Monthly Archives: September 2009

Controversial Toronto band wins Canadian music prize

Fucked Up

Fucked Up

Fucked Up, the Toronto hardcore punk sextet with the name that TicketWeb won’t print in full, was named winner of the 2009 Polaris Music Prize last night. The band snared the prize, which is given for the best Canadian album of the year, for The Chemistry of Common Life. In addition to its prestige, the Polaris Prize comes with a $20,000 award.

“We got frisked on our way in and I said ‘this is gonna suck’,” singer Damian Abraham was quoted in the National Post as saying after hearing that his band had won the prize, “but at least well get a free iPod. Well, we won the Polaris. Its a lot better than an iPod.

Fucked Up plays the Brooklyn Masonic Temple on Nov. 5, performing the album with the help of Andrew W.K. on keyboards and Vivian Girls on backup vocals. Tickets are $18 and available here.

Colman Domingo’s gonna put a little soul in your stroll

Colman Domingo

Colman Domingo

The audience is still buzzing and people are still finding their seats when Colman Domingo emerges from the wings of Manhattan’s Vineyard Theatre and begins flipping through crates of old vinyl records. The stage is littered with 12-inch discs in their cardboard sleeves. Piles of albums even seem to form the supports of the apron of the stage.

Colman sits and ponders, listens to the strains of sweet soul music, looks out at the crowd, sees some heads bobbing to the beat and smiles knowingly. Soul music is, after all, called that because it’s good for the soul.

Then Colman hoists his tall, sculpted frame onto the stage and heads onto the stage, dressed sparsely with more crates of albums, a component stereo system — complete with a record changer — and a barstool, set against a backdrop of rickety basement stairs and the detritus of urban life found belowstairs of many a house.

As he moves onstage, the lights go down and the music goes up. And the crowd grows quiet — even though it won’t stay that way for long.

Welcome to A Boy and His Soul, a tale of growing up black and gay in West Philadelphia in the late 1970s. It’s Colman’s very personal, very moving and very musical tale. Coleman, who works with his childhood nickname “J.J.” (which his sister will turn into “Gay Gay” before the final curtain), portrays multiple characters. He flows from J. J. to his mother, his stepdad, his sister, his brother and more — with deft changes of posture, facial expression and tone.

With little apparent effort, he manages to transport the audience to another world, all supported by a seamless soundtrack of soul music — Smokey Robinson, Earth, Wind and Fire, Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin and many, many more.

This is the same Colman Domingo who made such a powerful impression in Passing Strange in its off-Broadway and Broadway incarnations. From this show you can see clearly that Colman’s Passing Strange characters were thoroughly informed by his forthright, warm personality. Yes, he’s acting in Boy, portraying a character, but he’s playing himself.

The heartwarming, very real show is filled with love and loss and will make you laugh and cry — often simultaneously. It will put a little soul in your stroll n matter what your age, sex or ethnicity.

Colman has graduated from the orange Adidas track suit he wore in previous versions of Boy in San Francisco and at NYC's Joe's Pub.

Colman has traded in this orange Adidas track suit for a spiffy patchwork blazer. But the louver-fronted wood entertainment center, with its old-school record changer, survived.

Click here to read Colman’s story of the inspiration for his show. And check out this revealing interview in The New York Times.

The house wan’t quite sold out when I saw it on Sunday. But it should have been. And with any luck it will sell out and run well beyond it’s announced closing date of Oct. 18.

Tickets are $55, and every seat in this house is good. But through this Thurday, Sept. 24, you can get seats for $35 by using the discount code TM35SOUL online or over the phone at (212) 353-0303.

Want to go four-on-four with Kronos Quartet?

Kronos Quartet

Kronos Quartet

Are you in a string quartet? Are you 18 to 35 years old? Would you like to learn the repertoire (and maybe some of the secrets) of Kronos Quartet, the granddaddy of all post-modern, genre-busting string quartets?

Well now is your chance to try to make the dream a reality.

Kronos is doing a string-quartet workshop at Carnegie Hall next spring. Three young quartets will be selected to work directly David Harrington and company from March 17-21. And because pipa master Wu Man is a guest instructor during the workshop, one lucky young musician who specializes in the Chinese string instrument will also be selected to participate.

Applications are being accepted through Oct. 26. Click here for more info.

The Decemberists’ Lottery Show setlist

Colin Twittered this photo of the spin bin that determined The Decemberists' musical fate last night.

Colin Twittered this photo of "The Balls of Diabolos," which determined The Decemberists' musical fate at NYC's Terminal 5 on Saturday night.

Here’s the setlist, drawn at random from the “The Balls of Diabolos” by Wesley Stace (aka John Wesley Harding) at Saturday night’s fantastic NYC lottery show by The Decemberists:

Yankee Bayonet (with Laura Veirs)
July July
Raincoat Song
Bridges and Balloons
From My Own True Love
The Bachelor and the Bride
Rake’s Song
Culling of the Fold
(Marcel and Rich crowd-surf to a waltz)
I Was Meant for the Stage
The Crane Wife 3
The Island
Annan Water

(Nate and John make out)
Colin writes a song on the spot
The Tain
The Perfect Crime #2

ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky

UPDATED: Everybody wins in The Decemberists’ lottery (Now with link to live recording)

The Decemberists getting ready for their lottery challenge at NYC's Terminal 5 last night. (Copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

The Decemberists getting ready for their lottery challenge at NYC's Terminal 5 last night. (Copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

UPDATE: Did you miss this show? Check out nyctaper’s recording here.

When the spotlight glared down on the tinsel-bedecked stage-left podium at Terminal 5 last night, the crowd got very excited. It could only mean that The Decemberists were about to hit the stage and get their first set of randomly selected songs to perform in an unusual lottery concert.

For those in the audience who know Wesley Stace (better known to many by his stage name of John Wesley Harding), we recognized that we were in for a rare treat — a collision of sharp wits. And although Wes said he got the call to play MC for last night’s show just hours before he went on, giving him no time to put any material together, he managed to wing it just fine.

John Wesley Harding says he got a call asking him to be MC for last night's concert just hours before showtime.

John Wesley Harding says he got a call asking him to be MC for last night's concert just hours before showtime.

To be honest, I was a little iffy about this show. The Decemberists have a tried-and-true formula for most showss — play the latest album for half the evening and older material for the other half. It’s great for superfans, but it can be a bit predictable at times. But when I realized that last night’s show would break that mold — song titles were pulled from a basket, bingo-style and the band had to play them right away, with no cheating — I decided to take the plunge. I sure am glad I did. It was a unique evening, featuring 15 of the band’s songs and capped off by Mr. Blue Sky, an Electric Light Orchestra cover.

Click through to the jump for lots more photos. Continue reading

More drumbeats along the Hudson

As Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? reported yesterday, The Bongos are coming back with at least two shows in the NYC area next month. Until that happens, enjoy this video of The Bongos performing a Pylon cover last March at City Winery during the afterparty for the R.E.M. tribute at Carnegie Hall.

Meanwhlile, our friends over at Cliffview Pilot scored an interview with The Bongos’ frontman Richard Barone, in which he talks about the reunion shows and a number of other projects he has in the works. Check out the full interview here.

It’s time for The Bongos

Richard Barone just Twittered about a Bongs reunion next month.

Richard Barone just Twittered about a Bongs reunion next month.

What can I say? Bongos frontman and rock raconteur Richard Barone just an hour ago used his Twitter feed to forward a message that will thrill many NYC-Hoboken rock fans:

RICHARDBARONE: The Bongos at Hiro Ballroom and Maxwell’s in October? Stay tuned….

Original Tweet:

How awesome is that news? There couldn’t be a more appropriate venue than Maxwell’s for The Bongos, and Hiro will do just fine too.

As the man said, stay tuned…

Punk rock lives

The Zeros reunited.

The Zeros reunited: Hector Penalosa, Robert Lopez, Javier Escovedo and Baba Chenelle.

It was a perfect meeting of punk minds on Monday night at Maxwell’s in Hoboken when contemporary punk rockers The Choke opened a set for The Zeros, a band from the first wave of original LA punk that’s on a reunion tour.

Javier Escovedo onstage at Maxwell's.

Javier Escovedo onstage at Maxwell's.

Between the two bands, the packed room got two solid sets of high-energy punk, with the opening act paying homage to the headliners by playing their new take on totally old-school ideas.

It was hard to believe that The Zeros hit the scene more than 30 years ago. All four — Javier Escovedo, Hector Penalosa, Robert Lopez and Baba Chenelle — were high school students in Chula Vista, Calif., when they started in 1976. Although they’re often referred to as the Mexican Ramones, they didn’t know anything about those NYC punk rockers when they got their start.

Javier comes from a rock family, and played with his brother Alejandro Escovedo in The True Believers, while Robert has developed an international career as El Vez, The Mexican Elvis (an act that, as I learned at The Zeros set, is heavily influenced by Robert’s high school experience).

Robert Lopez, aka El Vez

Robert Lopez, aka El Vez

Click through to the jump for more photos from Maxwell’s and more on The Zeros. Continue reading

Finding light at the end of a subway tunnel


My first exposure to Amy X Neuburg (please no period after the X!), the San Francisco-based avant-cabaret singer-percussionist, came at NYC’s Symphony Space during the 2003 Bang on a Can Marathon. She did a riveting set of live-looped, manipulated vocals and percussion that left a strong impression on me. Unlike so many singers who emphasize such vocal manipulation, Amy demonstrated from the first note that she had a strong voice. She wasn’t using her electronics as a crutch for a weak vocal instrument, but as a way to express her art and enhance a beautiful natural instrument.

In a chat after her performance, I talked to Amy about her voice, and she explained that she had operatic vocal training, but her art led her in a different direction.

Amy has always gone her own way. In the Nineties she mined a pop vein with her Amy X Neuburg and Men ensemble, then stuck mostly with solo cabaret-style performance in subsequent years, turning out beautiful recordings like Six Little Stains in 2003 and Residue the following year.

Her wonderfully inventive mind and obvious love of all sort of musical styles makes her a delight to hear and see, but a bit of a marketing challenge. Is her act cabaret, musical theater, performance art, contemporary classical? The labels don’t really matter. She’s a massive talent whose work is always fresh and entertaining.

Amy, who rocks a vintage Lisa Loeb-ish look, is back with an ensemble on The Secret Language of Subways. This time it’s Amy X Neuburg & The Cello ChiXtet, a trio of female cellists. With its blending of her voice, electronics and the full range of the cellos — which may well be the most expressive string instruments around — TSLOS is Amy’s best work yet. The 13-song cycle works well as a story arc —  a sort of unstaged musical — but the indivdual songs are so finely crafted and tuneful that they can  stand on their own quite well.

Amy says the project grew out of her love for the “expressive voice-like quality, enormous pitch range and dramatic look of the cello — I felt I had found a sort of instrumental kindred spirit to my own voice.” Continue reading

Folk legend Mary Travers dead at age 72

peter_paul_mary recent

Peter Yarrow, Mary Travers and Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary in a recent photograph.

Mary Travers, a key figure in the folk revival of the 1960s as a member of Peter, Paul and Mary, died tonight in Danbury Hospital in Connecticut, according to reports. She was 72 and lived in Redding, Conn.

Mary’s spokeswoman said the cause was cancer. She had battled leukemia for several years.

She was part of one of the most enduring vocal acts of the 1960s, due in no small part to the largely sunny and accessible sound the trio brought to bear even on their most serious protest songs.


Here’s some background from the Associated Press:

The trio mingled their music with liberal politics, both onstage and off. Their version of “If I Had a Hammer” became an anthem for racial equality. Other hits included “Lemon Tree,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and “Puff (The Magic Dragon.)”

They were early champions of Bob Dylan and performed his “Blowin’ in the Wind” at the August 1963 March on Washington.

And they were vehement in their opposition to the Vietnam War, managing to stay true to their liberal beliefs while creating music that resonated in the American mainstream.

The group collected five Grammy Awards for their three-part harmony on enduring songs like “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” “Puff (The Magic Dragon)” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

At one point in 1963, three of their albums were in the top six Billboard best-selling LPs as they became the biggest stars of the folk revival movement.

It was heady stuff for a trio that had formed in the early 1960s in Greenwich Village, running through simple tunes like “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

They debuted at the Bitter End in 1961, and their beatnik look — a tall blonde flanked by a pair of goateed guitarists — was a part of their initial appeal. As The New York Times critic Robert Shelton put it not long afterward, “Sex appeal as a keystone for a folk-song group was the idea of the group’s manager, Albert B. Grossman, who searched for months for `the girl’ until he decided on Miss Travers.”

Their debut album came out in 1962, and immediately scored a pair of hits with their versions of “If I Had a Hammer” and “Lemon Tree.” The former won them Grammys for best folk recording, and best performance by a vocal group.

“Moving” was the follow-up, including the hit tale of innocence lost, “Puff (The Magic Dragon)” — which reached No. 2 on the charts, and generated since-discounted reports that it was an ode to marijuana.

Album No. 3, “In the Wind,” featured three songs by the 22-year-old Dylan. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” both reached the top 10, bringing Dylan’s material to a massive audience; the latter shipped 300,000 copies during one two-week period.

“Blowin’ In the Wind” became an another civil rights anthem, and Peter, Paul and Mary fully embraced the cause. They marched with King in Selma, Ala., and performed with him in Washington.

In a 1966 New York Times interview, Travers said the three worked well together because they respected one another. “There has to be a certain amount of love just in order for you to survive together,” she said. “I think a lot of groups have gone down the tubes because they were not able to relate to one another.”

With the advent of the Beatles and Dylan’s switch to electric guitar, the folk boom disappeared. Travers expressed disdain for folk-rock, telling the Chicago Daily News in 1966 that “it’s so badly written. … When the fad changed from folk to rock, they didn’t take along any good writers.”

But the trio continued their success, scoring with the tongue-in-cheek single “I Dig Rock and Roll Music,” a gentle parody of the Mamas and the Papas, in 1967 and the John Denver-penned “Leaving on a Jet Plane” two years later.

They also continued as boosters for young songwriters, recording numbers written by then-little-known Gordon Lightfoot and Laura Nyro.

In 1969, the group earned their final Grammy for “Peter, Paul and Mommy,” which won for best children’s album. They disbanded in 1971, launching solo careers — Travers released five albums — that never achieved the heights of their collaborations.

Over the years they enjoyed several reunions, including a performance at a 1978 anti-nuclear benefit organized by Yarrow and a 35th anniversary album, “Lifelines,” with fellow folkies Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Dave Van Ronk and Seeger. A boxed set of their music was released in 2004.

They remained politically active as well, performing at the 1995 anniversary of the Kent State shootings and performing for California strawberry pickers.

Travers had undergone a successful bone marrow transplant to treat her leukemia and was able to return to performing after that.

“It was like a miracle,” Travers told The Associated Press in 2006. “I’m just feeling fabulous. What’s incredible is someone has given your life back. I’m out in the garden today. This time last year I was looking out a window at a hospital.” She also said she told the marrow donor “how incredibly grateful I was.”

But by mid-2009, Yarrow told WTOP radio in Washington that her condition had worsened again and he thought she would no longer be able to perform.

Mary Allin Travers was born on Nov. 9, 1936 in Louisville, Ky., the daughter of journalists who moved the family to Manhattan’s bohemian Greenwich Village. She quickly became enamored with folk performers like the Weavers, and was soon performing with Seeger, a founding member of the Weavers who lived in the same building as the Travers family.

With a group called the Song Swappers, Travers backed Seeger on one album and two shows at Carnegie Hall. She also appeared (as one of a group of folk singers) in a short-lived 1958 Broadway show called “The Next President,” starring comedian Mort Sahl.

It wasn’t until she met up with Yarrow and Stookey that Travers would taste success on her own. Yarrow was managed by Grossman, who later worked in the same capacity for Dylan.

In the book “Positively 4th Street” by David Hajdu, Travers recalled that Grossman’s strategy was to “find a nobody that he could nurture and make famous.”

The budding trio, boosted by the arrangements of Milt Okun, spent seven months rehearsing in her Greenwich Village apartment before their 1961 public debut.