Category Archives: romance

Mr. Showoff

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The live CD/DVD release of Richard Thompson’s 1,000 Years of Popular Music show, shot and recorded three years ago, includes 10 of the roughly two dozen songs Thompson performed at Lisner Auditorium Wednesday night. Five-twelfths would be an acceptable, even generous, reply ratio for any tour but this one, wherein he has — What was it? Oh yes: 1,000 Years of Popular Music from which to choose.

My first Richard Thompson show was underwhelming; read all about it in the Paper of Record.  I don’t want to sound like one of those jackholes who goes to a solo-acoustic Bruce Springsteen show and then yells all through because the E Street Band didn’t show up, or the guy who interrupted a moving performance of “Fallen” by Elvis Costello and Steve Nieve at Royce Hall a few years ago to bellow for “Pump It Up.”  But for Thompson to play three or four of his own tunes at the end of the show would not have violated the show’s conceit at all: A guy who even half-fills Lisner is still “popular” in my book, even it he ain’t Nelly Furtado.  And he had time, too.  Minus the 20-minute intermission, Thompson performed for only about an hour and 45 minutes.  Not a short show, but not a long one, either.  Though it sometimes felt that way.

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This Just in: Dude Likes Chick, Chick Music, Ireland

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When the Swell Season — essentially Frames frontman Glen Hansard and Czech songstress Markéta Irglová— played U Street’s beautiful Lincoln Theatre last December, they nearly upstaged headliner Damien Rice. But returning to the Lincoln Sunday night, the Swell Season were deservedly the main attraction, riding a wave from the sleeper hit movie Once, wherein Hansard and Irglová basically play less famous versions of themselves, falling in love (kind of) as they wander Dublin composing songs together.

The movie and the duo’s songs share a bittersweet hue, but Sunday’s concert was purely celebratory. Performing in various configurations — Hansard solo, Hansard/ Irglová duo, and as a five-piece with cellist Bertrand Galen, violinist Marja Tuhkanan, and Frames fiddler Colm MacConlomaire — the ensemble conjured up forceful-yet-intimate readings of songs from the Swell Season’s sole album and the Once soundtrack, Frames favorites, and well-chosen covers of songs by Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, and, um, Michelle Shocked. (Don’t snicker. The rave-up of Shocked’s “Fogtown” that closed the main set was one of the evening’s highlights.)

But the lovesick ballads featured prominently in Once — “Falling Slowly,” “When Your Mind’s Made Up,” and the title track —drew the biggest cheers from a rapt audience that mostly stayed quiet enough during the performances let these haunting, fragile compositions resonate.

Onstage as onscreen, Hansard and Irglová’s chemistry is palpable. He’s a furry-faced motormouth who can’t introduce a song without revising himself three times; she’s a no-nonsense siren whose voice ends all debate. But whenever Hansard indulged his cutesy tendencies — joining, for example, the already treacly Frames number “Star Star” with “Pure Imagination” from that deathless “Willy Wonka” movie — you knew the 19-year-old Irglová would have the next song, using her “If You Want Me” to pull the 37-year-old Hansard back from the twee abyss.

Truly, theirs is a match made in Heaven. Okay, Ireland. On this night, it was close enough.

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

A(nother) Night of Music and Passion with the Boss

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Just back from Night Two of the Boss’s two-night stand here in Our Nation’s Capitol. I was in a better position tonight, on the floor instead of Section 116 behind the stage, which wasn’t bad either — I actually like seeing the performers’ perspective, that sea of hands and smiling faces. But the sound was much better from in front of the stage, and the band’s overall energy was higher tonight. I thought Night One’s setlist was more interesting, however, featuring the rarely-performed title track from the single most underrated album in the cannon, Tunnel of Love, the still-not-appearing-regularly Magic tune “I’ll Work for Your Love,” and of course the extended encore featuring the uber-rare two-fer of “Growin’ Up” and “Kitty’s Back.”

Tonight’s set was one song shorter than last night’s, and featured five songs not performed the first night: “The Ties that Bind,” “Jackson Cage,” Patti’s “A Town Called Heartbreak,” “Backstreets,” and — it’s hard to believe this one is an alternate tune instead of an every-nighter, though I like that Bruce is giving one of the standards a rest — “Thunder Road,” dedicated “to Jann [Wenner, sez my associate J. Freedom du Luc, whose review of Night One appears in tomorrow’s Paper of Record; though I saw him at tonight’s show, too] and Pat.”

I have no idea who Pat is.

Five out of 24 set-changes ain’t bad, but I thought there might be a few more: “Lonesome Day,” “Workin’ on the Highway” and even, though it pains me to say it, “The Promised Land” all felt like the could be candidates for rotation. Some of the other tunes I know have already been performed this tour that I was hoping to hear tonight are “Brilliant Disguise” (again from the unfairly shunned Tunnel of Love) and “Be True,” a Tunnel B-side. Yeah, I love me some Tunnel, even if the production does sound quite dated now.

“Last to Die” was dedicated “to John” tonight. Yeah, that John, whose testimony before Congress in the 70s inspired the title.

My overall take on the Magic tour as I’ve experienced it these last two nights is that it isn’t as thematically cohesive as either of the E Street Band tours I’ve witnessed firsthand. The 1999-2000 tour was about reintroducing the band and was possibly the least nostalgia-reliant reunion tour ever. The 2002-3 The Rising tour was about reaffirming America’s benevolent strength after the trauma of 9/11. In the years since then, the “benevolent” part of that phrase has become seriously questionable, and even the “strength” part has been eroded by a series of . . . well, you don’t need me to tell you.

Magic reflects the darker times we’re living in, and Bruce has been playing a big chunk of the album this fall: nine songs of its 11 last night and eight tonight. The balance of the set is about exposing some worthy classics that haven’t been played to death since the E Streets got back together in 1999 (“She’s the One”), rearranging and reconsidering other tunes (“Reason to Believe,” now a bluesy stomp), and reprising the worthy new song from the Seeger Sessions tour, “American Land.”

So if the Magic setlists feel like a bit more of a grab-bag than the prior two tours’ programmes, well, it may be because they kind of are. Bruce continues to wrestle with how to serve both his muse and his loyal fan base, who are there mostly to hear old tunes. (I was one of the youngest people on the floor at tonight’s show, and I am, um, not young.) That said, Bruce is more courageous in this regard than any other artist at his level of popularity. Even U2 don’t have the balls to play nine songs from their newest album anymore. And the crowd at the Phone Booth the last two nights have responded to the new songs more enthusiastically than I would have expected, singing along to “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” and “Long Walk Home” and listening in quiet reverence to “Devil’s Arcade” and “Magic.”

On a more specific note about the music, I wish there were more singing. Patti and Steve sang backup throughout both shows, and Soozie Tyrell sang, too, but “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” particularly, and “Kitty’s Back” both suffered from a distinct lack of harmony. Maybe it’s because I just saw the New Pornographers two weeks ago, but I wanted more of that. There are plenty of decent singers among the E Street Band, so let’s hear ’em!

Also, I miss the lengthy, funny band introductions from the prior tours. Bruce just ran through everyone’s name quickly near the end of “American Land” this time. No “star of late-night television” for Max or Little Stevie, no “professor at the university of musical peversity” for Roy Bittan, no “come on up for the rising” for Patti. It’s a chance to inject a little more humor and warmth into the show. Bring it back, Boss!

Invert, I Say, Invert that Pyramid, Son

It makes your work easier to pare down to fit in the Paper of Record.

ritter.jpgThe Springsteen comparisons are legit; Idaho neo-folkie Josh Ritter is the real deal. But whereas the Boss can’t produce a note without squeezing his face into mask of constipated anguish, Ritter can’t sing without smiling. Or so it seemed at the 9:30 Club Tuesday night, where a literally hopping-glad Ritter jumped, jived, and wailed his hyperactive way through a buoyant 20-song, 100-minute set. “This is going to be really, really fun!” he sqeaked early on. Dylanesque? More like Elmo-esque — but he wasn’t wrong.

Opening with “Moons,” a 51-second epic from his new The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, Ritter slammed straight into a double-timed “The Dogs or Whoever.” By the time “Wolves” careened seamlessly into “Rumors,” Ritter and the four players sharing his stage (there was also a horn section that came and went as required) had proven themselves a band rather than a cast of session players surrounding a freshly-anointed star. Rough-hewn, ramshackle barn-burners would alternate with delicate acoustic performances all night. On the latter, Ritter’s command of the crowd was so assured you could actually hear receipt-printers chirping annoyingly from behind the bars.

Cuts from the new album and 2006’s The Animal Years dominated, though earlier concert staples “Harrisburg,” “Kathleen,” and the set-closing “Lawrence, KS” all elicited lyric-mouthing reverence from the die-hardest segment of the audience.

There were snags: “The Temptation of Adam,” a tale of blooming pre-apocalyptic romance, was a bit too fragile for Ritter to negotiate after 45 minutes of loud, loose rock and roll. “Girl in the War,” too, disappointed in a leaden, big-rawk arrangement ill-suited to the song’s inclusive humanity. But things got back on track quick when the horns returned to lend “Right Moves” and “Real Long Distance” a quality of celebration.

Ritter also demonstrated he shares Springsteen’s penchant from eras past for rambling anecdotes that are sometimes poignant but just as often silly, like the potato story (!) that preceded “Temptation.” Better was the atmospheric recollection of his high school paper route that gave way to a haunting solo version of Springsteen’s “The River.” The busted-strings rave-up of “Next to the Last Romantic” (featuring openers Old School Freight Train) that followed sent everyone home wearing beatific grins that seem destined to be called Ritter-esque.

Variations Three-and-Thirty

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MYSTERIOUS WAYS: Kaufman’s latest is a musical detective story.

Saw Moises Kaufman’s new 33 Variations at Arena the other night; dug it mightily. Read all about it on DCist.

Judgment Day Plus Ten

Or “judgement” day, but I’m going with the spelling used by the producers of the Greatest Film of All Time, which of course I don’t need to tell you is James Cameron’s 1991 apocalypse-contraception epic, Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

In 1992, I got my driver’s license and French-kissed a girl for the first time. But the highlight of 1991, the year of Achtung Baby and Use Your Illusion I and II (I wouldn’t buy Ten for a year, or Nevermind for several more after that), was definitely T2. It was the first film for which I bought the screenplay. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve re-purchased the film each time a new VHS or DVD edition was released.

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August 29, 1997 is the day that film told us half of the human race, give or take a few million, would perish in a nuclear exchange instigated by SkyNet, the artificial intelligence network entrusted with all the assets of the U.S. military. When SkyNet unexpectedly becomes self-aware, it decides that its human masters are a threat and takes preemptive action. You’ve all seen the movie. The 2003 release Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, revises the date of Judgment Day for obvious reasons, having an aging Arnold tell us, “Judgment Day is inevitable” and actually letting us see the beginnings of it in a surprise downer ending. But T3, although a decent-ish genre flick if not compared to its two brilliant precursors, was neither written nor directed by James Cameron, the auteur behind the first two, so it ain’t part of the canon as far as I’m concerned.

Anyway. We’ve lasted another ten years. Congratulations, everybody! Does that mean Michael Jackson is 50 today?

Dig, If You Will, the Picture

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INT. – 1999 TOYOTA COROLLA – DAY

The two young loves roll merrily along, en route to meet his parents to celebrate his birthday. On the stereo is “Guitar,” the stratospherically awesome first single from Prince’s decent-but-unexceptional new album, Planet Earth.

PRINCE: I love you, Baby. But not like I love my guitar! (Grabs guitar. Shreds, Edge-style.)

MISS CROOKS: Are you trying to tell me something?

ME: I don’t own a guitar.

MISS CROOKS: That just makes it worse.