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Wednesday, Dec 10, 2008
Words by Christian John Wikane and Pictures by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

Celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, Billy Porter headlined a special two-night run at the famed NYC venue. Accompanied by keyboard, bass, and drums, Porter treated the sold-out audience to what he called contemporary American standards. Whether re-casting Stevie Wonder’s “All I Do”, giving a hair-raising rendition of Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”, or tossing in rare gems by Oleta Adams and Julia Fordham, Porter held the audience rapt for a flawless 70-minute set. His take on the Marvin Gaye classic “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”, which also incorporated a rap based on The Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life” and an audience call-and-response, was a riveting tour-de-force.


Though he made no mention of a new album, Porter certainly has a wealth of material to accompany him back into the studio or on the stage, should he release a recording of his latest set. Few performers can make the familiar seem new but, on two bone-chilling nights in New York, Billy Porter excelled in doing just that.



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Tuesday, Dec 9, 2008
Words and Pictures by Kirstie Shanley

You never know quite what to expect at a Dresden Dolls show and the same can be said when seeing Amanda Palmer play live. Palmer—one half of the Dresden Dolls—performs intensely personal songs about everything from abortion to coin operated boys. She’s part burlesque, part cabaret, and wholly melodramatic. Though the talented drumming of Brian Viglione was missing, this was about the only difference as Palmer’s theatrics were no surprise for anyone who has seen the Dresden Dolls.


   
Bringing along a complete entourage of dancers and actors (The Danger Ensemble) from Brisbane, Australia, Amanda Palmer prepped the crowd for her appearance with intermittent performances by this troupe and also a reading by author Neil Gaiman, who she is currently working on a project with.
     
Most notably, a tall gothic member of the troupe kept reminding of us of both the title of Palmer’s solo album and the drama at hand by announcing the sad news: “Amanda Palmer is dead!” Of course, the show must go on and pretty soon Palmer was unearthed looking more alive than ever. 
 
Those that are wondering which part of the Dresden Dolls duo drives the songs in terms of their lyrics need look no further than a solo Amanda Palmer show. The songs from her recent album release, Who Killed Amanda Palmer, demonstrate a similar inner turmoil and conflict to the tunes from her main band. Amanda Palmer is, in a strange way, a feminist punk who sings about subjects very few dare to.



     
In addition to her own material, Palmer played quite a few Dresden Dolls songs including “Bad Habit”, “Coin-Operated Boy”, and “Half Jack”. Though it is standard for Dresden Dolls performances to include many additional performance pieces, Palmer used more of them throughout her set as part of the actual songs instead of just between. Whether it was singing about the violence of Columbine or the unlikely cover of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”, the force was with and all around her. The dancers even carried props for some songs, such as for the cover of Rihanna’s “Umbrella”
 
On the few songs where she wasn’t accompanied by choreography, a violinist and also the cellist Zoë Keating filled in the songs rather nicely. Though it’s clear the performance element is a part of Palmer’s songs and helps make the evening an interesting event to remember, it’s Palmer herself that is the central reason to attend.



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Monday, Dec 8, 2008
In his final dispatch from Montréal, PopMatters' photographer experiences poutine for the first time, is enchanted by upcoming singer-songwriter Coeur de Pirate and is baffled by Francophone crooner Pierre Lapointe.

Seeing how both of us were flying out the next morning, Kevin and I had no problem figuring out what to eat on Saturday night. Neither of us had ever had poutine—the classic Québécois comfort food—so it seemed almost mandatory that on our last night in town we visit Resto La Banquise, considered by many to be Montréal’s premiere purveyor of poutine.


Resto La Banquise is open 24 hours a day and serves up 25 different varieties of poutine, including an “Elvis Poutine” a “Kamikaze Poutine” and a “T-Rex Poutine”. Being that we were both first-timers, Kevin and I opted for the classic poutine, which consists of french fries topped with cheese curds and chicken velouté sauce (essentially a chicken gravy). The dish is warm, salty and simultaneously soft and crunchy. Good poutine, it’s said, is marked by the freshness of the curds, which should “squeak” when you bite into them. As you might imagine, poutine is a favorite late night snack in Quebec, so its not surprising that Resto La Banquise tends to be packed well into the wee hours of the morning.


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Friday, Dec 5, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
Words and Pictures by Sachyn Mital

The Space in Hamden, Connecticut is a very intimate venue and Kristín Björk Kristjánsdóttir, otherwise known as Kira Kira, told the crowd of about thirty people that her songs took on new meaning when heard in such a cozy place. After checking if anyone was falling asleep, Kristjánsdóttir told one spectator that it would be okay if he did because “we won’t make fun of you if you snore.”


With Alex Somers on the piano and glockenspiel and Kippi Kaninus behind a laptop, Kristjánsdóttir sang and played her guitar as well as some unique inventions of her own making, creating music that other instruments could not. Shining a flashlight into a telephone handset, pressing what looked like a thumb piano, and singing into a tin can equipped with a microphone (all processed through her laptop and other gear), Kira Kira performed songs primarily from the 2008 release Our Map to the Monster Olympics including “Bless”, “Agustskot”, and “One Eyed Waltz”.


In comparison to her fellow Icelanders, Kira Kira’s subtle songs might sound similar to the dreamy amiina—a string quartet often found playing alongside Sigur Rós—while other songs convey a more ominous tone like Jóhann Jóhannsson’s ambient electronic works. Perhaps it is Iceland’s belief in magical beings, like gnomes, elves, and fairies, or its stark terrain that inspires such ethereal music. After playing a new song, Kristjánsdóttir simply told everyone she was finished because she did not want us to wake up from our reverie.



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Friday, Dec 5, 2008
During day three of the M For Montréal festival, PopMatters' photographer rides a school bus, eats more smoked brisket than is probably advisable and checks out Montréal's budding Francophone hip-hop scene.

I’ve heard it said that this year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in New York felt like an indie rock summer camp. After attending M For Montréal, I now know what that means. Over the course of the three-day festival, the international delegates (that is to say, the group of about 30 festival buyers, agents and journalists who had traveled from abroad to attend) were carefully shepherded from activity to activity by the festival staff. In addition to the showcases there were dinners, happy hours and networking events, all of which were carefully planned and orchestrated by the aforementioned handlers. To their credit, however, the festival never felt like a contrived daycare for music industry insiders. Friendships came easily over the course of three days and even those activities that sounded like tourist clichés on paper turned out to be more than worthwhile. The key was not taking oneself too seriously—something that both the organizers and the attendees seemed to understand instinctively.


Take, for example, the city tour, which took place inside of a yellow school bus on a Saturday morning. Instead of being led by a dry, professional tour guide, the journey was narrated by the festival’s booking and promotion guy, Mikey Bernard. Looking like a Cobra Snake-approved L.A. hipster with his ostensibly ironic moustache and fedora, Mikey was the perfect tour guide, injecting each comment with a bit of sardonic wit. He also knew Montréal’s indie rock landmarks like the back of his hand: the street where American Apparel founder Dov Charney once lived, the apartment where the idea for Vice Magazine was hatched, the restaurant where Leonard Cohen likes to have his breakfast.


Of course, no trip to Montréal would be complete without a visit to Schwartz’s famous Jewish delicatessen, a mainstay of Montréal cuisine for 80 years.


The specialty here is the smoked beef brisket, which is piled high on a two comparatively puny slices of white bread. The meat is rich, hearty and flavorful and almost seems to melt in your mouth—just the thing for a cold Montréal afternoon.


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