Monthly Archives: February 2010

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.

Your Psyche is a Public Wonderland: John Mayer at Verizon Center

“There’s something about the authoritative wrong note that I’ve always really liked,” opined John Mayer at the Verizon Center Saturday night.

You think? Ever since his racy, racially inflammatory musings in a Playboy interview* hit the web, Mayer — the 32-year-old, six-foot-plus, sensitive balladeer and guitar lothario who once took home a Grammy for a song called “Your Body Is a Wonderland” — has been in a defensive crouch. For his 3.1 million Twitter followers, the rest has been (mostly) silence since 2:26 p.m. on Feb. 10, when he fretted, “They don’t make rehab centers for being an a-hole.”

That night, he nearly broke down on stage in Nashville, fumbling through two minutes, 50 seconds of awkward, apparently heartfelt apology for saying — well, he said plenty. Let it suffice that the interview begged the question of why megaselling albums like 2006’s Continuum and last year’s Battle Studies are such stubbornly milquetoast insipid affairs when their singularly self-aware author seems to have at least a boxed set’s worth of early-Prince freakitude inside him. Continue reading

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

Nicholas Meyer Had Nothing Whatsoever to Do with The Wrath of Rahm

Nonetheless, I’ve managed to overlook that shortcoming of Barack Stars and review it rather favorably for the Washington City Paper, in my debut as a regular contributor there.
Keywords: demagoguery, chucklebait, asphyxiated, Peter Capaldi.

Folger’s Orestes: My Big, Fat Greek Tragedy

Holly Twyford and Jay Sullivan in Orestes: A Tragic Romp / copyright Carol Pratt/Folger Theatre

Poor Orestes! Ever since he and his sister Electra killed their mom on the orders of a god, he can’t get no relief. Matricide-avenging Furies subject him to violent fits of madness, like a heroin addict trying to cold-turkey, and only a likely sentence of death by stoning waits to end his torment.

But lo, his buddy Pylades has a plan.

Forget the fact that Euripides’s Orestes was first performed more than 2,400 years ago. Anne Washburn’s new “transadaptation,” cheekily subtitled A Tragic Romp and brought to incongruous life in director Aaron Posner’s kinetic new staging at the Folger Theatre, is one of the spriest entertainments in town. Powered by Jay Sullivan’s ashen, bloodshot turn in the title role, and spiked by frequent, floorboard-threatening musical numbers via a five-woman dance-team-as-Greek-chorus, it’s as tonally erratic as it is totally awesome. Continue reading

Joyless Division: The Magnetic Fields bring Realism to the grand old seat of precious freedom and democracy

The Magnetic Fields have roughly the cultural and commercial footprint of an arthouse cinema hit. But a few weeks ago, Stephin Merritt — the group’s songwriter and chief creative officer —found himself staring straight into the ruddy, swollen face of his blockbuster competition.

“I was sitting in a bar, listening to thumping disco music, trying to write songs,” says Merritt from his home in Los Angeles, 10 days before the start of his band’s tour, which opens tonight at Lisner Auditorium. (Drinking in a loud bar is his customary songwriting environment, yes.) “Suddenly there was this television show with the sound on — usually it’s off. And the music, even when they were praising it, was so terrible it was like watching a car accident from different angles.”

Confirmed, then: The Magnetic Fields Guy? Not a fan of American Idol.

What is he a fan of? Irving Berlin. Judy Collins. And of swatting down the stubbornly pervasive idea that songs are primarily the product of something more mysterious than talent and work.

“There’s this book called Songwriters on Songwriting. I think the interviewer must have been asking leading questions, because maybe two-thirds of the people in the book say they feel their songs are basically written by God,” he says. “I just literally cannot believe that they really think this. I tend to write songs while I’m tipsy-to-drunk. But I still don’t feel like they’re written by some supernatural entity.” Continue reading