Rock Feed

Ron Pope and the Nighthawks at Irving Plaza

by Steven Pisano

  20160109-DSC_5870(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Ron Pope and the Nighthawks played Irving Plaza last weekend, performing music off of their brand new self-titled album. Hailing from Georgia and now based in New York, Pope is embarking on a new phase in his career. Primarily known as a solo musician, Pope recorded his new record with a band and is bringing them with him on a 30-plus-city tour of Europe and U.S.

While his earlier music was a bit poppy (several of Pope's tracks were used on TV's So You Think You Can Dance), he has since grown his hair longer, and his new music is more Americana with country edges, which gets back to his roots in the South. And it fits him well.

At Irving Plaza, he started off singing old favorites for his fans, who had sold out the club, encouraging the audience to sing along with him. Then, he mixed in the new material as if he wasn't sure they would take to this new direction. But soon, they were bopping their heads on the uptempo numbers, and hugging each other during the ballads.

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“Angel’s Bone" at the Prototype Festival

by Steven Pisano

Top - Kyle Pfortmiller, Bottom - Kyle Bielfield, Jennifer Charles

(All photos by Cory Weaver.)

Angel’s Bone, presented by the unflaggingly innovative Prototype Festival and directed by Michael McQuilken, portrays the lurid tale of a suburban couple (Kyle Pfortmiller and Abigail Fischer) facing financial and marital distress who one day miraculously discover a Boy Angel (Kyle Bielfield) and a Girl Angel who have fallen out of Heaven and landed in their backyard.

It doesn't take long for this blessing to turn dark. At the wife’s blunt request (“Prune them!”), the husband holds high a gleaming meat cleaver and savagely severs the angels' wings. The couple then holds the angels prisoner in a clawfoot bathtub and exploits them by charging people for various services, including sex. The wife later entices the Boy Angel to impregnate her so that she can give birth to a human-angel hybrid. In the wife’s view, capitalizing on these innocent messengers of God is an acceptable way for her to finally get the life she feels she always deserved. 

The story is bold and daring, inspired by worldwide human trafficking, ranging from children sold for sex to indentured domestic workers. The United Nations estimates there are almost 30 million people in the world today living as slaves: a crisis in our midst. Unfortunately, composer Du Yun and librettist Royce Vavrek fail to explore this pressing issue in artistic terms. It seems to me that artists—writers, composers, filmmakers, painters, whatever—are uniquely equipped to help us understand or at least make us think about such issues by exploring their ramifications. 

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"Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)

How many times does an angel fall?
How many people lie instead of talking tall?
He trod on sacred ground, he cried loud into the crowd
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar, I’m not a gangstar)"

- "Blackstar", David Bowie, 2016

Hold on to Your Seat: The Prototype Festival Starts This Week

Prototype Festival
Now in its fourth season, the Prototype Festival has become an essential part of the New York cultural season. Featuring cutting-edge new chamber opera and music-theater works, shows are almost always sold out, and many of the people you see in the audiences are some of the top composers, performers, and directors in the music-theater universe. They know it’s the place to see brave and electric new work. So if you haven't picked out your shows already, you should go to the Festival site right now.

Originally presented almost exclusively at HERE (in Soho), this year’s schedule has spread across Manhattan and Brooklyn to venues including 3-Legged Dog Art & Technology Center, NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, HERE, National Sawdust, and the French Institute Alliance Française.

Last year premiered the chamber opera masterpiece The Scarlet Ibis (Stefan Weisman and David Cote), and featured the still-evolving Aging Magician (Paola Prestini). This year’s shows are Angel’s Bone (Du Yun and Royce Vavrek), Dog Days (David T. Little and Royce Vavrek), The Good Swimmer (Heidi Rodewald and Donna Di Novelli), The Last Hotel (Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh), Saga (Gregory Frateur and Nicolas Rombouts), Bombay Rickey (performed by the eponymous Brooklyn band), and La Reina (Jorge Sosa and Laura Sosa Pedroza). This year's festival will also feature the New York premiere of David T. Little's Dog Days, which had its world premiere to high acclaim back in 2012.

Performances run through January 17; tickets and information available here.