Monthly Archives: August 2009

Fab Four: Virgin Free Fest, recount’d

Believe the Hype: Chuck D and Flavor Flav at Virgin Free Fest's West Stage.  Photo by Francis Chung.

Believe the Hype: Chuck D and Flavor Flav at Virgin Free Fest's West Stage. Photo by Francis Chung.

My arbitrary and semi-complete (owing to some collaborative difficulties) recap of yesterday’s Virgin Free Fest is up at DCist now, accompanied by more photos like the Public Enemy shot above by Francis Chang.

Hey, Remember Living Colour? Sure You Do.


You remember “Cult of Personality,” of course, especially if you had MTV in 1989. The 10-second preamble from Malcom X. Vernon Reid’a million-candlepower vamp, searing instantly onto your brain. Frontman Corey Glover’s whirling dreadlocks. His burly soul-sanger wail, lithe but authoritative, though he was not yet twenty-five. His unfortunate yellow bike shorts. (Look, it was the 80s. Axl was wearing them, too.)

“Cult of Personality” went to No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and won a Garmmy for Best Hard Rock Performance. But its real achievement was to embed a message of political skepticism in a mainstream hit for the first time in a long while. (Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” became an even bigger smash that same year.) Continue reading

Live Friday Night: The Flaming Lips at Merriweather Post Pavilion


Oklahoma’s Flaming Lips have subverted expectation of how a “rock” band should sound and behave for so long that the most radical performance they could give at this stage of their singular career would be merely to perform an hour-and-a-half of songs absent psychedelic videos, Yeti-costumed cheerleaders, or Mini Cooper-sized balloons full of confetti.

Still, no one was complaining at Merriweather Friday night when the Lips turned up with all their circus wagons full of Yippie ephemera in tow. Frontman Wayne Coyne was onstage 20 minutes before their performance began, helping to set up gear in full view of the tri-generational crowd. (He got a big cheer when he unpacked the plastic bubble he would soon inflate and enclose himself in for his customary walk-and-roll above the most pit.) Continue reading

Cameron’s Avatar preview, review’d. Sorta.

Sam Worthington with his Pandoran alter-ego from Cameron's Avatar.

Sam Worthington with his Pandoran alter-ego from Cameron's Avatar.

I was among the 3D-specs-wearing dweebs who visited an IMAX-equipped cineplex last Friday evening for a 15-minute preview of Avatar, James Cameron’s first feature since Titanic 12 years ago. Offering a free, extended look at a movie that won’t come out until mid-December is unusual, but then again, it’s also unusual for a studio to gamble $200 million-plus on a film not based on a comic book, toy, or historical event. Also, Fox can’t love that M. Night Shyamalan has his own film coming out next summer based on an animated TV show called Avatar: The Last Airbender. More than one media-savvy person I know has confused Cameron’s film with Shyamalan’s.

Anyway, the Avatar teaser trailer kinda underwhelmed. So how did its expanded cousin play in 3D, or as Cameron prefers it, in stereo?
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And They Wanna Know How-ow-ow, Girls Rock . . .


I have a piece in today’s Examiner about Chicagoland music journalist and itinerant rocker / reformed publicist Jessica Hopper, who will be at Comet Ping Pong tonight at 1900 hours to read from her new book, The Girls Guide to Rocking. As its title implies, the tome tells all you aspiring Karen Os and Carrie Brownsteins everything you need to know. Jessica also wrote the influential essay “Emo: Where the Girls Aren’t” for Punk Planet a few years back. You can find her writing in the Chicago Reader, the Chicago Tribune, the L.A. Weekly and her blog.

Jessica also chooses the interstitial songs heard This American Life, which is, of course, one of my favorite things that has ever existed. See my April 2008 interview with creator and host Ira Glass and/or my review of his last speaking appearance in town. My interview with comic Mike Birbiglia, whose stories have been featured on TAL several times in the last year or so, will be up in a few weeks.
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Live Friday Night: The Breeders at the Black Cat


If The Breeders were thought of as indie rock in 1993, when “Cannonball” was all over MTV and Last Splash was speedily going platinum, they’re really indie now. They self-released their latest offering, the four-song EP Fate to Fatal, even posting a video on their website of twin sister-singers Kim and Kelley Deal silk-screening the vinyl album sleeves by hand.

Their Friday night set at the Black Cat was a similarly homespun, unfussy affair, making no apologies for its wobbly pacing or slight duration: 65 minutes, with plenty of momentum-sapping interstitial fumbling. But the individual performances? Perfect in their imperfection, like so much about this band. The sisters’ elfin harmonies and the itchy maelstrom of Kelley’s guitar would home in on the same frequency for two-to-three-minute salvos of buzzing nirvana, collapsing again at the end of each tune.
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The Masters’ Keeper: Going Dutch with Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr.


Late in 1995, National Gallery of Art curator Arthur K. Wheelock was looking forward to unveiling the exhibit of his career. Johannes Vermeer brought together 22 of the enigmatic Dutch genius’s 35 known paintings. Three centuries had passed since the last time so many Vermeers could be seen in one place.

“That was something nobody ever thought would be possible,” Wheelock, curator of northern baroque paintings, says from his office in the Gallery’s East Building, with a view of the Capitol Dome. “You couldn’t get the loans.” And yet, after eight years of negotiations with museums and private collectors throughout the U.S. and Europe, he was about to make it happen. It would be the apex of a career that began when he’d penned his dissertation on Vermeer more than 20 years earlier. Continue reading

Wheelock’s Greatest Gets

Hendrick Ter Brugghen, Bagpipe player in Profile, 1624

Hendrick Ter Brugghen, Bagpipe player in Profile, 1624

When Arthur Wheelock came to the National Gallery of Art in 1973, its collection was a far cry from what it is today. Marine paintings were all but absent. There were no still lifes. Nothing from the group of Italian-influenced Dutch painters known as the Utrecht Carvaggisti.

Wheelock has spent much of his 34-year tenure as a curator filling those gaps. In the last two years, he’s scored major acquisitions of Dutch masterpieces by Salomon van Ruysdael and Hendrick ter Brugghen. Here he discusses some other favorites among the pieces he’s added to the nation’s art collection, all currently on view. Continue reading

“Denmark,” Undead on Arrival

Amy Quiggins as Ofelia.

Amy Quiggins as Ofelia.

Years ago, when he started making movies in the United States, the great director of Hong Kong action films John Woo enumerated in an interview the many similarities between the brand of hyperkinetic shoot-‘em-ups in which he specialized, and musicals.

There’s nothing that revealing in director/fight choreographer Casey Kaleba’s production of playwright/fight choreographer — you begin to see the problem — Qui Nguyen’s Living Dead in Denmark, which picks up the story of Hamlet 1,828 days later. Elsinore has been overrun by zombies, and the self-slaughtering Ofelia (a limber Amy Quiggins) finds herself, like Jean Grey, mysteriously resurrected. Continue reading

Guitar Hero: M. Ward at the 9:30

M. Ward at the Glastonbury Festival, 27 June 2009.  Photo by Cavie78; used under Creative Commons license.

M. Ward at the Glastonbury Festival, 27 June 2009. Photo by Cavie78; used under Creative Commons license.

There’s an Old Navy’s worth of sartorial similes in which one could dress the songs of Portland retro-elegist M. Ward. But the one that fits best is to liken them to jeans or T-shirts “distressed” to look and feel older and more lived-in than they really are.

Ward’s ethereal, meant-to-sound-“found” alt-country-rock is soothing and undemanding; just soft-focus enough to hold his spot on the hipper-than-thou Merge Records label. It’s well-crafted. It’s listenable as the day is long. It just isn’t terribly exciting, particularly on a Friday night at an all-standing venue like the 9:30 club.
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