Music

American Idol: Boston Auditions

American Idol, the phenom that helped to forever define musical milieu and cultural temperature of the aughts, returned Tuesday night for its first episode of the teens and hit the ground running in hopes of proving that the show still has legs amid steadily falling ratings, the disappearance of its worst but most car-crash-fascinating judge and, just announced this week, the end-of-season skedaddle of head judge Simon Cowell. The show shakes things up this year -- Randy Jackson promises “interesting wrinkles”, quite a commitment, but one of them, of course, is Paula’s replacement, the sweet and likeable Ellen Degeneres, whose experience evaluating music mostly involves dancing in the aisles during her talk show.

Bringing in Ellen is like having Dennis Miller provide color commentary for Monday Night Football, and part of the fun this season will be in seeing if her seat at the table turns out to be the payoff the show badly needs. Ellen hasn’t arrived yet, however; Tuesday’s airing gave us highlights and humiliations from one of the show’s massive auditions, this one in Boston. Instead, an emaciated Victoria Beckham, sat in as a fourth judge, cocking an odd stare at contestants. She was a fairly good Paula stand-in, offering the same sort of sympathetic support that Paula was famous for, perhaps because both Paula and Posh suffer from the sneaking self-awareness that they themselves can’t actually sing.

I’ve heard people comment that these audition episodes are their favorite part of the whole season, but I’ve always thought the show’s focus on social misfits humiliating themselves before smirking, snickering judges was mean-spirited and embarrassing. The Boston episode offered fewer trainwreck moments that usual, thankfully, although it gave air to the likes of Pat Ford, a no-talent jokester who contorted his way through “Womanizer”, although he seemed in on the joke as the kind of clown who runs for class president just to make a farce of the speeches assembly. It’s the lamest type of audition because you can sense the kid’s awareness that one never knows when the public may get collective jollies from a new William Hung, forgetting the old adage that a man who goes for laughs by putting on a funny hat is annoying, but a man who doesn't know his hat is funny is hilarious.

By the way, Simon seemed way nicer than usual, but he remains the only judge worth really listening to. While Randy, despite impressive insider credentials, routinely offers sage advice like, “I don’t know; that didn’t work for me”, Simon can varyingly crucify and support hopefuls just when they need it. Sophomore Kara Dioguardi is, unlike Paula, a judge to take seriously, although in Boston she seemed to be auditioning for resident asshole in anticipation of Simon’s exit, blowing up at a socially awkward Clark Kent lookalike under vague premises. Sure, the guy came off weird, but a simple “no” would have worked; instead, Kara played to the camera.

The Boston show worked hard to jerk tears and provide Olympic moments for a few kids who received the magical yellow flyers to Hollywood. Maddy Curtis, sister of four boys with Down Syndrome, three of them adopted (!), sang Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah” in a nasal choir-girl voice. Simon was so sweet to her that he must have had advance scoop on her background. 16-year-old Katie Stevens belted out Etta James's “At Last” with impressive power and control, a relief after seeing her care for Alzheimer’s-suffering grandmother. Finally, Justin Williams is a 27-year-old “vocal coach” and cancer survivor, who sang with breezy, jazzy confidence, demonstrating the kind of talent that can handle the diversity of the show’s long-run demands.

The most fun contestant, though, was a burly, gregarious Italian named Amadeo Diricco, who has a nice kitchen at home and a reasonably good voice, showcased on a growly, spirited version of “Hoochie Coochie Man”. It’s unclear if Diricco has the chops to handle a variety of styles, but the judges sent him through, after which he piled onto a rugby scrum with his brothers and friends, which nearly killed Ryan Seacrest.

The night included the traditional montage of weeping castaways for whom getting a golden ticket to the next level “meant everything”, but amid those crushed dreams were interspersed a few hopefuls to watch. Pick hits: Ashley Rodriquez, an Aaliyah look-and-sound-alike; Luke Shaffer, a red-headed New Yorker with a feathery croon; and Tyler Grady, a shaggy throwback with a Nuggets-style garage-soul shout. Next up: Wednesday night’s auditions from Atlanta featuring guest judge Mary J. Blige.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


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Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

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Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

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7

Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

In a staid city like Washington, D.C., too many concert programs still stick to the basics. An endless litany of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concerti clog the schedules and parades of overeager virtuosi seem unwilling to vary their repertoire for blasé D.C. concertgoers. But occasionally you encounter a concert that refreshes your perspective of the familiar. The works presented at The Kennedy Center on 25 October 2017 might be stalwarts of 20th century repertoire, but guest conductor Antonio Pappano, leading the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, reminded us how galvanizing the canonical can still be. Though grandiose executions of Respighi's The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome were the main event, the sold-out crowd gathered to see Martha Argerich perform one of her showpieces, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

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