Monthly Archives: October 2009

Radical opera defies definition

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It seems to me that the only thing The New Yorker Festival’s Radical Opera panel settled last Sunday afternoon at City Winery was that nobody’s quite sure exactly what radical opera really is.

The 90 minute discussion featured director Peter Sellars — who’s so deeply involved with John Adams‘ operas that he’s not limited to directing in the most conventional sense. He helped create the libretto for Doctor Atomic — along with performer-composers Nico Muhly, Rufus Wainwright, and Lisa Bielawa. Nico and Lisa are closely associated with Philip Glass, one of the world’s leading composers of opera, while Rufus, who’s primarily a pop musician, has no prior formal connection to the opera world.

I was hoping that The New Yorkers’ brilliant music writer, Alex Ross, would encourage some spirited debate. (Secretly, I was hoping for some bitch-slapping, if not actual fisticuffs.) Alas, that was not to be. It turned into a very un-radical love-fest and discussion of upcoming projects. I had a livelier discussion with the young composer at my table than anything I heard coming from the stage that afternoon. Continue reading

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Hiding in plain sight: Picasso in New York City

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This giant version of Picasso's "Bust of Sylvette" sits in the midst of three NYU towers in Manhattan's West Village.

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso

If you are a New York University alumnus, you probably know that there’s a huge reworking of a Picasso sculpture in the courtyard of Silver Towers (University Village) on Bleecker Street, just south of Washington Square Village. But if you’re not, you probably haven’t noticed it, even if you’ve walked along the block many times.Picasso 1

It’s an enlargement of Pablo Picasso‘s “Bust of Sylvette” (1934), executed on a huge scale by in 1967 Norwegian sculptor Carl Nesjär.

It’s not exactly a secret, but unless you live there or spend a lot of time in the neighborhood, you might have missed it. It’s not obvious from the street, as trees have grown over the years to block the view.

But the open courtyard amid the three 32-story towers (mostly used for NYC faculty housing) is a beautiful little space for the rather surprising artwork.

I’ve seen the gigantic work many times, but only recently was moved to stop and investigate it and take a few photos. It provides a moment of surprise and delight in an otherwise rather antiseptic and soulless modernist space.

Be sure to check it out the next time you’re in the neighborhood.

The Bongos at Maxwell’s

The Bongos at Maxwell's. (Copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

The Bongos at Maxwell's. (Copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

If you didn’t go see The Bongos at Maxwell’s in Hoboken last night, you missed a magical evening. The band was tight and very much into performing for a (surprisingly light) hometown crowd. You have another chance to see Richard Barone, James Mastro, Rob Norris and Frank Giannini tonight at Hiro Ballroom in Manhattan, where they’re performing a CMJ show.

The Bongos' set list at Maxwell's.

The Bongos' set list at Maxwell's.

They played two solids sets, performing just about every song in their catalogue — which isn’t huge, since they only recorded two full albums and one EP in their 1980s heyday. But they played every one of them with great joy and energy. Plus, they threw in a couple of covers and a couple of their own songs that were never released.

They were joined by Dennis Kelly, who played synthesizer in the band’s early days, and Nick Celeste, a singer and guitarist who worked with Richard on his first post-Bongos project, Cool Blue Halo, in 1987.

Check out more photos of last night’s show after the jump.

Continue reading

Clem Snide’s long-overdue return to NYC

Clem Snide's Eef Barzelay. (Photos copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Clem Snide's Eef Barzelay. (Photos copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Clem Snide, we missed you badly. How long had it been, anyway?

Regardless of all the time that had passed, the crowd at the Mercury Lounge last Tuesday showed plenty of love as Eef Barzelay and company ripped through a superb set of songs new and old. Eef even apologized for being away so long.

More photos after the jump.
Continue reading

Darker and more deviant than ever: The Tiger Lillies at St. Ann’s Warehouse

Martyn Jacques, darker than dark, with a voice like a countertenor from Hell!

The Tiger Lillies' frontman Martyn Jacques at St. Ann's Warehouse: Darker than dark, with a voice like a countertenor from Hell! (Photos copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

The Tiger Lillies are at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Dumbo, Brooklyn, tonight. You should be too.

The dark and cynical British trio (their web site declares them to be “The world’s formost Death Oompah band”) took the stage there last night for the first of two shows celebrating the 20th anniversary of the band. The result was a spectacularly entertaining romp through the enormous Tiger Lillies catalogue of deviance and black humor, including their award-winning work for the off-Broadway show Shockheaded Peter.

Behind the cynical exterior is musical genius. Jacques sings — often in a falsetto or countertenor range oozing with evil — and commands the stage in white face makeup that gives him the air of a demented, evil clown He’s supported by his bandmates, who bring their own amusing styles to the show: bassist Adrian Stout (the tall one), who grins a bit and mugs from time to time,  and drummer Adrian Huge (the stout one), who is the complete clown of the group.

The Tiger Lillies perform at 8 o’clock tonight. St. Ann’s Warehouse, 38 Water Street, Dumbo, Brooklyn. Tickets are still available. Click here for more info. $32.

Adrian Huge is angry.

Adrian Huge is angry.

Here’s a taste of The Tiger Lillies performing “Angry” at Raimundhof in Vienna, Austria last February:

Check out a host of photos of last night’s madness after the jump.

Continue reading

Travels and travails of a punk princess

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When Yasmine Lever wanted an original but authentic-sounding punk rock score to fuel her new musical-in-development, Punk Princess, she turned to her friends Stew and Heidi Rodewald, the creators of Broadway’s 2008 critical smash Passing Strange.

Smart move!

The result, revealed to the public for the first time yesterday in two readings at The Theatre at St. Clement’s as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival, was a lively show with memorable music, a winning cast and tons of promise.

Continue reading

Ukuleles but no bacon!

Three Ukuladies sing and play their namesake instruments in the Children's Adventure Garden at the New York Botanical Garden. (Copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Three Ukuladies sing and play their namesake instruments in the Children's Adventure Garden at the New York Botanical Garden. (Copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Cousin Bunny does the tap-dancing.

Cousin Bunny does the tap-dancing.

The Ukuladies, a quartet (three singers-ukulele-players and one dancer) hail from Regina, Canada, or Brooklyn, NY, or somewhere in between, depending on what you believe. On Sunday, the peripatetic four (twin sisters, their aunt and their tap-dancing cousin) stopped by the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx to sing in the Children’s Adventure Garden.

It was a fun afternoon for children of all ages, as they sang their way through a rollicking selection of old-timey tunes, including my favorite, “Cookie Jar.” (After all, what kid doesn’t like cookies?) And they managed to educate the kids, make balloon animals for them and get them dancing before the afternoon was through.

I had only one quibble. Cousin  Bunny brought the frying pan, but she apparently forgot the bacon! How tragic. Bacon is one of the random things that the Ukuladies are known for sharing with their audience. Ah, well. Maybe next time!