Call for Feature Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Thursday, Jul 3, 2008
by Robin Cook

Originally, this was going to be an interview with just Mr. Bonebrake, but then Billy Zoom turned up. Two X members for the price of one. What luck! And what can I say about this band that hasn’t been said before? Well, for one thing, Billy Zoom is an amazing guitarist, and it’s great to see him playing again after a decade away from music. And DJ Bonebrake is a phenomenal drummer whose contributions to the band are usually overlooked. And finally, it’s an honor to interview them.—Robin Cook



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Tuesday, Jun 24, 2008
by Sarah Zupko and Karen Zarker
Pictures by Sarah Zupko / Words by Karen Zarker.

Soul and gospel legend Mavis Staples’ sold out performance at Chicago’s Hideout last night brought the Civil Rights movement and all those souls who marched, sang and prayed during that critical time, to the crowded little room. A tiny venue for Staples’ big voice –- bigger than the legend herself, nearly as big as the History she sings for -– the Hideout was standing room only and filled with the reverential; some among them who lived through the ‘60s, as well.


Staples and her talented band opened with Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”, and carried the spirit of fighting for justice through gorgeous renditions of “Eye on the Prize”, Down in Mississippi”, The Band’s “The Weight” –- to name but a few. The ghosts of the marchers stood among us, swaying, stamping, clapping.


For those who couldn’t be there in person (because you live in another city/country, or were just born too late), she was recording a live album for Anti- Records last night, and her tour schedule is going strong, strong as that fighting spirit that lives on.  Amen.


Click on image thumbnails below to view the rest of the photos.


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Friday, Jun 20, 2008

All About Style


Anyone in attendance would have easily thought it was a Saturday night instead of a Tuesday as they gazed into the eyes of starlets Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo.


In the crowded Vic Theater, packed with people dressed for the occasion in all sorts of mod, emo, and punk attire (sometimes elements of all three!), the four members of Ladytron emerged on stage adorned by alternating strobes. The two male members of the band, Liverpool natives Daniel Hunt and Reuben Wu, stayed back, immersed in total darkness, while Mira and Helen took to the front in matching silky black attire. Much like a microcosm of their music, many of their effects remained concealed mysteriously in the back. Up front, Korg keyboards were de rigueur, and the alternating vocals of Helen and Mira sailed over the instrumental onslaught. At times, their chords assaulted the cheering crowd; at other times they drifted across in waves. Each strobe cast a mixture of intense bright light and shadows across the pair of female singers, the harshness matching the onslaught of sound that often emerged from the stage.


Ladytron are currently on tour to support their recently released fourth studio album Velocifero. Like their past albums, it is packed with synth-pop goodies that mix a dreamy sensibility with the compulsion to dance. “Ghosts” and “Runaway” came off particularly well, with a lushness expected of this electropop quartet. They mixed these new songs with old favorites, such as “Playgirl” and “Seventeen”. Though there was minimal stage banter, Ladytron did seem appreciative of their audience who basked in the glory of the music.



Tagged as: ladytron, photos
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Tuesday, Jun 17, 2008

A staple of American storytelling is the “road picture”. Characters load up the slave ship, the stagecoach, the car or the spaceship, and head out into the distant, unspoken horizon, with unresolved and unspoken issues packed into an emotional canteen like one of those fake peanut cans, waiting for some poor sucker to peel the lid back. And when that lid blows, the devastation leaves three lifetimes of self-imposed emotional imprisonment covered in permanent debris.


The Silk Road Theater production of writer Julia Cho’s Durango is the cross-pollination of a road picture and the dysfunctional tinderbox of American “familia”, waiting for that lit match that will set its eternally captive participants hurtling towards a new “normal”. How that family exists will never be the same.


“Durango” (Colorado, that is) unknowingly awaits the arrival of Boo-Seng Lee, and his two sons; high school swimming team champ Jimmy, and prospective medical school student Isaac. Boo Seng finds himself forced out of his job of 20 years. Was it his nearing the end of his middle years; his Korean ancestry preventing his “fitting in”; his following “the company rules” to a fault? Whatever the reason, he can’t articulate his shock and frustration in real time company separation, so he chooses to add one more secret to his life portfolio and browbeats his sons into taking a family trip. Eldest-son Isaac can smell the disaster wafting from the travel pamphlet his father clutches in-hand, as youngest-son Jimmy openly relishes the first “real family outing” that he’s always wished for, believing this will be an opportunity for the three to bond before Isaac heads off to medical school in the Fall.


The closet doors blow open, but few secrets walk out, as each character works diligently to hide the secrets and lies not only from one another, but also from themselves. Eminent and distant matters of sexuality, race, and manhood are purposefully and thankfully avoided as frank discussion amongst the three, but nevertheless imposing and influential on the minutest of their individual life’s decision. Shame and the fear of being ostracized by the others are the nails that keep the lid on the family tinderbox and insure there may never be a completed circle. When a few truths slip through the cracks, we see a family work in unison to restore the uncomfortable order that they’ve been used to, handily accepting the eternal distance as the consequence of family order and obligation.


Durango is not a quintessentially “Asian” piece. It’s not a period piece set in a distant land acted out by characters that are now long dead. It’s about three men of Korean extraction mushing through their lives in the new west Carlos Murillo’s provides a stripped bare nowhere to run but inward that fully compliments Marianna Czasaszar’s minimalist set design. Durango is a story of Asian-Americans in America, and reminds us that no matter how American we may believe ourselves to be—somewhere in the back of our mind’s eye, our life’s decisions (from the small and benign to those that will determine our life’s course) are made based on who our ancestors were, where we came from, expectations and perceived obligations. 


A reminder that some of us are forever tethered to “what” we are before “who” we are and what we need to become.


Durango ran May 1 – June 15, 2008. Chicago Temple, First United Methodist Church Pierce Hall, 77 W. Washington.


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Monday, Jun 16, 2008

While the weekend was winding down, most people spent time lying under the shade or wandering outside of the shows into some of what else Bonnaroo has to offer. The organizers over the years have caught on to what shows to book for Sunday, and this year’s Sunday lineup was the perfect detox from an upbeat, fatiguing weekend.


Orchestra Baobab

Orchestra Baobab


As I made my way in, it looked like a lot of people had already cleared out of the festival—because the second largest stage at Bonnaroo was nearly empty. This could also be due to the fact that their fan base wasn’t exactly in attendance, but this was by far the sleeper show of the weekend. Senegal’s Orchestra Baobab (named after the famous club) took their brand of African tinged Latin music and put Sunday on the map. Being one of the most seminal world music bands since their resurgence in the United States due in part to their reissue of Pirate’s Choice in 2002, the low attendance of this show was near astonishing. Regardless, the boys brought passed their liveliness and spirit on to those that were lucky enough to stumble across the gem of the festival.


Solomon Burke

Solomon Burke


The same story followed for Solomon Burke, the King of Rock ‘n’ Soul. Everyone in attendance was either just getting out of the sun or over the age of 40, and until Burke’s enormous figure took the stage 45 minutes after his scheduled time—people swarmed towards the tent. Sporting a medley of “(Sittin’ On) Dock of the Bay” and “Mustang Sally” and cuts off his records from Proud Mary to Nashville—old and young alike were all smiles and sing-a-longs. He called for a group of dancers, and a small crowd flooded the stage to dance with the most soulful band of the weekend. As famous festival emcee Beatle Bob said, “This is real soul music, not Kanye West with a computer.”


Solomon Burke - Interview (Bonnaroo)


Broken Social Scene

Broken Social Scene


To close out the weekend, there was a time conflict of Broken Social Scene and Robert Plant & Alison Krauss—so I had to split up the two and catch a taste of both before heading on my way. BSS was a perfect closer for the hipster crowd—the colored Ray Bans were out in full force during their performance dancing along to the groups at time cluttered, yet epic compositions. “7/4 (Shoreline)” was the highlight of the show with the pulsating, constant drum beat awash in Amy Millan and Kevin Drew’s vocals. “KC Accidental” was also on point with its moments of Quadrophenia style guitar duets. [Download Broken Social Scene set]


Broken Social Scene - 7/4 (Shoreline) (Bonnaroo)


Broken Social Scene - KC Accidental (Bonnaroo)


Robert Plant & Alison Krauss were across the way giving the crowd a taste of what could’ve been with their psychedelic folk rendition of “Black Dog” that will leave your mouth watering. Krauss and Plant would trade off and then duet (with moments of T. Bone Burnett at the mic) throughout the performance composed of mostly tracks from their record Raising Sand, sharing the spotlight with complete admiration for one another. Neither have any kind of ego on stage and it shows—the way their voices match is so pure and enduring that one can only hope they share a career together for years to come.


Robert Plant & Alison Krauss

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss


As I cut the day short before Widespread Panic, I was ready to get on my way back to civilization. This year’s Bonnaroo was absolutely different from the five I have experienced before, and that’s why I keep going back. Some are better than others, and this one ranks at the top. All those out there that were worried about what this year’s lineup would do to the reputation of the festival need not worry. This festival is not “commercial” and never will be, so stop telling yourself that MTV and Clear Channel own the thing and making excuses not to go—because where in the hell else can you see this diverse of a lineup? No, it doesn’t have all your jambands, or all your indie rock delights—but that’s the glory of it—there is always something to see, and always something to expose yourself to. Do yourself a favor, make it out next year, and don’t be so judgmental of something different happening. It’s what makes Bonnaroo stand out at the top of the summer festival run.


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