I had never heard of the new Spike TV series Lip Sync Battle (airing Thursday nights) until I learned an event related to it was slated for an evening at Summerstage in New York City’s Central Park. Even then, I didn’t even realize that LL Cool J was part of the show till the day before Lip Sync Battle Live happened on Monday July 13th. But the loveable rapper makes for an excellent host with his sidekick Chrissy Teigen assisting by providing some oddball humor. As a intro Doug E. Fresh warmed up the Central Park crowd.
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Jukebox the Ghost have a high probability of experiencing some technical difficulty during one of their shows. Fortunately, at Central Park’s Summerstage the greatest difficulty the band encountered was a microphone that was too close to pianist Ben Thornewill’s face, or one he got too close to, as he bumped into it at one point. Could it be their “curse” doesn’t apply when they are openers? I don’t know for sure, but I would rather have dealt with some technical difficulties and watched a longer set than catch them in abbreviated form. But I take what I can get. And the piano driven pop trio, Thornewill, Jesse Kristin on drums and Tommy Siegel on guitar, were in fine form.
Perhaps no cultural institution depends more on the naiveté and innocence of children than the circus. The big top is little more than an enclosed container that seals out the conventions of science and the rules of society, creating a menagerie of simulacra. Piercing this shell with any sense of reality eviscerates the illusion. This characteristic makes it very difficult to use as a subject for art.
Any rendition would take place on a continuum between two unappealing poles. The subject matter can be treated with snarky irony, poking fun at the absurdity of the illusion. On the other end, the subject can be treated with empty nostalgia. Either pole has a powerful gravity. Trying to avoid both requires not only a skilled hand, but also a strong critical eye. Danish ceramic artist Lea Nielsen’s surreal depictions of circus stories avoids either trap in the works selected for her recent exhibition Circus is in Town, VÆG Contemporary Art Gallery, Aalborg, Denmark.
When I arrived at Brooklyn Bowl on June 23rd for the Buy This Fracking Album release show, I walked in, past the informational tables, to the stage to find a man (from Pennsylvania I believe) on stage with a bottle containing some disgusting looking liquid. As he explained, this was the drinking water from his home. It had become so visibly toxic as a result of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, the method by which gas can be released from the earth by drilling and injecting fluids into the ground. The fluids often contain harmful chemicals (which the businesses involved do not have to disclose) and can leech into water tables and wells, contaminating drinking supplies and even shifting the tectonic plates, creating earthquakes. This is somewhat hard to imagine living in the big city, and unfortunately because this isn’t affecting the city directly, perhaps a reason that Brooklyn Bowl wasn’t as crowded as it could have been. Fracking is an important concern for so many people now though, and the Movement Music Records label is taking great initiative to engage a wider audience. You can visit their site to find out more information and to stream or purchase the Buy This Fracking Album. There are also several pledge campaign videos over at Youtube to watch.
There was still much great talent on stage though, including, Amy Helm, Marco Benevento, Michael Glabicki, DJ Logic, Mike + Ruthy, Kristen Graves and more and it was a family friendly affair. I got to catch The Mike + Ruthy Band, whose set occasionally turned into an informal jam session with Benevento and Helm joining them on some songs. They did play some new material too, as they recently released their album Bright as You Can and it’s receiving great reviews, including the one here at PopMatters. On July 7th, they will be again joined by friends for their own album release party at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City. Ticket information can be obtained here. Mike and Ruthy also host the Summer and Winter Hoot Festivals at the Ashokan Center in Olivebridge, New York (a couple hours from NYC), family-friendly festivals of course (which should come as no surprise given the two tour with their children). More information on the Summer Hoot, happening August 21-23, can be found here.
Although not as publicized as Northside Festival sets by the likes of Luna and Run the Jewels, the Northern Spy Records showcase at Rough Trade exemplified the festival’s mission as well as any throughout the four-day, Brooklyn-based festival. Much of this is due to the presence of Shilpa Ray on the Northern Spy bill. Ray has been a standalone talent in the bustling Brooklyn scene for years, cutting her teeth in countless small-to-mid-sized venues before landing a touring spot with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and releasing her full-length, Last Year’s Savage, last month. Last Year’s Savage consists mostly of songs Ray has been developing in those Brooklyn and Manhattan clubs, material that sounded more potent than ever in Rough Trade’s pristine acoustics. Sandwiched between label mates PC Worship and the Sun Ra Arkestra (on loan from El Ra Records), both of whom gave similarly immersive sets, Ray’s performance held sway in its largely minimal presentation, captivating many a weary festivalgoer on Northside’s closing Sunday night.