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October 2011

September 2011

Brooklyn Honkytonk

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Union Hall was turned into something of a roadhouse last night, courtesy of two of the leaders of the Brooklyn country music revival. Sean Kershaw and the New Jack Ramblers warmed things up with a set of heartfelt songs, delivered with a Willie Nelson twang. And, headlining was Alex Battles and the Whisky Rebellion, whose booze-fueled charisma seemed to teeter on the brink of collapse. This, of course, is all part of Alex's charm, along with his amazing, often hilarious songs that transport the ballads of Texas and Tennessee to the urban range of NYC. (This rendition of "You Live in Queens" should ring true for anyone who's ever chased a girl/guy to the outerboroughs.)

For those who missed last night's show (guess there are a lot of folks who prefer made-for-TV music), Alex will be hosting the upcoming Brooklyn Country Music Festival at Hank's Saloon (9/30-10/2). Alex and the Rebellion play Sunday afternoon during the 37th annual Atlantic Antic: be sure to stop by, as this may be the last hurrah for Hank's, which is set to be razed any day now.

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More pics on the photo page.

Bands and Circuses

Chicago 2011_033For as long as I can remember, there's been a strong connection between indie rock and the circus. First, there was the Siren Festival, located out in Coney Island next to the sideshows and with stage backdrops depicting elephants, clowns and tightrope walkers. Then, there's Devotchka, whose stage show includes aerialists and other amusements; at last year's CMJ, they headlined a mini-festival under the Big Apple Circus tent in Lincoln Center. Not to mention all those burlesque shows which weave live bands between performances.

The latest example of this curious synergy was last weekend's Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements festival, which took place last weekend in Chicago's Eckhart Park, just west of I-90. Produced by the team behind the Pitchfork Music Festival, there were two large circus tents, an outdoor music stage, the Renegade Craft Fair, rides - and, or course, sideshows. The producers say they wanted to reinvent the traditions of Vaudeville for a 21st century audience, "a live mash up of art forms and entertainment under one umbrella." 

All of it was free, save for the mainstage tent which offered a stellar lineup including Dan Deacon, School of Seven Bells, and Shellac, among others. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see any of them, but when I stopped by on Sunday afternoon, there was a rock trio lighitng up the outdoor stage and the astonishing Zoppè family circus performing under the big top. Even though it was raining outside, everyone - families included - seemed to be having a great time. Lesson learned: always give your audience more than they expect, and they'll come back looking for more.

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More pics on the photo page. 


Raising the Bar

300_250_WEBFor those who haven't heard, local jazz stalwart WBGO is in the middle of their fall fundraiser, where they hope to raise enough money to pay for a new transmitter atop 4 Times Square, which should get all those good vibes down to each and every block of NYC. (The current transmitter sits atop a pole in Newark.) Go here for more info about the program, and to pledge.

Metropolis Ensemble: Renderings

DSC04826Metropolis Ensemble opened their season last night with a concert at the Angel Orensanz Center, featuring three brand new works that used older music as their starting off point. Ray Lustig's "Compose Thyself" was based on a Bach Cantata, while Timo Andres performed a startling new completion of Mozart's "Coronation" Piano Concerto (which he played himself.) For me, the most accessible and enjoyable piece was Vivian Fung's Violing Concerto, which was supposedly based on Balinese gamelan music, but also brought to mind both of John Adams' works for violin and orchestra: the Violin Concerto and The Dharma at Big Sur. A fresh, engaging way to start off the season.


Gabriel Kahane/Elizabeth and the Catapult @ Littlefield

Gabe kahane_11.9.14_006Composer/performer Gabriel Kahane, best known as the songsmith behind Craigslistlieder and various theatrical works, was trotting out his indie side last night at Littlefield, celebrating the release of his second LP, Where are the Arms. Backed by a large band including Grey McMurray on guitar, drummer Ted Poor and a full string quartet, his voice exhibited a more mature, burnished quality since I last saw him - particularly on the title track, where he sounded like mournful Irish folksinger.

Gabe will be taking the band on the road with him for the next few weeks to promote the new album. Meanwhile classical commissions from all over, including the Kronos Quartet, who will premiere his The Red Book later this season, and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, who made him their Composer-in-Residence for the next two seasons. And, in May, the Public Theater will premiere Gabe's full length musical, February House. Busy guy.

Opening last night was the impressive Elizabeth and the Catapult, fronted by pianist/guitarist/singer Elizabeth Ziman: another classically-trained artist whose confessional lyrics (from her LP The Other Side of Zero) were delivered with raw emotion and power. After bringing a friend onstage to sing harmony on "Thank You for Nothing" - recountig the tale of a painful breakup - she literally broke down in the middle, relieved only when her friend poured water down her throat. The kind of stuff you'll never hear on any album. 

More pics on the photo page.