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Wednesday, Jan 21, 2009

After being postponed a week due to snow, the NEXT Music Charity Concert Series (in support of Big Brothers and Big Sisters) at Rack ‘n’ Roll in Stamford kicked off January 16th with a performance by Jukebox the Ghost. While the name Jukebox the Ghost doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, the trio’s infectious songs got the patrons grooving whether they came to see the band or were just there shooting pool. Having been likened to Ben Folds, Jukebox perform similarly fun, piano-driven indie-pop that gets fans enthusiastically clapping and dancing along with the music and their nuanced lyrics. The D.C. based band even contains a Ben, the lead singer Ben Thornewill plays piano, and is accompanied by Jesse Kristin on drums and Tommy Siegel on guitar.


After Chris Bro, a DJ on 107.1 The Peak, made his concert series introduction, Jukebox the Ghost took the stage encouraging the mixed audience to draw closer. Several girls, who seemed a bit too young to be in a bar, appeared to be loyal fans of the band (or perhaps of boys in a band). And then there were folks intrigued by the sounds of the warm-up piano-tinkling who pulled away from their billiards table to listen. Jukebox performed several songs off their album Let Live and Let Ghosts, as well as a couple of newer ones. The second song, “Hold it In”, got people clapping along to the particularly catchy piano melody punctuated by Ben’s “whooo”-ing. “Victoria”, which might lyrically hint at a Ben Folds song with its inclusion of the word ‘bitch’, had even more people shaking to its drum stomp sound.


Before the encore new song of “Nobody”, Jukebox dove into an enjoyable rendition of The Beatles’ “Golden Slumber/Carry that Weight/The End” - a song whose broad familiarity appealed to a good many in the bar. This Ben and the band engaged the crowd all night, cracked jokes with each other, noted the irony that they had only one song about a ghost (and home foreclosures) and gave a spirited little shout for Obama. If one is comparing the studio tracks to the performance, a lively concert from Jukebox the Ghost is much more satisfying. Demonstrating their admirable spirit, Jukebox’s first show of 2009 earned them many new fans—they have an auspicious future ahead.



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Friday, Jan 16, 2009
This may play like Dahl on Cliffnotes to the adults, but the brief running time and exaggerated set pieces fall right into the little ones' hands.


Arden Theatre Company presents
James and the Giant Peach
By David Wood from the novel by Roald Dahl
Directed by Whit MacLaughlin
10 December 2008 – 8 February 2009
F. Otto Haas Stage


Readers hold Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach—itself a standout from the author’s body of classics—as personal as Alice in Wonderland, Beatrix Potter, and countless others children’s tales.  Peach also proves to be an “interactive” as any other.  After the premiere of David Wood’s new Philadelphia stage adaptation at the Arden in Philadelphia, adult audience members shared their favorite character from childhood.  “I always likes the spider,” one woman said.  A man returned: “I love that centipede, with all his shoes.”  Nostalgia was in the air, while their kids found a new delight.  Some recognized the bright-lit and -spirited performance from a book their parents recently read to them.  With questions and enthusiastic comments, others were obviously newcomers.


As for my favorite characters, I have always loved those wicked aunts, Sponge and Spiker.  They offer the darkest dimension to Dahl’s text.  As recognizable family members, they are at once associated with the familiar, but nonetheless are distant, strange.  When James comes to live with them—after Dahl’s whimsically placed rhino kills the boy’s parents—they set little James to endless chores, thus serving as the wicked stepmother motif of classic fairy tales.  Meanwhile, we have two aunts living together who are not clearly marked as sisters—two lesbians that society (and cultural history) has locked away, perhaps?  If so, then their wickedness is no fault of their own, in that they are trapped in the cultural “closet” for the story’s purpose. 


Mean-spirited or no, the aunts serve as an accidental jest to modern audiences, and it certainly isn’t lost on Whit MacLaughlin.  This stage director has cast Harum Ulmer (Driving Miss Daisy at the Hedgerow Theater) as Aunt Spiker in David Wood’s Philadelphia stage adaptation at the Arden (running through February 8), next to Stephanie English’s Sponge.  Ulmer makes for an outright tranny-ish Spiker, lovably villainous to the kids as the parents wink along.  The gangly actor grates his lines and hams them up like Tyler Perry’s Madea, shrunken thin to fit the current proceedings.  English’s pillowy Sponge – complete with butt pads the size of basketballs – serves as a sidekick. 


Their victim, the unlikely named James Ijames, plays the title character with wide eyes, a sure friend for the young audience.  Wandering into a nightmarish life, he is a noble savage that finds a better family in those bugs that have grown along with the peach, the boys wish-fulfillment escape realized as a fantasy device.  (While never forgetting his young audience, Ijames’s appearance in a schoolboy uniform with cap cannot escape the image of Angus young of AC/DC.  Later in the show, the phrase “Hell’s Bells!” pops into the dialog, in case anyone’s missed the connection.)  The title’s other main attraction comes in three forms: as a 12-foot-high prop emerging from the backstage, a floating version the size of a softball, and as a centered platform on the jutting stage, on which the bugs and James travel from the aunts’ grounds to a new home. 


Of ripe color that’s almost florescent, the giant peach(es) is framed by a multi-panel digital screen friendly to the eyes of our digital youth.  On screen appears backgrounds, and a cute introduction to the bugs, who are soon to be James’ friends.  The digital projection adds much landscape to the jutting stage, even if it is outdone by the analog elements before it, more tactile to the intimate audience. 


And, naturally, the other dark subtexts of Dahl are jettisoned in this very child-friendly adaptation, such as the sperm-like jewels that squirm into the ground to impregnate the waiting peach pit.  Ijames’ mimed immersion into the peach—after it has grown large but is only imagined on the stage, at this point—sure feels like a birth-in-reverse, but that’s as close as this telling comes to Freudianism.  Wood and MacLaughlin use the layout of the thrust stage in the F. Otto Haas theater to draw the kids into a (mostly) classical approach to children’s theater.  It may play like Dahl on Cliffnotes to the adults, but the brief running time and exaggerated set pieces fall right into the little ones’ hands.


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Wednesday, Jan 14, 2009
Seeing Midwestern alt-rock legends Hum for the first time after barely missing them a decade ago, a PopMatters writer learns that some things are worth the wait. Words and pictures by Mehan Jayasuriya.
Photos: Mehan Jayasuriya

In June of 1998, while on tour in Canada, Champaign, Illinois alt-rock quartet Hum was involved in a car accident that destroyed their van and brought their tour to a screeching halt. Though the band was forced to cancel most of the remaining dates on their tour, they managed to soldier on and play two of the 13 scheduled shows. Shortly after the accident, the band flew from their hometown to Boston for a headlining gig and then travelled via caravan to Milwaukee, where they would play one of the largest shows of their career, as an opening act on the Smashing Pumpkins’ Adore tour. “The Milwaukee concert is such a huge show, and it’s so close to home that the band just decided to make do,” Hum publicist Gina Orr told JAMTV at the time of the accident.


Meanwhile, my brother and I—aged 13 and 15, respectively—were eagerly awaiting the bands’ Milwaukee date. Sure, we were Smashing Pumpkins fans, having seen that band on their Mellon Collie tour two years earlier. This time around, however, we were far more excited about the opening act, a little-known band from nearby Champaign that we had learned of through word-of-mouth. While the Pumpkins had largely abandoned guitar rock for moody electronic pop at this point, Hum still ably carried the flag of so-called alternative rock, marrying a driving rhythm section with layers of heavily textured guitars. Atop it all was frontman Matt Talbot’s trademark monotone, singing willfully inscrutable lyrics that, as with many shoegaze bands, served only to reinforce the relative unimportance of vocals to the band’s aesthetic. There’s a reason, after all, why people sometimes refer to Hum as a space rock act, alongside such luminaries as Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine and Spacemen 3.


The day of the show, my brother and I found ourselves at the home of a family friend, eagerly awaiting our drop-off at the Marcus Amphitheater by our father. As the clock ticked closer to the scheduled time of the show, the two of us started pestering our reluctant escort to drive us to the venue. Ever the procrastinator, our father shooed us away, assuring us that there would be plenty of time to get to the Marcus in time.



Tagged as: hum
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Wednesday, Jan 7, 2009
by Randy Haecker
Pictures by Randy Haecker.
caption

James Allan of Glasvegas


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Glasvegas


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No, it’s not Joe Strummer. It’s James Allan from Glasvegas.


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Rab Allan, Caroline McKay, James Allan and Paul Donoghue of Glasvegas


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James Allan gives a hand to the crowd.


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James Allan and Paul Donoghue of Glasvegas


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Glasvegas


See more of Randy Haecker’s photos on Flickr.


Tagged as: glasvegas
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Monday, Dec 29, 2008
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

As intimate venues go, the Blue Note in New York City’s Greenwich Village certainly qualifies. Reaching up and high-fiving the lead guitarist after a solo is doable, if not downright tempting. And it’s dinner theatre-style seating instantly makes a set a communal experience. (The mirror and leather-padded striped walls suggest a more wanton environment though.)


So when Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, traversing the crowd in order to take the stage, mingled through, their larger than life abilities seemed quite ordinary—if only for a moment.


The occasion, a holiday tour in support of their latest release, the festive Jingle All the Way, found the band even more relaxed and in their element than usual. It also makes one wonder how long the above album really took to record. With such incredible pitch, listening abilities and virtuosic skill, the album seems like a jocular seasonal exercise evolving into a record ex-post. Without abandoning the melodies that have made them seasonal standards the record is more or less deconstructed Christmas carols.


They lead off with “Medley”, a densely packed six minutes including “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “It’s Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas”, “My Favorite Things”, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “The Little Drummer Boy”.


Only getting started, “Silent Night” and “Sleigh Ride” quickly followed. At one point saxophonist Jeff Coffin played both alto and tenor saxophone, simultaneously harmonizing and performing on the two instruments—an awesome party trick.


Percussionist and inventor Future Man (Roy Wooten) dressed like a pirate, as is his custom. He regularly ignites the crowd with his singularly unique synthaxe drumitar instrument, tapping and fingering intricately delicate rhythms. With his younger brother, Victor Wooten, on bass, they continually created a coolly swinging rhythm section, particularly on “Sleigh Ride” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. They possess an intangible rhythmic connection, manifesting itself in an effortlessly perpetual swing. It plants the quartet’s sound into a jazzy context whenever they need such a feel.


Béla Fleck jokingly told the crowd, “Hey guys, keep it down. Vic’s playing”. The crowd ceased murmuring even though Fleck said it teasingly and it was inconceivable for such an appreciative audience to ignore Wooten’s solo, but quiet, playing. And from his extended solo he segued into the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”, only to trip over a transition and start over with the crowd’s encouragement. He obviously should have practiced more. Redeeming himself, he then played a solo version of “The Christmas Song” with everyone in the room looking on in a mix of admiration, astonishment, and apathy (the latter referring to the wait staff).


In a season replete with circus albums, the Flecktones’ contribution came by way of a juggling act: Performing “The Twelve Days of Christmas” using a different key and time signature for each day. It was dizzying to listen to, let alone keep track of.


And with the melodies so familiar, the group so relaxed and the playing mostly effortless, it was easy to forget how masterful the Flecktones really are.



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