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Sunday, Feb 22, 2009
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

The epochal South African protest singer and songwriter Vusi Mahlasela played an engaging show before a docile but erudite audience in the sprawling Walt Whitman Theatre at Brooklyn College—a tiny collegiate oasis deep in Brooklyn. The diverse but reserved crowd almost came across as too reverent, passive towards the poet and musician. Only by the end of Mahlasela’s set did they finally muster the courage to indulge in his group’s propulsive polyrhythm and guitars.


Mahlasela will forever be associated with the soundtrack of the anti-apartheid movement. But he is still decidedly a protest singer. (Broadly, that is considered “African folk” music). His defiant, peaceful, and artistic resistance to injustice makes it impossible for him to ignore continuing calamities. However, given the serious subtext of his songwriting and singing his music is not cloaked by the surrounding darkness he endured in the past. Rather the prevailing harmonies of life—love and family—are at the center of his message.


“Everytime”—a track featuring Jem on his 2007 release Guiding Star—was a beautiful flowing song about a devoted lover. Lucid African imagery articulated Mahlasela’s universal sentiments: “Your beauty burns the grass like fire.”


Musically, he and his four-piece band played a brilliant mixture of global sounds, perfectly balancing blues and soul with traditional South African rhythms, melodies and language. “Thula Mama” dedicated to his grandma for thwarting the police when trying to arrest Mahlasela as a young activist—blended scat singing and vocables into a smooth homage to mothers. During the bridge Mahlasela traded a cappella verses as the band perfectly transitioned in-between. Finally the song drifted away in a jubilant, but faint, sing-along: “My song of love / My song of life”.


Purpose is never far from Mahlasela’s mind. It is his guiding principle in life and music, and so everything he does must resonate with a positive and humane message. He took a moment to speak out about the marginalization and forced relocation of Botswana’s indigenous San people, or Bushmen. Remarkably, he never sounded preachy or forceful or hippy-dippy. Instead it was an earnest reproach of an unjust policy, never undermined by segueing into a song introduction. Rather he emphasized his point with a poignant ethical and rhetorical question: Where are they to go?


Mahlasela was not all serious, though. While tuning his guitar he joked, “this is a Chinese song called Too Ning… it’s over now.”


Ending the show with Miriam Makeba’s iconic “Pata Pata” was a well-received homage, Mahlasela spinning, twisting, and shuffling to the song’s rhapsodic refrain.


 


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Monday, Feb 9, 2009
By Craig Wright; Directed by Gregory Scott Campbell; Starring Damon Bonetti, Chris Fluck, Amanda Grove, and Janice Rowland

The set of this drama defines suburban anxiety: Four chairs, each at a corner of the stage, are centered around a bed. Four characters take their spots, awaiting the looming confrontation. Playwright Craig Wright obviously relishes the benefits of the theatrical medium, which allows such heavy visual allegory. Such a design wouldn’t fly in the even the most stylized cinema.


We know two couples will be finagling before long, as we’ve seen so many times before. I can’t shake this play’s association to We Don’t Live Here Anymore, a 2004 film over-concerned with married folks’ need to stray—so concerned is it with infidelity that the film forgets to develop its characters. The same is true in the new anti-nostalgia film Revolutionary Road, whose lifeforce drains under such weighty thematic grounds. 


Yet, in the opening monologue of Wright’s drama comes redemption, especially as performed by Amanda Grove as Cathy in Luna Theatre Company’s new production (Walnut Street Theatre, Studio 5, Philadelphia, through February 14th). We recall that the language is the thing in true stage drama, and the set its mere bag of bones. Cathy recites a letter—if it existed or is imaginary, we are unsure—in words of loss and desperation coming at the end of something. Her spotlight fades, as she takes her seat to see her life unravel. A fade in reveals David (Damon Bonetti) and Beth (Janice Rowland) on the bed (transposed to a motel room), turning us in medias res to the status their affair. At once promising, it is now crumbling at the foundation. 


Regretfully, the drama’s strongest players sit out the first scene. They are Grove and Chris Fluck (playing the wronged husband, Brad), a standby for Luna. When an interviewer perplexed over what exactly makes Gene Hackman such a powerful actor, Woody Allen responded casually: “It’s a reserve of energy.” We cannot call Fluck another Hackman, but he has access to a similar kind of power. His arguments with Rowland in later scenes make the latter seem not to register. Fluck was far better matched against Mary Lee Bednarek in Luna’s 2005 production of Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love, in which he grounded the drama-mystery’s final revelation in pathos as much as fury. 


As a woman about to be abandoned, Grove steals her scenes with Bonetti, who plays her husband moving on and has trouble evening out a Minnesota accent. Grove suggests there is subdued rage behind her character’s inquest, a right to know all as she forces her husband into goodbye sex. Orange Flower Water wears the clichéd cultural archetype of couples mixing like a subversive persona. Blasé anxieties turn visceral, indeed.


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Friday, Feb 6, 2009
Words and Pictures by Sachyn Mital

A long line of people were waiting outside in the freezing January night while on stage at the Mercury Lounge, Brooklyn’s Chin Chin opened up for Brazil’s Curumin (pronounced “KOO-roo-mean”). If you got there late thinking that Chin Chin were serving as a warm-up band, though, you would have made a mistake, because by then the six-piece band already had the place on fire. Numerous people were dancing up close to the stage while everyone else gave way and were forced to groove shoulder to shoulder at the back of the room. Before finishing up, Chin Chin decreed music is “so much better when we do it together” and it was easy to understand why with the number of people moving to their sounds.


Quannum Projects, the record label of Luciano Nakata Albuquerque (aka Curumin), is primarily known for its roster of underground hip-hop artists, including Blackalicious and Lyrics Born as well as being an early home to DJ Shadow. But, as Chin Chin would agree, music needs to be shared. When Blackalicious discovered Curumin during a tour of Brazil in 2005, despite the language barriers, they must have loved his music a lot for they signed him to their label. And hip-hop culture was ever present on the stage at the Mercury Lounge as Money Mark, the keyboardist, producer and past Beastie Boys collaborator performed alongside Curumin and three other musicians as a special guest.


 


Branded as “samba-soul-hip-hop”, Curumin made sure to keep the audience dancing and applauding whatever the genre of song. From behind the drums, he sang songs from both of his albums, Achados e Perdidos and the more recent JapanPopShow, like “Samba Japa”, “Magrela Fever”, and “Compato” that conveyed delicious samba funk. A later song had a breakbeat club rhythm, while the show closer had an easy-going reggae vibe reminiscent of Sublime. Curumin described the next song as “beautiful” before turning the slow original Roy Ayer’s “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” into an extended jam.


Since the majority of singing was in Curumin’s native Portuguese, people could be overhead wishing they knew what he was saying as “the music is so good”. Through his set, Curumin encouraged everyone to wave their arms, gave a salute to New York and expressed his happiness in seeing so many people. He even asked the audience to give back in the form of an MC. And when one was welcomed up, he repeatedly asked people “give it up for Curumin” receiving a resounding sound of gratitude. Even though he would make a perfect outdoor summer show, Curumin turned the tiny Mercury Lounge into a steamy oasis during winter. People came together, not to seek respite in the form of shade or water, but to bask in the warmth and pleasure of the music.



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Tuesday, Feb 3, 2009
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

Hans-Peter Lindstrøm demurely set up his Macbook Pro, keyboard, samplers, and bottle of Corona behind a façade of calm and excitement. He was eager to supplant the gastric bass and tweeting highs of Studio B’s house DJ with his own mix, but at the same time he wasn’t rubbing it in.


The same went for his throbbing but playfully cool set. Lindstrøm (his DJ-ing nom de guerre) crafted ethereal polyphonies, enveloping listeners and the room in a gradually pulsating haze. While the side stage’s speakers perfectly blended weaving choruses of electronic whistles, buzzes, and washes, an unsuspecting bass would penetrate the mix, however coyly. It was only after the crowd was fully immersed in a pounding yet diffused disco beat that a song’s climax was ever evident.


And that was the beauty of the scruffy Norwegian’s set. Lindstrøm took the music in a direction where all eventually wanted to be, but without the obvious cues and countdowns—only after teasing and toying a beat so much that once it finely arrived you almost forgot you were craving it to begin with. 


He did it with “Where You Go I Go Too”, the epic title track of his most recent release, taunting jittery marimba sounds and guitar with other whimsical accents. As these sounds coalesced with a spectrum of synths and frenetic high-hats, an underlying bass became self-evident. But ever so gradually. Only the heroic entrance of bright ascending synthesizer lines finally confirmed the beat’s summit. After a euphoric acme was firmly in place the beat sublimated back into more atmospheric tinkering, and the next subtly towering track was underway.


That Lindstrøm submerges his beats, only for them to resurface at pinnacle moments, is a reflection of his personal MO. “The melody is the backbone of a track. The beat is just a wrapping” he told an interviewer once.


The strangest aspect of his set was that the crowd seemed more interested in staring at him crouch behind his setup than in dancing to the perfect mixes coming from it. Getting down to his powerfully delicate blend of Culture Club synths, boogie disco horns, and trance beats seemed to escape half the club. It didn’t matter: Lindstrøm out danced them all onstage himself.



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Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009
by Roman Kuebler

When Baltimore’s Oranges Band announced that they were headed into the studio to begin work on their new record, having soldiered through personnel changes and struggles at their label, Lookout Records, it seemed like an excellent time to catch up and to allow them to speak for themselves by cataloging the happenings.  Blog entries One through Five tracked them from the very beginning of pulling the band together for the first time in the studio, to laying the album down piece to piece, to looking into just why albums can sometimes take so incredibly long to finish.  In entry six, with the album largely tracked [Editor’s Note: It sounds incredible], Oranges Band frontman Roman Kuebler took a break from writing about the experience of recording to providing the photos that come along with it.  In this final installment he explores the inconceivably painful and time-consuming task of coming up with cover art, once again with the same [much-appreciated] humor, attention to detail, and self-effacing honesty that has marked all of his entries.—Jon Langmead


The final product

The final product


Cover Art


The Oranges Band Are Invisible. An album is not an album without a name. And after what seems, now, like an eternity, this collection of songs is, officially, an album. Not only because the album now has a name but also because it collects the experience of writing and rehearsing it, demoing and recording it, mixing and fixing it, and yes, naming it.


For me, processing and reflecting on all of the stages that went into the making of this album is rather overwhelming. Our last album was released close to four years ago and this new album, because albums are the benchmarks of a band’s history, is responsible for gathering all the experiences since then and, somehow, defining the band through these songs and under this title, The Oranges Band Are Invisible. Easy enough to consider that no album could really comprehensively sum up four years of any band’s history, right? Well, what is overwhelming about that concept is that I might be the only person in the world for whom this album really CAN do that.


A band’s album is so many levels. It’s songs and performances and ideas and potential but at the end of the day, it’s a product. A physical product that has a name and a visual reference so that it can be classified among the other albums that people experience. What this means is that after working forever on getting your music where you want it to be, you have to wrap it up in a package to sell it. It needs a name and artwork that will classify and define it. Now, assuming the responsibility for just about everything in the progression of a band has it’s advantages… I guess you can claim all the credit for your, many… errr, ummm, well, some of your successes. You know, you get to ride in the convertible at the parade! You get, also, to own (outright) all failures! The fringe benefit, the one that people don’t see, though, is that you get to wake up in the middle of the night realizing that the artwork is not going to complete itself.


I really like doing the artwork for albums but not necessarily for my own albums (even though I’ve done every one). It deserves so much focus and attention and I found that, after having “left it all on the field” during the recording, the artwork can be a daunting task. Not only it is creatively stressful but it is also a technical exercise that requires patience and administration, commodities in short supply at the end of the album-making process. It was with this in mind that I sat awake in bed one night devising ways to get around doing the artwork this time. The obvious answer was to have someone else do it. Employ one of my many talented and artistic friends to create a great concept and execute it, visually, to perfection. Sadly, it’s an idea as simple as it is unrealistic. I have tried this many times and it has been my experience that artists, myself included, are as capitalistic as the next guy. Well maybe not if the next guy is an investment banker or something, but we still operate on the “time is money” concept and creating an album cover takes a LOT of time. Of course most bands, ours included, find that money is another commodity in short supply at the end of the album-making process so that didn’t seem like a workable solution.


CDs were hand assembled while watching football

CDs were hand assembled while watching football


Still lying awake, racking my brain to figure out how to get out of doing the artwork, I was nearly resolved to having to put in the hours of being shackled to my computer, staring at the screen when, in a MacGyver-like flash of inspiration I thought, “What if there is NO artwork?” Wait… what?! The basic thought of an album with no artwork is a little too easy. I mean, again, an album needs to be represented visually in some way and needs to be a physical product so it had to be something but an adjusted concept that eliminated paper sleeves and tray cards did seem legitimate. Not only did it seem manageable, but I was quickly aware of how the idea of a “paperless” album actually challenged the popular concept of music packaging at a time when the music industry is struggling to define the value of music and the legitimacy of the compact disc format against, obviously, the digital format which has no physical representation. I liked it’s environmental statement as well, even though it’s still a lot of plastic… well, we won’t sell too many then, out of concern for the environment.


Ok, so having convinced myself I can get around the idea of artwork, at least in the traditional sense I still had to name the album. Easy enough, if the Beatles did the “White Album” with the all white artwork and Metallica did the “Black Album” (uh, I mean Spinal Tap-never figured out if that was a joke by Metallica), then we were going to claim the “Clear Album”. Knocking it around a bit I thought it best to shy away from inviting comparisons to the Beatles, which would seem a little self important, and came around to the idea of the “Invisible Album”. But you can’t write it on the album and say it’s the “Invisible Album” and I am sure we wouldn’t get the opportunity to nickname our album through the press or anything so I had to figure out a way to call it something that included invisible. By the way, I am still lying in bed thinking about all this. Even though it takes a couple hours to sit and recount the episode in writing the whole thing developed in about three minutes I would guess. Crazy, huh? As I am cycling through a number of album title options utilizing the “invisible” theme, I thought about The Oranges Band Are Invisible. I think some of the others were just Invisible or The Invisible Band or just stuff like that but when I got around to The Oranges Band Are Invisible, I was immediately reminded of The Fuses Are Lies. The Fuses were one of the great Baltimore bands of the late 90s and have inspired many Oranges Band songs and, along with a handful of other local Baltimore groups, are largely responsible for me playing in bands at all. This album draws deeply, both lyrically and musically, on that music and that time in my life so this association with the title really felt right to me. I love it when a concept comes together!


Finally, in thinking about the title I was toying with the idea of an invisible band. The Oranges Band have always felt a little bit like the invisible band, kind of hiding in plain sight. Not necessarily the underdogs or the attention-getters but more the guys who fade into the landscape a bit. I don’t mind that so much as it sort of accurately describes our perception and maybe our place. We have an understated appeal, that’s all. I appreciated how the title of the album is a statement about our band from our band. And hey, I mean the Invisible Man, right? Who hasn’t dreamt of being the Invisible Man? He’s easily one of the coolest superheros–or was he a menace?! I guess I didn’t see that one.


The CD covers were hand screened by Alex Dondero. This is the artwork for the screen. Thanks to Alex for his help.

The CD covers were hand screened by Alex Dondero. This is the artwork for the screen. Thanks to Alex for his help.



Tagged as: the oranges band
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