Acclaimed jazz pianist Brad Mehldau, on his penultimate U.S. tour date before heading to Europe, treated Sanders Theater to a solo performance last Friday. The venue’s Steinway filled the space, highlighting notes in the upper registers and allowing lower notes to reverberate appropriately. Mehldau entered minutes after 8 p.m. wearing a brown suit, and promptly began after switching the piano bench onstage with one he’d found backstage. “There was another gig before me,” he informed the audience, eliciting laughs and foreshadowing what would be an intimate night.
Sunday night at Somerville Theatre saw an eclectic pairing of the young Clare and the Reasons with the more experienced bossa-jukebox of Nouvelle Vague. In support of their second album <i>Arrow</i>, Clare Manchon, her co-collaborator husband Olivier Manchon and multi-instrumentalist Bob Hart opened the night with a set of mellow numbers. With Ms. Manchon’s voice the primary foundation for most songs, the backing “Reasons” shuffled between xylophones, violin, makeshift drumkits, keyboards, and even a bowed saw to fill in the gaps. Melodies, such as the chorus for “Ooh You Hurt Me So,” are easy to grasp, albeit due to its repetitive nature. While the songs were simplistic, Ms. Manchon’s lyrics are readily candid and conversational. She even sings a few songs in French, her husbands native language. The last three songs comprised what Ms. Manchon dubbed the “scientific portion of the spectacular,” a closing set which kicked off with the tongue-in-cheek “Pluto.” The song begins in French, addressing the late planet and its recent reconsideration-of-planethood as reported by the <i>New York Times</i>. The verse is then repeated, in English, fully clarifying the message of the song for the majority of the audience.
Afrobeat groove specialists Rubblebucket Orchestra will play a special show tomorrow night at the Middle East Downstairs. The morning after a gig in Hartford, I caught vocalist and saxophonist Kalmia Traver on the phone to discuss Rubblebucket Orchestra’s past, the new record <i>Rubblebucket</i>, and the influence of African music on her band’s style.
Built to Spill, just days after the release of their seventh LP <i>There Is No Enemy</i>, stopped by Cambridge for a three night run at The Middle East Downstairs last weekend. After seventeen years and a handful of different lineups, songwriter Doug Martsch is still at the helm, looking aged but adjusted. The “well-groomed” five-piece took the stage on Sunday, warmed up after two nights in the same venue, opening with a powerful version of “You Were Right,” a tune from 1999’s <i>Keep it Like a Secret</i>. The song pulled the audience back and forth through a dynamic maze, always climaxing with Martsch’s accusation, “you were wrong/when you said/everything’s gonna be alright.” The song benefited from the controlled layering of three guitars. Most notably, guitarist Brett Netson’s overdriven leads cut through the mix at times to reveal a deeper counterpoint against Martsch’s riffing.
Of the all the bands that came out of Seattle and popularized the grunge movement in the early 90s, Pearl Jam is essentially the only surviving group that has consistently released albums and amassed a following of devoted fans. In the beginning, it was <i>Ten</i> that launched the group onto the map.
There are a lot of ways to change a song. Obsessive fans tend to covet rare gems like acoustic strip-downs, jazz renditions, or the occasional remix. For the real collector, though, there’s always another avenue: the string tribute. Often unadorned, and painfully obvious in its recapitulation of a melody, the string tribute does no more for a song than a fancy carrying case does for an iPod — you may think you’re stepping up in class, but you’re right where you began.
I can remember, sometime in early spring, reading a blogger’s hilarious indie bulletin: “In other news, Wilco continues to take over the world.” Back then, before Wilco’s latest self-titled effort had even leaked, I reflected on this statement as a clear indicator of the upcoming year. Frontman Jeff Tweedy and his band of inidie-alt-folkers-whatever-you-wanna-call-ems (oh, all the genre dodging Wilco goes through) now sit close to the top of the music world, garnering steady attention ever since the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot debacle that cemented their name as true artists.
What better way to spend my 21st birthday weekend than with my favorite band, The Bad Plus. The time-shifting, genre-bending trio celebrated songs from their new release, <i>For All I Care</i>, as well as old tunes (and some new, but unreleased ones as well) at Berklee Performance Center on Friday, April 3rd, and at Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton on Saturday April 4th. The trio, consisting of Reid Anderson (bass), Ethan Iverson (piano), and David King (drums), have been playing the majority of their shows with vocalist Wendy Lewis, who joined the band on <i>For All I Care</i>. On both shows this weekend, they began with a traditional trio set, and then brought Lewis out for the second half.
Whether you’re completely new to MIT or a self-proclaimed lifer, there are always plenty of ways to get involved with the arts at MIT, or in the surrounding community. Here’s a brief guide to what kinds of arts opportunities are available at MIT. If you’re hoping to get off campus for a bit and explore arts in the city, there’s even more out there to satisfy your craving. This article isn’t intended to list every group at MIT nor every concert hall in Boston, but rather to give a small sampling of what you could enjoy here. Exploring on your own is always an encouraged avenue for finding out about art at MIT and in the city!
Last Sunday MIT Natya performed their annual show in Little Kresge, entitled <i>Shakti: Women of Power</i>. Natya is purely devoted to Bharatanatyam, a classical dance tradition originating from South India. The show utilized the art of dance to convey the stories of three women in Hindu mythology who have had notable impact on the status of women. Bharatanatyam is an extremely technical and challenging dance form that incorporates percussive foot movements, which often complement the rhythm of the drums in the accompanying music.
Jazz is a genre that consistently flirts with risk-taking. Whether this manifests itself in compositional structure, instrumentation, harmonic choices, or transcending implicit musical boundaries, The Bad Plus is a group that has done it all. Since the release of the group’s first record on the Fresh Sound / New Talent imprint, the critic community has argued over the true categorization of these three veteran musicians from Minneapolis. At the very base, they are indisputably a jazz group. But what causes most listeners to question this blanket classification is The Bad Plus’ penchant for risk. Boasting a catalogue of astounding original compositions (each member plays piano and writes for the whole band) and an arsenal of jazz-tinged rock and pop covers, The Bad Plus explores more musical territory than most of their jazz or indie contemporaries. This past summer, at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, Netherlands (an event I was fortunate enough to attend) Reid Anderson (bass), Ethan Iverson (piano), and David King (drums) announced the upcoming release of their new album, <i>For All I Care</i>. They also mentioned that they’d had a surprise waiting for the audience backstage. Seasoned Bad Plus fans are no stranger to the antics that this trio brings to the stage, but there’s just one thing that fans were not expecting: Wendy Lewis.
Manami Morita, a fresh graduate from the Berklee College of Music, celebrated the release of her CD <i>Colors </i>last week at Sculler’s. A young girl from Japan, Morita made her way to Berklee by impressing enough important people with her piano skills — and earning a full scholarship to get her degree in composition. Her short stature says nothing about her sound — when she sat down at the keys she pounded out song after song, flattening the audience with her speed and smooth directions towards her band members.
Former Smiths frontman Morrissey stopped by Boston on Sunday, March 29th as part of his Tour of Refusal, in support of his latest studio record <i>Years of Refusal</i>. A crowd waited in line hours before doors opened in order to get a great spot at the House of Blues. The general admission floor area filled up quickly with eager fans awaiting a chance to touch the singer himself, as he is known to generously offer his hand to those in the first few rows.
Kicking off this Sunday is the Beeline Festival at the Broad Institute. The festival hopes to introduce MIT and the surrounding community to new and exciting music, as well some exciting culinary treats. Co-coordinators Christine N. Southworth ’01 and MIT professor Evan Ziporyn, both musicians themselves in Gamelan Galak Tika, have organized six outstanding performances every weekend in April. The opening concert this Sunday will feature The Calder Quartet, as well as a reception where guests can taste honey and pastries made by local beekeepers and chefs. After the reception is a second set with Gutbucket.
To be honest, I wasn’t going to pick up U2’s most recent effort, <i>No Line on the Horizon</i>. When I was looking at Billboard release listings for the month of March, U2’s name didn’t even stick out. Yet, their album cover did. I saw it in a magazine, but recognized it as something else: <i>Boden Sea, Uttwil</i>, or a time-lapse photograph of Lake Constance taken by my favorite photographer, Hiroshi Sugimoto. I wasn’t sure how the use of the photograph could have anything to do with the content of the music, so I delved a little deeper.
Northampton’s Calvin Theatre transformed into a dark, intimate living room as Jeff Tweedy took the stage last Friday. In a characteristically happy mood, though more talkative than usual, Tweedy sounded up close and personal, his voice naked with only a guitar behind it. Bringing an arsenal of guitars with him (arced around him on stage), he smoothly switched between different guitars, evoking a soothing palette of sounds for his meticulous set list selections. Early in the set he mentioned that he looked through his archives to see what he played the last time he was at Calvin Theatre just to make sure he didn’t play the same song twice.
The four and a half years of waiting are over: Phish is back. Better yet, they sound good; I mean <i>really</i> good. Phish’s farewell tour in 2004 exposed a band at its absolute worst. As drummer Jon Fishman (whose surname inspired the group moniker) later admitted, their final concert in Coventry, Vermont was one of the “greatest train wrecks in live music history.” Pianist Page McConnell wrote a letter to fans last summer hinting at a reunion, and last October Phish uploaded a video to their website making a reunion official with a run of three shows at Hampton Coliseum in Virginia, a prized venue of the band.
Girl power incarnate Eleni Mandell is currently on tour promoting her latest record, <i>Artificial Fire</i>. Stopping in Cambridge last Sunday, Mandell and her band provided an energetic performance and stayed true to the intricacies of their studio recordings.
You either know Nels Cline as the thin-framed lead guitarist for the alt-folk collective Wilco, or as one of LA’s most experimental composers of avant-garde jazz guitar fronting the Nels Cline Singers. Either faction of Nels-fanatics would find something new in the accomplished guitarist’s latest endeavor, <i>Coward</i>. Though Cline’s canon dates back to 1979 (including myriad collaborations, trio projects, and a fraction of the Wilco discography), this is his first true solo album in that he composed all of the music and plays all of the instruments.
Two years after the success of her 2007 Zedtone release <i>Miracle of Five</i>, Eleni Mandell is back with her latest work, <i>Artificial Fire</i>. If you take a quick listen to <i>Miracle</i>, you might not imagine that the same artist is the mastermind behind both albums. However, that’s where Mandell’s strength as a songwriter and band member comes through.
Last season’s production of David Rabe’s classic 1970s play, <i>Streamers</i>, gives new meaning to the power of theatre. Executed by the Roundabout Theatre Company at Laura Pels Theatre in New York City, the performance included a cast of seasoned actors who brought an eerie realism to the tale of young soldiers awaiting deployment to Vietnam.
Chicago-based songwriter and indie superstar Andrew Bird garnered peculiar amounts of attention after his 2005 release of <i>The Mysterious Production of Eggs</i>. Since then a relentless schedule of gigs, a successful album and EP release, and spots at larger festivals like Chicago’s Lollapalooza have driven Bird to surpass his contemporaries. Add on top of that success a writing gig at the <i>New York Times</i> and you’ll wonder how Bird does it all.
Most Radiohead fans consumed Thom Yorke’s 2006 solo effort, <i>The Eraser</i>, as a welcome treat in that awkward limbo period between the releases of <i>Hail To The Theif</i> and <i>In Rainbows</i>. But it you call it filler, at least call it good filler. Now that the <i>In Rainbows</i> craze has died down a little, we find Thom Yorke releasing a remix album to satiate our thirst for Radiohead-related material (at least temporarily, that is). Last week, Yorke released a compilation (available only in Japan until now) entitled <i>The Eraser Remixes</i>, housed in a package mimicking the original acclaimed artwork of its predecessor.
Album sales might be decreasing every year, but that doesn’t mean anything for 2008. Whether you bought them on special edition vinyl, downloaded them, or streamed them off of Seeqpod, the following albums probably made it into your playlist at some point during the course of the year. The past twelve months have given us plenty of important debut albums, career-shifting solo efforts, and also a good handful of reliable releases from well-established acts. You know it’s a great year when campus geeks Vampike Weekend take the world by storm within months of the release of Coldplay’s piéce-de-résistance, “Viva la vida, or Death and All His Friends.”
The Little Folk-singer isn’t so little anymore: with more than sixteen studio albums in her catalogue, ownership of her independent label Righteous Babe Records, and now a mother to a two-year-old daughter, Ani Difranco has built a career that’s unparalleled by that of any other female solo artist. Her poignant lyrics are both bitingly honest and elegant, a result of her prior study of poetry at The New School. Erin McKeown supported DiFranco last Sunday at Symphony Hall, playing a short set of simple yet clever songs with just one guitar and her voice. She opened with a fast-paced tune in which she questioned “what kind of lover am I?”
Chicago-based trio Pillars & Tongues don’t just play together: they talk to each other, critique each other, and advise each other—with their instruments, of course. Their frank, uninhibited musical conversations have been compiled onto a disc entitled <i>Protection</i>, released just last month on the Contraphonic imprint.
If you laughed along with Sal Paradise in On The Road, feared the conniving Dr. Benway in Naked Lunch, and saluted the iconoclastic verses of America, then you’re undeniably a Beatnik. While Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg are arguably the three most important authors of the Beat Generation, they are also our default historians of a transitional time period in the United States. Their uninhibited, jazz-inspired prose revealed a candid portrait of a class of people who embraced life in growing cities and welcomed experimentation.
As Eddie Vedder has pointed out at many Pearl Jam shows, “we’ve all been benefiting from the long term friendship between Jeff Ament and [Pearl Jam guitarist] S<i>tone</i> Gossard.” It’s True that it was the songwriting duo that sent Eddie Vedder a demo tape almost two decades ago, which contained nascent versions of future Pearl Jam hits like “Evenflow” and “Alive.”
Today’s photographer is often faced with the challenge of either maintaining the purity of black and white photography, or embracing the current culture of digital practices. Julio de Matos, in his exhibit entitled <i>Fading Hutongs</i>, at times seems to have inadvertently exempted himself from this rigid classification. While deep inspection of his digital color prints clearly reveals his medium, his subject matter lends a black and white <i>feel</i> to any casual observer.
Two Fridays ago, I took advantage of one of the numerous arts events that take place on our very own campus. You don’t have to go very far to discover a new performance at MIT — just check the MIT arts newsletter. I was surprised when a handful of my arts-inclined friends didn’t even know such a newsletter existed. Killian Hall (14W-111) serves as a home to many local performers, and Charles Bubeck and Daniel Ian Smith are no strangers to the intimate and cozy performance space we’re blessed with at MIT.