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.

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.

Lucinda Williams, Under Many Influences

(A shorter version of this piece is published in today’s Paper of Record. Thanks to whomever it was over there at 15th and L who came up with the headline.)

Lucinda Williams is more than a little bit country and more than a little bit rock and roll. More specifically, she’s a little Hank Williams, a little John Coltrane, a little Chet Baker, and a little Loretta Lynn. Those were the influences she name-checked halfway through her marvelous 100-minute set at Wolf Trap Sunday night, and you could hear the ghosts of all of them — even Lynn, who is, you know, not dead — hovering in the rafters of the Filene Center as Williams took her sweet time working through a program that largely eschewed the hits in favor whatever she damn well felt like playing.

So: a half-dozen from this year’s fine West album, including the slow-burning opener, “Rescue,” and later, the pairing of “Mama You Sweet” and “Fancy Funeral.” That somber two-fer prompted Williams to call an audible for the upbeat “I Lost It,” “because I don’t want everybody to be crying in their beers,” she said. “Well, actually I do.” The night’s liveliest performance was either “Righteously” or “Honeybee,” a new Williams original that sounded like the kind of Bo Diddley stomp that the Rolling Stones might have covered on their earliest records. Williams’s ace band, especially Doug Pettibone’s volcanic electric guitar, shone on both these rockers, though they sounded just as sublime on sultrier stuff like “Unsuffer Me” or “Are You Down.”

A lack of momentum was the gig’s only flaw. That isn’t surprising given Williams’ notorious, unhurried perfectionism — one of the reasons it took her until her mid-forties, and 1998’s Grammy-winning Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, to become a star.

It’s strange to remember now that Williams’ first successes came as a songwriter, with Patty Loveless, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and even Tom Petty covering her material. (“Crescent City,” a Williams song Emmylou Harris recorded prior to its author’s mainstream breakthrough, was one of the show’s rarities.) Because while her songs are frequently superb, it’s Williams’s voice that pierces your heart. Blessed with a naturally-occurring slur, its ragged majesty can imbue even a goofy song like Ed Bruce’s “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” with grace.

Williams was confident enough to say goodnight with the unfamiliar “The Knowing,” a West outtake. Here’s hoping it makes the live album this tour richly deserves.

Charlie Louvin opened the show with a trip through one of the deepest and most remarkable songbooks in country music. It was a testament to his influence that many of the songs he performed (“Must You Throw Dirt in My Face,” “Atomic Power,” “The Christian Life”) were familiar from several subsequent generations of musicians having played them. Louvin sang soulfully for an hour — generous for an opener; astonishing for a man who celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this month. “The Christian Life,” indeed.

The Setlist:

1 Rescue
2 Pineola
3 Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
4 Crescent City
5 Mama You Sweet
6 Fancy Funeral
7 I Lost It
8 Still I Long for Your Kiss
9 Righteously
10 Where Is My Love
11 Honeybee (new post-West rocker; amazing)
12 Joy
13 Unsuffer Me
14 Get Right with God

ENCORE
15 Everything Has Changed
16 Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys (yup, that one — Ed Bruce wrote it)
17 Honey Chile (Fats Domino cover)
18 Are You Down
19 The Knowing (West outtake)

Legitimacy, conferred.

Well, it’s official: Miss Crooks has been reviewed by the Paper of Record, and favorably at that, despite the “No Hepburn” headline. Way to go, Kid!

This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife!

Once, they call it. There’s a song by that name in the film, but the title could just as well be writer/director John Carney’s private joke about how often this premise can be expected to work: Two talented musicians, one of them very young and not yet famous; the other no longer young and probably as famous as he’s likely to become, meet cute on the streets of Dublin and spend a couple of days pining away for one another in song. Their songs. We get to watch Frames frontman Glen Hansard and Czech singer-songwriter Marketa Irglova perform them, live and for the most part, in their entirety. Risky, but it works, probably because of the two leads’ relative obscurity as musicians (in the U.S., at least) and not-quite-total inexperience as actors, rather than in spite of it.

The same can be said for the shot-on-video picture’s threadbare production values. It looks like it probably cost less than a used Prius, and one suspects there’s a reason all of the “extras” in the Dublin street scenes keep looking at the camera. (Most of whatever they did spend probably went into making sure the all-important tunes were recorded and mixed properly.) All of this is a big help to those of us who are predisposed to come to a romance with more skepticism than we bring to a Die Hard sequel (ahem) — we can’t help but be disarmed by the film’s modesty, in scope if not in theme.

Although Hansard and Irglova aren’t playing themselves, exactly, there’s a Prince-in-Purple Rain kind of thing happening here. But it’s weirder than that: Hansard and Irglova had written most of the songs heard in the film together for 2006’s The Swell Season album before they were both cast in the film. Carney’s original plan was to cast Batman villain and zombie-dodger Cilian Murphy in Hansard’s role. It’s hard to imagine how this could have worked: Trying to explain how a guy who looks like Murphy and sings like Hansard remains an unknown street musician in Dublin for 20 years would necessarily push the movie out of the realm of realism and into the realm of, at best, Elvisism — or far, far worse. In real life, Hansard’s band, the Frames, have had a strong following in Ireland—and who knows, maybe they’re huge in the Czech Republic, too—for a decade or so. Over here, well, let’s just say there was plenty of room to stretch out at their fine 9:30 Club appearance back in April.

In any case, this alternate-universe Hansard lives with his Da and works in the family vacuum-cleaner repair shop (!) while busking on the streets of Dublin. Because he apparently needs the spare change people drop in his guitar case when he plays Van Morrison covers, he dares perform his own songs only at night, when the crowds have gone. His songs are good, but not, you know, so good that it’s impossible to believe he’s made it past his mid-30s without making at least enough cash to get out of Da’s attic. He’s got talent, but he lacks confidence. What he needs is a muse.

Mercifully, as said muse, Irglova isn’t just a cipher put here to prod along the awakening of Hansard’s character. (The film never gives them names — they’re “Guy and “Girl” in the closing credits, which sounds pretentious but doesn’t play that way.) Their age difference of nearly 20 years actually makes sense, partly because it’s impossible to imagine Irglova’s character giving his the time of day once she’s experienced any of the good things about adulthood — everything we find out about her suggests it’s pretty much all been about duty and obligation for her so far — but more importantly, because this film is mature enough not to pretend their attraction to one another is forever. It’s honest in a way that movie romances almost never are.