “The Best Is Yet to Come” at Wolf Trap Thursday night, how could you not believe him? Continue reading