Archive: May, 2011
Although temperatures are rising, rain is pouring and the days are feeling longer, Philadelphia music fans know summer doesn't officially begin until the good people at the Mann Center say it does. This year that happens on Sat., May 21 when they host Philadelphia on Parade!, a family-friendly, daylong event featuring over 1000 artists, as well as crafts and other activities for the kids.
Big-name headliners appearing throughout the summer include Willie Nelson (May 27), R. Kelly and Keyshia Cole (July 3), Kid Cudi (July 7) and Death Cab for Cutie (Aug. 5). The Mann also has a strong classical schedule, despite the fact that the Philadelphia Orchestra will be engaged in a European tour this summer. While they’re home they will be putting on three shows between June 28 and 30: Performing with Philadelphia Singers, playing Tchaikovsky with a fireworks accompaniment, and covering classic Beatles tunes in Down the Abbey Road along with Joan Osborne and the Waybacks.
While the Philadelphia Orchestra is away, look out for Beethoven’s 5th with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on July 9 and two shows from the Russian National Orchestra, Cirque de la Symphonie and From Russia with Love (and fireworks) on July 28 and 29, respectively.
Every Wednesday, Ryan Carey tackles a different topic relating to the contemporary pop culture scene. This week he takes on the End of the World, which could be happening on Saturday ...
After hearing about Saturday's rapture on two separate, somewhat polarly opposed Philly-area radio stations (93.3 WMMR and 103.3 WPRB Princeton, which should give you an idea of how far spread the rapture-matrix has permeated), I did a search for the hashtag #rapture on handy-dandy Twitter. That's when it occurred to me...
The predicted May 21 Rapture is getting — what must be — many thousands percent more publicity from the snark-o-sphere than those good-hearted folks at Harold Camping's Family Radio Worldwide who sold their houses to drive mobile billboards around the country to tip us off about their very important event. The most common type of joke is, "what are you going to be wearing for the rapture?" followed by "x sports team beat y sports team, it really will be the end of the world." These are a variety of pseudo gallows humor, which seeks to create congruity between the extremely important, and the extremely un-important. About 60 percent of my search feed looked like this.
Another 38 percent was on the logistical implications of rapture belief. "Camping was wrong about his early '90s claim of pending rapture, his followers are gonna wish they still had houses on Sunday", or "If you're going up to heaven, could I get your collection of Hummel figurines?", or "If all the Christians get beamed up, who's going to be in all the sex scandals!" The remaining 3 percent (generously) of people are having some sort of serious, actual debate about the upcoming event.
Is there a way for advertisers to capitalize on the chain reaction of intellectual scorn, the great pan-cultural eye roll? Snakes on a Plane did it in 2006, but that was because the essential product was a movie, intended to be so-bad-it's-good. Camping's campaign was — despite the intentions of the volunteer army of new participants — a thorough success. Can you deny that you've been made aware of the rapture on May 21?
Each week, Emily Apisa puts together a rundown of book-centric events that’ll keep you “lit” all week long.
[ Wednesday ]
➤ Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman
The screeching of nails on a chalkboard makes some people’s skin crawl. For others, an incessantly dripping faucet could be torturous. Everyone has ticks, and we try to avoid these pet peeves at all costs. But authors Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman took a different approach to these daily life annoyances. In their book Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us these former NPR journalists investigate why certain things just get under our skin.
Garage A Trois (GAT) is an outstanding jazz-fusion act that has moved steadily into rock over the years. A side-project of Galactic drummer, Stanton Moore, GAT is an odd super group of virtuoso misfits, including vibraphonist Mike D of The Dead Kenny G's; saxophonist Skerik, also of Les Claypool's Flying Frog Brigade; and organist Marco Benevento of the Benevento Russo Duo. This week, before their show Thursday at North Star Bar, I had a phone chat with the band's sax-master, Skerik.
CP: How did you meet Stanton Moore?
Skerik: I was introduced to Stanton by a producer in San Francisco fifteen years ago and we hit it off. We’ve been playing together ever since. I’m actually down in New Orleans right now, walking over to his house. We're getting ready for the New Orleans Jazz Fest.
CP: How are you guys liking the personnel change from Charlie Hunter to Marco Benevento?
Skerik: Marco and Charlie are very different. They have different personalities and very different musical ideas. It gets down to composition; different people have different styles of writing. Both are great. We’re just having a lot of fun with Marco. Like Charlie, he has a lot of great songwriting ideas and playing ability — live and in the studio.
CP: I find your live show to be more upbeat and high energy than the albums ...
Between the Dad Vail Regatta traffic and the Arrow Swim Club opening you thought I had been wading in water high enough to make me late for Adele’s way sold-out show at Electric Factory on Friday night. While I might usually not feel so terrible strolling into a show mere minutes past its opening, never have I been shushed while walking in to a large room filled with such passionately devoted listeners.
But at 23, the British vocalist with the number one album (21) and hit (“Rolling in the Deep”) on the respective Billboard charts is no ordinary singer. Touched equally by the spirits of the late Jeff Buckley and the living Etta James, Adele seems to have found (or forged) so deep an emotional bond between herself and her throng of fans (at least in Philadelphia) that my interruption of their moment with the inheritor of the Dusty Springfield tiara was a major faux pas on my part (Comedian Wanda Sykes and director M. Night Shyamalan were there but didn’t quiet me)
When every aspect of a show goes off without a hitch, it can feel like magic. But you can learn just as much about a performer by seeing how he stands up under the harsh light of technical difficulties. Consider how a bad monitor mix can reveal a singer's short fuse, or how a guitar that needs to be retuned after every song can mess with the set's flow.
For some, a flickering stage light could've been a major bummer. But at The Autumn Defense's low-key show at MilkBoy, the snafu brought out something else. Certainly, singer-guitarists John Stirratt and Pat Sansome are used to having things go right — or at least having a crew to deal with problems quickly; their other band, Wilco, is better than most at setting a mood through muted lamps and moving lights of varying colors and intensity. But the duo kept their cool on their stools, never missing a note even as the malfunctioning light thrust Stirratt into a moment of darkness, a second of light, another moment of darkness — and on and on. The audience remained respectful and patient, even as the glitch went from startling to amusing to annoying.
But what about when Stirratt sang the opening lines to "Huntington Fair," from last year's Once Around: "Who would've thought I've been in the dark / Hopin' that I was alone?" Nervous laughter from the audience and a look of recognition from the band broke the tension.
It took longer than it should have for the problem to be solved with the firm flick of a switch, but by that time, the audience had probably spent more time pondering the duo's lyrics than anyone ever had. Even Stirratt seemed surprised by how many references to light cropped up in their songs:
"Everyone has a heart to share / But no one knows when the light will be there" ("Every Day"). "Show me the light that is right above you" ("Canyon Arrow"). "Stay there, stay there in the light" ("Tuesday Morning"). "This light isn't kind to me" ("Written in the Snow"). "The rift falls down out of sight / Where no one needs the light" ("The Rift"). "Why am I sad? / The city lights tonight are beautiful / Without Us" ("Silence").
But who's listening to The Autumn Defense for the words, anyway? Stirratt and Sansone's harmonies are the draw, and their natural rapport makes their mellow tunes far more engaging on the stage than on record. Other performers might've make a bigger deal about a bum light, but the pair couldn't have been more gracious about it, acknowledging the situation and carrying on.
In the end, those good vibes sealed the bond between band and fans. And after The Autumn Defense and members of The Spring Standards bridged the seasons with a sprawling cover of "Sentimental Lady" to close the show, everyone went home happy and illuminated.
Monday: The intimidating and alluring sounds of Lykke Li’s new album show off the maturation that the Swedish pop singer has undergone over the past few years. No longer is she the shy princess burying her face in her hands; Li has taken on a new role as brazen, mysterious and empowering. Wounded Rhymes, like its predecessor, is a highly collaborative effort with Peter Bjorn And John’s Bjorn Yttling, who gives Li’s dramatic musings a muscular tribal thump. Li still offers a great deal of sentimentality, this time in the form of several stripped down, girl group-influenced ballads. Her electric live show remains a revelation. w/ Grimes, 8 p.m., $25-$35.25, TLA, 334 South St., 215-922-1011.
Tuesday: After creating a healthy amount of buzz around his early, psych pop-savvy recordings, John Vanderslice took some time to deal with matters both personal and geopolitical. As Vanderslice battled to get a U.S. visa for his French girlfriend, feelings of helplessness and vulnerability started creeping in. As any good artist would, Vanderslice channeled these feelings into the past few years’ worth of music. Grabbing global influences for his latest, White Wilderness, Vanderslice attempts to bring the world to his music, all the while trying to bring his music to the world. w/ Damien Jurado, 9 p.m., $12, Johnny Brenda's, 1201 N. Frankford Ave., 215-739-9684.
Wednesday: Before his celebrated solo career, silken-voiced singer Jose Gonzales was part of an eclectic trio called Junip. Just last year, Gonzales reunited with his onetime bandmates to finally release a full length album and stage a tour. Returning with a new EP for Fields standout “In Every Direction,” Junip shows off the myriad of styles that go into the band’s easy-on-the-ears sound. Gently propulsive electronics, organic acoustics and, of course, Gonzales’ swirling voice. w/ The Acrylics, 8 p.m., $19-$27, World Café Live, 30th & Walnut streets, 215-222-1400.
Thursday: Back in the mid-‘80s, impeccable showman Elvis Costello devised an interactive concert experience that involved audience members spinning a massive onstage wheel. Resembling the iconic Wheel Of Fortune, each space represented a different song in Costello’s massive catalogue. Several decades later, Costello’s compositions have become even more numerous, and his new wheel reflects that. Should you be selected for this sideshow of a concert, you’ll help determine what songs from Costello’s 30+ years of music he’ll play. Then you’ll either dance as the music plays or enjoy a cocktail in a makeshift lounge. 8 p.m., $35.25-$79.75, Tower Theater, 19 S. 69th St., 610-352-2887.
Man Cave is a testosterone-laden Monday feature that highlights the weekend haps of an everyday, pop-culture-loving Philly dude.
Friday: Michael Clayton, the George Clooney scandal flick about agro-industrial lawsuits and corporate espionage, is just as good the second time around. Tom Wilkinson's role as the bipolar law partner is entertaining, magnetic and genuine. His breakdown after years of working at "an organism whose sole purpose is to excrete the ammo for much larger more powerful organisms to destroy the miracle of humanity" is just one of Clooney's many problems that require "fixing." If you skipped this a few years ago, Netflix the SHIZZ out of it.
Saturday: Cyrus stars John C. Reilly as a divorced man who meets Marisa Tomei and gets excited about life for the first time in years. Her son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill) is a twenty-one-year-old live-at-home man-kid whose mom-attachment issues are somewhat mutual. His creepy campaign against Reilly is half comedy half psych drama. It's clear that Hill's talents are stronger for comedy than drama, but this was a strong outing for him. His screen presence made most of the movie effectively uncomfortable, which is important to the story.
Sunday: Speaking of comedians taking serious roles, I had to check my comprehension when I saw Rainn Wilson's name listed in the new Joseph Gordon-Levitt flick, Hesher. Dwight from the office actually looked like a regular human being, donning a full beard for his role as a grieving widower. Gordon-Levitt did not, donning long death-metal hair and a massive tattoo of a middle finger on his usually bare back. Natalie Portman donned old lady glasses and an unasuming hairstyle. There was lots of donning going on, and I'll say that this film might have been the most thrillingly uncomfortable movie of my weekend. There were only five other people in the theater with me, and three of them walked out somewhat early on.
I didn't blame them. Most people can't palate surreal minimalism. If something is unrealistic, it needs to be way over the top, magical and soaring. One ring to rule them all! When something is unrealistic but laced with understatement and mundanity, people often mistake it for a poorly executed attempt at slice-of-life cinema. With the excpetion of comedies like Napoleon Dynamite and Little Miss Sunshine, whose juxtaposition of the absurd with the banal creates more comprehensible comedic contrast... this friggin flick was simply wild.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt played a fire-setting, metal-thrashing foul-mouthed squatter who behaves unpredictably benevolent and malevolant toward the recent widower and his thirteen-year-old son. Critics are describing the normally man-crush-calliber Levitt's character as "pure id." And that's exacty what he was. A free-wheeling entity of sexually inappropriate, violent, reptilian impulses. And nihilistically free of agenda. An entertaining popcorn flick this ain't, but if you're in the mood to deal with an oddly funny, dark story about sheer unadulterated subconscious, grab it while it still has a few days left in the theater.
Every week, singer/songwriter Matt Cantor gives you the skinny on a local open mic night so you'll know which stages to call home.
Not only does Newtown Square’s Burlap and Bean have tasty, fair trade food and an incredible cup of hot chocolate — they’ve also got a quality open mic on Thursday nights. I dropped by last night to check it out, and was impressed with the wide array of performers.
The place is big for a coffee shop, but with its comfortable couch, armchairs, and low lighting, it still feels intimate. I sat at a wood-and-glass table that was literally filled with coffee beans in a nice homage to my drug of choice. A corner of the room was designated as the stage area, with one of the better sound systems I’ve heard since starting this column. At the sound board was Kyle Swartzwelder, the night’s host. Nearby was a video camera attached to a laptop: the whole show was streamed online. The crowd, I noticed, overlapped with Main Line coffee shop regulars: there were familiar faces from Milkboy and Gryphon.
Kyle began the night with a pair of tunes played with intense clarity, both in his voice and on his delicately-played guitar. As the night went on, he kindly requested that people pay attention to those on stage — a welcome comment for an open-miker to hear. The audience heeded his request and focused on the performers, something which, of course, doesn’t always happen at these events.
There were too many standout performers to note them all, but to name a few: Loki strummed a punchy Cheap Trick cover and an excellent original tune full of ringing, open chords. Rapper IV was undaunted when he faced sound system troubles; he had the guts to do his bombastic, well-worded songs a cappella. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone rap as fast as he did on his second tune. I’m always impressed with hip-hop artists who enter a field of mostly singer/songwriters, and there were two of them last night: later came Black Wolf, who opened his set by asking, “How many people here like books?” He proceeded to dominate the stage with a paean to literature. The featured performer, who played a half-hour set, was Aaron Nathans. He offered up some clever and off-beat songs, including one celebrating grapefruits and another slamming John McCain. Later, keyboardist Chelsea Allen showcased a dark, captivating voice with an original song called “500-Pound Day.” Closing out the night was Sam Vile, who I mentioned in an earlier post about Milkboy; tonight he played with a band made up of performers from earlier in the evening. In a song called “Wear Me In Wear Me Out,” his unique tenor, comparable to early Thom Yorke, rang out over the band. Then he told everyone to get the hell out, and we did.
The nitty-gritty for performers: Thursdays, 7 p.m, Burlap and Bean, 204 S. Newtown Street Rd., Newtown Square, burlapandbean.com. Free entry; 2 songs each plus a featured performer.
This weekend, the Philadelphia Zoo is hosting Creatues of Culture: Asia, a festival spotlighting all things Oriental. Guests can learn about and ogle unique critters like bearded pigs, tigers and wise-looking douc langurs (pictured). There will also be continent-specific foods to try, like traditional Asian pastries and themed oriental salads. As for entertainment, live performances include Hoh Daiko on the Japanese taiko drums, traditional Chinese dancers from the Greater Philadelphia Mingui Dance School, and authenic Indian dancers from Usiloquy. Bring the kids so they can enjoy crafts, calligraphy demonstrations and X• tink• shun, a wild theatrical experience featuring endangered-animal puppets explaining the fate of their species.
May 14-15, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., free with admission to Zoo, Philadelphia Zoo, 3400 W. Girard Ave., 215-243-1100, philadelphiazoo.org.
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