Friday, December 9, 2011

The Camerata's gonna get medieval on your holiday

... and speaking of cool holiday music, the kind probably won't be subliminally torturing you in elevators or department stores,the Boston Camerata is about to get all medieval on your holiday. Just back from a tour of northern France and Belgium in November, the early music group will perform “A Medieval Christmas,” a program of song and poetry from France, Provence, England, Spain and Germany performed by a virtuoso consort of voices and instruments, including harps, vielle, lute, recorder and flute. Selections range from a very early Hebrew chant and 10th century Spanish Sybill’s prophesy to 12th-century Aquitanian (French) tales of the Wild and Foolish Virgins, to 13th- and 14th-century English and 15th-century Dutch songs. Program notes include contemporary English translations of the texts and lyrics, much of which will be quite familiar to the audience.The only north of Boston performance will take place at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 11 at First Parish Church, 20 High Road, Route 1A, Newbury. The performance will be recorded by WGBH for a commercial release ... well, as commercial as medieval music gets.

A rockin' Christmas with Zuni Fetish Experiment

.... And speaking of free stuff and Christmas spirit and all the rest of that holiday hockum, here's something to jump on before the season completely overwhelms you: It's a haunting from holidays past, holiday music for those of us who can't stand holiday music, or the holidays, especially, an album guaranteed to put the affect back into your seasonal disorder. Or get rid of it. Or something. It's "In the Christmas Spirit," 30 minutes of ramped-up seasonal selections from Zuni Fetish Experiment, Jeff Morris' gritty, in-your-face, improvisational power trio that wreaked sonic havoc at the nexus of jazz and rock, a kind of no-commercial-potential, Miles-meets-Jimi vibe, a band that morphed into the far more radio-friendly Death & Taxes after clearing venues for several sizzling years. Morris, the Port guitarist probably best known for his work with the Bruisers, blew town last year and set up shop in Chicago. He's put up "In the Christmas Spirit," and lots of other goodies, online for free download. But, given the clock ticking down on the most profitable, I mean the most wonderful time of the year, we're gonna focus on "In the Christmas Spirit," an album that teaches us the greatest Christmas lesson of all: that Christmas music doesn't have to be syrup, schmaltz and pseudo-solemnity, that it doesn't have to be endured, that it can be fun, that it can be smart, that it can sizzle.  

Time to deck the halls with free art ... again

It's probably true, the old saw that it's better to give than receive, but, to quote another old saw, it takes two to tango. Which is to say, you cannot give unless there's someone to receive  — and that's where you come in. You've got to help out all the area artists who have created piles of art to give away, and for you to give away to others if you want, as the second decade of the Free Art exhibit begins. Your gift, so to speak, is to receive. At least for now. It started in 2001, when Gordon Przybyla and Dylan Metrano staged an unorthodox art show — an exhibit without a venue, where the art was free. They asked their artist buddies to contribute 50 pieces of art to be given away anonymously in December. Some artists gave 50 unique pieces, others made prints or photocopies. They made some sturdy boxes with signs that said “Free Art: Take One” and filled them with the art. They hung the boxes up around downtown Newburyport in various stores and public places, where they were picked through and emptied out over the course of the season.

Monday, December 5, 2011

'Sooner' a real kick of a debut

There’s always a danger of confusing artist and art or stories and storytellers, especially when dealing with first-person perspective — like on “Girl of Little Faith,” one of the tracks on “Sooner,” the bleak-but-cathartic debut album from Liz Frame and the Kickers, in which a life-hardened narrator who has been kicked around long enough to be drained of hope, faith and even the possibility of redemption, rejects the old saw that good things come to those who wait. Nothing could be further from the truth for Frame, the Newburyport-based songwriter who decided to dive back in after nearly two decades away from the music scene and, much to her surprise, is making a big splash. It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal, just playing out once in a while at open mikes, not so much trying to jump-start the career that would have or could have been if she hadn’t walked away from it all those years ago, as much as trying to provide a creative outlet for the music that, career or not, still bubbled up inside her. She made an impression quickly, picking up fans and accomplices — and, before she knew it, she had a band. “It all came together in such an effortless way, it just felt right,” she says.

Kickers percussionist discovers The Way

The road is a way of life for musician-types, a way of life whose rep is nowhere as romantic as its reality, or half as lurid as Frank Zappa's account in "200 Motels." Let's hope, anyhow. But the recent roadtrip of Kristine Malpica, percussionist for Liz Frame and the Kickers and, for those with longer memories, the force behind Imagine Studios in Amesbury, and her musical and actual fellow traveler Port singer-songwriter Meg Rayne, is something else entirely: a 500-mile, 40-day  backpacking tramp on the El Camino De Santiago, known as The Way, across France and northern Spain, which has been recognized as the first official European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This week you can go along for the ride, at least vicariously, when Malpica,  a student in the Northern Essex Community College Honors Experience program, with a focus on history and anthropology — who knew? —  will give a virtual tour of the landscapes, history, culture, archaeology, art, architecture and music that represent the spirit of The Way today. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Miller, Bonfield and the sounds of the season

Kristen Miller and Ken Bonfield perform 'Soulful Strings' Dec. 4.
Kristen Miller is a cellist who has been turning the instrument on its head for years, mixing hypnotic African rhythms and Eastern melodies with rock attitude, vocabulary and gear. Ken Bonfield is a Gloucester-based multi-instrumentalist who has developed a style that's difficult to pin down, combining elements of folk, Celtic, classical and blues for acoustic guitar to create a mash he calls, for better or worse, fojazzical. They've both got Christmas albums out: Bonfield’s subdued, introspective “WinterNight,” coming out more than a decade ago, and Miller’s 2010 “Winter Loves Company,” a collaboration with sound guru Tom Eaton, a sweet mix of cello and piano with a Windham Hill sensibility. Both include fresh arrangements of traditional carols as well as original seasonal compositions. They'll be playing a holiday show together next week, but, given their idosyncatic musical histories, it is unlikely that their “Soulful Strings,” show at the First Religious Society Unitarian Universalist  Church in Newburyport next week will be your traditional rum-pa-pa-pum kind of show, but it’s gonna be nice.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover

They say you can't just a book by its cover. Which is bunk. Just ask Joel Brown. Last year, right about this time, the Boston Globe scribbler and Port novelist was in Carriagetown, trying to score some of that fancy, super-nutritious and undoubtedly horribly expensive food for his dog Buffy. All his Port connections had gone dry. That's when he spied Bertram & Oliver, a book store that had just opened a couple of months before. Brown had just self-published "Mirror Ball Man," a  mystery set in a little seaside community very much like Newburyport and had a couple of copies with him, and when you self-publish, you also self-promote and you develop a thick skin. You learn that cold-calling bookstores is no worse than, well, stopping strangers on the street and asking them what it's like living in a city that's being overrun by bloodthirsty zombies, activated by a mysterious cell phone signal, like in "Cell," a Stephen King book based in real-life Malden — a fun, goofy assignment for the Globe that is responsible, in a way, for Brown's being able to come to terms with his secret desire: Writing fiction. So he swallowed hard and took the plunge, pitching to B&O owner Joanne Wimberly. She cooly assessed the cover, a picture of the Plum Island Lighthouse with a disco mirror ball shining from inside, and bottom-lined it: "Right cover, right price. I'll take six."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A proper peek at Pullins' Pico

Ian Thal playing the Sprite in a recent production of 'Pico.'
Photo courtesy Daniel Bourque.
Complicated world we live in. Most people aren't really happy until they get the whole story, but, in this sad era of diminished expectations, we're happy enough, or we'll settle for, a piece of the action. Because something's better than nothing, right? Because you can't always go whole hog. Which is what Ralph, the philosophy-reading, pig-in-a-blanket-on-a-stick-selling hero of "Plato on the Corn Dog" wants to do when he gets caught up in the say-anything-to-sell madness of a slick infomercial king in the new (sort-of) theater short from Port playwright Ron Pullins. And what is really interesting here is that this play, which the playwright is offering up, for free, to anyone who wants to participate artistically and vicariously in Occupy Whatever movement, and "Pico," which was just published by Steel Toe Review, were pulled, whole hog, from larger works — the former from "The Dollartorium," the playwright's funny take on the ugly side of the American dream and what it takes to sell it, and the latter from "Woman. Bicycle."

Pullins, who owns Focus Publishing, the Port publishing house specializing in classical Greek and Roman drama as well as deadly dry academic textbooks, describes "Pico" as "commedia dell’arte and a miracle play in a form Pinter might have imagined." Not bad. Guy ought to be a writer or something. But we see it more like Godot meets Kafka's K in a low-rent bar just down the hill from the Castle, called upon to perform a play no one in Moss's remembers, despite the fact that the little sprite, like Kafka's surveyor, is certain he is in the right place at the right time and ready to do the job they wanted him to do — even if no one else remembers engaging him.

It started out as a scene for "Woman. Bicycle,”a complicated play to summarize if you want to go beyond the playwright's dismissive "someone comes, something happens." Could be two strangers, a guy and a girl, collide while riding bicycles. Could be they’re out riding together and grabbed by a couple of rightish thugs who hassle them because they’re obviously of the wrong political persuasion. Lot of that going on these days. Or could be a guy trying to write a story and a woman who just wants to get him between the sheets. "Plato on the Corn Dog" drops its old-school 'tude, riffing on "The Cloud," Aristophanes’ spectacular hatchet job on the looking-very-familiar Greek intelligentsia at a time, like ours, when sophistry, not philosophy, ruled, taking aim at the insanity of our consumer, marketing and financial um ... culture?

The best thing about all this, at least for lazy theater-goers like me, is that you get to experience the stage without ever leaving the comfort of your computer. You can read "Pico" here and you can check in on the American dream with "Plato on the Corn Dog" here. Now, if only someone, somewhere, could do something so I wouldn't have to get off the couch to experience theater ...



 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Project comes home for the Holadays

Joe Holaday may well be, and, for the record, these are his own words, "a boring rock star." He's a house-husband and dad who eats (and likes) oatmeal, plays basketball three days a week in an old folks lunchtime league at Latitudes  (“My jump shot hasn't left me,” says the 54-year-old Port musician) and actually shows up on time, sometimes a little bit early, for interviews — even in the morning. But, romantic ideas about the lives of rockers aside, he really is a very busy boring rock star. The bassist, probably best known for his long-running gig with The Fools, is back in town after a recording date with Fran Cosmo, the "other" singer from the band Boston, sharing session credits with keyboardist Steve Baler, Holaday's bandmate from Beatlejuice, the Fab Four tribute band that had been fronted by original Boston vocalist Brad Delp until his death four years ago, and that has soldiered on in the wake of his suicide — and in Velvet Elvis, another tribute band, this one giving props to pre-Vegas Elvis and other golden age of rock pioneers: two bands that, to make things even more complicated, include, among other people, Mike Girard and Rich Bartlett from The Fools. And, come to think of it, Holaday's sons, Jared and PJ. They have been known to take the stage with Beatlejuice, which is one of the reasons that a couple of their "goofy uncles," which is how Holaday Senior describes the relationship between his sons and the boys in the band(s), perform  in the Holaday Project, the family band that makes its formal debut at the Firehouse this week. And, yeah, we're talking about the mayor's hubby and kiddos.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Joel Brown back with new Libertyport mystery

In downtown Libertyport the other day. You know, that achingly familiar, desperately quaint and picturesque and oh-so-hip New England seaside community? Ran into Joel Brown, the Boston Globe scribbler sidelining, these days, as a crime novelist. He was hanging in Foley’s, the iconic newsstand/coffee shop with the red and green neon sign and the old-time soda fountain, the funky rival the evil corporate bean-roasters just a couple doors down the street. Near, um, the Thirsty Lobster, that "defiant anomaly among the art galleries and boutiques?" Just across the street from the gently curving red-brick blocks of Dock Square, a mixed-use landscape of stores and restaurants on the ground floor and offices or apartments above, with awnings, signs and flower boxes adding color and variety, a public space that “just worked in a way that was hard to explain, like Fenway Park,” as the Port resident writes in "Mermaid Blues," his latest Libertyport mystery. But it doesn't work that well for Joey Durst, the hard-partying, not-so-hard-working son of a local fisherman, who turns up sleeping with the fishes in one of those surprisingly seedy walk-ups above the Whale — I mean, the Lobster.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Big news Brewing for Amesbury rockers

Wow, they've been sitting on this for months now, not saying a word, despite endless badgering from reporter-types, and unauthorized posters offering more than they could deliver, but they promised it would be the most ambitious project they've ever been involved in, but something they just couldn't talk about, even though you could tell they were dying to spill it — and it turns out that they were telling the truth: Next month, the Brew will release "A Garden in the Snow," the first title of a three-disc, 30-plus song collection called  "Triptych. The other two albums — "Light From Below" and "Hard Enough To Break" — will officially drop in December.  The albums will be released in separate shows in three venues in two states.  Word is that "Triptych" is composed of three interlocking sets of songs that compress the many influences and experiences of the Amesbury-based quartet, which has been gigging and writing together since forming nearly a decade ago in Amesbury. "A Garden in the Snow" is an impressionistic, indie-rock album that explores the possibilities of song craft without restrictions.   "Light From Below"  is the heavier-hitting release of the project, reflecting the band's commitment to live, improvisational rock — and includes a blistering cover of  Led  Zeppelin's "Going to California," paying homage to Zep while making the song their own.  "Hard Enough to Break," the third album, showcases the band's  obsession with the golden age of FM radio, paying tribute to the pop form with tight arrangements that pay tribute to pop form, while maintaining the band’s passion for going all in. All of "Triptych" features The Brew’s notable use of three- and four-part vocal harmonies, situational lyrics and fat-ass hooks. The albums will be released on the band’s Riverwood Records label. All three albums are available on the band's web, as is a detailed tour schedule, but here's are the bare-knuckle facts, down and dirty: "A Garden in the Snow" comes out Nov. 4  at The Brighton Music Hall, which, despite its name, is in Allston. "Light From Below" will be released on Dec. 9th at Port City Music Hall in Portland, Maine. "Hard Enough to Break" will have a local release on Dec. 17, when the band turns up at the at the Blue Ocean Music Hall in Salisbury.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The storied career of AJ Mungo

You can call him AJ, you can call him Andrew ...
Call him AJ. Not a lot of people do these days, at least not in our little city where he a local celebrity — famous, you could say — where everybody knows him by his given name. The nickname goes back, way back, to the days  when he was a young punk and promising juvenile delinquent growing up on the wrong side of the river, back to his father, who people also called AJ, although the initials meant something else.  The father was Andrew Joseph, the son was  Andrew John. That became an issue at his christening, when the parish priest insisted that, to avoid a lifetime of confusion Andrew John have "Jr." tacked on to his name, which is why the name on the box of "Thanks for Listening, a Memoir" says, "a film by AJ Mungo and" — talk about a name — "Amie Spiridigliozzi-Keefe" instead of "Andrew J. Mungo Jr." It's also one of the stories Mungo tells in the film, which gets a proper big screen premiere this week at the Screening Room, the city's hip, alternative cinema, which he owns, and which, after three decades in fashionable, trendy Blueberry Port, has propelled him to superstar status or, at least, relative fame, but only within the city limits. He still has to pay cash in Strawberry Port, and in Raspberry Port he has to show a photo ID. The movie, the film-maker and -shower says, tongue squarely in cheek, is his bid to bust the fame game open — beyond the Merrimack, even. And, at the same time, goose his rep here, in the most delicious of the Ports, because fame can be fleeting, and while most folks may know who he is, this guy behind the camera, or the popcorn machine, or, depending on the day, the ticket booth, what do we actually know about him? And, while we're talking about him, what's the deal with his freakishly large head? 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Boston Horns blow into town for concert

Garret Savluk
It's hard to imagine the Boston Horns playing a sit-down concert. The seven-piece band has been burning up stages with high-energy, hard-grooving funk and soul for more than a decade and has developed a reputation for, well, burning down the house, for getting folks off their seats and onto the dance floor or into the aisles. And that's exactly what they're planning on doing next week, when the band pulls into the Port for their first local gig in years.  "You'd better tie the roof down," says Horns frontman Garret Savluk. "We're going to mix it up, we're going to do our thing, we're going to blow this place up." But, as hard as it is to imagine people sitting in their seats, politely clapping like it's the US Open, while the Horns tear it up onstage, it's even more difficult to imagine Savluk up there doing it without saxophonist Henley Douglas at his side. They've been playing together for better than two decades, from the early days with The Blues Meanies, which had them backing the Del Fuegos, among others, to the years as the conceptually outrageous Heavy Metal Horns, which put them on the road with then-chart-toppers Extreme, to their work over the past ten years as the Boston Horns, opening for monster funk acts like the Tower of Power and bringing the band, and its powerhouse sound, to a headlining tour in Japan. But that's where the Horns are these days. They're still together, but the Douglas-Savluk partnership is done. 

Powell play adopts new look

Things aren't the way they should be and they're not what they seem in "The Way Life Should Be," the "new" Leslie Powell play that has been kicking around stages, on the east coast, in the southwest, in one form or another for about seven years and, recently opened the fourth season of North Shore Readers Theater Collaborative, a Port play development series, in a dramatically stripped down form that came after a major rewrite just days before the latest opening. Something the actors must have been really happy about. Hey, everyone loves last-minute rewrites, right? It’s a story with a very long history — like the play itself. It's about a much-delayed, much- anticipated reunion, a get-together Elaine has played out in her head thousands of times over the years. She has not seen Grady since he was a little boy  — 19 inches to be exact — when she gave him up for adoption. He’s 27 years old now. She knows it was the "right" thing to do, but that decision has cast a shadow over the rest of her life, which has been shrouded in doubt and guilt for as long as she can remember, although the emotional ramifications have mostly simmered below the surface. He is the "ghost baby," who has been haunting her all his life. Wherever that played out. She has waited for the call for years, not expecting to get it, because in her heart she feels guilty, she feels like she is being — and maybe should be — punished because, after all, what kind of monster would willingly give away her child? No, no. Nobody ever said it. To her face. But she has felt the scorn of icy imagined stares through most of her adult life. No amount of comfort, reassurance from Jess, her lovie-dovie, long-time live-in will change that. Okey-dokey? 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Once upon a time, Greg Moss wrote a play

Aisha Chodat plays Jenny in the new Greg Moss play. Photo by Lydia See.
It's not like anyone hoodwinked him, he was not dragged, kicking and screaming, into the project. He went along willingly, however cautiously, saying he would kick the idea around a little, to keep an open mind, just see what happens, but with a boatload of doubt, because Gregory S. Moss, a homegrown, but lately a globetrotting playwright, just back from a French premiere of his play "House of Gold," is a little distrustful of the form — "skeptical" is how he puts it — even though some of his work is built along similar structures. So when Edward Speck, artistic director of Theater in the Open, a company Moss had been involved with for more than 15 years, approached him, asked him to do an original adaptation of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale — any one, his choice — Moss thought ... I'm probably not the right guy to do a straight adaptation, but maybe I could take a different approach. So he dug into the literature, the folklore of fairy tales. He read the usual Freudian takes about what is going on below the surface of these creepy, disturbing, if you think about it, stories — or, at least, the ones that the evil genius Walt Disney hasn't gotten his dreck-stained fingers all over, and came up with something original, spellbinding — a modern Grimm-like fairytale set in the here and now, specifically Newburyport, or "this Puritan black hole of the universe" as our 15-year-old heroine Jenny Stone (Aisha Chodat) puts it — a little city by the laughing waters that geeky Froggy (Max Vye) — a characters whose name might ring a bell with all you clever kids out there — was told to avoid at all costs.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Exit show a real kick(er) for Taylor

The Rhythm Chicks, aka Lynne Taylor and Kristine Malpica, are sitting at a window table at Cafe di Siena, kicking back before putting on happy faces for a photo shoot for the debut album from Liz Frame and the Kickers, scheduled for a late-October release. They're also trying to remember, without much luck, it turns out, the last time RC2 (Taylor, since she came into the Liz Frame fold later, though the designation is by no means official) did a solo show. Malpica is pretty sure it was two years ago, a solo show in Portsmouth. At the Unitarian church, maybe? But, no, Taylor isn't buying it, even though she has nothing to contribute to resolve the question. "It's been a while,"  says the Port bassist, a fixture on the local music scene for a quarter-century, who fronted a list of bands longer than your arm. And that's ... OK? Yeah, it is, as far as she's concerned. It's actually better than OK, because now she only has to do the fun stuff: get to the show or rehearsal on time and play the bass and sing harmony, not the ugly-but-necessary stuff  — booking, budgets and promotion. "I'm happy as a Kicker,” she says. "This is way more fun, less pressure." It's also the reason people stop in their tracks when they see that Taylor will be performing solo in a benefit for Exit Dance Theatre, the modern dance troupe that will be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year. It's not true, not exactly anyhow. The Sept. 23 performance not so much a solo show so much as it is a collaboration. She'll be backed by a band, a kind of impromptu band, one that includes RC1 on percussion — as well as a performance by Exit, which will debut a new piece set to one Taylor tune, and a poetry reading.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

New day, new band, new name

Funny name, Tabasco Fiasco. Maybe not the best he's come up with, and, believe me, there have been many over the years. Personal favorites? Well, Felonious Monks for the jazz reference, and Magnificent Bastards,  just for the sheer gall. But we're also fond of the Maldens, especially knowing that the musicians were from Everett. And Alan Laddd and the Abashed, for the inside joke: Alan Ladd was the actor who played Shane, the world-weary gunslinger who just wanted to settle down, but gets dragged into into that complicated ethical world once again — and the name North Shore rocker Gary Lavenson adopted so many years ago because ... well, because it was way more rock and roll than Lavenson. Go ahead, try it out: Gary Lavenson and the Detour. Just doesn't work, does it? But, yeah, funny name, Tabasco Fiasco. Shane didn't come up it. His banjitarist, a guy with a familiar name, having ... What? Banjitarist?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Maudsley: Duo slaying them in Europe ... we think

Still no action on the band's web, but it's still early. Maudsley's mad musical adventure, or "grand European tour," as the duo puts it in its tongue-in-cheek video biography, has just begun. Barely. Ashley Plante and Joe Berardi are on the ground in Belgium, the beginning of a two-week, seat-of-the-pants Old World buskers tour of Europe that will take them from Amsterdam to Brussels to Paris to Marseilles. They'll be singing for their supper, tightening what they have and writing and posting new songs born on the road as well as shooting video to document this tour and to acquire raw material for future projects. They'll be dragging around their gear, crashing in hostels, making mad dashes through puzzling train stations. And they'll also be blogging about the tour and writing to the folks back home and .... and it's beginning to sound a lot more like work than fun. But, like all good plans, it's not set in stone. "It's about living in the moment," Plante said during an interview just a couple of days before mandatory groping by the TSA. "We'll know what to do when we get there."

Friday, August 12, 2011

A deserved buzz about 'The Flies'

Theater in the Open has been messing with myth for three decades. It's  what they do, they do it well, they always have. But when someone finally gets around to writing a proper history of the troupe, the company's current production, a dizzying, kaleidoscopic retelling of Jean-Paul Sartre's epic play "The Flies," will be one of the shows they will linger over. It's a startlingly original take on the French existential drama, blending chaos and pathos, one that finds the poetry and visual clarity in a difficult and sometimes tiresome work, one ultimately wrestled into submission by director Stephen Haley. No mean feat considering the nature of the beast. Because Sartre was a philosopher, not a playwright. A straight production of "The Flies" is a gabfest, about three full hours of audience-numbing blah blah blah about the absurdity of life  — wonderful, thoughtful, perceptive blather, but treatise rather than drama, and one that doesn't really fly, so to speak, on stage. Not for the audience, anyhow. Yes, we are alone. There's no God, there's no Devil, to save us, to trick us. There's no transcendence, nothing beyond the immediate, what can be sensed. Meaning is illusion. We're condemned to live in freedom, free to curse the gods or blame the "other" political party or whatever evasion strategy is required or comfortable, but escape is not possible. Whatever is wrong can be left on our own doorstep — a terrible responsibility that we, naturally, ignore — especially, being Americans, when it taxes our attention span.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Notable: Smith's 'Truths' looks at Port's past

Not saying it's all he does, but Kile Smith, the composer-in-residence at this year's Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, is "a choral guy," so he probably can't help getting all caught up in the literary side, in the words, in the history, before getting down to the music. Just part of the job description. But sometimes the Philadelphia-based composer takes the word thing almost to the point of obsession: By the time he gets around to writing the music, he sometimes will have spent months digging through biography and history, selecting and rejecting and editing texts. Like, with "The Waking Sun," a piece commissioned by The Crossing, a 20-plus voice Philadelphia chorus, which is based on Stoic Roman philosopher Seneca. An interesting guy, to be sure: Playwright, scholar; banished by Claudius for having an affair with Caligula's sister, brought back to tutor a preteen Nero and eventually forced to kill himself for plotting to kill the little firebug. Supposedly. "They wanted a Seneca piece, and there’s a truckload of his writings," says Smith, "so I read reams, including all the plays, and the piece eventually came from those. Lots and lots of editing." And he went through the same process, pretty much, for "Plain Truths," a 20-minute piece for baritone and string quartet based on texts of prominent Newburyporters from the community's storied past, including the pot-boiling 19th-century novelist Harriet Prescott Spofford, the fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, and of course, self-appointed Lord Timothy Dexter, who presided over High Street, if nothing else. In fact, the title of the piece, which gets its NCMF premiere on Aug. 20, comes from Dexter's "A Pickle for the Knowing Ones; or Plain Truths in a Homespun Dress," an 1802 work that is part political screed, part sermon and part diatribe against anyone who owed him money — in addition to being "one of the most remarkable writings ever produced," according to NCMF Artistic Director David Yang, who commissioned the piece. He was able to find all this material online. As usual, Smith got caught up in the history, especially the Dexter — so much so that he considered building the whole piece around just this one of the city’s most colorful figures before being talked off the literary ledge by Yang, a fellow Philadelphian. He admits to his weakness, his infatuation with words and history. Just don't call him a buff: "I love words and I do enjoy history," he says. "I’m no buff. Didn’t George Costanza say that? 'I'd love to be a Civil War buff. What do you have to do to be a buff?'”

Talking about a 'Conversation'

Google "The Dangling Conversation" and, naturally, you’re swamped with references to the Simon & Garfunkel song from the monster "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" album, but it’s also the name of an ongoing improvisational performance project by Port actor Brendan Pelsue and Natasha Haverty — a piece that is informed and inspired by the Simon song. Well, not really, but sort of. It’s not like something from the song jumped out at them, there was never that “aha moment” when the name emerged out of nothing, like grace, clarifying everything they were trying to do, says Pelsue, now living in Cambridge, but using his hometown as a staging area for productions of "The Dangling Conversation" at the Actors Studio, and “The New New England,” a show in Salem in which Latino youth from the St. Peter’s Summer Theater Project interweave their experiences with those of immigrants from the past. No, they’re “not totally crazy about the name,” says Pelsue, but it will have to do until inspiration finally shows up. Besides, the song, which is about a couple's inability to communicate, does bump up against what they are trying to do, which is ... well, complicated: It's about a nuanced relationship between two people that is created in the present — the actual present, at the very moment the show takes place, right before your eyes. The story continues next week on the Tannery stage.

Monday, July 18, 2011

What's new with the Brew? Lots, but ...

Saturday afternoon, downtown Newburyport, a sweltering summer day. The air thick, oppressive. It’s a zoo. The streets lousy with tourists and vendors, the air thick with the greasy stink of fried dough. The day-long Riverfront Music Festival will begin in about an hour. Chris Plante, the keyboard player for the Brew, is hustling through Market Square, a tight, focused but weary expression on his face, obviously dragging ass. No, the Brew, the homegrown band Plante has been performing with for nearly a decade, a quartet that will be opening for rock legend Gregg Allman next month in Lowell, will not be playing the Port festival. Lucky for them. The boys were just hours past their last gig at the Spot Underground in Providence at 2 a.m. By the time their trusty tour bus, a Dodge Sprinter that sometimes doubles as wiffle ball field, as fans of Brew video blogs know, pulled into their driveway in Newburyuport, the sun was coming out, giving the band a couple of hours to decompress and grab a little shut-eye before dealing with the brutal, life-and-death struggle for a parking spot and a table at Joe's in this madness and, of course, dancing around questions from the local press about the band's next album. His brother, Brew bassist Joe Plante, who just stepped over the low fence into the dining area, is ready to help out. Bottom line? Yeah, it's been three years since "Back to the Woods" dropped and, yeah, they say, the band is about due for a new album and something is happening, something really big, in fact, "the most important thing we've ever done," says Chris Plante, but ... well, they can't talk about it right now. There will be an announcement by the end of the summer. Brother Joe backs him up. "It's the biggest thing to happen to us," he says. But, but ... "We just can’t talk about it." There's a tired grin on brother Chris' face. Tease! He admits it. "Yup." But says he doesn't enjoy it. "Seriously," he says. "We just can't say anything about it right now."

Friday, July 15, 2011

'Rites' reveals dysthmic shrink in brutal comedy

Had to go to the dictionary to figure this out. First you’ve got anhedonic, which you can almost suss out from its roots. It’s an inability to experience pleasure from activities that used to give you a charge. Then you’ve got dysthymic, which comes from the word/condition dysthymia, a mood disorder characterized by chronic depression, but not quite as nasty as hardcore depression. So, now that the roadblocks to comprehension have been removed, we can put it all together: “Last Rites,” the new play by Lawrence Hennessey, is about is about “an unhinged, misanthropic, anhedonic, dysthymic jerk of a psychologist.” And we have just one question for the guy who wrote the play, seeing how he’s a shrink and everything: Is the play autobiographical? “I hope not,” he says. Good thing, seeing how this nasty piece of work comes to the understanding that the only way he can get right with the world after one of his patients commits suicide is, well, to kill himself. And, this being the modern world, he’s gonna film it so everybody knows what’s going on. And, oh, probably should mention this: It’s a comedy. A dark comedy, granted, but ... what? Ah, it’s a “brutal black comedy,” says Port director Tim Diering, who will stage the show this month at the Players Ring in Portsmouth. “The actors and crew have a hard time keeping a straight face through most of it ... and yet, it has many elements of traditional tragedy amid all the dark laughs.”

Monday, June 27, 2011

Oh, say, can you hear ... Sunchuck?

Oh, say can you see ... Sunchunck? Singing, well, not the "Star Spangled Banner," as this piece seems to indicate, but "God Bless America," the tune that should be the National Anthem. At Fenway Park? Yeah, you can. On July 10. When the hometown team dispenses with the bottom-dwelling Baltimore Orioles. It's a thrill, of course, playing at Fenway, something  Sunchunck bassist Mike Bertolami dreamed about when he was a kid, although the Plum Island resident "never thought it would be as a musician." Of course, at this point, the Port-based power pop band is so at home with the tune that they call it "GBA." The revved-up rock version of the patriotic classic has been the emotional core of the band's performances since they came together nearly a decade ago. "GBA" was on their debut album, "On the Map," back in 2005. They've played it at every single live show since coming together in 2002. And they've performed it live at the Patriots-Dolphins game at Gillette Stadium in 2009, and during the seventh inning stretch at LaLacheur Park, home of the Lowell Spinners, during the Spinners' celebration of America's troops at their home-grown Americana Festival in 2010. This time, however, they won't be able to hide behind their instruments: They'll be doing it a cappella. Who knows? Maybe they'll give you a taste of the a capella version when they play the Grog on July 1. C'mon, dare 'em. The show runs from 9:30 p.m. until close. There's a $5 cover. Check out the Middle Street venue for more info in the show. Check out the Sunchunck web for more about the band. You heard they have a new album, right? And the game? Nah, you'll have no trouble finding that.

NCMF: The sounds of summer ... barely

Okay, Memorial Day has come and gone, and so has the solstice, meaning, at least for  crusty, fatalistic New Englanders, that summer, which officially arrived a couple of days ago, although you certainly can't tell by the weather, is almost over and we can move on to other things, like that big 10th anniversary season for the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, and, on the horizon, the impending winter. The festival, which runs from Aug. 13 to 20, just before the cold winds blow, will bring back the popular Baroque concert, which has been sidelined for the past couple of seasons. The program has not been announced, but will feature hot-shot performers like harpsichordist Dongsok Shin, from the renowned New York early music group Rebel, and violinist Leah Gale Nelson, who specializes in historical performance. The festival will also celebrate the centennial of composer Samuel Barber, putting the spotlight on two of his most beloved works — the String Quartet Opus 11, which includes the famous "Adagio for strings," and "Dover Beach" for string quartet and voice. Also on the program is Beethoven's String Quartet in C# Minor, Opus 131 and Janacek's String Quartet No. 1, the Moravian composer's "neurotic quartet," as NCMF Artistic Director David Yang puts it, first performed by the NCMF quartet five years ago, and Ravel's Sonata for violin and cello, which Yang calls the composer's "sexy and jazzy duo." 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Fickett's green dreams reach new audiences

Usually the MO for actors is to get to the bright lights/big city, get noticed, get work, and get bigger and bigger roles until you're a part of something gargantuan, and, important lesson here, not to get all bummed out if you're not making a big splash right away. It's a tough business — competitive and fairly cutthroat. But that's not the way Hal Fickett is playing it. Not exactly, anyhow. The Port actor is thinking smaller and, well, greener, strange as that may seem in an arts context, especially in a city whose carbon footprint could stomp out life in all five boroughs solely on the spectacle of one production — "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," with its $70 million budget, so far, and its $300 tickets. That's the idea. "We're the anti-Spider-Man," says Fickett, executive director and artistic producer of Green Theatre Collective,  a Brooklyn-based company that will stage a no-frills production of Shakespeare's "As You Like It" next month at Maudslay State Park. After the Port performances, which will be Fickett's first proper production in the city since he performed in Greg Moss's "Yoo-Hoo and Hank Williams" eight years ago, the company will move on to six shows in three New York locations. From there, the company will start thinking about its 2012 season, which will include a three-month engagement in India, of all places. More on that later, but first ... green theater?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Classic Albums ... Live ... in Salisbury

Nah, you probably don't know their names. Which is fine, says Craig Martin, who founded the band Classic Albums Live eight years ago. They aren't important anyhow. The names, that is. "We're a faceless bunch," he says. Expanding upon the theme, they're a faceless bunch of top-notch musicians from the Great White North, all of whom have been in tribute bands in the past. Which, in itself, isn't exactly a recommendation, seeing how the world already has to endure  "a slag heap of budget tribute bands fermenting in the wings, licking their lips in anticipation for their chance to desecrate the legacy of the greats." That's what Martin, who used to run a Stones tribute band called the Midnight Ramblers, writes in his blog — a great read, by the way, covering everything from the political economy of swag at concerts to fanciful,and definitely imaginary fishing trips with Bob Dylan. Don't take it the wrong way. They're all deep into the so-called classic rock era — Beatles, Stones, Floyd — almost to the point where an intervention may be required. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Robin Lane: The song does not remain the same

OK, so here’s the dirty little secret: Nobody ever taught Robin Lane, the woman who will be teaching the songwriting class at Whole Music, how to write a song. She hung out with people who were doing the songwriting thing during the laid-back flower-power days on the left coast and Lane just assimilated it. At least that’s how she remembers it. She had always wanted to write songs, and one day they just “started popping out of me,” she says. Just started popping out, you might ask? Um, just like that? Yeah, she knew a few chords and, then as now, had a strong sense of melody and, maybe the crucial thing, things were happening to her, emotional pain being steroids for artists. Whatever the case, she had tapped into something. Soon she was deep in the Los Angeles folk-rock scene, which led to a time when she began informal collaborations with the band Crazy Horse and Danny Whitten, who Lane cites as a critical force in her development as an artist — and which led to her formal debut: Singing on the Neil Young/Crazy Horse album “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.” This was the run-up to her move to Boston, where she met ex-Modern Lovers players Asa Brebner and Leroy Radcliffe, resulting in Robin Lane & The Chartbusters, where the hippie-chick vibe became infused with a garage-y, new wave sensibility, and at the dawn of the MTV era. The band released three albums to critical acclaim — and had one of the first videos on MTV, "When Things Go Wrong." 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Other Stages: Nikole Beckwith, emerging

Who's that, emerging on the New York theater scene? Nikole Beckwith, probably best known locally for her work with the edgy (and much-missed) Independent Submarine, Gregory S. Moss's production company. She moved to the Big Apple almost a decade ago and has been writing writing writing, her work being read at Ensemble Studio Theater, LAByrinth Theater Company and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, among other stages.  The Port actress, a member of the YoungBloods' playwright group and the Striking Viking Story Pirates,  also earned a 2010 Innovative Theater nomination for her role in Joshua Conkel's hit "MilkMilkLemonade." And this year she's been named to the Emerging Writers Group, a NYC-based troupe designed to target up-and-coming playwrights. In addition to snagging bragging rights, the 11 emerging artists will have a staged reading of one of their plays during the Spotlight Series at The Public Theater. Beckwith's piece, called "Stockholm, Pennsylvania," gets its first test drive at the end of the month.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Roasting Newburyport: A 'Forbidden' treat

For reasons I've never fully understood, they always involve a bit of a dance, these advance pieces, a struggle between enticing a potential audience and giving away the game, often ending up with vague or, worse, clever descriptions, whose sole charm is that they are short enough to fit on a program, but don't really tell readers anything useful about a show they, at least in theory, might like to see. Understandable, perhaps. You don't want to spoil it, but, hey, there aren't any big secrets in Shakespeare any more, but people still go out to see the Bard. So, gotta say it was nice to find out that Suzanne Hitchcock Bryan was willing to spill the beans about "Forbidden Newburyport," a satirical musical that takes colorful local personalities and hot-button political issues and serves them up Broadway style, as splashy production numbers, celebrating the city and all its quirks, and, as local folks know, there are many, and ... fair enough, maybe we should dial the premise back a bit. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Get your 'Goat' at the Actors Studio

It's a tough production to talk about, and pretty intimidating — intellectually, emotionally, to sit through, let alone to talk about. Go ahead, call your Mom or, even better yet, drop in for a visit (you really should visit your mother, regardless) and try explaining it to her: Well, Mom, it's about a successful guy, an architect, a family man who loves his family and who, um, falls in love with someone who isn't his wife, who isn't even his species. Who is, well, a goat. Yes, a real goat — fur and all, bleating like Stevie Nicks. Well, not quite that bad, but you get the idea. And we're not talking about the way you love your little kitty cat either. We're talking tripping the lights fantastic, full-on romantic love, the kind of affair that will land you in jail in pretty much every place on earth — in addition to, at least in theory, result in the ugliest grandchildren conceived. And, assuming she doesn't slap your face or clutch her chest and keel over, she might ask what "this abomination" is called. That would be "The Goat, or Who is Silvia?" And the "pornographer" responsible for it? Well, Edward Albee wrote the play. You know, the guy who wrote another play whose name ends with a question mark,  "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?" And before you say another word: Yeah, yeah. The one with "that hussy," the one who abandoned that delightful Eddie Fisher and threw herself at the Englishman. They're staging it next week at the Actors Studio. And, thing is, if you get past the initial inappropriateness, unpleasantness of the subject matter, you've got the rest of the show to deal with as you sit, increasingly numb, but riveted, as you watch what was once a happy family go up in flames. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

The many moods of Sunchunck

My first thought? That the title of Sunchunck's new album had to be an inside joke. You know, "Finally Here" as a follow-up to "L8," the Port power trio's long-promised and  famously slow to arrive second album, which finally dropped in 2007, several months after its official record release party. Same deal with "Finally Here," which had been scheduled for a Spring release, and that would be of last year, but was also late to its own release party, available only as a digital download. The actual physical copy of the album will arrive, well, let's drive spellcheck crazy and say l8er. And, the truth is that the two albums are connected, but not in the obvious way: The title cut of the new album had been conceived of as a bookend, of sorts, to "L8," which, ostensibly, dealt with chronological lateness, a passive-aggressive stance against the world, but also dealt with the concept of psychological availability as its subtext. And "Finally Here" started as a response, as a commitment, a declaration, to be emotionally ready, to be finally, fully here, but a funny thing happened on the way to the recording studio.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Powell takes second bite out of BTM

Last time we saw Leslie Powell, she was being slaughtered and devoured by some seriously evil entities in “God of the Vampires,” the gory, gross-out flick by former Amesbury resident Rob Fitz that recently aired on the former WNDS-TV. Well, that’s not exactly true. Honestly, we just couldn’t take it. The film made us nostalgic for the sweetness and light and, in comparison, innocence of “Kill Bill, Volume Two” or any of the any of the titles from the equally enchanting “Hostel” series. But it looks like the Merrimac Street playwright is feeling better, good enough to land a spot in this year’s Boston Theater Marathon, as is Steve Faria, but, to be fair, no vampires treated him like dinner so he doesn’t really have anything to complain about. Not that they have special rules for scribblers who are devoured by vampires. Mmmmm … scribblers. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

All together now: Imagine the Beatles

All together now: Duck! Because All Together Now, the long-running Beatles tribute band, is gonna throw everything they’ve got at you, all at once, when they turn up at the Firehouse this month. The band, which has been doing the Fab Four thing longer than those lovable, adorable Mop Tops did, will play its usual set of 40 tunes, each one paired with an original ATN video playing on the 12-by-18-foot screen in back of them. The quartet will also come at you with a five-camera shoot to document the show for a possible concert DVD in the future, as well as provide band and crowd shots for the big screen during the performance and, of course, the raw digital material for future videos. They’ll also be promoting “Hang in There,” a new album of original music that is soaked in the sound and sensibility of that fabled period, the Beatlemania era, although they won’t play anything from the album. That’s because people come out for the real thing or, yeah yeah yeah, in this case a close-your-mind-and-imagine recreation of the real thing, although you probably won’t want to look away because of the multimedia aspects of the show, like the vids and old-school commercials — Nancy Sinatra getting her boots walking for RC Cola, The Munsters shilling for Bit-O-Honey. Even, more on point, older Ringo and the Fab Four lite. That would be the Monkees doing a Pizza Hut ad. Besides, the album won’t be ready for the May 21 show. The full order is in transit and should be ready soon after the Port performance. But, for hardcore fans, they’ll have a special limited-edition, autographed version of the album, about 100 in all. Can anyone say collectible? The Firehouse show will also include a special guest appearance of Melissa Moore, wife of Tommy Moore. No, no. Not Tommy Moore, the 1960s Silver Beetles drummer (and if you know that little bit of trivia, then you’re too wrapped up in the whole Beatles business for your own good), but the bass player and founding member of All Together Now. She’s also the daughter of Les Harris Sr. and sister of Les Harris Jr., two of the most influential musicians to come out of the city, and the voice of the Newburyport Bank. If you’ve heard the commercials, or called the bank, you’ve heard her. She’s no Yoko. Or Linda, for that matter. Now, a collective sigh of relief from all you folks who remember “Don’t Worry Kyoko” from the Live Peace In Toronto album. There will be no Moptop missus caterwauling, but there will be a bit of the adventurous spirit Ono represented, with Moore singing backup as well as playing a couple, well, unusual instruments — more on that later — making her “our ace in the hole, our secret weapon,” says Moore.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Charlie Brown: No longer a clown

The kids from "Peanuts" have been taking it on the chin a lot lately, particularly at the hands of "The Family Guy," mostly notably when everybody's favorite blockhead shows up at a Peanuts reunion with a skanky crackwhore. He's got tats, multiple piercings and, more significantly, a major habit. Which is the reason that Snoopy isn't there with him. Old Chuck apparently supplied the drugs that did in both Snoopy and Woodstock. In other bits, we find out that Marcy and Peppermint Patty are lovers. No surprise there, really. That irritating Lucy van Pelt gets a well-deserved boot in the butt by both Peter and Lois in separate episodes when she tries to pull the football away at the last minute. We also learn the real cause of Violet's bladder infections, don't we, Pigpen? But Bert V. Royal's "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead," a so-called "unauthorized parody" that, word of warning, probably requires a longer attention span than "Family Guy" bits, imagines the iconic characters of Charles M. Schultz as students in high school, although the names have been changed to protect the innocent — or, at least, to protect the authors from copyright lawsuits. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

TITO warming up to free season

The curtain is about to open on a new reality for Theater in the Open: The company, which has been performing at Maudslay State Park for most of its three-decade-plus existence, will be launching its first-ever free season, when the temperatures get up just a little higher. The season will include a little something for everybody: one of those pantos, a free-form, improvisational production with a little song, a little dance and maybe a little seltzer down your pants; a Steven Haley take on old Jean-Paul Sartre's “The Flies,” and an original adaptation of Grimm Brothers stories written by Gregory S. Moss. And, of course, free seasons don't come cheap. So, before the season officially gets under way, there's Spring Thaw, a fundraiser that will serve as a launching pad for what TITO artistic director Edward Speck hopes will be "the first of many, many years of community-supported, open theater." The show, which takes place April 28 at the Firehouse Center, will include Kristen Miller's soundtrack to a short movie by avant garde filmmaker Maya Deren; Exit Dance Theatre's "Famished," a Bugs Bunny-esque mix of slapstick and ballet centering around three people's lust for a doughnut (ummmmmm, doughnuts ...); and Haley's production of a Samuel Beckett play called, well, "Play," a 20-minute piece that deals with themes of fidelity, mortality and, despite our constant, endless jabbering, the species' failure to communicate. The company will try to keep the evening light with two short David Ives pieces, "Sure Thing," directed by Beth Randall, and "Phillip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread," which Speck will direct.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Locals making short, bloody small screen debut

Oh, bloody hell, there they are again. Not in the lobby or in the shadows of a darkened theater, where you usually find them, but on the small screen, in a gory, gross-out horror flick. At least they will be next week. Granted, you don’t want to close your eyes during the feature presentation, even though you desperately want to close your bloody eyes, because, if you do, you could very well miss them. The actors, not your eyes. “I'm little more than a dot in a large, dark mob of hungry, hopping — yep, Chinese vampires hop — vampires with glowing red eyes," says the guy we usually call Port playwright Ron Pullins because we love alliteration. His wife and sometimes-writing partner, Leslie Powell, fares a little better, at least from a performance point of view. She plays a little old lady who is sweeping her doorstep and then, a couple of minutes later, all that remains of her is, um, entrails that are unceremoniously tossed out the door.  But at least she gets a speaking role, albeit brief.  She says "Hi, dear" to Frank, an assassin and the unfortunate fellow who tangles with the vampire, while she is sweeping the stairs. We get a second peek at her a little later in the film, in a montage, she flashes on the Powell and, um, her guts, "because sadly I've been eaten by the Vampire," she says. "Yes these guys eat you, blood isn't enough for them.") The film which will premier at 8 p.m. April 30 on what used to be WNDS. Remember the slogan? The winds of New England. Now it’s called MYTV. Used to be Channel 50, we're not sure what Comcast, that evil corporate giant, calls it. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Now here's an exhibit to get jazzed about

Once upon a time — and, relatively speaking, it wasn't  that long ago, just 50, maybe 60 years ago — the lower-case gods walked among us. Jazz gods, a pantheon of now-legendary players  like Armstrong, Parker, Gillespie, then just working stiffs. Not only walking among us, but also playing across the street from each other. Not just a street, of course, but The Street: 52nd, between 5th and 6th, in a confluence of clubs, unrivaled anywhere, except, arguably, New Orleans. You just never knew who would walk through the door and take the stage. A case in point: 1947. Dizzy Gillespie was playing Three Deuces with his new band, which included Milt Jackson and the core of what would become the Modern Jazz Quartet, then in walked Ella Fitzgerald. She wasn't working. No, the Queen of Song was there to see bassist Ray Brown, her fiance. Gillespie cajoled her onto the stage, and William P. Gottlieb, the writer/photographer who documented the scene for the Washington Post first, and, later, DownBeat,, moved into position. But this was not the shot he wanted. He wanted Gillespie in the frame. According to Gottlieb, he made a gesture with his shoulder and Gillespie, one of his favorite subjects over the years — and a guy who did not mind mugging for the camera — knew what needed to be done. He swooped into frame and assumed an angelic expression — "making like a fawn in the background," is how the photographer described it during an interview with the Library of Congress, which acquired the collection in 1995. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Japan benefit: Fun, funny, helpful

The big Japan benefit concert went off without a hitch yesterday. Unless you count that two — count 'em, two — times  The Fools blew out the power at Ipswich Town Hall, where the hometown heroes first played back in 1946, as the opening act for Teddy and the Pandas. At least that's the story Fools' frontman Mike Girard remembers it. Maybe the story's in  “Psycho Chicken & Other Foolish Tales,” his new book which chronicles the band's 30-year (so far) run, and which he shamelessly flogged from the stage. Available at Amazon, by the way. It's all his fault anyhow. The power went out before he sang a single note. The singer had just asked the tech guy to make the mike sound "more manly." The adjustment proved to be, well, perhaps just a little bit too manly, transforming that special moment into the sonic equivalent of erectile dysfunction. Power was restored a couple of minutes later, only to tank seconds later — again, without a single Foolish note played. Leading the singer to suspect foul play. A conspiracy is how he put it. But a conspiracy that had good consequences for the audience. "We look better in the dark," he said. There's really no arguing with that, is there?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ovsepian's last-minute magic at the Musical Suite

Used to be that his family got shortchanged. Vardan Ovsepian lived and worked in Newburyport, and got out to see the folks and his sister in Cali-Cali once, maybe twice a year. These days, he lives on the left coast, in Los Angeles, with the family, and gets here once, maybe twice a year and, like everyone on the wrong side of the short end of the stick, you've got to be ready to drop everything else when you get the word that he's around. Which is why I lit the fuse and blew up my schedule when we got a last-minute email saying Ovsepian, a jazz pianist with four Fresh Sound-New Talent albums under his belt, as well as two independent projects, would be blowing through New England, playing three shows in less than a week, before heading back to the coast.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The name game: Banding together for Japan

The final schedule for Help Japan: A Benefit Concert for Japan Disaster Relief is locked in place and the organizers could not be happier for three reasons: 1) They're sick and tired of revising the poster 2) There's no longer any danger that the font sizes of the band names will shrink any further, meaning readability will be maintained and 3) They can move on other other technical issues, like how they're going to get 14 bands on and off the stage in, like, five hours. The event will feature Gary Shane and the Detour; Willie "Loco" Alexander, in a rare performance off the island of Gloucester; Robin Lane, performing solo acoustic; Asa Brebner and Friends; and Imojah and the Skylight Band, featuring ex-Cultural Roots singer Wade Dyce. Also performing will be the Silvertones, Alan Laddd and the Abashed, Shane Champagne, Andy Levesque, Pastor Derek, Peter Lavenson, The Beaners, Adam Sherman and the Souls and Rusty Compass. The press release says "and more," but that's not too likely and it would be, um, foolish to speculate whether anyone will jump in at the last minute to back anyone up, or whether Asa and Robin will team up in some sort of impromptu Chartbusters reunion, not with the previously mentioned time pressures. The concert takes place from 4 to 9 p.m. April 17 at Ipswich Town Hall, 25 Green St., Ipswich. Tickets are $10. Nobody besides Global Giving, the non-profit organization, is making a cent from this. The musicians are working for free. The Town of Ipswich has donated the space. All proceeds will be donated to relief efforts in Japan. And, by the way, the Global Giving is more than happy to take private donations for their work. You can do that by clicking here. There's more information about the concert at garyshane.com. Pictured, clockwise from top, left, Robin Lane, Wade Dyce, Willie Alexander and Gary Shane.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

'Crazy' community: Maggy, friends at Firehouse

You’d think that with all the stuff going on in his life over the past year — first rebranding, then undertaking a huge expansion of Whole Music, bringing the former Pine Island Music Resource to the historic Carriage Mill Building in downtown Amesbury, and launching an ambitious artist development series, partnering with former WBOS program director Dana Marshall.... You'd think that E.J. Ouellette, well, that he's got a screw loose or something. And he's not necessarily going to argue the point. "I ought to have my head examined,” says Ouellette, the frontman for Crazy Maggy and a fixture on the North Shore music scene for decades, who, aside from his preoccupation with work that borders on obsession, seems to be a regular guy. But, leaving stubborn mental health issues to the side, for now, anyhow — there are trained professionals for that —  the question becomes, is all work getting in the way of the "real" work, the personal vision, the creative stuff? And the answer is, sort of ... well, not really.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kids' stuff: Jack Neary meets Walt's Alice

Shmoozing in the hallway outside the Actors Studio after a performance of Leslie Pasternack’s “Clean Room,” we saw a poster for a performance of Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland Jr.” at Byfield Community Arts Center. Not exactly our cup of tea. Not by a longshot. Not with all that singing and dancing. But the director’s name caught my eye: Jack Neary. Hmmm, could it be the same guy? He’s one of those other kind of triple-threaters, a Mr. Everything of theater. An actor whose work ranges from the ‘80s, back to the fabled Theater of Newburyport days, when he performed in “The Cherry Orchard,” to his big-screen appearance last year in “The Town,” the Ben Affleck film where he plays Arnold Washton, one of the guys guarding the stash of concessions cash collected at Fenway Park after a four-game series with the Yankees suck. (Sorry, those two words always stick together.) A playwright whose production list is frustratingly long and impossible to condense, but includes well-known works like “First Night” and “Jerry Finnegan’s Sister,” both of which have had runs in the Port. A director with over 50 shows under his belt. A guy who has directed dozens of shows around New England, including productions at Smith College's New Century Theatre and at the Summer Theatre at Mount Holyoke College, both of which he founded. So could it be him? 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Score one for the teacher

It all started last year when Penny Lazarus saw the old piano off to the side of the aisle of the Screening Room, sparking an image of the old days of silent films, when every theater had a pianist who would give context to the films they would accompany. She didn’t know that the piano was more of a showpiece than a working instrument or that the last major workout the instrument had seen was about a decade before, when Tiger Saw used it at the debut of the Port indie music collective’s original soundtrack for “Nosferatu,” the eerie F.W. Munaru silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” tale. She also didn’t realize that, for whatever reason —  accessibility of the films thanks to format changes, the hip factor of putting a new spin on something classic and familiar  — writing original scores for silent and out-of-copyright films had become a cottage industry, whether it’s Alloy Orchestra’s take on “Metropolis,” the Fritz Lang film or the Devil Music Ensemble’s score for “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” or, taking it to the extreme, punk pioneers Pere Ubu’s treatment of “Man with the X-Ray Eyes,” the kitchy horror film that, strictly speaking, was not a silent film until the band stripped its soundtrack to make way for its score. But Lazarus, wife of Port playwright Joshua Faigen who has been teaching piano in the city since moving here from Pittsburgh about a decade ago, did recognize an opportunity in that piano at the Screening Room — a way to “keep it interesting” for her students.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Schooled! Ivy-tinged Tingle back in Port

Yeah, yeah, he’s heard it before: Always knew you were smart. The work proves that. Always knew you were a smart ass. The work, a quarter century of mouthing off in public and getting paid for it, proves that too. But now Boston comedian Jimmy Tingle has the sheepskin to prove the former, and we have the video of his Harvard commencement address last summer to prove the latter. Yup, no joke, Jimmy Tingle, a Harvard grad, with a master’s degree in public administration. Which sounds way too boring to be a bit and, again, we have the videotape to prove it. So, dude, what’s up? You gonna be a city administrator somewhere? Now that’s funny. Picture it: Jimmy Tingle standing up at a City Council meeting, giving budget recommendations. Or, wait a second, is he running for office? For real this time? A serious run for the funny man? Not like the comedic bid for the Oval Office documented on 2008’s “Humor for Humanity,” Tingle’s last album. Well, as the old Trickster used to say, let me be perfectly clear about that ... Which, by the way, the comedian is not doing. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Vox Lucens: Latin is not a dead language

Whoever composed that old schoolboy lament about the toxic inevitabilities of the language of Caesar was speaking out of school. That is to say, this guy, whoever this guy happened to be, besides a poor student, was dead wrong. Because, dig it, non latine lingua mortua est ubique, right? At least it seems like it, it seems like there’s been a whole lotta Latin going on lately — fun, fake (at least linguistically) and otherwise. Like Fujit Fiat Vox, a Renaissance-inspired a cappella group who lifted their name from the Vulgate Old Testament, having a little fun with the dead language, transforming let-there-be-light into let-there-be-voices. And Lux, the Port funk band whose name means “light” in Latin. And Primal Polyphony, an a cappella group that dipped its toes into medieval waters during a recent benefit for the Actors Studio. And now, crossing the Rubicon — musically, at least — and within shouting distance of the Ides of March, here comes Vox Lucens.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Spot on: Local art, artists in the Spotlight

Personally I’d go with another nickname. "Spotty" sounds, well, a bit sketchy. But nobody asked, so ...  it’s nice to see Port people in the mix for this year’s Spottys — a Spotty being a Spotlight Award, the Seacoast equivalent of Grammy. This year, the Spotty's 16th anniversary, there are four contenders in three categories for the regional competition, with two of them, Tiger Saw and Dan Blakeslee, facing each other for Top Album awards — Blakeslee for “Tatnic Tales” and Tiger Saw for “Nightingales.” Blakeslee also nabbed a nomination for Best Single. Also in the mix, locally, are sculptor Joyce Audy Zarins for her "Potential 3x3," pictured, and Ceia chef Billy Brandolini, or Chef Brando for those in the know, as the region’s top chef.