• October 30, 2014

    Weekend Ideas

    Weekend Ideas by Paul Robicheau
    Bruce Cockburn plays the Somerville Theatre as part of a busy Halloween weekend. Photo by Kevin Kelly.

    Halloween’s full of tricks and treats on the concert scene, from brooding Irish troubadour Hozier to rapper Brother Ali to slice-and-dice jammers Umphrey's McGee, while Chrissie Hynde, Bruce Cockburn, art-pop upstarts Walk the Moon and French rock star Patrick Bruel help round out the weekend… More>

  • October 30, 2014

    Mayor Menino, 1942-2014

    Mayor Menino, 1942-2014 by Matt Martinelli

    Mayor Thomas Menino’s death tragically came too soon into his retiremen… More>

  • October 29, 2014

    Celtics Season Preview

    Celtics Season Preview by Matt Martinelli
    Brian Babineau / NBAE

    The Boston Celtics kick off their 2014-15 season tonight ... and that long rebuild doesn’t need to be devoid of fun or memorable moments… More>

  • October 29, 2014

    You can haz cat videos

    An Internet cat video festival comes to town… More>

  • October 27, 2014

    Patriots Riding High at Midseason

    Patriots Riding High at Midseason by Matt Martinelli

    About the only thing you can nitpick with Tom Brady during this past month might be his sense of time… More>

Sound Ideas

Live Review: Boston Calling's Downtown Swan Song

Sufjan Stevens on the opening night of Boston Calling's final round on City Hall Plaza. Photos by Paul Robicheau.

Disclosure’s Guy Lawrence marveled at the kaleidoscopic lights reflected onto the face of City Hall and surrounding buildings – and he wasn’t the only one capturing that mental snapshot -- as his electronic duo brought closure to Boston Calling on Sunday. After three years on City Hall Plaza, the music festival moves next May to the open fields of Harvard’s athletic complex in Allston. And while the weekend’s hot-to-chilly weather swing made the plaza’s old brick-and-concrete expanse a bit harder to endure, I’ll miss Boston Calling downtown -- particularly at night, when breezes die down and the lights come alive to bounce about Government Center.

Guy and Howard Lawrence of Disclosure thrill electronic music fans at Boston Calling. All photos by Paul Robicheau.

Add a sea of fans waving illuminated tubes given out by a sponsor and City Hall Plaza was primed for the audio-visual quake of Disclosure, which demonstrated that electronic music can command in prime time. At least the British brothers – atop impressive spaceship-sleek DJ platforms – fared better than Saturday headliners Robyn (below, who shimmied up a dance party but got lost in anti-pop remixes) and Odesza, whose Harrison Mills hopefully meant to be funny in saying his duo brought a “full band” in its horn players. Even with canned vocal mixes (such as Sam Smith on “Latch”), Disclosure flashed textural chops beyond their knob-twiddling, with Howard Lawrence also playing bass guitar while Guy dabbled in live percussion as well as a snatch of guitar.

However, when it came to full-band treatments, Sunday also hit weekend highs with soulful, old-school sets by Charles Bradley (above), the former James Brown impersonator whose gravelly voice exuded pure emotion, and the futuristic whirlwind Janelle Monae (below), who led a nine-piece group in matching zebra colors. Bradley transformed Black Sabbath’s “Changes,” while Monae inserted covers of Brown, the Jackson 5 and her hero Prince, who she called “the greatest rock star that ever lived” before a typically hyperactive “Let’s Go Crazy.”

Monae also championed equality in our time of transition, of “freedom over fear,” echoing the LGBT hopes of Christine & the Queens singer Heloise Letissier, whose infectious choreography with male co-dancers made the electro-pop act a surprise highlight of the festival in its early Sunday slot (Letissier was also the only artist who I heard introduce every one of her dancers and musicians).

Christine & the Queens (above) later romped out for a cameo with Haim, the LA sisters’ band for “I Will Die 4 U” -- perhaps the only way to follow Monae with another Prince cover. But Haim (centered by Danielle Haim, below) held their own in bridging Monae and Disclosure with a high-powered pop set that bridged past hits with catchy new songs (like “Give Me A Little of Your Love”) and a three-way drum-off to seal their sibling versatility.

Otherwise, Sunday’s smorgasbord included the lean, mean raps of Vince Staples (above), the punk-inspired anthems of the Front Bottoms, the heady grooves of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and the bluesy country-rock of Elle King (below), who joked about being “the only white trash person here” and mixed a reggae beat with banjo.

Sunday certainly stood out in contrast to a sun-baked Saturday that lacked the star power to beat the heat, though Courtney Barnett lent ragged joy in a grungy rock ‘n’ roll way. City and Colour also turned up electric guitars in keeping with the Alice in Chains T-shirt of leader Dallas Green (above), but the sound of his folk-rooted group seemed to flatten out on the steamy plaza. Miike Snow singer/pianist Andrew Wyatt (below) admitted he wasn’t in the best voice and producers Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg plied toys on plexiglass tables rather than the provocative joint workstation the Blog they’ve used on past tours, but the Swedish outfit finally brought its electro-swirl to a peak with its 2009 hit “Animal.”

In retrospect, one of the most striking sets of the weekend – at least in terms of energy and spectacle – came on Friday night from orchestral indie-rocker Sufjan Stevens. He knew how to make an entrance, raising giant bird wings along with his backup singers and smashing a banjo in “Seven Swans,” then downplaying songs of death (2015’s Carrie and Lowell reflected on his mother’s passing) for fun, donning suits that made him a towering mirror ball and a balloon man. If Stevens favored low-budget theatrics, Friday headliner Sia (below) went for modern, stylish mystery, hiding her face with a two-toned wig as she sang to prerecorded tracks like a doll at the mic stand while dancers pantomimed to her lyrics. Performance art ensued as the screens mixed onstage action (anchored by Maddie Ziegler) and celebrity videos (hello Kristen Wiig) that the live dancers expertly mimicked.

It was an odd start to a wildly diverse weekend that didn’t draw as well as earlier Boston Calling editions, though perhaps nothing stood out on the level of such past acts as Pixies, Beck, the National (whose Aaron Dessner co-curates the festival and performed Friday with Lisa Hannigan), Lorde, Kendrick Lamar, Alabama Shakes and the Replacements. A new third stage made an impression with fine local bands that included These Wild Plains, Nemes and Black Beach. Supposedly that’s what the relocation of Boston Calling to the fields of Harvard will mean: room to expand the number of stages, range of music (along with a film component curated by Natalie Portman), capacity of the event, and the ability to book even-bigger names. And if that happens, maybe Boston Calling will grow that much closer to being our Coachella, Lollapalooza, Outside Lands or Austin City Limits.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Courtney Barnett, here at the Newport Folk Festival, hits Boston Calling after an "SNL" gig. Photo by Paul Robicheau.

Boston Calling rules Memorial Day weekend with a blockbuster lineup that's heavy on electronic acts, female performers, and extra local bands invited to the party via a new third stage. For its last hurrah on City Hall Plaza before moving to Harvard's athletic complex in Allston in May 2017, the festival kicks off Friday night with the enigmatic pop star Sia, indie-rocker Sufjan Stevens, and Irish singer Lisa Hannigan with the National’s Aaron Dessner (see interview here). Saturday should be hot (literally – watch for possible thunderstorms, seek shade breaks and drink lots of water) with a lineup that sports electro-pop siren Robyn, EDM star Odesza, Courtney Barnett (above), City and Colour, Miike Snow and Borns. And Sunday looks like the most impressive, diverse slate with electro duo Disclosure, pop-rockers Haim, R&B dynamos Janelle Monae and Charles Bradley, and French star Christine & the Queens. Locals are well-represented all weekend with rockers Palehound, Black Beach and These Wild Plains as well as rapper Michael Christmas. Here’s the whole Boston Calling schedule.

If you’re not at Boston Calling, there are other options to consider. They include the Monkees (well, at least Peter York and Mickey Dolenz) at the Wilbur Theatre on Friday, local Americana-rocker Nate Leavitt & the Elevation celebrating a new EP with friends from his alternate gig OldJack at the Lizard Lounge on Saturday, Country 102.5’s Street Party on Causeway Street with Chris Young and Cassadee Pope on Sunday, and a Boston Calling after-show that night at the Sinclair with Charles Bradley & the Extraordinaires as City Hall Plaza finishes up.



Started From the Bottom Now They're Here

The Front Bottoms graduate to Boston Calling.

New Jersey indie outfit the Front Bottoms have officially graduated from their punk, DIY days playing basements and seeing revolving door members come and go. The current iteration of the oft-evolving quartet, consistently fronted by vocalist/guitarist Brian Sella, just signed to their first major label, Fueled by Ramen, and booked slots on a number of big summer fests, including this Memorial Day weekend’s Boston Calling (they play a late afternoon Sunday set). We checked in with Sella to talk about Back on Top, their first, polished release with Fueled by Ramen, and the band’s evolution in preview of Boston Calling, which hits town May 27-29.  

This will really be our first time on the festival circuit. We’ve been touring probably about six years at this point, and we’ve been to Boston a couple of times, but this will definitely be the first time that we’ve been invited to play these festivals, so that is very exciting. And Boston Calling—we’re very pumped about that.

 Oh yes, very excited. Very excited. We weren’t sure [if we could play it], our bass player Tom is getting married, like, that weekend, so we were like “Ah, just cancel it.” But our booking agent was like, “You should really play this.” So we got Tom to move his wedding. [Laughs] Just kidding. But we are excited, definitely.

Totally, totally. Especially for [a label] like Fueled by Ramen to get involved. Any show we play, or any step up that we take, always feels amazing. That’s why we’ve been able to do it, and keep doing it, because its always a good experience, but to have Fueled by Ramen, which is pretty big-time, be like “Oh yeah, you guys have been doing a good job, we’ll help you out,” it feels good.

Uh yeah, definitely. That sort of stuff just seems so silly, honestly. Back in the day, Matt’s [Uychich] brother used to play keyboards, and we used to play in basements to like 15 people. We did that for a year or two, and then Brian left the band and I remember all these people coming up and being like “Oh my God, Brian left the band, so now there’s not going to be a band anymore. Are you guys still going play shows?” And me and Matt were like, “Yeah totally, this is just what we do.” And then we played just the two of us, and then we had another guy Drew, and then it was just the two of us [again], and then it was with Tom [Warren] and Ciaran [O'Donnell]—so the band will just continue and whoever is involved is just going to make it better. And that’s kind of the way that I feel about Fueled by Ramen. And we are trying to appeal to like a broader audience, so like, my parents and stuff. I want to get an audience that, like, doesn’t know how to use the Internet. [Laughs]  

Totally, and I feel that now people want to know the history of something more than they want to know anything else—they just want to know the story. And I think in order to have a story, you have to make strange choices …  Like, I want to have a career, so if I do stop doing this one day, I can be like “Damn that was some pretty crazy stuff that we did.” That’s kind of the mindset.

 Yeah, totally. It was an insane experience. It was like nothing I could even describe. Up until this point, we had went down to Austin one time and made a record in like three weeks. We basically did the whole thing live and we had the entire album like written out, so we went down and just played it, and did a little bit of post-production. That was like the most professional thing we had ever done. So when Fueled by Ramen got involved we were like “Can we go record this album?” We got a producer involved and went out to Los Angeles. It was fucking insane. We recorded in Sunset Sound studios, which is where Prince recorded Purple Rain. So it was a big time, crazy, major label thing and it was very flustering. Honestly, it was extremely flustering. But I learned a lot. Halfway through the process I was like, I just have to roll with this and learn as much as I can and take in as much as I can. And that’s basically what I tried to do. I learned a lot about what I won’t do next time. And I learned a lot about myself and the band—it was really an amazing experience. We had the album completely written when we went in [to sign with the label]. … It was like a crash course in making an album.

It’s definitely weird how that works out. I mean that was just a personal lyric about myself. But it is weird, the events that took place in my life like six months later. Maybe I was projecting it to happen somehow!

Visual Art

See This: Rodin: Transforming Sculpture at the Peabody Essex Museum

Nothing was set in stone for Auguste Rodin, an artist who constantly embraced chance and experimentation. Get a peek into his creative process at the Peabody Essex Museum, where 175 bronze, plaster and marble works are making their U.S. debut in just-opened exhibit Rodin: Transforming Sculpture. Organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Musée Rodin in Paris, it features drawings as well as finished and in-process sculptures, including two versions of The Thinker. And you can watch limbs come to life when BoSoma Dance Company presents 101 days of performances in response to the sculptor’s master- pieces, which are on view through Sept. 5. / Sarah Hagman

Photo: Christian Baraja / © Musée Rodin 

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

It would be worth the Friday-night trip to the Cabot in Beverly just to catch Jean-Luc Ponty -- the violinist who went from the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Frank Zappa to recording his own popular ’70s jazz-rock -- with his band sporting guitarist Jamie Glaser, keyboardist Willy Minko, bassist Baron Browne and drummer Rayford Griffin. But the frontman of this assemblage is now Yes co-founder Jon Anderson, whose high-pitched vocals offer an angelic counterpoint to Ponty’s musicians. And their less-than-imaginatively named AndersonPonty Band will put their own cozy spin on classics from the catalogs of both musicians. Also on Friday, the round-table Session Americana holds court at Cuisine en Locale's Once Ballroom.

Saturday afternoon brings the Radio 92.9 EarthFest back to the DCR Hatch Shell on the Charles River Esplanade with the ridiculously catchy Fitz and the Tantrums (above, ahead of their self-titled new album with “HandClap”), alt-rockers Joywave and Canadian rock-grass group the Strumbellas as well as local all-female contest winner Flight of Fire. That night, guitar virtuoso Shun Ng teams with the J. Geils Band’s harp ace Magic Dick (with Ruby Rose Fox opening) at Rockport’s Shalin Liu Performance Center, while Irish soul-rocker Christian McNeill returns to Thunder Road for a record release party with the Tim Gearan Band and blues upstart Julie Rhodes. And a second edition of Chetstock takes over the Once Ballroom with a lineup that includes surviving/reunited local bands Xanna Don't, Harlequin, the Real Kids, the Classic Ruins and Randy Black. It's all to support the Pine Street Inn in honor of Richard Rooney, the late owner of Chet's Last Call, a former dive bar off Causeway Street that provided a launching pad for '80s underground-rock bands.

Another area native, alto saxophonist/singer Grace Kelly, recently seen in Stephen Colbert’s late-night TV band, rolls back to her alma mater on Sunday with a concert at the Berklee Performance Center, while the indie-folk duo of Jesca Hoop and Iron & Win's Sam Beam converge at the Wilbur Theatre.

Going Out

See This: Cirque de Soleil's Kurios

Curious things.

 Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca 

Cirque du Soleil is known for its mind- and body-bending shows, but the Canadian company’s 35th production bends space and time too. Kurios—Cabinet of Curiosities combines steampunk visuals with Cirque’s signature acrobatic feats, taking audiences inside the larger-than-life curio cabinet of an eccentric 19th-century inventor who defies the constraints of reality. Directed by Michel Laprise, who worked with Madonna on her MDNA tour, Kurios features a zany cast of characters—including a human accordion—elaborate costumes and a funky electro-jazz soundtrack. Peek inside the cabinet at Suffolk Downs, where the show plays from May 26 through July 10.

Kurios—Cabinet of Curiosities runs from May 26-July 10 at Suffolk Downs, 525 McClellan Highway, Boston; $35-$295; cirquedusoleil.com


Going Out

See This: Chvrches at the House of Blues

Chvrch of pop.

Photo: Danny Clinch

If Chvrches have a religion, it’s an unflagging devotion to infectious ’80s British synth pop—and they’ve made us believers. Every Open Eye, the Scottish trio’s follow-up to their triumphant 2013 debut, The Bones of What You Believe, is similarly dazzling, marked by the group’s signature anthemic synth-pop—grandiose, catchy-as-hell melodies kissed by frontwoman Lauren Mayberry’s soaring, crystal-clear vocals. The Glasgow outfit played a killer set at fall’s Boston Calling the last time that they were in town; this time around they’re headlining back-to-back shows at the House of Blues on June 3 and 4. 

Chvrches play the House of Blues at 8 pm on June 3 and 7 pm on June 4 at the House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St., Boston; $27.50-$45; livenation.com

Going Out

See This: The Philadelphia Story at the Coolidge

Three's company.

Her marriage may have lasted longer than 72 days, but the divorcee in George Cukor’s 1940 classic The Philadelphia Story could surely relate to our modern Kardashian-level coverage of celebrity nuptials. Katharine Hepburn plays socialite Tracy Lord, who’s prepping for her big day with husband number two when her ex shows up with incognito tabloid reporters in tow, eager to get the scoop. As the bride-to-be’s plans begin to unravel, she must figure out her true feelings and turn the tables on her conniving company. Catch a star-studded cast that also includes Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart—in his lone Oscar-winning role—when the film screens as part of the Big-Screen Classics series at Coolidge Corner Theatre on June 6.  /  Brigitte Carreiro 

The Philadelphia Story screens at 7 pm on June 6 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard St., Brookline; coolidge.org


Going Out

Attend This: Cambridge Arts River Festival

River riot.

After a two-year move inland to Central Square, the Cambridge Arts River Festival is back on the banks of the Charles for its 37th edition, this time setting up shop along the East Cambridge waterfront. This year’s installment of the free fest will feature six stages showcasing a variety of local talent, including live jazz, folk, rock, R&B and world music and theater and dance performances, plus poetry and storytelling tents, hands-on activities and roving performances. Come hungry: The festival will also host a World of Food and Arts Bazaar with both food and work by local artists and craftsmen for purchase. It all kicks off with People’s Sculpture Racing—think boxcar racing, but with pushed, pulled or pedaled art!—when the river runs wild on June 4.

The 37th annual River Festival runs from 11 am to 6 pm on June 4 along Cambridge Parkway between Edwin H. Land Blvd. and the Lechmere Canal. Free. cambridgema.gov

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Harvard Square rings with a psychedelic edge on Friday. For starters, Aussie psych-rockers King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard  (above) invade the Sinclair with their heavy, head-swirling energy in support of Nonagon Infinity -- supposedly the first album to infinitely loop back to the beginning of its opening track. Then, over at the Lizard Lounge, guitarist/singer Roger Miller’s Trinary System shows its own heady, jagged growth in the vein of Miller’s longtime band Mission of Burma while transcending post-punk with spacey, bluesy and even British Invasion-inspired changeups. It’s evidenced in the five songs on Amplify the Amplifiers, a sharply evolved new EP from that Trinary trio, completed by drummer Larry Dersch and bassist Andrew Willis.  

Other Friday options include the rootsy rock ‘n’ roll of the Old 97's (fronted by Rhett Miller) Heartless Bastards at Royale, Brooklyn’s experimental electro-rockers Yeasayer at the Paradise Rock Club, and local ’60s heroes Barry & the Remains plus garage-rockers the Lyres and Muck & the Mires at Cuisine en Locale’s Once Ballroom.

Saturday sports local electro-pop veterans Freezepop (with co-founder the Duke joining in) at the Sinclair on a bill that includes the Static Dynamic and Casey Desmond’s synth-steeped project CMB, Three Women and the Truth (seasoned former Bostonian singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier, Gretchen Peters and Eliza Gilkyson) at Harvard Square landmark Club Passim, and Canadian alt-rockers Wintersleep at Allston's Great Scott.

Then Sunday caps the weekend with Harvard Square’s Mayfair (including the Sheila Divine and Weakened Friends on the schedule), the blues-punk mashups of the Kills (with singer Alison Mosshart, also of the Dead Weather) at the Paradise, and the even more psychedelic, sludgy rock of Dead Meadow at the Once Ballroom.

Sound Ideas

Stage Review: Boston Ballet spins 'Mirrors' off 'Swan Lake'

Dancers converge to Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" in one of Boston Ballet's current productions.   Photo by Gene Schiavone. Courtesy of Boston Ballet. 

The month of May finds Boston Ballet presenting dual programs that neatly cover opposite ends of the ballet spectrum, with its modern four-piece package “Mirrors” now running through May 28, joining the return of traditional favorite “Swan Lake,” which continues through May 26.

With music alone, beside the latter’s Tchaikovsky score, the evolving “Mirrors” stretches from classical piano to electronic soundtracks to Miles Davis’ jazz-rock, matching those sounds to stark, largely monochromic sets that draw focus to bodies in motion. It starts with the program’s moody, most three-dimensional piece, “Resonance.” The Jose Martinez-choreographed reprise of a 2014 Boston Ballet premiere brings a constant movement of dancers to the brisk, emotive flourishes of Liszt, traded between two pianists. One’s next to the orchestra pit, the other onstage, revealed within rolling partitions that lend a shifting, angular landscape -- and silhouettes.

“Belong,” a Boston Ballet premiere, appears modest by comparison. It’s a short pas de deux graced by intimate, lingering embraces and a few impressive leaps, choreographed by Norbert Vesak to music by Canadian electronic group Syrinx. But “Mirrors” continues to deepen with “Smoke and Mirrors,” the first of its two world premieres by the company, highlighted by physical, kinetic ensemble work where female dancers wear corsets with handles for partners to grab for crisper turns. There’s a heightened sense of mystery in this piece choreographed by retired principal dancer Yury Yanowsky, backed by monolithic hanging panels of golden rectangles and odd, foreboding music by Berklee-bred composer Lucas Vidal, whose scoring credits include the action movie Fast & Furious 6. His blend of electronic and acoustic sounds waver and punch, lending percussive accents and strings one minute, then dissolving into conversational static that evokes a broadcast from astronauts.

Yet the second world premiere, “Bitches Brew,” showcases the program’s brashest music in Miles Davis’ brooding title track to that 1969 fusion landmark. One dancer emerges with bold reactions to Davis’ piercing trumpet bursts over bubbling electric piano before the rest of the ensemble joins in with funky sweeps and jagged contortions under Karole Armitage’s choreography. Dancers break the program’s monochromatic streak, with gun-metal bodysuits that reflect stage lighting, plus varied coloring below the dancers’ knees, as if they dipped in paint.

The palette’s obviously richer for “Swan Lake,” one of the jewels in the repertoire of Boston Ballet – and classical ballet in general – and this reprise proves still-splendid with its tale of a prince deceived by a dark sorcerer. As with the “The Nutcracker,” the other famous ballet scored by Tchaikovsky, even-lavish court dancing can seem repetitive after a while. But when ballerina swans rise from the dry-ice fog of the lake (below) and dance in eye-popping synchronized lines and circles, the spell extends to the audience. And on opening night, principal Misa Kuranaga nailed the mirror-flip roles of fragile white swan Odette and devious black imposter Odile with a flutter.

Between its equally complementary productions, Boston Ballet spins something to charm most any dance fan this month – and that extends to one extreme or the other for adventurous neophytes as well as aficionados.

Swans on the lake. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor 

Going Out

See This: The 1975 at the Tsongas Center

Don't sleep on 'em.

It looks like 2016 is set to be a very good year for the 1975. The British alt-pop phenoms have officially emerged from the sheds where they used to practice to enjoy a meteoric rise to fame that has attracted touring offers from the likes of Rihanna. The U.K. outfit just dropped their new chart-topping album, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, with a name that nods to the record’s heart-on-the-sleeve lyricism. That commitment to candor extends to frontman Matty Healy’s recent struggles with depression and drug abuse, but despite the dark subject matter, the band maintains its signature ’80s synth influence on the 17-track sophomore effort, a blend of pop, funk, gospel, house and rock that is undeniably infectious. Look to the future with the 1975 when they rock the Tsongas Center on May 18 / Brigitte Carreiro   

The 1975 play at 7 pm on May 18 at the Tsongas Center, 300 Arcand Drive, Lowell; tsongascenter.com

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Juan de Marcos and the Afro-Cuban All Stars bring authentic grooves to Berklee. Photo by Takahashi Shinishi.


A spectrum of shows to escape the rain. Trumpeter Dave Douglas stretches jazz into dark electronic space at the Regattabar on Friday with his High Risk group featuring ex-Groove Collective bassist Jonathan Maron, synthesis Shigeto and drummer Mark Guiliana, recently heard on David Bowie’s Blackstar as part of Donny McCaslin’s band. Eleanor Friedberger – once half of indie-pop duo the Fiery Furnaces – shares her own voice at the Middle East Upstairs the same night, while local duo You Won’t hits the Sinclair behind new album Revolutionaries.

Saturday sizzles nicely with laidback guitar hero M. Ward at Royale, Fruit Bats – the revived project of singer/songwriter Eric D. Johnson – headlines a show at Cuisine en Locale’s Once Ballroom the same night before gracing the Newport Folk Festival this summer. And if you want to drive up to Beverly on Saturday, former Doors guitarist Robby Krieger should light your fire at the Cabot.

Everyone’s favorite mod housewife Amy Rigby starts Mother’s Day festivities early with a 4 p.m. show at Atwood’s Tavern before the night heats up with a range of shows. Juan de Marcos, who was the music arranger for the original Buena Vista Social Club, brings his sprawling Afro-Cuban All Stars to the Berklee Performance Center. And you can top Sunday off with Speedy Ortiz -- the Boston Music Awards’ Band of the Year – at the Sinclair or Detroit’s rising post-punk stylists Protomartyr.

With the continuing bummer about Prince, at least Midnight Oil announced it will reunite to tour in 2017 after disbanding more than 15 years ago. With a little help from imposing bald frontman Peter Garrett, the Oils were one of the world’s best live rock bands through the ’80s and ’90s. So here’s one for Throwback Thursday.

Going Out

See This: The Naked Magic Show at the Shubert Theatre

Magic men

The first trick that Australia’s Naked Magicians have up their sleeves—or lack thereof—is making their clothes disappear. That’s right: Buff duo Christopher Wayne and Mike Tyler perform in the nude. Think Magic Mike, with an emphasis on magic. In their R-rated show, the pair poke fun at old-school parlor tricks and recruit audience members for assistance in their risque feats of illusion. Leave the kids at home—most of what the dynamic duo  pull out of their top hats is for mature eyes only—when The Naked Magic Show bares all on May 19-21 at the Shubert Theatre. / Marlo Jappen

The Naked Magic Show runs May 19-21 at the Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont St., Boston (617-248-9700) citicenter.org.

Going Out

See This: Meow: A Cat-Inspired Exhibition at the Worcester Art Museum

Oh, what a feline

While cats may be the bread-wearing, keyboard-playing, meme-fueling Internet stars of the 21st century, the furry companions have long livened the art world. And the Worcester Art Museum is showing how they’ve been muses throughout the ages in Meow: A Cat-Inspired Exhibition, which is gathering 70 prints, drawings, sculptures and paintings (including Gustave Courbet’s Woman with a Cat, pictured here) in one gallery. Visitors can also tour the rest of the  museum on a self-guided “cat walk” to discover even more feline-inspired fodder, peep Rhonda Lieberman’s installation of live animals—which will be available for adoption—and create their own pet portraits and toys. Crazy cat ladies and gents, rejoice: The exhibit is on view from May 21 through Sept. 4. / Sarah Hagman

Meow runs from May 21-Sept. 4 at the Worcester Art Museum, 55 Salisbury St., Worcester (508-799-4406) worcesterart.org

Going Out

Attend This: MassArt's 2016 Fashion Show

Chic peek

Photo:  Alyssa Duncan

Didn’t make it to New York Fashion Week? No matter: MassArt offers a front-row seat for checking out tomorrow’s sartorial trailblazers. The annual MassArt Fashion Show highlights designs by students from one of the country’s oldest fashion programs, like the eco-minded Melissa Tilley, whose work is pictured here; other participants have gone on to work for the likes of Calvin Klein, Diane von Furstenberg and Marc Jacobs. This year, attendees are invited to both a pre-show party and an after-party, where they can  sip cocktails and get an up-close look at some of the designs. Event proceeds will benefit a full scholarship for a deserving fashion student, so catwalk—don’t run—to the big show on May 14.

MassArt’s 2016 Fashion Show’s pre-party starts at 6 pm on May 14 at Cinquecento, 500 Harrison Ave., Boston, and the fashion show starts at 8 pm at the Power Station, 540 Harrison Ave., Boston. $40; $75, show and parties. massart.edu 

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Multi-night gatherings of the tribes abound this weekend, from an Abbey Lounge reunion at Sally O’Brien’s and the 10th anniversary of music at Atwood’s Tavern to a Dopapod jam-fest at the Sinclair. Plus there’s the return of reggae legend Bunny Wailer (above).

The Abbey Lounge forged its reputation as a dingy Inman Square dive bar where you could catch Boston’s notable punk and garage bands before it closed in 2008. But those loud and wooly nights are being rekindled in a three-night reunion that stretches into Saturday at Sally O’Briens in Somerville’s nearby Union Square. A gang of Abbey favorites will reunite for the celebration. Friday includes the Konks, the Tampoffs, the Dirty Truckers and Frigate, while Saturday boasts the Dents, the Downbeat 5 (both with Jen D’Angora now of Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents), Asa Brebner and aptly named Abbey pioneers Schnockered. Here’s the lineup.

Atwood’s pools its own veteran heavy-hitters with its own special bills. The Tim Gearan Band teams with the Christian McNeill Band on Friday. Saturday starts with the Roy Sludge Trio and Jimmy Ryan’s Hayride in the late afternoon, then dusky, cerebral roots-rockers Twinemen (with Laurie Sargent, Dana Colley and Billy Conway) reunites to open the night with regulars Vapors of Morphine and Mr. Airplane Man. Sunday afternoon brings in Lyle Brewer and Grand Fatilla, while that night closes Atwood’s anniversary week with the Burren’s former Sunday session band plus the Bow Thayer Trio and the Resophonics. Here’s the rundown.

Meanwhile, rising Berklee-schooled jam-rockers Dopapod stretch out their improvisational segues on Friday and Saturday at the Sinclair. And Delta Spirit frontman Matthew Logan Vasquez steps out with his own rocking band at Café 939 while "American Idol" and YouTube-boosted pop singer Tori Kelly (here paying one of the past week’s tributes to Prince) hits House of Blues on Saturday.

But in a sense, the weekend’s biggest event will be the return of Jamaican reggae survivor Bunny Wailer -- one of the original Wailers with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh -- rolling into the Paradise Rock Club on Saturday as part of his first tour in about two decades. The three-time Grammy winner, now 69, will showcase songs from his 1976 solo debut Blackheart Man on a bill with local groove-droppers Dub Apocalypse. And if that’s not enough, cap off the weekend with Minneapolis-bred punk pioneer Bob Mould, mixing old and new solo work with recharged Husker Du nuggets on a Sunday bill at the Paradise that sports the also-great Ted Leo.

Sound Ideas

Worshipper Wins 2016 Rock & Roll Rumble

Worshipper (above) crushed the competition again in Friday’s finals of the Rock & Roll Rumble at Somerville’s Once Ballroom with its heavy, metallic rock, edging out finalists Weakened Friends and wild card usLights to take the 2016 crown.

Not even a second Rumble outing with Craig Small (ex-Waltham) filling in for lead guitarist Alejandro Necochea, who’s on tour with another band in Europe, halted the momentum of Worshipper, whose members boast plenty of Rumble experience. Landing the coveted third slot among the finalists and being followed by kindred hard-rock guests Scissorfight seemed to play in Worshipper’s favor as well.

This year’s Rumble sported a particularly diverse final, rounded out by the grungy indie-rock ebullience of Weakened Friends and electronics-tinged glide of kinetic dream-rock trio usLights in its comfortable and well-attended first year at Cuisine en Locale's Once room. The annual event, hosted by WZLX DJ Anngelle Wood, began with 26 area bands, including also-impressive contenders like the Devil’s Twins and Abbie Barrett.

Going Out

Attend This: ArtWeek Boston

Photo: Courtesy of Urbanity Dance

ston boasts a dynamic arts scene year round, but twice a year the city dedicates 10 full days to celebrating it. Now in its fourth year, ArtWeek Boston is a citywide festival of culture—from dance, theater and music to the literary and culinary arts—that’s spread to towns across Eastern Mass. This spring’s edition of the fest features more than 170 events, including a pop-up opera at Boston Public Market, a sneak peek of UrbanityDance (pictured here) in rehearsal for its spring revue, an “open runway” fashion show in Downtown Crossing and the debut of Light Up the Night, which will have Boston buildings of note illuminating in unison. Paint the town red, or any color at all, when ArtWeek hits town April 29-May 8.

ArtWeek Boston runs April 29-May 8 at locations across Greater Boston. Event prices vary; many are free. artweekboston.org

Going Out

See This: Riverdance's 20th Anniversary Tour at the Wang

Photo: Jack Hartin

A two-decade run is a feat for any production, much less one initially conceived as a seven-minute interval
act for a Eurovision song contest. Riverdance has more than proven its staying power, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The blend of Irish dance and song has played 11,000 times across 46 countries; it’ll rack up a few more shows during its anniversary run, which brings new costumes, new lighting and a new dance number to the Wang Theatre on May 10-15. 

Riverdance's 20th Anniversary Tours plays May 10-15 at the Wang Theatre, 270 Tremont St., Boston. Tickets from $35. citicenter.org

Going Out

See This: The Used at the House of Blues

Photo: Derek Bremner

Want to feel old? The Used is on its 15th anniversary tour. Yep, the seminal Utah screamo band is working on two decades of emotive rocking together. And while their raw style brought them into the alt spotlight in the early aughts,  it’s the band’s ability to evolve to a softer, more refined sound without losing their edge—along with legions of die-hard fans—that has kept them relevant. Whether you angry-cried in your room to their emotionally honest lyrics as an angsty teen or recently discovered the emo titans via their just-dropped acoustic album, you’ll want to scream along when they hit town for back-to-back shows on May 6 and 7 at the House of Blues.

The Used play May 6 + 7 at the House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St., Boston. $33-$43. livenation.com.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

The Ballroom Thieves complement their acoustic rock with the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra in Rockport, Mass.


Father John Misty hatched one of 2015’s best albums in the melodramatic I Love You, Honeybear, marrying sardonic wit with sweet emotion after finding true love in real life. But it’s the stage where the alter-ego of ex-folkie Josh Tillman takes flight with demonstrative showmanship to match the sharp-tongued twists of his tortured soul. And he’ll benefit from the orchestration of his full touring band when Father John Misty hits House of Blues on Friday. Too bad it’s the same night as White Denim; that overhauled Texas band just dropped its most infectious and stylistically free-wheeling album, Stiff, and returns to the Sinclair with ex-Apollo Sunshine opener Sam Cohen likely chipping in on guitar. Here’s a recent live taste of White Denim and a jump to my recent interview with frontman James Petralli.

Friday also marks the diverse but ultimately hard-rocking finals of the Rock & Roll Rumble at Cuisine en Locale’s Once Ballroom, and the annual rock contest’s new Somerville home has proven to be an enjoyable, wide-open space to mingle and catch Boston’s best rising bands. This year’s final slate boasts wild card UsLights (whose electronic pop boasts emotive vocals and active live drums), grungy indie-rockers Weakened Friends (featuring punchy Field Effect bassist Annie Hoffman) and dark, metallic favorites Worshipper, who surmounted the semi-finals with fill-in lead guitarist Craig Small (ex-Waltham) while Alex Necochea tours with another band in Europe. And following the last slot by Worshipper (again with Small), the burly, reborn Scissorfight lends extra pummeling as the guest band while ballots are tabulated by WZLX host Anngelle Wood and her crew. After three weekends (and a few more preliminary nights), it’ll be sad for that celebration of the local rock community to end, but for many scenesters, it’ll also lend a welcome rest.

One of New England’s most stirring, acoustic-rooted bands, the Ballroom Thieves, are rolling through a regional tour with the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra (a string section of teenagers who study at Portland’s Maine Academy of Music) that stops at Rockport’s beautiful Shalin Liu Performance Center on Saturday. Pink Talking Fish hits the Paradise Rock Club the same night with its particular hybrid tribute to Pink Floyd, Talking Heads and Phish (and Prince?). And trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis brings his heavyweight New Orleans 2nd Line Quintet (with pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith) to Scullers Jazz Club as well.

Then two music-related alternatives stand out on Sunday. Alto saxophonist Grace Kelly plays with bassist Bruce Gertz in honor of her late mentor Frank Morgan after a 3 p.m. Coolidge Corner Theatre screening of the Morgan documentary Sound of Redemption in Brookline. And Arlington’s Regent Theatre toasts its centennial with a gala performance that offers vaudeville-inspired acts like Busty Keaton and Alex the Jester as well as a screening of Mary Pickford’s silent film “Rags” with piano accompanist Jeff Rapsis, plus a cameo by comic Jimmy Tingle.

Sound Ideas

Prince's Purple Reign Sadly Ends

Prince struts his stuff in 1988 at the Worcester Centrum, now the DCU Center. Photo by Paul Robicheau.


Even if rock-star deaths seem weirdly commonplace in 2016 and he felt ill on a plane from reported flu symptoms last Friday, the news that Prince collapsed at his estate outside Minneapolis and died today seems inconceivable. He was only 57 years old and looked ever-youthful in the orbit of his enigmatic, creative aura.

Sure, Prince’s studio output in recent years never matched the consistency and genius of his ’80s work, centered by his breakthrough Purple Rain. But the man who crossed James Brown and Jimi Hendrix to forge his own idiosyncratic Minneapolis soul/funk/rock groove and become a symbol for a generation remained a uniquely gifted live performer.

He rekindled his legend with a magical 2007 Super Bowl halftime show whipped by monsoon-like conditions (“Can you make it rain harder?” Prince supposedly said), following a 2004 Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction performance where Prince stole the show from Tom Petty and company with his stinging guitar flights.

Yet Prince focused on piano for his last performances, both on a sporadic tour and in a surprise cameo last Saturday at his Paisley Park home studios, coming out to play “Chopsticks” at a sparsely attended night billed as a dance party. He reportedly addressed his health by saying “Wait a few days before you waste any prayers.”

Alas, Prince’s time on Earth is sadly over. I saw him perform a handful of times over the years, (above) from his 1988 Lovesexy Tour at the Worcester Centrum to funk throwdowns in clubs like Metro/Citi (now House of Blues) and the Roxy (now Royale). Yet Prince also hit the stage in fine form the last time I caught him in late 2013 at Mohegan Sun. Here’s a link to my review. It’s only April, and this sign o' the times grows more painful.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

It’s a great weekend for jazz and Afro-pop as well as the semifinals of the Rock & Roll Rumble and one of the world’s most captivating singers. Jazz fans can start on Friday with the fleet fingers of guitar master Pat Martino leading an organ trio at Scullers Jazz Club, while World Music/CRASHarts brings exploratory piano virtuoso Brad Mehldau and his telepathic trio of bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard to the Berklee Performance Center. New York post-punk iconoclasts Parquet Courts invade the Paradise Rock Club the same night; catch a live clip here and jump here for my recent interview with bassist and ex-Bostonian Sean Yeaton. And another icon of the strings, mandolinist David Grisman shows up just north of Boston with his sextet at Medford’s Chevalier Theatre on Friday as well.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble has whittled down two lineups of diverse, hard-hitting contestants -- from arena-rock to heavy metal to electro-pop -- for its semifinals at Cusine en Locale’s Once Ballroom on Friday and Saturday (check out bands and set times here). The all-female tribute band Lez Zeppelin returns to Thunder Road both Friday and Saturday to recreate a different classic Led Zeppelin concert each night, while charming singer/songwriter Lissie lets her hair down at Royale. Jazz fans get more organ-trio bliss with keyboardist Larry Goldings, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart at the Regattabar. And fans of Afro-pop can pick between the edgy, jubilant electric rock of Songhoy Blues (above) at the Brighton Music Hall on Saturday and Acoustic Afrika with uplifting blend of guitarist/singers Habib Koite and Vusi Mahlasela at the Somerville Theatre on Sunday.

From African music, busy promoter World Music/CRASHarts turns to Israeli-born artist Asaf Avidan, who brings his “Under the Labyrinth” solo show to the theater at the Institute of Contemporary Art on Sunday, creating the perfect setting to bask in Avidan’s sweeping talents as a songwriter, guitarist and singer whose raspy, high-flying voice manages to evoke both Janis Joplin and Jeff Buckley.

Sound Ideas

Live Review: Iggy Pop Romps at Orpheum

Iggy Pop gets his face on with a crack band including guitarist/singer Josh Homme. Photos by Paul Robicheau.


Hats off – or should we say shirts off – to Iggy Pop, the proto-punk survivor who flexed his weathered, chiseled upper torso during a typically robust performance at the Orpheum Theatre on Monday. A week and a half from his 69th birthday, the man born James Osterberg flaunted a continued lust for life that reflected his keen eye for collaborators in the caliber of his band and choice of material.

His band starred Queens of the Stone Age honcho Josh Homme and members Dean Fertita (also of the Dead Weather) and Troy Van Leeuwen -- all raising a suitable racket on guitars and the occasional keyboard – and Arctic Monkeys’ standout drummer Matt Helders. Save for tour add-ons Van Leeuwen and bassist Matt Sweeney, it was the same core cast from Pop’s new Homme-produced Post Pop Depression, one of the singer’s more vital recent efforts: dark, largely brooding yet melodic, surrounding his craggy baritone with fitting rock orchestration.

The former Stooges kingpin milked that album (especially, oddly, in a long encore) during his near-two-hour set at the long-soldout Orpheum. Otherwise, he only drew – liberally -- from his first two solo albums circa 1977, which were produced by David Bowie, who just died from cancer in January at that same age of 69.

Musically, the Post Pop Depression material complemented that early, Bowie-produced catalog, but perhaps there also was a nod to the passing of Pop's old running mate – and a lusty celebration of life still in motion. Despite a limping gait, the elastic frontman was pumped to engage his other favorite collaborator, the audience, motioning that he wished he could climb the PA stack to get to fans in the upper boxes, while settling for crowd-surfing and scrambling up and down the aisles.

The band – in contrasting red tuxedo jackets – played perfectly to the drama in support mode while lending hearty vocal harmonies and edging into Homme-led guitar assaults, lifting the end of “China Girl” (a Bowie co-write Pop first recorded) while the singer left the stage to rest his bones for the encore. The sound mix got dirty at times, obscuring Pop’s words, but it was all in the spirit.

At night's end, Pop launched into his snarling, suffer-no-fools escape to “Paraguay” from the new album before returning to his debut. “Here comes success, over my hill,” he sang, and you knew it was still on his own terms.

Top Dogs

The Sox are back in town, but Fenway Franks aren’t the only option. Ditch ketchup and mustard with these twists on game-day dogs.

Right behind Fenway Park, Tasty Burger is serving up the best of both worlds. Its all-the-way hot dog is topped with a burger patty, plus chili, bacon and cheese sauce.

$10.75 at Tasty Burger, 1301 Boylston St., Boston (617-425-4444) tastyburger.com


During every Sox game (except when the Celts’ are playing at home), take a swing at one of the dogs on the all-new all-star menu, which sports options like the Greek, covered in feta cheese and roasted red peppers, and Margherita, a pizza-inspired option with mozzarella, tomatoes and basil.

$3 at The Harp, 85 Causeway St., Boston (617-742-1010) harpboston.com


Lobster meat, bacon and cheese replace traditional condiments in this surf & turf dish, which also comes with the option to pile on avocado. Or go for outside-the-bun choices with grilled cheese and mac ‘n’ cheese specials that feature hot dogs, all part of a menu available through April.

$23.99 at Pauli’s, 65 Salem St., Boston (857-284-7064) paulisnorthend.com


Need your fix in a smaller dose? Enter these pigs in a blanket. These mini venison and bison dogs are baked in puff pastry and doused in relish and spicy mustard.

$9.95 at Bukowski Tavern, 1281 Cambridge St., Cambridge (617-497-7077) bukowskitavern.net


This kobe beef hot dog comes complete with pickled red cabbage and mustard, and when diners pair it with a beer through April 30, they’ll be entered to win some Big Papi-autographed swag. Score.

$8 at Brass Union, 70 Union Square, Somerville (617-623-9211) brassunion.com

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith open Harvard's "Creative Music Convergences." Photo by Paul Robicheau.


Some might call it avant-garde jazz, free improvisation, spontaneous composition or sonic sculpting. Or try “Creative Music Convergences,” the name of a free two-night Harvard series at Paine Hall that concludes on Friday with special guest Wadada Leo Smith. The Chicago-bred trumpet veteran, a composition Pulitzer finalist for his 2012 civil-rights opus Ten Freedom Summers, began the program on Thursday with composer/pianist and Harvard professor Vijay Iyer. In pensive dialogue based on their new album A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke, Smith floated clarion tones and breathy edges against Iyer’s punctuating swells on acoustic and Fender Rhodes pianos as well as a laptop to trigger subtle, sonar-like pulses -- an evolution of this New York performance. Electronics will color the sonic environment again on Friday when Smith pairs with New York experimentalist Ikue Mori after solo piano improvisations from Craig Taborn. The program, which offers musical collaborations rarely seen north of NYC, ends with solo pianist Courtney Bryan and drummer Tyshawn Sorey’s Double Trio.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble preliminaries also roar to a conclusion on Friday and Saturday at Cuisine en Locale’s Once Ballroom in Somerville after this week’s wins by Weakened Friends, Analog Heart, Salem Wolves and – on Thursday -- Abbie Barrett. The room has proven to be a comfortable hang for the annual contest for Boston bands previously housed at now-closed T.T. the Bear’s Place, with solid sound (from T.T.’s old system, btw) and a free photo station for friends to pose with their best rock ‘n’ roll mugs. You can see Friday and Saturday’s Rumble lineups here. Over at Thunder Road in Union Squre on Friday, Otis Grove also gets its funky groove on.

Smashing Pumpkins has been mixing it up, even having estranged guitarist James Iha join the current lineup with original drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and leader Billy Corgan in LA. For the Pumpkins’ Boston show at the Orpheum Theatre on Saturday, expect more acoustic treatments and some rarities from ’90s alt-rock landmarks Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (and maybe a cameo by opener Liz Phair). The same night, country-folk legend John Prine shares a bill with fellow singer/songwriter Iris Dement at the Shubert Theatre while chamber-pop rocker Andrew Bird -- who sings, whistles and plays violin and guitar – holds court across the street at the Citi Wang Theatre in support of his charming new album Are You Serious.

Sunday blooms with big shows, from R&B-pop siren Rihanna at TD Garden to spirited Americana-rockers the Avett Brothers out at Worcester’s DCU Center with dynamic opener Brandi Carlile, while banjo ace Bela Fleck joins jazz pianist Chick Corea for a duo concert at the Wilbur Theatre. You can’t say the weekend doesn’t span stylistic options for live music.

Going Out

See This: Companhia Urbana de Dança at the ICA

Photo: Sonia Destri

Plenty of athletes will be heading to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics this summer—but this month, some of the city’s acrobatic talents are coming to Boston. Drawing dancers from the favelas of Rio, Companhia Urbana de Dança melds urban street moves and hip-hop with contemporary dance and traditional forms such as samba. Watch them break it down at the ICA, where the company makes its Boston debut on April 15 and 16. / Marlo Jappan

Companhia Urbana de Dança performs on April 15 and 16 at 8 pm at the Institute of Contemporary Art, 100 Northern Ave., Boston, $40, (617-478-3103) worldmusic.org

Going Out

See This: Lissie at Royale

That Lissie isn’t more of a household name is a bit of a conundrum; her relative obscurity can be attributed, perhaps, to the fact that her raspy, distinctive voice seems reminiscent of an earlier era. The Illinois-bred indie-folk singer’s pipes have drawn comparisons to Stevie Nicks, along with vocal stylings associated with female indie artists of the ’90s grunge movement. The singer/songwriter first gained attention with her widely shared 2010 cover of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness,” which hit the Internet right around the same time as her soulful debut, Catching a Tiger, released to some critical acclaim, but not a whole lot of radio play—though her just-dropped new album My Wild West might change that. Catch Lissie before she strikes it big when she headlines a show at Royale in support of the new record on April 16

Lissie plays at 7 pm at Royale, 279 Tremont St., Boston (617-338-7699), $20, boweryboston.com

Going Out

Shop This: Do617’s Pop-Up Record Shop at Brighton Music Hall

Photo: Do617

Calling all collectors: Do617’s Pop-Up Record Shop is back in Rock City. Part indie record fair, part daytime rager, the second annual pop-up is a celebration of New England indie labels that features vendors from our 2015 Boston’s Best record label, Deathwish Inc., Midnight Werewolf, Underground Hip Hop, Zakim Recordings, Eye Design Records and many more selling hard-to-find vinyl and other swag. DJs from Lifted Contingency will be spinning all-vinyl sets, and a cash bar will offer libations from PBR, Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Small Town Brewery to keep the party going—and the impulse buyers shopping (though we’re sure nobody will be suffering any buyer’s regret after this record fest). There’s no cover to browse or hang, so face the music on April 16 at Brighton Music Hall. 

Do617’s 2nd Annual Pop-Up Record Shop pops up from 10 am to 2 pm on April 16 at Brighton Music Hall, 158 Brighton Ave., Boston. Free with RSVP. brightonmusichall.com 


Going Out

Check This Out: The Truth Booth on the Greenway

Photo: Jim Ricks

San Francisco-based artist group Cause Collective has been on a five-year truth-seeking journey, toting a giant inflatable Truth Booth confessional to locations from Afghanistan to Burning Man and, now, Boston. Artists Ryan Alexiev, Jim Ricks, Will Sylvester and Hank Willis Thomas—who is dropping by the SMFA for a lecture on April 12—prompt the public to complete the phrase “The truth is...” and give visitors two minutes inside the booth to add their two cents. Disclosures range from personal admissions to philosophical musings, and the growing archive of video footage is added to an ongoing project. If you miss its visit to the Verb Hotel on April
11-12, catch the installation at its next stop, the north end of the Rose Kennedy Greenway, where truths will be told April 13-15. / Sarah Hagman


Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Women rule the weekend, starting with the dark post-punk intensity of Savages (above). The all-female foursome from London mulls a bit more lightness of being on second album Adore, but Savages still are sure to hypnotize and pulverize when the band hits the Paradise Rock Club on Friday. Later that night, another London group, Haelos, get both dark and danceable with a mysterious whiff of trip-hop at the Middle East Upstairs.

If you want to catch a virtuosic vocalist, see Lisa Fischer, who’s soared as a backup singer for the Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, Sting and Nine Inch Nails since her Grammy-winning ’80s solo career, profiled in the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom. A delightful spirit who transforms rock, jazz and soul with sweeping precision, Fischer brings her band Grand Baton to the Newton North High School Auditorium on Friday (in a benefit for Historic Newton) and to the restored Cabot Theatre in Beverly on Saturday. Also on Saturday, catch Canadian indie-folk singer Basia Bulat at the Sinclair or bluegrass star Claire Lynch with her band at Lexington’s National Heritage Museum, while 12-year-old jazz piano prodigy Joey Alexander -- who wowed at the Grammy Awards -- holds court at Scullers Jazz Club.

Speaking of piano, you can’t get more charismatic than Hiromi, the Japanese dynamo who returns to her alma mater at the Berklee Performance Center on Sunday in her crack jazz-fusion trio with bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips behind her new album Spark. For an alternative, there’s also the chance to catch Grammy-nominated UK indie-rockers Wolf Alice at the Brighton Music Hall.

Sunday also marks the opening night of preliminary rounds in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble, which continues all week (except for Wednesday’s day of rest) at its new hang, the Once Ballroom at Cuisine en Locale, on Highland Avenue in Somerville. The Rumble’s an annual opportunity to catch the best in rising Boston area bands, curated by WZLX host Anngelle Wood and her team, and culminates in semi-finals on April 15-16 and finals (with guest band Scissorfight) on April 22. But the preliminaries are the place to sample the widest variety with four bands vying nightly to continue the quest for Rumble glory/fun. Here’s the Rumble website with lineups and set times.  

Going Out

See This: Handel + Haydn Society's Mozart and Beethoven program at Jordan Hall and Sanders Theatre

Photo Credit: Stu Rosner

For this special chamber program, Handel + Haydn string players and clarinetist Eric Hoeprich are tackling Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20, and String Trio, Op. 9, No. 3, along with an unusual arrangement of Mozart’s Violin Sonata in B-flat Major—all favorite works of violinist and concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky, who's pictured here.  

Friday, April 8, at 7:30 pm at Jordan Hall, 30 Gainsborough St., Boston, and Sunday, April 10, at 3 pm at Sanders Theatre, 45 Quincy St., Cambridge. Tickets from $22. handelandhaydn.org 

Sound Ideas

Live Review: Lucius Stretches Out at Royale

Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe perform with Lucius at Royale on Tuesday. Photo by Paul Robicheau.


Lucius would have been perfect for this week’s star-studded David Bowie tribute at Carnegie Hall in New York. But the band’s busy honing its own distinct sound and vision on tour, as Lucius’ ever-matchy duo of Berklee-bred singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig took to the stage of Royale on Tuesday in flowy green capes and poufy reddish mohawks that sort of suggested Ziggy Stardust in duplicate, with gender flipped.

Duality doesn’t always click for Lucius, however, at least in its direction behind its second album, Good Grief. The group’s 2013 debut Wildewoman was one of that year’s best albums, recasting girl-group vocals through dusky, minimalist indie-rock. Good Grief hits some bolder highs but isn’t as consistently successful, seeming a bit forced as Lucius pushes toward the bankable sound of programmed drums as well as punched-up vocals.

While that could be promising as Lucius moves into larger venues, it didn’t work at first at Royale when Dan Molad’s mostly acoustic standup drum kit flattened out in the sound mix with the guitars of Pete Lalish and Andrew Burri and the lead vocals and sporadic keyboards of Wolfe and Laessig. In turn, the band’s performances initially came off as too deliberate, down to the symmetry of the co-singers moving together from one stage wing to the other to get around their central keyboard rigs. The singers' face-to-face synths tended to visually obscure Lalish, the group’s most intriguing instrumentalist, particularly when he injected spooky slide for “Go Home” -- or provided a sonic tether to the four other members diverting into tribal percussion bursts.

However, Lucius loosened up and grew more dynamic around the middle of its 95-minute set, especially after the three male instrumentalists engaged in a noisy, ambient jam during a costume change (to black over emerald green) for the singers. The quintet even paired the new album’s outwardly commercial “Something About You” (more organically than the ABBA-esque electro-pop on record) with “Nothing Ordinary,” a more experimental oldie that evokes early ’80s Kate Bush. And they nailed extremes in two other new songs, the near a cappella “Dusty Trails” (showing how Wolfe and Laessig dazzle at a single microphone in a folk-sparse setting) and the deserving hit “Born Again Teen,” the singers mixing coy pop cooing with joyful banshee-wide chants.

After Wolfe and Laessig dealt a haunting take on Elvis Presley favorite “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (in three-part harmony with Sarah Versprille of opener Pure Bathing Culture), the soldout crowd joined in chanting along to the cathartic build of “How Loud Your Heart Gets.” And you could take that to the arena as well as the club.

Going Out

See This: The Invitation at the Coolidge

Courtesy of Drafthouse Films

The latest horror flick from Jennifer’s Body director Karyn Kusama invites viewers to a dinner party where the main course is a hefty serving of terror. In The Invitation, a man is suspicious when his newly Stepford-esque ex-wife resurfaces years after a tragedy to throw a lavish dinner party with her new husband—and he becomes even more wary when their brand of hospitality turns out to include locked doors and possible cult activity. See if you can make it to dessert when the film makes its area premiere at the Brattle Theatre on April 8-14. / Gracie Dietshe 

The Invitation opens April 8 at the Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle St., Cambridge (617-876-6837) brattlefilm.org

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Zakir Hussain brings his Masters of Percussion to town on Sunday. Photo by Susana Millman.


Guitar fireworks are only part of a spring-kicking weekend that stretches north and south of Boston. The biggest guitar blowout goes down just over the New Hampshire border on Friday at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom with Experience Hendrix, a tour with Jimi’s bassist Billy Cox and an all-star lineup of axe-slingers in Buddy Guy, Eric Johnson, Dweezil Zappa, Johnny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Zakk Wylde (a Hendrix tribute also may cap next Thursday’s Ultimate Guitar Experience show with Uli Jon Roth, Jennifer Batten and Andy Timmons just to the west at Londonderry’s Tupelo Music Hall).

Back in town, guitarist Jose Gonzalez and yMUSIC merge chamber textures at the Berklee Performance Center on Friday, while New Orleans’ Galactic lays down thick, heady grooves at House of Blues and Tuareg guitar hero Bombino unleashes his desert rock at the Sinclair. Boston's keyboard and percussion-colored Alloy Orchestra presents live scoring to "Man with a Movie Camera" and "L'inhumaine (The Inhuman Woman)" -- singularly or as a double feature -- at the Somerville Theatre. And a bit north at Beverly’s refurbished Cabot Theatre, Kansas (still with original drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Rich Williams) carries on with wayward resolve behind an upcoming new album on Friday, while British blues legend John Mayall, now 82, brings his band to the Cabot on Saturday (before he heads south to the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River on Sunday).

Back to guitar thrills, the virtuoso Joe Satriani lets his six-string ring at the Orpheum on Saturday, boosted by impressive drummer Marco Minnemann. Or for an alternate vibe, the David Wax Museum brings a rounded indie-rock flair to its Mexican folk rhythms on a double bill with string-laced local upstarts Darlingside at the Sinclair the same night (look for jewelry made out of DWM violinist Suz Slezak’s old donkey jawbone teeth at the merch table). Finally, Sunday offers a pair of extreme differences in California post-hardcore slammers Slaves at the Brighton Music Hall and Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain & Masters of Percussion at the Sanders Theatre.

Going Out

See This: The Joy Formidable at Paradise Rock Club

Credit: James Minchin

Welsh alt-rockers the Joy Formidable asserted themselves as a formidable force indeed when they swept onto the scene in 2010 with
A Balloon Called Moaning, a debut marked by soaring vocals and big, hooky guitar riffs, proving themselves adept at making anthemic rock songs with an indie edge. The trio has been somewhat quiet since their last output, 2013’s Wolf’s Law, which found the band experimenting with even bigger,
prog-rock-influenced sounds and stretching their creative muscles. They’ve played venues worthy of their large-scale sound, supporting massive tours for alt-rock giants like Muse; they’ll headline a slightly more intimate show of their own behind their just-dropped new album
Hitch when they hit the Paradise Rock Club on April 12.

The Joy Formidable play at 8:30 pm on April 12 at the Paradise Rock Club, 967 Comm. Ave., Boston (617-562-8800) ticketmaster.com

Going Out

See This: The Sound of Music at the Opera House

Credit: Matthew Murphy

Those still reeling from Carrie Underwood’s rather tone-deaf portrayal of Maria in NBC’s The Sound of Music Live! can scrub that memory away at a new production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, which should infuse more life into the classic musical. Directed by Tony winner Jack O’Brien and starring up-and-coming soprano Kerstin Anderson, the story of the irrepressible nun sent to work as a governess for a stoic naval captain’s large brood is hitting the Boston Opera House, where the hills are alive once more March 29-April 10.

The Sound of Music plays through April 10 at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington St., Boston (800-982-2787) broadwayinboston.com. Tickets start at $44

Going Out

See This: Esperanza Spalding presents Emily’s D+Evolution at the Shubert Theatre

Credit: Holly Andres

Many of us have lain swake at night, unable to sleep, our imaginations running wild with grandiose ideas. Far fewer of us have brought those midnight plans to fruition. However, that’s what Esperanza Spalding will do when she presents Emily’s D+Evolution, the live realization of an idea the Grammy-winning singer/bassist/composer conceived one sleepless night. Incorporating theater, poetry, dance and, of course, music, the multimedia project takes its title from Spalding’s middle name and channels an alter ego of sorts as the Berklee alum adds a funk-rock edge to her signature jazz. Hear the evolution of her sound at the Shubert Theatre, where the  show takes the stage on April 12.

Emily’s D+Evolution
 plays at 7:30 pm on April 12 at the Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont St., Boston. $52-$82. citicenter.org

Going Out

See This: Uh Oh! and Ubiquitous at Boston Sculptors Gallery

For the month of April, two artists at Boston Sculptors Gallery are bringing a little dark humor to environmental crises—without watering down the issues. In Uh Oh!, Jessica Straus explores rising sea levels and water scarcity, transforming non-potable water signs into storage containers and building blimp-like sculptures from maps, as seen above. Elsewhere, Michelle Lougee combines her signature material—plastic bags—with papyrus, cloth and other discarded items in Contra Naturam’s textural collage drawings, while her mixed-media installation Ubiquitous gives viewers an up-close look at the microorganisms present in our everyday lives. Test the waters at Boston Sculptors Gallery, where the exhibits are on view from March 30 through May 1, and don't miss the opening reception on April 1. / Sarah Hagman

486 Harrison Ave., Boston (617-482-7781) bostonsculptors.com

Raising the Bar

Credit: Andy DeLuca

Indie band Vundabar has been working hard to break out of the Allston basement scene. They’re setting out on a national tour—including hometown stops at the Great Scott on March 24 and April 30—and working on their third album, a follow-up to 2015’s Gawk, set to release this fall. Members Brandon Hagen, Drew McDonald and Grayson Kirtland chatted with us about what to expect from their next project and life on the road. Bonus: They share a playlist of jams that gets them going. /

Brandon Hagen (guitar/vocals): The next one will be a lot different from [debut] Antics. It’ll be closer to Gawk, but still a bit different, maybe a little heavier. There’s a pop thing going on, and we love the pop music. But we still love the stops and dynamics found on our first two albums.

Drew McDonald (drums): Same old Vundabar sound.

BH: That same old Vundabar but with a little funk, a little jazz fusion, a little…

Grayson Kirtland (bass): A little hip-hop.

DM: A little spice.

BH: When I was a kid, Nirvana was huge for me because they wrote good pop songs. Modest Mouse is another. I’ve been obsessed with Leonard Cohen lately.

DM: Dr. Octagon.

BH: [Laughs] Yeah, Dr. Octagon.

GK: Huge influence.

DM: “Earth People.”

BH: Some East Bay rap.

BH: I think you learn as you go with a lot of this stuff. We’re up to speed on touring, but it’s all a learning process and you’re constantly figuring out how to do it better. I really liked how we recorded Gawk, and it was a very positive experience, but we also realized, here’s how we can do that better next time. So you’re always trying to build on what you’re doing.

DM: Gawk was our first time recording in a studio for Vundabar and it was nice to learn how to be in a studio and the proper precautions and things you have to get ready for.

BH: No, we’re completely independent. We don’t have a manager, we don’t have an agent, we don’t have a label. It’s only Vundabar, but we’ll see, that might change.

BH: We’re hoping to sneak in a week during the summer. We like to record live in the studio, all of us in the same room on one track. 

BH: There are a couple of songs we’re pretty stoked on. There’s a little hip-hop thing going on in the new songs with the drum beats, which I’m stoked for. It’s weird.

DM: Yeah, it’s groovier. 

BH: I really like the Great Scott. The Sinclair a lot too, those high ceilings, they’re very nice.

DM: Every city is cool for good reasons and bad for other reasons. We used to have a lot of bad times in Philly, but in recent years, it’s been one of our more favorite places to play.

BH: For three times in a row, we were treated so badly. I don’t know what happened, because it’s a really great town. But three times in a row we just had terrible shows and everyone was really mean. Then we went back and we met the right people.

DM: We made some friends.

BH: Yeah, we have friends now. It’s taken us three years, but Vundabar has friends.

BH: So yeah, we hate Philly again. [Laughs] 

Sound Ideas

Live Review: Boston Ballet Unleashes a 'Kaleidoscope'

Seo Hye Han, Paulo Arrais and Ji Young Chae in the Boston Ballet's "The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude"


Boston Ballet’s “Kaleidoscope” brings a bold splash of joy and color to the spring season – and a spritely alternative to Irish step dancing when the company opened its latest entrée on St. Patrick’s Day. The program, which runs through March 26 at the Opera House, combines four diverse pieces that – with the exception of the comparatively dour grace of the short “Pas de Quatre”– proved bright, lively and broadly accessible.

On Thursday, standout dancers Lia Cirio and Dusty Button even evoked the look and energy of cheerleaders in blue-lined silver mini-dresses and ponytails for “Kammermusik No. 2,” a George Balanchine-choreographed piece that began the night with their circular sweeps in echo and unison, alone and with partners, in sync to the crisp, barbed piano sections in Paul Hindemith’s score. A backing row of male dancers broke into angular lines and -- for one humorous moment -- claws-out gestures that recalled Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, as the piece hinted at the bounce of a sock hop and the edgy passion of tango with its taut structure and joyous freedom.

“Pas de Quatre” (with Cirio shining again as one of four ballerinas in loose, white tutus, hands interlocked in a delicate weave before breaking for solos) and the return of “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude” (a Schubert-scored William Forsythe showcase for snappy pirouettes, its purple and light-green costume palette including lillypad-flat skirt attachments) provided the night’s midsection with both traditional and contemporary style.

But it was all a table-setter for the flamboyant, comic “Gaite Parisienne,” a ballet by lesser-known Russian master Leonide Massine set in a Parisian café (painted in an elaborate set akin to Boston Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”) and sporting a gaggle of dancers as waiters, maids and soldiers, baron, duke, glove seller, flower girl and a Peruvian sad sack. Christian Lacriox’s costume design was lavish to the point of gaudy, a mix of turn-of-century high-fashion (with red-feathered hats) and clown-like color clashes in tune with Jacques Offenbach's percussion-spiked, circus-shaded music. The piece finally climaxed with can-can dancers afloat in striped and polka-dot dresses, flaunted as loudly as the silly romantic plotline. There was something going on wherever one looked amid the ensemble chaos, in movements well-executed and enormously entertaining.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

The Dropkick Murphys naturally rule this St. Patrick’s Day weekend as Boston's Celtic-punk heroes wrap up their 20th anniversary tour with rousing shows on Friday at House of Blues, on late Saturday afternoon at the Agganis Arena (all ages) and on Sunday at the Brighton Music Hall, a show that promises old, rare deep cuts and covers. And if that’s not enough, the Dropkick Murphys are both sponsors and participants in Sunday’s Southie parade.

Tal Wilkenfeld likely intrigued people when she opened for the Who earlier this month at TD Garden, though the former Jeff Beck bassist should better fit the setting at the Brighton Music Hall on Friday. Wilkenfeld now plays the siren’s role as the budding singer/songwriter switches between bass and guitar in leading her band through jazzy folk and bristly rock. Here’s a live clip of Wilkenfeld as well as a jump to my recent interview. Another old hometown favorite, G. Love and Special Sauce, kick up funky folk-blues at the Paradise Rock Club on Friday as well. And Brazilian pianist/singer Eliane Elias leads a fine trio with bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Adam Nussbaum at Scullers Jazz Club on both Friday and Saturday.

Music also returns downtown to the Black Box Theatre at Emerson’s Paramount Theater, both on Friday with a lineup of talented street musicians and on Saturday with indie-rockers Palehound -- the Boston Music Awards’ latest Best New Artist fronted by singer/guitarist Ellen Kempner -- and the sonically and physically frisky Dirty Bangs. Also on Saturday, ex-Cul de Sac acoustic guitarist Glenn Jones – a disciple of fingerpicker John Fahey – performs at Arts at the Armory in Somerville behind his pastoral, expansive new solo album Fleeting.

Saturday brings a pair of notable shows in tuneful singer-songwriter Pete Yorn (whose new ArrangingTime keeps its even keel despite slight electronic dabbling) at Royale as well as a date at the Sinclair with the rising jazz-soul songstress Andra Day, who released one of 2016's best debuts in Cheers to the Fall and just impressed at the Grammy Awards. Here’s a taste of Day in performance and a jump to my recent interview.


Keeping it Real

We interview Topsfield native Sabrina Kennedy about her upcoming 'Real World' gig.

Topsfield native Sabrina Kennedy is on her way to becoming a household name. The 21-year-old singer graduates from UMass Amherst this May and just wrapped up season 31 of MTV’s The Real World, which premieres March 17—just a week before she releases single “If Only” off her debut album Lioness. Kennedy took a quick breather to bring us up to speed.

The theme is “Go Big or Go Home.” Each week is a different mission, but we also have our own personal mission. Mine was to locate and find my biological mother. They hired me an investigator, and I had to go through this whole season trying to find her.

I was under the impression I was living in a house with seven to eight people and just living my life. And that was not the case. The first day I got there, I had to jump out of a hot air balloon, and if you don’t complete the mission, you go home. I’m a very confident girl, but by the end of it I really had a strong idea of who I wanted to be.

I saw my sister get bullied throughout high school, and when I went to college myself, I was bullied by sorority girls. I’ve always been very comfortable in my body, but when I was faced with girls who didn’t like the way I looked, I said to myself, “Why am I changing for people?” I believe that women should own their body; women should be sexual beings and not be afraid of what society says. And I’ve always had a love for exotic cats and all animals. It’s been something that I’m very passionate about, and when you find a cause that you’re passionate about, you go for it.

That’s been my nickname, Sabrina the Lioness. I never truly felt like I could hold true to Lioness because I didn’t feel good enough myself, and then coming off the show, I said, you know what, with this album I can show young girls that it’s okay to feel this way. My whole album is a progression of being so low on myself to finally getting to that point where I feel fierce. I feel confident, finally, and I’m back to the person I truly want to be, and I think The Real World helped me get to that.

It’s a very strong song. I’m teaming up with an organization that deals with depression, and each song is going to adhere to a different charity or organization. “If Only” tackles depression, and I actually did the video yesterday. I was on set, and I had an artist come in who deals with a depression charity for young adults, and she drew trees all over my body. The branches symbolize each hardship you go through. The album isn’t just about me singing and bringing my music out. I think more artists need to portray issues that are going on in society today instead of just releasing music to release music.

I’ve always loved the House of Blues, and it would be a dream to finally headline there one day. Someday way down the line we would love to do Gillette, but for now House of Blues is a good start.



Going Out

Rock On: Verb Hosts Johnny Anguish Photo Exhibit

A curated selection of the longtime rock photographer's work is on display through April.

Rock photographer Johnny Anguish has spent 15 years in Boston’s clubs, capturing tons of the city's bands in action (plus some big national acts) and immortalizing some seminal moments in Boston music. A curated selection of those photos is on display through mid-April at Fenway’s Verb Hotel. We tapped Anguish for some details about the exhibit and some thoughts on this town’s changing music scene. 

Most of the shows I go to are stacked with Boston bands, so I naturally gravitate toward those shots. This time around I wanted to mix things up a bit, so I included some national acts in the exhibit. I ended up with local favorites hanging side by side with national acts, which makes me really happy.

A bunch of my favorites bands to shoot are in this exhibit. Sidewalk Driver and Dirty Bangs are locals that will give any band coming through town a run for their money. The music is great and their shows are captivating, every time. Superchunk is fun because Mac bounces around the stage like someone set off firecrackers in his pants. Imperial State Electric are one of my favorite bands. They're from Sweden and I never thought they'd tour over here. I was beside myself when they played a handful of shows on the East Coast and I got to photograph their set at the Middle East. Shooting every night of the Rock 'n' Roll Rumble is always a blast, even if I feel like I've been hit by a truck by the end of the preliminary round.

Live, original rock 'n' roll has always been a tough sell. It's getting tougher. That doesn't make it any less worthwhile. It helps to be around like-minded folks who appreciate the sense of community that comes from immersing yourself in a local music scene. It's like the farm to table movement for rock 'n' roll. It takes a bit more effort, but the results are worth it.

 I saw more shows at T.T.'s than any other room by a pretty large margin, so that one stung. Part of me wants to sulk and say, "The Boston music scene will never be the same." That's true, of course. It will never be the same. It will adapt. It will evolve. It'll carry on. It always does. I was devastated when the Abbey went under. That place was like a second home to me. Before that it was the Rat. Johnny D's is right around the corner. Death, taxes and rock club closings. Thankfully, we've still got some great places to see shows with the Sinclair, the Lizard, Great Scott and more. Then you've got ONCE and other places stepping up to fill the void. It might sting a bit, but we're going to be all right. At least that's what I tell myself when I start thinking about this stuff too much. Like right now.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Johnny D's owner Carla DeLellis, right, with her mother Tina, who died in 2008. Photo by Paul Robicheau.


Alas, this is the last weekend of Johnny D’s Uptown, the venerable, homey Somerville restaurant and music club that booked a broad range of such off-the-beaten-path styles as zydeco, ska, roots-rock, jazz fusion and Afro-beat for four decades. It was where a young Alison Krauss got her feet wet, where Neil Young sat in with then-wife Pegi’s band, and home turf for local rockabilly legend Sleepy LaBeef. And it was a community-conscious business run by the DeLellis family, whose surviving owner Carla has chosen to close the venue and renovate the space for commercial and residential use. But not before an Open House Weekend with free admission for blues harp ace James Montgomery and Boston guitarist Barry Goudreau on Friday night and a Saturday blowout with country-folk act Yani Batteau and the Styles (4 to 4:30 p.m.), zany Dixieland/omnipop ensemble the Chandler Travis Philharmonic (5 to 6 p.m.) and funk band Neon Grandma (8 p.m. to midnight). Finally, on Sunday, the club will open at 4 p.m. for sets by the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble and Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band before DeLellis and the musicians lead a 5:30 p.m. second-line procession out the doors into Davis Square.

Of course, there’s also plenty of other stuff going on this weekend. Atop the list for Friday are Baltimore dream-pop duo Beach House with its spectral seduction at House of Blues, the compositionally rich and elegant pianist Fred Hersch and his trio of bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson at Scullers Jazz Club, and the jazz/dub/world collective Club d'elf with former Frank Zappa vibes player Ed Mann at the Lizard Lounge.

Saturday’s options include the inspirational mainstream pop of Newton native Rachel Platten at Royale as well as fine indie-pop purveyors Air Traffic Controller hosting a record release party at the Sinclair, and roots-rock guitar favorite Duke Levine leading his band to Atwood’s Tavern. And on Sunday, Northampton haunting alt-folk group Winterpills celebrates its latest album on a bill with ex-Low Anthem member Jocie Adams’ band Arc Iris. 

Sound Ideas

Live Review: the Who Balances the Years at TD Garden

Pete Townshend (left) and Roger Daltrey covered all bases at the Garden on Monday. Photo by Paul Robicheau.


The Who’s “Hope I die before I get old” line from “My Generation” has been quoted so often in irony -- especially now that both surviving members have cracked age 70 -- that guitarist Pete Townshend offered a frisky addendum on Monday at the TD Garden. After playing “The Seeker,” the first in a string of rarer early singles on “The Who Hits 50!” tour, Townshend claimed the final lyric was “I won’t get to get what I’m after, until I truly die.”

Indeed, Townshend and lead singer Roger Daltrey are still kicking, but the vital life of the Who as a band remains more questionable. Townshend has indicated this will be the group’s last tour, though the Who first embarked on a “farewell tour” in 1982. Some gave up on the Who with drummer Keith Moon’s death in 1978; others drew the line after bassist John Entwistle died in 2002. And the Who – doubled to eight musicians, including three keyboardists – didn’t help its case on Monday by frequently flashing photos and videos of the original foursome as a reminder of those potent blokes.

But rock legends die hard, and what now constitutes the Who put on a hell of a retrospective at the TD Garden, including choice four-song chunks of Tommy, Who’s Next and Quadrophenia. The show had been rescheduled from October due to Daltrey’s bout with viral meningitis, which wasn’t as juicy  in a rock ‘n’ roll way as reckless partier Moon forcing postponement of a 1976 show at the old Boston Garden when he collapsed at his kit after two songs.  Before the Who hit the stage Monday, a message flashed on the backdrop, warning smokers not to threaten the show because of Daltrey's allergy, but that never became an issue. Given his voice problems (like Adele, fixed through surgery by Boston’s Dr. Steven Zeitels a few years back) and Monday’s news that AC/DC screamer Brian Johnson has been told to quit touring or lose his hearing, it was a joy to hear Daltrey in fairly solid voice, hitting the screech in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” for maybe one last time alongside Townshend.

Townshend was engaged, if sporatically, whipping off some windmill chords and taking a hearty lead vocal on his acoustic changeup “I’m One.” However, despite the glut of keyboardists, the real reason the Who clicked for most of its two-hour set was Moon disciple and Ringo Starr’s son Zak Starkey, the Who’s drummer for the last 20 years. His meaty, big and bouncy fills carried highlights from “I Can See for Miles” (iced by six-part harmonies) to “The Real Me” (thrillingly both taut and messy around Pino Palladino's bass riffs) to “Bargain,” where Daltrey let the packed house chime the high refrain of “The best I ever had!” before the singer handled its last chorus.

There were flatter moments, including “Pictures of Lily” (perhaps too many hands on that pop song about masturbation) and Quadrophenia overture “The Rock,” mired in keyboards despite snappy guitar tradeoffs by Townshend and his brother Simon (who also balanced the funky lurch of “Eminence Front,” heard of late in Cadillac commercials). But to hear, see and feel Daltrey’s emotive “Love, Reign O’er Me” and a Tommy suite where he clapped tambourines and swung his mic like a lasso before the inevitable “Pinball Wizard” still brought goosebumps. Of course this wasn’t the Who of old, but the old Who delivered a dream mix of classic songs.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Steven Wilson (center) leads his band through heady prog-rock visions. Photo by Carl Glover.


British singer/guitarist Steven Wilson’s a godsend to fans of prog-rock, remixing classic albums (King Crimson, Yes, Jethro Tull) as well as leading his own virtuosic band, which plays the Orpheum Theatre on Friday. Expect dynamic, lushly layered music set to dark, atmospheric films and animation, evoking influences such as Genesis, Pink Floyd, Rush and Nine Inch Nails – and a long show. Wilson’s playing his entire Hand. Cannot. Erase. album plus a second set of songs both newer (the hard-riffing “Vermillion”) and older, recast from his former band Porcupine Tree.

Another brand of dark and atmospheric comes from the British alt-folk trio Daughter, casting frontwoman Elena Tonra’s spell at the Somerville Theatre on Friday. Also that night, bluesy Americana-soul upstart Julie Rhodes celebrates the release of her debut Bound to Meet the Devil -- with horns and backup singers -- at Union Square’s Thunder Road, Mission of Burma's Roger Miller brings his Trinary System to Allston's Store 54, and the James Hunter Six hits the Sinclair with its snappy British take on the kind of R&B/soul that’s made Leon Bridges a star.

Yes, Leon Bridges tackles the Citi Wang Center on Saturday as the weekend’s biggest show, as the young Texas crooner and his band turn up the subtle charisma in a large theater setting. Or you can catch the punk rock of Northampton’s Potty Mouth headlining Cuisine en Locale’s Once Ballroom that same night. On Sunday, Julia Holter and her empathetic band bring the singer/pianist's arty, classically influenced pop to Great Scott in support of her acclaimed 2015 album Have You in My Wilderness.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

The last weekend of February doesn’t moderate when it comes to vibrant live music. Two founders of the Jefferson Airplane recently died, but echoes of the Summer of Love remain in Boston-bred psych-rockers Quilt, who extend their enchanting spell with new album Plaza, celebrated with a release show at the Museum of Fine Arts’ Remis Auditorium on Friday. Another singer with Boston roots, R&B/country artist Amy Black, returns the same night grace her usual haunt Johnny D’s Uptown for one last time before that club closes. And drummer Matt Wilson, another nationally lauded artist who spent time in this town, leads his jazz quartet at the Regattabar on Friday.

Jason Isbell (above) just scored Grammys for Best Americana album with Something More Than Free and Best American Roots Song for “24 Frames” -- validation that carries the singer/songwriter/guitarist into House of Blues for a rocking Saturday bill with the spunky, resonant married duo Shovels & Rope. Powerhouse rock ‘n’ soul singer Beth Hart wears her heart on her sleeve at the Somerville Theatre, while the Pedrito Martinez Group brings its Latin dance grooves to Johnny D’s Uptown for two shows the same night. Here’s a live clip of PMG or jump to my recent interview with congas-playing leader Martinez. Top off a busy Saturday night with the return of soulful, robust singer/songwriter Christian McNeill, who’s been cooking up a new album and headlines a killer bill at Union Square’s Thunder Road with Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents, Watts and Cujo (featuring Jen Trynin).

Finally, for a different experience on Sunday, if you didn’t see her last time in town at the Brighton Music Hall, guitar virtuoso Kaki King appears up at Lowell’s Root Note Studio to present her multi-media “The Neck is a Bridge to the Body” show, which illuminates her guitar as a canvas in a kaleidoscopic travelogue.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Across his career, Josh Ritter (above) has swung from literate folk to groovy Americana, from shades of divorce to the light of new marriage, and the singer/songwriter will favor the latter categories when Ritter leads his Royal City Band at House of Blues on Friday behind his bright, beefy new album Sermon on the Rocks. The soon-to-close Johnny D’s Uptown continues its classy streak of local band reunions on Friday with the Courage Brothers -- a Todd Thibaud-fronted quintet of ’90s folk-rockers -- and on Saturday with energized poli-funk rockers Chuck.

Technicolor pop-rockers Best Coast and scruffy indie-rockers Wavves pair up at Royale on both Friday and Saturday, and the Mike Stern Band does the same two-night dance with power-drummer Dennis Chambers aboard the jazz-fusion train at the Regattabar. The Soul Rebels Sound System blend New Orleans brass band with funk, jazz and hip-hop – courtesy of guest rapper Talib Kweli – at the Sinclair. Here’s a taste of the Soul Rebels covering a Eurythmics classic and here’s a jump to my recent interview with the band’s co-founding drummer Lumar LeBlanc. And Sunday brings Ron Pope and his soulful new outfit the Nighthawks to Royale.

Sound Ideas

Grammy Ups and Downs

The Ups:

Kendrick Lamar. His peerless To Pimp a Butterfly didn’t beat Taylor Swift for Album of the Year, but he still won five Grammys (including Rap Album) from a leading 11 nominations and unleashed the night’s most powerful, politically charged performance, stomping out of jail in a chain gang for “The Blacker the Berry” and before a bonfire with tightly choreographed African-themed dancers in “Alright” before alluding to Trayvon Martin during a new song where his strobe-flashed face jarringly oscillated in split head-on camera shots.

Meghan Trainor. Our homegrown Nantucket girl takes home Best New Artist (over my longer-shot favorite Courtney Barnett) and cries onstage, thankful to be accepted as an “artist” (and having something better to claim than a forgettable turn in an overly long Lionel Ritchie tribute). Stoughton’s Lori McKenna also scored a country Grammy as co-writer of “Girl Crush,” which was starkly and effectively performed by Little Big Town.

Hamilton. Broadway finds a new audience as the hot musical with hip-hop cred gets a live satellite feed from the New York stage -- and a rapped acceptance speech from auteur Lin-Manuel Miranda for its Grammy.

B.B. King tribute. The night’s best tribute with big country winner Chris Stapleton trading contrasted vocals and guitar stings with Texas blues upstart Gary Clark Jr. before Bonnie Raitt slides out for her own turn.

The Weeknd. For a captivating wiggle (with a great voice) through his super single “Can’t Feel My Face” in front of a kaleidoscopic light box, even if Laurel Hill reportedly was a no-show for a collaborative performance.

Glenn Frey tribute. Harmonies ruled in “Take it Easy” as the Eagles soberly but sweetly played their own song in tribute to their fallen co-founder, joined by Jackson Browne, who co-wrote the song with Frey.

Alabama Shakes. Not the best performance this band of Alabama outsiders (above) has given on national TV, but surely still electrifying, as the towering Brittany Howard gave “Gimme All Your Love”  her best howl, capping a night where the deserving group snagged three Grammy Awards.

The Downs:

David Bowie tribute. Given sole responsibility, Lady Gaga began strong, singing in closeup Aladdin Sane makeup, getting wild with a hydraulic, bucking keyboard and hitting a peak (fittingly) with “Fashion.” But Gaga’s potent voice was buried amid chaotic choreography as she and Bowie collaborator Nile Rodgers tried to balance too many personas and partial hits. Gaga also looked more like a Vegas-era Elvis impersonator with red hair.

Adele. What sounded like harsh guitar chords cutting across Adele’s anticipated performance reportedly came from a microphone that dropped on her accompanist's piano strings on “All I Ask,” but the singer fought through the distraction with dreams of her 2017 Grammy goldmine.

Justin Bieber. When he tried to rock out, why did he kick his legs like he wanted to audition for Riverdance?

Pitbull. How does this suave dude rank as an artist and even snag a Grammy in the process? His show-closing number was an embarrassment, first for having Sofia Vergara dress like a taxi and shake her booty and then for having Joe Perry (a bonus cameo after joining Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp in the Spinal Tap-ish Hollywood Vampires for a Lemmy Kilmister tribute) and the awful Robin Thicke add alleged closing star-power.

The In-between.

Taylor Swift. The OMG, hands-in-face “I can’t believe I just won” look. Really? Sure you were up against Kendrick for Album of the Year, but 1989 was a music-biz blockbuster – and what do the Grammys stand for? You got to open the program in your sparkly jumpsuit, delivering better-than-usual vocals that actually got better as you took “Out of the Woods” into the crowd, though the poses outdid the singing. On the other hand, you delivered a cool empowerment message to your young, female followers that also served as a slap back at Kanye West for his attempt to take credit for your fame. Classy, if less subtle than Beyonce’s “Art is the unapologetic celebration of culture… some will react, some will respond” nod to the flack over her black-power Super Bowl gig when Queen Bee presented the night’s most obvious Grammy pick: “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson with Bruno Mars for Record of the Year.  

Beyond the performances, here are the 2016 Grammy Award winners.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Great rock clubs come and go – and get remembered. In Somerville, Cuisine en Locale has transformed the old Anthony’s function hall on Highland Avenue into the Once Ballroom, essentially creating a funky, spacious new club. And on Friday, the venue pays tribute to another rock club from Boston’s past, Chet’s Last Call, a dive bar that brought underground rock to Causeway Street in the ’80s. Chetstock will honor recently deceased owner Richard “Chet” Rooney with a slate of Chet’s regulars that sports a Dogzilla reunion, Bim Skala Bim, Dogmatics, Pajama Slave Dancers, Liz Borden Group and Moose & the Mudbugs – with proceeds going to the Pine Street Inn and filming for a memorial documentary planned via Kickstarter. (At the other end of the spectrum, Cuisine en Locale hosts a Valentine's Day family dance party on Sunday afternoon with Matt Heaton & the Outside Toys).

Friday’s other concert options include the return of the ethereal art-pop chanteuse Jane Siberry (who dispensed with most of her worldly possessions and temporarily changed her name about a decade ago) at Club Passim, soul veteran Lee Fields & the Expressions at the Sinclair, roots-rousers the Devil Makes Three and Langhorne Slim at House of Blues, and Irish group Solas at Beverly’s newly refurbished Cabot Theatre. And in Metro West, the Boston Bluegrass Union presents the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival, a three-day celebration at the Sheraton Framingham with local and national talent, capped on Sunday by the Del McCoury Band, making up for a weather-cancelled January concert in Cambridge.

Saturday’s highlighted by the Southern retro-soul of singer and recent Miranda Lambert boyfriend Anderson East (pictured above) at the Brighton Music Hall, as well as the mercurial Lauren Hill stirring the soul at the Paradise Rock Club both Saturday and Sunday. Also on Sunday, local star Ruby Rose Fox hosts her fifth annual Valentine’s Day show at Atwood’s Tavern while Bim Skala Bim moves to Johnny D’s – another club sadly about to close – for a Sunday ska double-header, split between openers Plate ‘O Shrimp and Pressure Cooker. And if you're a blues fan -- and want to help a local musician, the C-Note in Hull is hosting a Sunday afternoon/evening benefit for Quincy guitarist Sam Gentile's medical bills and the lineup boasts Duke Robillard, Brian Templeton, Boston Baked Blues, Anthony Geraci, Rick Russell & the Cadillac Horns, Bruce Bears and Racky Thomas.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Rayland Baxter's smile shines on the Brighton Music Hall with his band on Saturday.


The band Chicago’s finally headed to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, an honor that’s long overdue even if the group’s short on original members and hasn’t been vital in the rock ‘n’ roll sense for decades. Its early albums -- especially the edgy 1969 debut Chicago Transit Authority -- were landmarks, and Chicago still has its trademark original horn section and singer/keyboardist/guitarist Robert Lamm to help deliver the classics when the band stops at the Lynn Memorial Auditorium on Friday en route to April’s induction ceremony in New York.

Friday’s also a busy night at House of Blues with electronic jam-band Lotus’ trippy sounds, at the Sinclair with Seattle chamber-pop favorites Hey Marseilles, and at the Regattabar with broadly tasteful pianist Donal Fox and his “In the Pursuit of Beauty” trio with bassist John Lockwood and drummer Dafnis Prieto. Saturday brings the passionate, atmospheric songcraft of Nashville singer/songwriter Rayland Baxter and his band to the Brighton Music Hall behind his deftly dramatic Imaginary Man.

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Live Review: Wilco Shows its Strengths at the Orpheum

Nels Cline and Mikael Jorgensen widen Wilco's palette at the Orpheum on Friday. Photos by Paul Robicheau.


New England’s blessed to have the Chicago band Wilco headline its diverse Solid Sound festival in the Berkshires every other year, though that means outdoor sets on a large field. With no Solid Sound in 2016, however, Wilco greeted the new year with a tour of small theaters that included a return to the Orpheum -- and the band’s subtleties and intensity was magnified in Friday’s first of two nights in that cozier setting.

After 12 of its 22 years with the same lineup, Wilco remains underappreciated for its musical prowess and eclecticism, again on display in a stunning three-part show that consumed two hours with nary a pause.  It began with a performance of Wilco’s entire new album Star Wars, quietly released last summer as a free download, a galaxy away from the level of attention given to the return of that movie franchise.

Nonetheless, within that 35-minute opening sequence, Wilco vigorously displayed its range as a taut, cerebral ensemble, from the jaunty riff-rock of “Random Name Generator” to singer/guitarist Jeff Tweedy’s Lou Reed-y lope through “The Satellite,” while lights twinkled like stars on a curtained backdrop. Lead guitarist Nels Cline wasted no time in confirming his role as the group’s virtuoso wild card, building that song to a furiously strummed solo that made it hard to believe he could top it later.

But of course Cline did, as the relatively short entirety of Star Wars (compared to, say, Bruce Springsteen’s current wade through double album The River) left time for another hour and a half of old favorites. Cline could play with anyone – and play anything, as he variously suggested noise-metal, free jazz, garage-punk, alt-country (when he shifted to lap steel) and even electronica, as he swooped feedback through “Art of Almost,” which rode drumming savant Glenn Kotche’s tribal cross-rhythms into a thrash-rock freakout. Even in more relaxed, plaintive lopes like “Handshake Drugs” and “Via Chicago,” Wilco elevated around Cline's sonic outbursts. Maybe he could have held back a bit, but even when he shot for the stratosphere, his volume and tone didn’t overwhelm the rest of the band.

Finally, for a palate-cleanser, Wilco served a five-song acoustic encore, with even-keeled leader Tweedy and co-founding bass partner John Stirratt singing at one microphone while Cline focused on his lap playing, Kotche manned a smaller kit and orchestral specialists Mikael Jorgensen and Pat Sansone respectively added melodica and xylophone icing. Cline and Kotche still goosed “Misunderstood” into a chaotic burst before the sextet wound down with gems like “War on War” and “California Stars” (from Wilco’s 1998 Billy Bragg-assisted Mermaid Avenue take on Woody Guthrie lyrics). Tweedy tipped his creamy cowboy hat to the crowd. His face was hidden from the lights for much of the night, and that’s probably the way he liked it, letting the whole band shine.

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Weekend Ideas

Perhaps the most surprisingly under-the-radar “Star Wars” tie-in came last summer in a new album of that name from Wilco, released for free before the latest movie awakened. Assembled by band members separately after leader Jeff Tweedy laid down basic tracks in the studio, it’s now the focus of rare theater-size shows like the ones Wilco plays on Friday and Saturday at the Orpheum Theatre. Meanwhile, over at the Paradise Rock Club on Friday, Greensky Bluegrass shares its jam-grass with a young, growing audience, while singer/songwriter Marshall Crenshaw joins forces that night with the rootsy Bottle Rockets at the Center for Arts in Natick.

Electric-bass virtuoso Victor Wooten, best known for his work with Bela Fleck’s Flecktones, delivers his own double-header in a duo with drummer J.D. Blair at the Regattabar on both Friday and Saturday. And with the absence of T.T. the Bear’s Place, Shaun Wolf Wortis moves his annual Mardi Gras Ball to the ONCE Ballroom at Somerville’s Cuisine en Locale, where the singer/guitarist and his Legendary Vudu Krewe honor the late Allen Toussaint with guests Jed Parish, Merrie Amsterberg, Carla Ryder and Chris Cote. And it’s a benefit for the New Orleans Musicians Clinic.

And on Sunday, World Music/CRASHarts presents a meeting of the spirits with ’60s-bred winds master Charles Lloyd (pictured) & the Marvels at the Berklee Performance Center. In that new group, Lloyd pairs his usual bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland with guitarists Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz, whose textural twang lends its own cosmic icing as well on the Marvels' contemplative new album I Long to See You, exploring the American Songbook. A taste of that chemistry came in past collaborative concerts including Wilco's 2015 Solid Sound fest.

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Weekend Ideas

Grown in Boston when its members were Berklee students, Lettuce (above) has been bringing the funk for more than two decades. During that time, the guys have kept busy with other projects, from guitarist Eric Krasno and keyboardist Neal Evans’ groovy organ trio Soulive to drummer Adam Deitch’s jazz chops with John Scofield and bassist Erick Coomes’ anchoring work with Dr. Dre. But Lettuce – which also includes guitarist Adam Smirnoff and horn players Ryan Zoidis and Eric Bloom – will be back in town on Friday, laying the grooves at House of Blues behind its latest album Crush, which stretches from hip-hop to psychedelia.

Singer/guitarists Mackenzie Scott and Ellen Kempner both churn melancholy, pointed lyrics in songs that surge with six-string eruptions in their respective indie-rock outfits Torres and (Boston’s own) Palehound, and they’ll team for a formidable double bill at Great Scott on Friday. Here’s a jump to my recent interview with Scott, along with a live clip of her performing as Torres.

Saturday offers country-blues from the veteran guitarist Paul Rishell and harmonica foil Annie Raines singing songs at Club Passim -- alas, the Del McCoury Band has cancelled its Sanders Theatre show due to travel issues with the winter storm. And on Sunday (after the Patriots game), World Music/CRASHarts presents an eclectic indoor festival at House of Blues. CRASHfest will feature 10 bands on three stages, including Afro-pop dynamo Angelique Kidjo, experimental violinist Kishi Bashi, the percussive Dhol Foundation and even local stalwarts like the Ethiopian soul-pop ensemble Debo Band (below) and rootsy song-swappers Session Americana. More about the CRASHfest lineup here

Photo by Pete Lee.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Guster (above) once bounced around town with acoustic guitars, bongos and a lightness of being. But the Tufts University-born pop combo has since broadened its sound with moody sophistication (along with some actual drums, keyboards, etc.) that culminated in last year’s textural gem Evermotion, produced by Richard Swift (the Shins, the Black Keys). Nonetheless, one can usually count on Guster for frisky, crowd-pleasing charisma, and plenty of diehards should thrive on that at Friday and Saturday’s homecoming dates at House of Blues. Better yet, folk-rockers the David Wax Museum -- another evolving, locally grown combo -- opens the shows.

Soon-to-close Johnny D’s Uptown also hosts a banner triple bill in its Friday local-legends series with a farewell performance by New Wave-era rockers Robin Lane & the Chartbusters, whose set will be followed by drummer Tim Jackson’s documentary film "When Things Go Wrong," named after one of their hits. But a special pair of opening solo performers balance the night, with returning scene veteran Laurie Sargent (Orchestra Morphine, Twinemen) and red-hot upstart Ruby Rose Fox, who’ll bring along backup vocals from the Steinhems.

Folky jam-rock veterans Strangefolk’s reunion a few years ago has extended into occasional shows and one of them will grace the Paradise Rock Club on Saturday. The same night brings emotive R&B standout Bettye LaVette to Scullers and New Orleans’ savvy Dirty Dozen Brass Band to the Sinclair, while the Boston Bluegrass Union presents singer/fiddler Laurie Lewis and her Friends (expected to include partner Tom Rozum, fiddler Darol Anger and banjoist Greg Litzt) at Lexington’s Scottish Rite Masonic (formerly National Heritage) Museum.

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Concert Outlook Warms Up

Swedish pop singer Robyn joins the broad lineup at Boston Calling on Memorial Day weekend.


It’s feeling like winter outside, but the summer season’s already on the horizon with the word that Billy Joel, Florence + the Machine, and Boston Calling entries Sia, Janelle Monae, Courtney Barnett and Charles Bradley will be among the artists to catch in the great outdoors.

Boston Calling just announced its lineup for Memorial Day weekend and it’s pleasingly diverse and international, particularly when it comes to female artists. The mysterious Australian pop star Sia, Swedish synth-pop siren Robyn and the Grammy-nominated electronic brother duo Disclosure will headline, followed by flamboyant R&B rebel Janelle Monae, the melancholy Sufjan Stevens, Grammy-nominated Aussie rocker Courtney Barnett (who made my favorite 2015 album), electro-pop combo Miike Snow, rising rapper Vince Staples, pop-rock sister team Haim and transcendent soul veteran Charles Bradley. Three-day tickets for the May 27-29 festival at City Hall Plaza go on sale tomorrow at 10 a.m. (with a 24-hour discount). In addition to the festival’s 23 acts (also sporting local upstarts Palehound and Michael Christmas), a third stage that includes comedy will be announced later. Bostoncalling.com

Vaulted piano man Billy Joel becomes the first act to mark three consecutive summers at Fenway Park, bringing his hits to the ball yard on Aug. 18 (tickets on sale next week), following the return of favorite son James Taylor on Aug. 3.  The Xfinity Center’s bubbling up dates as well. That Mansfield shed just announced Florence + the Machine with Monsters and Men on June 7 and a Hall of Fame bill with Heart, Cheap Trick and Joan Jett on July 24, while Duran Duran teams with a Chic reunion (featuring the late David Bowie’s Let’s Dance producer Nile Rodgers) on July 17 and Black Sabbath (with the core of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler) bids farewell on Aug. 25.

As far as Newport goes, that Rhode Island destination’s a hard-to-snag ticket for “folk” fans as the 2016 Newport Folk Festival quickly sold out except for its Friday July 22 first day, even though no artists have been announced yet. That’s what you get when the previous year included Rogers Waters (backed by My Morning Jacket), Hozier, Leon Bridges and a James Taylor cameo. But the Newport Jazz Festival has announced the first artist for its July 29-31 lineup with saxophonist Kamasi Washington, an accomplice on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly who released his own mind-blowing 2015 opus The Epic. For one more week, Newport Jazz even offers a great-deal Flex Ticket that’s valid for any day of the festival, so you can narrow down a later decision. Chick Corea and Gregory Porter also play Newport's International Tennis Hall of Fame as part of the jazz festival on July 29. Newportfolk.org, newportjazzfest.org

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David Bowie's Class Act

David Bowie at the Hartford Civic Center on his Serious Moonlight Tour in 1983. Photo by Paul Robicheau.


“Look up here, I’m in heaven,” David Bowie sings, shaking in a hospital bed, his head wrapped in bandages with buttons over his eyes. “I’ve got scars that can’t be seen. I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen. Everybody knows me now.”

That mind-blowing vision opens his prescient video to “Lazarus,” released on Friday for Bowie’s 69th birthday along with new album Blackstar, inventive as ever with brooding jazz textures and shifting backbeats to match its foreboding lyrics. Two days later, Bowie was dead. Rock’s foremost innovator – who balanced theater and music, the avant-garde and mainstream, gender-bending fashion and dapper-suit suavity – had scripted his devestating last act, his final performance piece, with impeccable timing.

Few had seen his scars, a reported 18-month battle with liver cancer, but his drama could not be stolen. He was revered by many as one of rock’s most recognizable figures over four decades. But everybody knows him this week.

Of course fans knew him across several musical phases and characters – the glam-rock avatar Ziggy Stardust, Philly soul-shaker the Thin White Duke, the ambient Berlin experimentalist and the vaudevillian Let’s Dance populist. Yet beyond those sonic and sartorial trimmings, Bowie reguarly struck an emotive chord. His silken voice even resonated in duets with such diverse mates as Bing Crosby, Freddie Mercury and Mick Jagger.

Better yet, of the countless tributes pouring in, many who met Bowie spoke of his sense of grace and graciousness, even to those he would casually encounter. He was certainly gracious the one time that I met him at Fort Apache Studios in Cambridge, where I did a short one-on-one interview with Bowie in April 1997, before he and his guitarist Reeves Gabrels performed an acoustic set for WBCN.

But I oddly felt more of a personal connection (however oblique) when Bowie played two nights at the Orpheum Theatre that fall. I loved his new jungle-and-electronica-inspired Earthling, which made my Top 10 albums that year. But when I reviewed his first Orpheum concert for the Globe, I disliked several things (distracting visuals and stobe lights, lack of balance in song presentation) and actually came close to panning the show. I went again the second night just for fun, and that’s when I encountered another trait of Bowie’s, his wicked sense of humor. He made reference to my review onstage, telling the crowd something like “I don’t usually read the papers, but I have to take issue with what was said… they wrote that I have a crack band, and I’ll have you know that nobody in my band does crack!” That was it. The funny thing was that he tweaked his set in ways that dispelled my main complaints from the night before. Did the great Bowie mischievously adapt to a bit of constructive criticism? I don’t know about that, but the guy was so sharp, an amazing performer ever-natural in his whims.

After hearing Blackstar last week, I immediately knew the album would figure in my Top 10 considerations this year, but of course now I’ll be in so much company on that count. It’s still surely too dark and off-kilter for people who only love Bowie for hits like “Space Oddity,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Young Americans,” “Let's Dance,”  or “Modern Love,” yet even such accessible classics as “Heroes,” “Fame” and “Golden Years” shared strange sensibilities.

In any case, Bowie’s sweeping legacy remains secure. There’s never been anyone quite like him, and those who come the closest admit they nicked what they do from him. He was an original artist to the end. “Oh, I’ll be free, just like that bluebird,” Bowie sings at the end of “Lazarus.” “Oh, I’ll be free. Ain’t that just like me.”

Here are some notable Bowie performances, in videos and onstage:

“Space Oddity”

 TVC15 and Boys Keep Swinging on Saturday Night Live

“Ashes to Ashes”

“Heroes” at Live Aid

 “Little Drummer Boy” with Bing Crosby 

“Under Pressure” with Freddie Mercury/Queen performance mix from Wembley Stadium

“The Last Thing You Should Do” with Robert Smith at Bowie’s 50th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden


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Weekend Ideas

To start the new year, Johnny D’s Uptown’s gearing up for the Somerville club’s final couple of months with “One Last Time at Johnny D’s,” a Friday-night series with “legendary” Boston bands. This Friday offers the Stompers, those dawn-of-the-’80s heroes from East Boston who crossed into national exposure with songs like “Never Tell an Angel” and “American Fun.” Over at the Lizard Lounge, outre slide-guitar virtuoso Dave Tronzo helps fuel groove collective Club d’Elf. And Friday also marks the Regent Theatre's local film premiere of "Little Girl Blue," a documentary on Janis Joplin, with a live appearance by Kate Russo, who has sung with Joplin's original band Big Brother and the Holding Company. 

Saturday’s Hot Stove Cool Music show at the Paradise Rock Club introduces the new outfit BOTO (or Band of Their Own), which sports Tanya Donelly and Gail Greenwood (Belly), Chris Toppin and Hilken Mancini (Fuzzy), Jen Trynin, Freda Love Smith (Blake Babies) and Jenny Dee, known for fronting the Deelinquents. Now that’s a female supergroup with local connections! Add a reunion of the Gigolo Aunts, plus other musicians and pro baseball players (and some who do both), at Cubs GM Theo Epstein and sportswriter Peter Gammons’ annual event and look for a hit to benefit Theo and Paul Epstein’s Foundation to Be Named Later. Also on Saturday, Nirvana-esque rock reigns at the Sinclair with a potent bill led by the noisy, melodic wallop of Toronto trio Metz (above) as well as Nashville’s likewise ’90s-styled Bully, led by turmoil-chewing frontwoman Alicia Bognanno.

Another one of Boston’s standout underground bands from several years ago, with a sound that evoked the Jeff Buckley Band with an edgy dream-pop sprawl, Magic Magic returns to action on Sunday to launch its weekly January residency at Great Scott. 

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Weekend Ideas

Happy New Year, as 2016 slowly kicks into gear. The weekend's biggest concert arrives at House of Blues on Saturday with the legendary Roots crew. The Roots have been busy serving as house band for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, but they make a point of getting up to these parts around the holidays, and with the hip-hop pioneers' lengthy track record and show-band flair, they're always good for a free-wheeling set. Maybe the Roots will even cover "Sweet Child O' Mine" like they do in this recent clip, given heightened rumors that Axl Rose and Slash will rekindle the original Guns N' Roses in the new year. After the House of Blues show, Roots drummer Questlove also takes things a step further with a DJ after-set at the Sinclair on a bill with Frank White.

On Sunday, the DC hardcore band Scream -- also legendary in particular for being a pre-Nirvana vehicle for Dave Grohl -- bang into Great Scott on Sunday, even if they don't have Grohl on drums as in this 1988 live clip.

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Weekend/NYE Ideas

This post-Christmas weekend seems light on the concert front, though ska-punk veterans the Mighty Mighty Bosstones (above) rev up House of Blues with their annual Hometown Throwdown on Saturday (with fellow local icons the Neighborhoods and the Upper Crust), Sunday (with the Real Kids and the Queers) and Monday, with the Outlets and Stranglehold. There's also a Saturday reunion of soul-funk group SuperHoney at Johnny D's.

However, New Year’s Eve also looms just around the corner on Thursday night with several diverse live-music highlights. Professional party animal Andrew W.K. throws down at the Paradise Rock Club, performing his 2001 debut I Get Wet in its entirety, with top-shelf local openers Tigerman WOAH and Vundabar. Cuisine en Locale’s Once Lounge also hosts a sweeping New Year’s Eve celebration with Eastern European punk-funk ensemble the Somerville Symphony Orkestar plus notable guests Ruby Rose Fox, Cask Mouse and Cactus Attack.

Roots-reggae stalwarts John Brown’s Body stir it up at the Sinclair, or add some accordion to the mix when roots-rockers the Felice Brothers play the Brighton Music Hall. Evocative indie-pop outfit Hallelujah the Hills animates Great Scott with garage-rockers Barbazons, while venerable singer-songwriter Ellis Paul hosts his annual New Year’s Eve stand at folk bastion Club Passim. Out of town, rising jam-rockers Dopapod groove at the Palladium in Worcester, Roomful of Blues keep the blues alive at the Bull Run in Shirley, and the country-rooted Girls, Guns and Glory toast Hank Williams at the Riverwalk Roasters Café up in Nashua, N.H. 

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Weekend Ideas

Hard to believe it’s been 30 years since saxophonist/composer Russ Gershon assembled a little big band dubbed the Either/Orchestra, a 10-piece group that reflected Ellington, Mingus and Sun Ra, pop and prog-rock, and in recent years, Ethiopian music. In fact, the Either/Orchestra will perform its three-part Ethiopian Suite as part of its 30th anniversary concert at Johnny D’s Uptown on Friday, the exact date of the band’s first gig at the Cambridge Public Library. Over the years, Gershon nabbed a Grammy nomination for one of his arrangements, and the group boasts many noted alumni (John Medeski, Matt Wilson, Miguel Zenon) and some of them (such as drummer Jerome Deupree and guitarist John Dirac) will join Gershon and regulars like baritone saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase, co-founding trumpeter Tom Halter and congas player Vicente Lebron at Friday’s early show.

Another Either/Orchestra alumnus, bassist Mike Rivard, revs up his experimental groove collective Club d’elf with guest guitarist Dave Fiuczynski, keyboardist Alain Mallet and Either/Orchestra’s Lebron later Friday night at the Lizard Lounge, then joins the reggae-steeped Dub Apocalypse at the same club on Saturday. Johnny D’s shifts gears as well on Saturday with veteran Americana singer/songwriter James McMurtry touring behind his latest album, Complicated Game. Or the song remains the same if you want classic rock, when drummer Jason Bonham brings his Led Zeppelin Experience to House of Blues on Saturday with ho, ho lotta love.

Two hot multi-night stands pop up on this close-to-holiday weekend. The Boston-born Street Dogs , fronted by ex-Dropkick Murphys singer Mike McColgan, bring their spirited punk-rock to the Brighton Music Hall for “Wreck the Halls” shows Friday through Sunday. And singer/songwriter Lori McKenna, who’s gone from Stoughton housewife to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, makes her annual pilgrimage to Club Passim with band shows on Saturday and solo shows on Sunday as a sweet aside from shopping. 

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Weekend Ideas

On the heels of Speedy Ortiz's huge Boston Music Awards showing, the next indie-rockers out of Northampton who are poised to bend ears in the new year would be And the Kids, plying Hannah Mohan's distinctive voice against shifty rhythms and quirky colorations at Great Scott on Friday. The Robert Glasper Trio hits Scullers Jazz Club both Friday and Saturday with the acclaimed pianist’s hip-hop-informed jazz with bassist Vincente Archer and drummer Damion Reid. And the Security Project (anchored by ex-Peter Gabriel drummer Jerry Marotta and King Crimson touch-guitar virtuoso Trey Gunn) continues an area swing to recast classic Gabriel material at Fall Rivers’ Narrows Center for the Arts on Friday and Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry, N.H., on Sunday. Boston art-pop vocalist Casey Desmond opens both Security Project dates and lends a dynamic duet in Kate Bush mode.

Saturday brings married soul-folk duo Johnnyswim to Royale, as Abner Ramirez and Donna Summer’s daughter Amanda Sudaro share “A Johnnyswim Christmas” and other favorites. Here’s a Johnnyswim live clip and here’s a jump to my recent interview. Mother-son folk duo Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear share their charms at the Brighton Music Hall. And the weekend rounds out with a rare seasonal appearance by Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee Darlene Love (above), the vocal legend who helped forge Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, sang “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” on David Letterman’s late show for 30 years, and centered the documentary “20 Feet From Stardom.” Love will reign Sunday at Beverly’s historic Cabot Theatre with a full band and backup singers.


A First Look at TORUK - The First Flight

Cirque du Soleil gives James Cameron's Avatar the prequel treatment.


Before making its official world premiere in Montreal on Dec. 21, Cirque du Soleil’s latest touring production, TORUK – The First Flight, is coming to Worcester’s DCU Center for a preview on Dec. 11-13. Inspired by James Cameron’s Avatar, the highest-grossing film of all time, Cirque’s sprawling arena show is a departure for the Montreal-based circus.

“Generally, they do not hire puppeteers. Traditionally, they hire acrobats, dancers, singers... This was something very new for them,” says Joe Darke, a 26-year-old actor, choreographer and composer from London who cut his teeth as a puppeteer in the National Theatre’s UK and South African tours of War Horse (which itself spawned a popular 2011 film directed by Steven Spielberg).

Set two centuries before the events of Cameron’s 2009 film and focusing on Toruk, the red and orange dragon that rules the planet Pandora’s sky, the show utilizes Darke as part of a team that brings the mighty predator to life. “There are seven of us total, with six of us performing onstage,” Darke says. “It’s a big challenge, since we have to have one brain going between the seven of us.”

The titular dragon isn’t the only puppet in the production. Says Darke, “We also introduce lots of exciting new creatures on Pandora that people have never seen before,” including the Direhorse, the Austrapede, the Turtapede and a Viperwolf. “It’s a very impressive spectacle.”

Darke, who’s been acting since the age of 10, sees puppeteering as an extension of his craft. “This is just another acting challenge; you’re always acting with your body, and this is just an extension of that,” he says, noting that “there’s also some real teamwork involved to try to project what the puppets are thinking and feeling. There is this emotional space that we are trying to project through the puppets to make them really come alive. As an actor, this is what I do anyway—and I’ve been doing this for six or seven years now. I learned a lot on War Horse, but I’m learning quite a bit here on TORUK.”

Music is a big part of every Cirque du Soleil show, and TORUK is no different. The score is composed by Cirque veterans and musical directors Bob & Bill, aka Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard. Although the duo doesn’t use any of the late James Horner’s Oscar-nominated music from Avatar, Darke tells me that the score for TORUK “has a very cinematic quality that’s enhanced by live video. It really sounds incredible.”

It promises to look incredible, too, since that live video is just a part of the multimedia production’s immersive design that’s been conjured by innovative writers and directors Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon.

As in Cameron’s film, Pandora’s natural environments come alive onstage with lots of vivid colors. “We’ve got all sorts of phosphorescence involved in the paint and costumes on the Na’Vi characters and creatures, and with the video projection,” Darke confirms. “We really try and re-create the world of Pandora from the film, and we really tried to bring a lot of the movie’s emotion to the production. I think we nailed it.”

But does Cameron think so? The writer/director was consulted during the scripting phase, hashing out the story, which is set into motion when a natural catastrophe threatens to destroy the sacred Tree of Souls, but his active involvement ended there.

“He finally saw the show a couple of weeks ago,” Darke says, adding that the notoriously hard-to-please filmmaker was “very happy with it.”

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Speedy Ortiz win big at Boston Music Awards

Indie-rockers Speedy Ortiz (above) virtually swept the 2015 Boston Music Awards, taking home table-radio trophies for Artist of the Year, Album/EP of the Year (Foil Deer) and Song of the Year (“Raising the Skate”). Speedy also won for Best Charitable Effort for their work with Girls Rock Camp Foundation, coming to Wednesday’s ceremony from a Girls Rock benefit show at the Middle East.

Other multiple winners announced at the Sinclair -- voted Best Live Music Venue in a public online poll -- included Ruby Rose Fox (for Pop Artist and Female Vocalist) and the Ballroom Thieves, for both Americana and Folk Artist. The Boston Music Awards close out Thursday night with a public show featuring Hall of Fame winner Evan Dando of the Lemonheads, These Wild Plains and New Artist of the Year winner Palehound.

Here's a list of all the winners:

 2015 HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE / Evan Dando


ALBUM/EP OF THE YEAR / Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer

SONG OF THE YEAR / Speedy Ortiz – “Raising The Skate”




HIP-HOP ARTIST OF THE YEAR / Michael Christmas




BLUES ARTIST OF THE YEAR / Barrence Whitfield & The Savages



FOLK ARTIST OF THE YEAR / The Ballroom Thieves









VIDEO OF THE YEAR / Petty Morals – “Just A Game”

BEST DANCE NIGHT / Soulelujah at Zuzu




BEST LOCAL PROMOTER / Bowery Presents Boston


BEST BRAND COLLABORATION / Dirty Bangs / Wrangler Television Spot

BEST CHARITABLE EFFORT / Speedy Ortiz / Girls Rock Camp Foundation

UNSUNG HERO AWARD / Chip Rives (former Boston Music Awards owner)


Sound Ideas

Live Review: Miley Cyrus Freaks Out with Flaming Lips at House of Blues

The idea of pop provocateur Miley Cyrus teaming up with psych-rock pioneers the Flaming Lips for her surprise album Miley Cyrus & the Dead Petz and an eight-city tour that hit House of Blues on Sunday seemed like a path for the proud pothead to go all psychedelic on us. But while Cyrus expanded her risqué playground into a realm that welcomes weirdness, the show gave it a largely empty, mainstream spin. She didn’t exude psychedelia; she mostly used its vibrant, pulsing colors as an entertaining backdrop.

If the 23-year-old Cyrus has taken anything from the Flaming Lips, it’s how to throw a crazier party. Bedlam broke out as soon as the singer hit the House of Blues stage to throw down “Dooo It!” and “Love Money Party” (one of the two-hour show’s only songs not drawn from the Dead Petz album) amid a dense, dizzying blizzard of confetti and huge inflatable balls that engulfed the floor crowd. And the props extended to people, including a full-figured Amazon in a rainbow afro, white tights, and little in between but a dollar-sign necklace and pasties. Shades of Parliament-Funkadelic as well as the Lips’ encore-weight maximum mayhem from the start.

Of course Cyrus threw in nods to sex (from talking about body parts to donning fake boobs and a horn-like prosthetic penis) and drugs, even sharing a toke on a spliff with fans up front. But she addressed ecology in “I Sun,” singing “Can’t you see the Earth is crying?” and let her vocals soar in “The Floyd Song (Sunrise)” and “Something about Space Dude.” However, a succession of her low-budget costumes -- from a sun to a moon to a butter stick to a cereal bowl -- undercut the production with an air of a cheap school play, not a presumed joke.

In turn, when Cyrus took to a solo piano with a gigantic mirror ball on top to talk and sing about her sadly departed pet blowfish Pablow, the fact that she seemed more heartfelt than parody-minded made the whole thing a bit mawkish. Even in (musically) stripped-down guise, the song served just another form of overkill in a show that proved overlong and ultimately numbing to watch, based on both young and old faces in the soldout crowd. After a while, Cyrus’ ballads settled into dirge, as the Lips were stuck in a backing-band role where Wayne Coyne, Steven Drozd, Michael Ivins and company focused on mood-defining, often keyboard-heavy grooves.

The confetti exploded again for a final pop-hit splash of “We Can’t Stop,” flashing back to Cyrus’ 2013 Bangerz album and breaking the Dead Petz spell just in time to call it a night. In her still-young career, Cyrus has swung from Hannah Montana to pop exhibitionist to psychedelia wannabe. What’s left for her to overexpose?

Miley Cyrus gets crazy at House of Blues with a crew including the Flaming Lips. Photos by Paul Robicheau.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

As cozy Johnny D’s Uptown winds into its final months, the Davis Square landmark has become a favorite stop for Martha Davis and the Motels to share early ’80s hits like “Total Control,” “Only the Lonely” and “Suddenly Last Summer.” Last time through town, Davis and her crew helped mentor opener Ruby Rose Fox, and on Friday, they’re back with another great local pop opener, Eddie Japan, at Johnny D's.  At the Berklee Performance Center the same night, World Music/CRASHarts presents pioneering jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette, centering a trio with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and electric bassist Matt Garrison, whose fathers both played in the John Coltrane Quartet. Here’s a live clip of the band and here’s a jump to my recent interview with DeJohnette.

Also on Friday, Colorado-based “polyethnic Cajun slamgrass” jammers Leftover Salmon – who formed in 1989 – still kick it at the Paradise Rock Club, and the best of punk evolutionists old and new also surface on Friday. HR, who mixed hardcore punk and reggae as singer of the legendary Bad Brains, play Union Square’s new club Thunder Road. And New York’s combustible indie-rockers Parquet Courts fire up the Middle East Downstairs behind new EP Monastic Living, which downshifts into new terrain as noisy experimentalists, or -- as Spin Magazine, which named them 2014’s Band of the Year, puts it in a new review -- “avant Krautrockers.”

Sunday presents two eccentric pop personalities at different ends of the spectrum. Miley Cyrus gets risqué (she’s good at that) and psychedelic with Wayne Coyne and his Flaming Lips comrades in her Dead Petz band at House of Blues. And orchestral harp-playing siren Joanna Newsom (above) starts her first American tour in four years in another World Music/CRASHarts show at the Orpheum Theatre. Her acclaimed new album Divers may be more controlled than psychedelic, but it’s rich in literate layers and musical mysteries.

Sound Ideas

Stage Review: Boston Ballet's Nutcracker Tinkers and Twinkles with Youthful Joy

One can usually count on Boston Ballet’s annual production of The Nutcracker for a number of things: Elaborate, shifting sets. Full-size toys topped by a frisky, leaping bear. A beaming Clara (played on Friday’s opening night with childish wonder by Delia Wada-Gill), who falls asleep on Christmas Eve to a dream-like adventure.

Audiences share that adventure in Boston Ballet’s premier version of the holiday classic, which keeps the Opera House busy with performances through New Year’s Eve. Yet even since the company revamped The Nutcracker in 2012 with new sets and costuming by Robert Perdziola, one can also count on little things being tweaked each year, via Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen’s choreography or individual dancers’ personal touches. On Friday, the party scene featured graceful dancing by performers both old and young (more than 200 Boston Ballet School students have parts) and this year’s production particularly favors streamlined strokes to engage the kids.

Mice froze in playful poses as they popped into view, one sticking out his rear end. And the battle scene was less menacing than in past  versions, with the Mouse King taking an obvious turn in his death dance to reveal that the Nutcracker’s sword was merely stuck under his arm. And the sets literally had a fresh glow thanks to award-winning Finnish lighting designer Mikki Kunttu, including a birch forest where the snowflakes even sparkled like fireflies, although there was so much magic snow on Friday that it started to obscure the dancers.

This year’s Nutcracker actually slides by rather effortlessly in about two hours (including intermission), quickly moving to the second act where the major dances take place, usually to the delight of adults more than children. Those dances in the Nutcracker Prince's Kingdom include some ethnically stereotyped characters – and recurring veterans on Friday in the muscular Petra Conti (with the thin, supple Sabi Varga as his standout Arabian partner) and Isaac Akiba centering the Russian dancers with extra air in his straddle splits. Marcus Romeo also played a flirtatious Mother Ginger with a fierce sway under the cabin-size dress that yields her mischievous children.

Lia Cirio tempered her usual wattage in a more ensemble-based part as Dew Drop in “Waltz of the Flowers” on Friday, and Misa Kuranaga swept through arcing pirouettes as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Grand Pas de Deux with Paulo Arrais as a solid Nutcracker Prince. And under it all, the Boston Ballet Orchestra provided a typically rich rendition of the Tchaikovsky score under the baton of Jonathan McPhee, who’s preparing to step down from his conductor’s role after 27 years. If this is indeed McPhee’s final Nutcracker run, it’s another reason to bask in a proven favorite -- and one that's ever-evolving with little details and delights.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Surviving members of the Grateful Dead have been busy this year regrouping for some big concerts, but there’re not the only ones swimming in that repertoire. Drummer Joe Russo, who played in Furthur with Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, drives one of the most improvisational outfits in Almost Dead with fellow aces such as keyboardist Marco Benevento and guitarist Tom Hamilton. And Joe Russo’s Almost Dead will be shaking off the turkey dinner at the Paradise Rock Club both Friday and Saturday, with different sets each night. Meanwhile, on Friday at the Lizard Lounge, bassist Mike Rivard welcomes back guitarist Reeves Gabrels – the former David Bowie virtuoso who’s gracing the Cure these days – to join a Club d’elf crew that includes keyboardist Paul Schultheis, turntablist Mister Rourke and drummer Dean Johnson.

Arturo Sandoval has seemingly done it all. The Cuban-born trumpeter has won 10 Grammy Awards as well as an Emmy and had Andy Garcia play him in a biographic movie for HBO. In 2013, President Obama tapped Sandoval for the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- and the 66-year-old trumpeter keeps busy, playing Friday through Sunday at Scullers Jazz Club. Also on Saturday, singer Ed Kowalczyk hits the Brighton Music Hall to satiate fans of his ’90s alt-rock band Live. And up at Beverly’s Cabot Theatre that same night, soul shouter Barrence Whitfield (above) leads his Grits & Groceries Orchestra in the rocking second annual Funk Fest sponsored by the Salem Jazz & Soul Festival, with Henley Douglas (ex-Heavy Metal Horns) and Qwill rounding out the bill.

Sound Ideas

Live Review: My Morning Jacket Masters Broad Zone at the Orpheum

You never know exactly what you’ll get from My Morning Jacket in concert. But under the right conditions, such as Saturday’s finale to a two-night stand at the cozy Orpheum Theatre, the Kentucky-born band wallops as a cross-genre monster.

MMJ can wear what it wants -- and wear it well, shifting from folk-rock to prog-rock to jam-rock to funk-soul, and manage to appeal to both headbangers and rave kids in the process. And the smoothly schizophrenic band has been changing it up from night to night. Friday’s set drew heavily from MMJ’s recent The Waterfall (much like at Boston Calling and the Newport Folk Festival) as well as the band’s alt-country-shaded first two albums and 2005’s spacier Z. Yet Saturday’s completely different two-hour show dug deeper into another side of the weird and wooly, as the rockers split a dozen songs from 2008’s funkier Evil Urges and 2003’s classic It Still Moves.

Jim James remains a curious frontman, playing the mysterious shaman in his ever-present shades, a getup that can seem as pretentious if the quintet’s not clicking but another entertaining facet when MMJ’s in the zone as it was on Saturday. The black-cloaked James reminded a bit of Bono even before he wandered the stage edge to touch fingertips with fans or broke his silence to dedicate all of the night’s music to “peace, love and unity” -- a seeming response to the Paris attack on a similar hall. And the band's colorful wash of backlighting illuminated the Orpheum's inner decor and included fans in the experience rather than simply blind and isolate them. 

James also donned electric guitars to lurch into Crazy Horse-like riffs with six-string foil Carl Broemel and bassist Tom Blakenship on the otherwise loopy “Off the Record” and a later snippet of “Run Thru,” where the howling guitars hung in dynamic catharsis. It’s rare to catch a band that can seamlessly evoke a band as heavy as Soundgarden (witness MMJ's recently resurrected “Remnants”) only to get slinky like Prince, riding a pseudo-disco groove in “Touch Me, I’m Going to Scream, Pt. 2.” Bo Koster harmonized with electronic keyboard textures throughout and drummer Patrick Hallahan pounded it all home. James even drew from his recent solo work to build “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)” into a Beck-like jam that he capped with a screaming cluster of guitar notes.

At the other end of the spectrum, James donned an acoustic guitar to lead the group in the Laurel Canyon-styled haze of the new “Like a River” and follow-up nugget “Golden,” where Broemel imitated vocal harmonies on pedal steel over Hallahan's brush-spun shuffle. Yet the encores wound to a climactic punchline: James’ voice raised in affirmation over the stomping, anthemic release of “One Big Holiday.” For Bostonian fans who had to settle for recent festival visits, My Morning Jacket gave them that size holiday for a weekend.

 Photos by Paul Robicheau.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Wynton Marsalis floats "A Love Supreme" with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Photo by Frank Stewart.


An advance taste of Lake Street Dive’s next album, Side Pony, due in February on major imprint Nonesuch, suggests the ex-New England Conservatory friends are ready to go down smooth with more modern production for their jazzy soul-pop. But the foursome fronted by singer Rachael Price returned to its roots this week and follows two shows at Club Passim with one Friday at the Lizard Lounge, where Lake Street Dive cut its teeth like this in many a residency. This Memory Lane Tour’s a sold-out warmup for a March 23 date at House of Blues.

Another Boston-born outfit, Kingsley Flood promises a blend of charismatic, Clash-like rock and spry Americana in its return to the Sinclair on Friday, standing up for The Good Fight, its third in a series of notable recent EPs. Jazz fans keep busy too. The same night, Wayne Shorter's all-star backup of pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade fly on their own as Children of the Light at Sanders Theatre with 12-year-old piano phenom Joey Alexander opening, while spirited Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza fronts a quintet that includes guitarist Lionel Loueke and harp virtuoso Gregoire Maret at the Regattabar. And on both Friday and Saturday, Scullers Jazz Club hosts sax great David Sanborn, who’s graced countless albums with his smooth yet pungent tones as a session musician (that's his sax you hear on David Bowie's "Young Americans"). It’s also action time for electro-pop sirens at the Paradise Rock Club with Grimes on Friday and Lights on Saturday.

But the weekend’s biggest shows come Friday and Saturday with My Morning Jacket slipping into the Orpheum Theatre for two shows expected to sport deeply different setlists based on the Kentucky-bred band’s current tour. My Morning Jacket was fabulous this past summer at the Newport Folk Festival, where they backed Pink Floyd icon Roger Waters, yet the group seemed a bit off its game when it rocked Boston Calling in May. However, the Orpheum's more cozy atmosphere and acoustics should perfectly fit the jammy, soaring threads of orchestral folk-rock and space-prog that the clarion-voiced Jim James' crew conjures behind recent album The Waterfall.  

Sunday’s a whole other experience when trumpeter Wynton Marsalis leads the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in a big-band arrangement of John Coltrane’s landmark suite A Love Supreme in a 5 p.m. Celebrity Series show at Symphony Hall. And singer/guitarist Christian McNeil resurrects a version of his excellent former rock band Hybrasil with J. Geils Band drummer Tom Arey and guests stepping forward in a benefit for drummer Jeff Berlin (who has suffered a series of strokes) at in the back room of Somerville Irish bar the Burren. Also on that Sunday evening bill are Vapors of Morphine, Club d'Elf (with Duke Levine), Jimmy Ryan and Bow Thayer.

Sound Ideas

Boston Music Awards Announce 2015 Performers

Lots of familiar folks are lined up to perform at the 2015 Boston Music Awards, which will be held at the Sinclair for two nights next month.

The event will kick off Dec. 9 with an invite-only bash that includes performances by Dirty Bangs, Dutch ReBelle, Nemes, Oh Malo, Ruby Rose Fox, Tigerman WOAH and Vundabar (all of whom were featured in the Improper music issue either this year or last) as well as our Boston’s Best winner Will Dailey, Louie Bello, Party Bois, Radclyffe Hall, Soul-le-lu-jah, Worshipper and DJ Frank White.

The Dec. 10 show will be open to the public and honor this year’s Hall of Fame inductee Evan Dando (from the Lemonheads), who will perform along with These Wild Plains and special guests. Plus they’ll be a set by the winner of the Best New Artist award, who might be Palehound – otherwise, either Oh Malo, Party Bois, Vundabar or Worshipper land the chance to perform both nights!

Longtime Boston Music Awards owner Chip Reeves has also handed the reins to new owners Jake Brennan of Thunders 8 Watts and Paul Armstrong of Redefined.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

How fitting for Friday the 13th: John Zorn should be on hand at the Institute of Contemporary Art to introduce Simulacrum, an extreme organ trio that features John Medeski, guitarist Matt Hollenbeck and drummer Kenny Grohwoski, tackling Zorn’s style-bending compositions like a jazz fusion band gone a bit metal/mental. And then, just maybe, Medeski could wander over to the Lizard Lounge and sit in with his friends in Club d'Elf.

Also on Friday, wily Texas roots-rocker Shakey Graves (above) completes a two-night stand at Royale, while Connecticut singer-songwriter Stephen Kellogg bridges indie-rock, pop and Americana at the Sinclair behind his new album South, West, North, East, recorded around the country to try to reflect different regional vibes. Boston’s underappreciated orchestral indie-rockers Hallelujah the Hills celebrate their 10th anniversary on Friday at Cuisine en Locale’s ONCE Ballroom, followed there on Saturday by hard-rocking 2014 Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble winners the Goddamn Draculas.

Fans of ’70s prog-rock may find the AndersonPonty Band – the union of fusion violinist Jean Luc Ponty (plus his old bandmates) and founding Yes vocalist Jon Anderson -- worth catching at the Berklee Peformance Center on Saturday. And West Coast soul-blues veteran Boz Scaggs shuffles to Lynn Memorial Auditorium the same night to prove he’s still got the chops after his own 40-plus-year career. On Sunday, EL VY -- a partnership between the National's Matt Berninger and producer Brent Knopf -- hits the Sinclair. And Art Garfunkel – honing his voice back into touring shape and likely dropping zingers at Paul Simon’s expense – holds court at the Wilbur Theatre. 

Sound Ideas

Live Review: John Mayer Helps Dead & Company Rise in Worcester

John Mayer aligns with the Dead's Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. Photos by Paul Robicheau.


Did you hear the one about John Mayer playing with the Grateful Dead gang? It’s no joke – particularly in light of the jam-iced envelopment of Dead & Company’s assured Tuesday show at Worcester’s sold-out DCU Center.

When all four survivors of the Grateful Dead regrouped to mark the band’s 50th anniversary with Fare Thee Well concerts in Chicago this past July, the choice of Phish’s Trey Anastasio to tackle the high-pressure Jerry Garcia role seemed smart in terms of both the music and marketing. After all, Phish was the jam-band that took the Dead aesthetic to new heights of popularity and improvisational aplomb.

But beyond Chicago’s farewell assemblage, when guitarist/singer Bob Weir and drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart decided to take the show on the road without tour-wary bassist Phil Lesh, many fans shuddered at the news that pop dilettante John Mayer would succeed Anastasio in that fraught lead-guitar spot.

Of course, somewhere between singing “Your Body is a Wonderland” and dating Katy Perry, Mayer dug into gritty blues playing with Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton. And low and behold, the Berklee-schooled guy did his homework and fits right in with the so-called Dead & Company. Not only does he nail the guitar tone and phrasing to cover those Garcia parts, but Mayer’s a more solid lead singer than Weir or Anastasio or especially Lesh, so the new band can roll through the songbook without technical glitches.

Also, whether it’s a matter of more rehearsal or chemistry, Dead & Company proved more crisp and confident in Worcester than the uneven Fare Thee Well crew, with Hart stepping up to balance the double-drums tandem.

After Mayer went toe-to-toe with Weir on a spiraling “Cassidy” opener, however, Tuesday’s first set slid into a dull run of down-tempo tunes. Mayer stirred “Row Jimmy” with his slow blues licks, but didn’t need a chicken-neck head bop to kick into “Ramble On Rose,” and after a slightly peppier “Big River,” the set dipped further with “Peggy-O” before Mayer hit the stock throttle to build “Sugaree.”

But like many a Dead (or Phish) concert, a song-based first set usually leads to a more inspired, segue-heavy second set. And Tuesday’s proved the saving grace, with Mayer soon morphing into an elastic string of “Uncle John’s Band,” “Estimated Prophet” and a sublime “Terrapin Station” capped by percussive crescendos.

Yet it was bassist Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers, Tedeschi Trucks Band) who emerged as Dead & Company’s secret weapon, holding down Lesh’s spot while Fare Thee Well carryover Jeff Chimenti covered the keyboards. Burbridge’s percolating notes jazzed up the band’s interplay of spidery string work, and he animated the reggae-tinged “Estimated Prophet” when he pointed and laughed at a man in the far balcony who was costumed as a stick figure in glow sticks. While Mayer and Weir traded lead vocals, Oteil also sang high harmonies. And during the drummers’ Rhythm Devils spotlight, the bassist dealt the night’s biggest surprise, taking a turn behind Kruetzmann’s kit to power a jamtronica-flavored jam while the percussionists pounded kettle-sized drums.

Dead shows could peter out post-drums, but that didn't happen Tuesday, thanks to a pair of perfect covers that were part of the Jerry Garcia Band’s repertoire. A brief space jam (where Mayer showed that he can noodle with the best of them) drifted into the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” done proud by Weir on lead vocals before Mayer sang the groovy boogie “Get Out of My Life, Woman” in apparent honor of its New Orleans author Allen Toussaint, who just died on tour in Spain at age 77. From there, a chugging “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” and the celebratory encore “Ripple” (with Mayer on acoustic) sent the grateful crowd home after three-plus hours.

Other bands are out recreating and recasting the Dead catalog, including the Dark Star Orchestra (which plays House of Blues on Nov. 18) and Further drummer Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, which plays the Paradise Rock Club on Nov. 27-28. But with John Mayer acting like a pro who could handle the demands of any tribute band, Dead & Company quickly and effectively have that covered at the arena level, the only group that still boasts three actual members from the Grateful Dead.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

It's a relatively slow and rather warm weekend to kick off November, but not without a few enticing shows. STS9 (Sound Tribe Sector 9) unleashes its trance-y, percussive grooves at House of Blues on Friday, while the multi-instrumentalists of Colorado's Elephant Revival take over the Sinclair the same night with their gypsy-flavored Americana, which incorporates everything from fiddle and banjo to djembe and washboard.

On Saturday, gospel legend Mavis Staples gets into the spirit with disciple Joan Osborne when the Celebrity Series presents Solid Soul at the Berklee Performance Center. Here’s a jump to my recent interviews with both Staples and Osborne. Beirut, the brainchild of Santa Fe singer/flugelhornist Zach Condon, delivers its Balkan-influenced twist on orchestral indie-rock in two Boston shows, appearing both on Saturday at House of Blues and Sunday at the Paradise Rock Club. And on Sunday, earthy, beguiling singer Natalie Prass (above), who recorded her self-titled debut with country-soul studio wiz Matthew E. White, hits the Sinclair.

Sound Ideas

Lake Street Dive to Revisit Cozy Origins

It’s been a breakthrough couple of years for Lake Street Dive, as the jazz-soul quartet formed at New England Conservatory flew to national recognition and recently signed to Nonesuch Records to make its next album, due in early 2016.

Now the group -- comprised of lead singer Rachael Price, trumpeter/guitarist Mike Olson, bassist Bridget Kearney and drummer Mike Callabrese – is going back to where it all began, the folky dives of Cambridge for its Memory Lane Tour.

Announced today, the tour will get started at New York’s Rockwood Music Hall and Northampton’s Parlor Room before landing Nov. 18-19 at Club Passim and Nov. 20 at the Lizard Lounge, where Lake Street Dive honed its chops in cozy residencies. Tickets for all of those shows go on sale this Friday at 10 a.m., and part of the proceeds will benefit Oxfam America’s Syrian refugee program.

“We’re coming back to some of our fave small venues on the East Coast so we can play for you right in your face, up close and personal!” Lake Street Dive said in a statement. “The number of fans coming to our shows has skyrocketed and we are SO GRATEFUL for that, but we are also, forever and always, a ‘dive bar’ band, and it’s important for us to get back into these intimate venues from time to time and remember how good it feels!”

This is apparently one of those times, and tickets will surely vanish very quickly.

Sound Ideas

Live Review: Grace Potter Stretches Out at Orpheum

Some old fans of Grace Potter cringed this year when she released Midnight, an album that not only shed her of longtime, blues-infused band the Nocturnals but delved into full-on, disco-fied pop. Yet the supposed Vermont hippie chick always made it clear that she grew up loving the Pointer Sisters and wanted to try different, more commercial fare. She signed to Disney’s Hollywood Records and sang with country-pop star Kenny Chesney. 

So how did this all shake out at Friday’s first of two shows at the Orpheum Theater, where Potter told the three-quarters-full crowd that she'd attended concerts there in her youth and dreamed of being on that stage? It was a mixed bag of growing pains while showing the singer as an ever-fearless, inspired performer on the move.

Potter, 32, strove to marry her past and present grooves. Nocturnals favorites like a streamlined “Oh, Mary,” rock rave-up “Stop the Bus” and the brash “Medicine” (where she threw aside her high-heeled boots for a “dance party”) fit next to the disco beats of the funky “Met Your Girl” and “Delirious,” topped by her spacey howls.  

The main problem, especially early on, was a new seven-piece band that added a second percussionist and third guitarist (Potter still rocked her electric Flying V as well as an acoustic guitar) but muddied up both sound and style, making it seem like the hyperactive singer was trying too hard to have it all. This proved especially true in the contrast when Potter cut to a duet of “Low Road” with Nocturnals guitarist Benny Yurco that reached a gospel-tinged vocal peak. Likewise, the singer turned up her guitar for a scorched-earth blast of “Nothing but the Water” backed only by drummer Matt Musty (capably subbing for her husband Matt Barr) as Potter lit into jaw-dropping screams within a flashy, criss-crossing spray of lights.

The sound mix seemed clearer when the full band returned, from the rousing new “Instigators” to a “Paris (Ooh La La)” finale that expanded on its usual full-band percussion breakdown where Potter whacked the bass drum. She remains the powerful center of a style-churning storm, even if she’s a self-defined work in progress.

Extra credit to Potter for giving well-deserved props to opener Charles Bradley, the 66-year-old Screaming Eagle of Soul who fronted his more subtle soul revue the Extraordinaires. Bradley’s raspy vocals exuded the feeling and experience of a man who survived years of scrapping by -- as a James Brown impersonator -- and even the shooting death of his brother, only to embrace a second life as a bonafide artist who knows the power of love. 

Charles Bradley projects hard-won soul and love in his songs at the Orpheum. Photos by Paul Robicheau.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Nikki Lane brings her smart outlaw brand of country to the Sinclair on Sunday. Photo by Glynis Carpenter.


Halloween weekend scares up some great shows, whether or not they particularly fit the costume-y holiday. Vermont-born rocker Grace Potter, who sang "Gimme Shelter" with the Rolling Stones in Minneapolis this year, channels her inner pop star in support of her non-Nocturnals album Midnight at the Orpheum Theatre on Friday and Saturday. Better yet, Potter brings dynamic, heartfelt R&B survivor Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires along to kicks things off. On the more psychedelic side, if you’re not indulging in Boston’s jazz/dub/world collective Club d’elf’s Halloween-themed Friday show at the Lizard Lounge, you might absorb the electronic ambience of Youth Lagoon -- the chamber-pop project of Trevor Powers -- that night at the Paradise Rock Club.

Guitar fans might need to rock on Halloween as Saturday boasts two temptations. An underrated singer with a gritty bite on guitar, Gary Clark Jr. takes Texas blues-rock in an eclectic, soulful direction at House of Blues. And fusion guitarist Al Di Meola toasts his 1977 breakthrough solo album Elegant Gypsy (and more) at the Berklee Performance Center with a typically sharp band that lets violin find Evan Garr go toe-to-toe with Di Meola. And Atwood's Tavern taps the holiday spirit with Vapors of Morphine hosting a vintage "Sesame Street" Halloween.

Flamboyant British hard-rockers the Darkness (led by high-voiced Justin Hawkins and boasting new drummer Rufus Taylor, son of Queen drummer Roger) arrives a day late for Halloween with a Sunday concert at House of Blues. And South Carolina-bred country singer Nikki Lane, whose All or Nothin' was one of last year's best albums, graces the Sinclair on Sunday. And ahead to Monday, Chicago band the Orwells (fronted by rough-and-tumble Mario Cuomo) headline a Converse Rubber Tracks show at the Sinclair with compatible locals Nice Guys.

Off The Bench

Celtics Season Preview

Marcus Smart is poised for a breakthrough season. (Photo by Boston Celtics)

The Celtics tip off their season tonight, and visions of 50-win seasons are dancing in the heads of many prognosticators. Here are 10 things to keep in mind before tonight’s game against Philadelphia.

1. While Plan A (Kevin Love) or Plan B (Boogie Cousins) has hardly ever panned out in the roster-building phase of this rebuild, general manager Danny Ainge hit on his Plan A with the coach. Brad Stevens has delivered as much as could have been expected in his first two seasons, and all the optimism surrounding this year stems from knowing Stevens will be moving the chess pieces around. If Randy Wittman were coaching this same roster, this team would be favored to miss the playoffs. Instead, home-court advantage in the first round is a realistic goal.

2. Celtics fans that are dying for a top-3 pick (when will they ever learn?) won’t have to begrudge the current team’s success. The Brooklyn Nets will not be good this year, and the Celtics own their unprotected pick. So all those pro-tank fans can get their jollies off by watching the Nets lose. There’s a decent chance the Celtics will also get Dallas’ first-round pick (Top 7 protected) and an unlikely chance they’ll get Minnesota’s (Top 12 protected). So, you know who to root for/against all season.

3. This team is so deep that it’s a bit frustrating, which is why you hear fans concocting trade scenarios for James Young, Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger. But be patient. In an 82-game season, that depth is advantageous. Not only will one guard get hurt, but two or even three will be sidelined at the same point this season. Same for the big men. It’s nice when you can go from your 7th guy to your 12th guy and not expect a drop in quality. The ability to rest guys along the way will help come March and April.

4. As opposed to the past two seasons, when Ainge was just collecting straight assets regardless of the on-court fit, a lot of the current players complement each other well on the court. The primary three guards—Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart—all fit together when two of them are on the floor together. Bradley and Thomas can stretch the floor; Smart and Bradley are great on defense; and Smart and Thomas can penetrate off the dribble. Any combination of the two on the floor together should be a positive.

5. The same positive groupings hold for the big men. David Lee complements Tyler Zeller, and both complement Amir Johnson, who complements Kelly Olynyk, who complements Zeller. And on and on…

6. The one player who complements everyone? Jae Crowder. The 25-year-old re-signed with the Celtics this offseason (for a soon-to-be-a-bargain $7 million per year) and will be a part of many funky positional groupings this season. Sure, a lot of attention has been paid to the NBA revolution of small ball, and the Celtics have shown they can adapt to that by putting Crowder at power forward. But how about going the other way? The Celtics can wreck havoc defensively with their length and spread the floor offensively with a lineup of Smart-Crowder-Jonas Jerebko-Olynyk-Johnson.

7. Let’s talk about the rookies. On the court, Terry Rozier, Jordan Mickey and R.J. Hunter have all shown flashes of promise, which is common for all rookies. If they didn’t have flashes of promise, they wouldn’t have gotten drafted. Now comes the hard part. Can they break into a regular rotation that is full of proven veterans? And once in the rotation, can they improve and remain a consistent contributor? If Rozier or Hunter is able to do that, consider it a successful year. They both seem to have skills that will translate right away: Hunter’s shooting and Rozier’s defense. That should be enough to get them some court time during the season, and then it’s up to them to show they can be two-way players.

8. Speaking of newcomers, Lee and Johnson are the veteran newbies who can both shore up the frontcourt, which was the team’s biggest problem last season. Neither are any great shakes as rebounders, but both excel in the pick and roll, which is a key for partnering with Smart and Thomas. Johnson’s other major strength is his defense, which will give Boston much-needed interior defense (although Tyler Zeller’s advanced stats show he’s not bad in this area).

9. There’s a lot of guys with something to prove for the Celtics this season—a point we so artfully made earlier this month. But the player whose development is most important is Marcus Smart. Players, scouts and advanced stats are nearly unanimous that he has the highest ceiling on Boston right now. His defense will keep him a starter, but his offense could make him an All-Star franchise player. If he stays healthy and continues the progress he’s made on offense since being drafted, he’ll make a sophomore leap. All the hopes of the past few years will have been satisfied without any lottery luck, any major trade and any big free-agent coup.

10. That’s not to say those above possibilities won’t be available. In every Celtics’ fan’s dream, Boston will go into this offseason as a 50-win team that made the second round of the playoffs, has a Top 3 pick (from Brooklyn) and another pick in the lottery (Dallas). Oh, and nearly $50 million in cap space. The future is certainly bright in Boston. But before that time, there’s 82 games—and perhaps some extra ones come spring.

Sound Ideas

Live Review: Halsey Bonds, Vintage Trouble Burns

“Next time I come to Boston, I’ll be playing in an arena,” Halsey told the camera-phone sea of fervent fans at her sold-out Saturday show at House of Blues. And if the New Jersey pop singer’s comment seemed a bit cocky, it was also matter-of-fact on the heels of a just-announced 2016 date for New York’s Madison Square Garden, as the 21-year-old upstart marveled at her fortune – and connection with fans.

“I don’t know why you picked me, but thank you very much,” Halsey (real name Ashley Frangipane) told the throngs of tween and teen girls who proceeded on cue to carry an entire verse of her breakthrough single “Ghost” as the lights came up. That mid-set exchange offered a more extroverted boost that Halsey -- who possesses an effective but not especially dynamic voice -- will need if she’s going to conquer big arenas behind her quickly hot debut Badlands. The black-clad singer spent the first half of her hour-long set building a mystery, stalking the stage in dim, oblique lighting, though she clearly connected with her fans, who sang along from the first lines of opener “Gasoline,” piping back “Are you insane like me? Been in pain like me?”

That bond served her well. Halsey’s dark, ethereal electro-pop songs -- backed by a keyboardist and drummer -- began to blur over the set, though the lights grew brighter and she grew engaging, stripping back her shroud to strike dramatic poses on stage-edge risers. A few other songs stood out both lyrically and melodically, namely “Hold Me Down,” “Roman Holiday” and the more anthemic “New Americana,” which closed with a blast of confetti as she sang, “We are the new Americana, high on legal marijuana, raised on Biggie and Nirvana” -- though it’s unlikely that many in the crowd were raised on Biggie and Nirvana or old enough to smoke weed.

But the devotion of Halsey’s fans (girls up front gained their spots by lining up outside at 7 a.m., leaving sidewalk debris in their wake) could prove to be the overnight sensation’s saving grace in projecting to larger audiences.

Across town on Saturday -- and across a totally different style and demographic – another new major-label act proved more arena-ready. Vintage Trouble has built a fearsome reputation on club stages over the past few years and just opened for AC/DC in stadiums, but the So-Cal rockers turned a sold-out Brighton Music Hall into an intimate powder keg. The seasoned quartet riffed on both R&B showbands and classic rock, as guitarist Nalle Colt teased bluesy Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin licks within Vintage Trouble's seamless, smoking tunes.

Vintage Trouble's Nalle Colt and Ty Taylor rock the Brighton Music Hall. Photos by Paul Robicheau.

But the real star of the show was James Brown-esque frontman Ty Taylor, who spun in place like a cyclone, only to grab the mic or drop into a leg split. He crooned, he screamed, and during a locomotive “Run Like the River,” he waded across the packed floor, climbed atop the bar, got everyone to raise their hands, then crowd-surfed back to the stage. Vintage Trouble ranks as one of today’s most dynamic live rock acts -- certainly one not to miss the next time the band storms into town, likely on a larger stage as well.

Improper Now

A Room of Her Own

A Q&A with "Room" author and screenwriter Emma Donoghue

Dublin-born novelist Emma Donoghue recently passed through Boston on a promotional stop for director Lenny Abrahamson’s exceptionally powerful film, Room. Donoghue did a wonderful job adapting the screenplay from her own novel, and she was blessed to have two tremendously talented actors bring her characters to life: 26-year-old Brie Larson as Ma and 9-year-old Jacob Tremblay as her son, Jack. Both are expected to be in Oscar contention for their tear-inducing performances; if so, Tremblay will tie with Jackie Cooper (who was also 9 when he starred in 1931’s Skippy) as the youngest actor to be nominated for an Academy Award. During my chat with Donoghue at the Eliot Hotel, we discussed what inspired her to write about a 5-year-old boy who’s spent his entire life locked in a windowless room with his loving mom, the difficulties of translating a book to the screen and how she values intelligent people—including our local populace.

BRETT MICHEL: You have two children of your own?

EMMA DONOGHUE: Yes, they’re 8 and 11. The 11-year-old inspired Room when he was 4 and a half. I mean, just the fact that I had a child that young around. I followed him around and studied him.

BM: Presumably, you didn’t lock him in any rooms?

ED: No, but I did roll him up in a rug. When I was writing the novel I wanted to test out the scene when the child is rolled up in a rug, so I bribed my son to do it—and it’s really hard to get out of the rug! So, I had to rewrite the scene.

BM: How close did the film come to how you’d envisioned it when you wrote it as a novel?

ED: It’s hard to remember how I thought of the book before the film—the visual images in the film are so memorable, they sort of supplant everything. I certainly never had a detailed idea of what the characters looked like. I didn’t so much care what they looked like; I cared what they felt like.

BM: Well, considering the 5-year-old voice you employed as the book’s narrator, that that makes sense.

ED: Exactly! A 5-year-old doesn’t exactly care what his mother looks like. Or, for instance, the way he describes the room—when I stepped into the set the first day, I thought to myself, “Oh, how small and how ugly this is!” because the camera is way more objective.

BM: It’s incredibly rare that an author is able to adapt their own book. Did you write the script on your own and then shop it to a producers?

ED: I did! I knew that was an odd way to proceed, but I wanted to be able to say, “Look, here's my script. Can we work together? Do we have the same vision of it?” I didn’t want to try to make them hire me without credentials, so it just seemed more honest to say, “Here’s the script.” So yeah, I wrote it after selling the novel, but before publication.

BM: You’re from Ireland but live in Canada—and although the movie is set in the US, the film was also produced in Canada. Did it shoot very far from where you live?

ED: Yes, they shot in Toronto! Until quite late, they weren’t sure where they would film, and they said, “Oh, it might be Spokane, Washington,” and I thought, “Oh, I can’t leave my kids that often!” So, I thought I’d only get to set once, you know? But, when they settled on Toronto, I was so happy, because I got to go up about once a week. I got to sample all the locations, for instance, and see a little bit of how they do a scene with a speeding truck, and how they do scenes in the wardrobe, and I sort of interviewed everybody about what their jobs were—because it’s a new world to me!

BM: How did Lenny Abrahamson become involved?

ED: He wrote me this extraordinary letter! He’d read the book and he thought, “Oh, I’ll never get this,” because it’s a big bestseller and, it’s funny, he had this idea that I—as an Irish person who had made good North America—would despise the idea of working with an Irish company. In fact, I wasn’t specifically looking for an Irish company, because the film is set in America, but I was open to genius wherever it came from—and his letter just blew me away. It was so smart, just thoroughly intelligent and passionate and eloquent; he saw right through the crime story to the much more universal story that I was trying to tell. He was personally passionate, as well, because he’s got two small kids, so he was writing as a father who is fascinated by his children. He was just bringing all his intellect and warmth to it, and he had a great confidence about how he would film it. Lenny could already see it in his mind, so he wasn’t approaching it like, “Oh, you’ve got a lot of problems that I need to fix.” It was more like, “Ooh, how do we take this novel—which works this kind of magic trick with the child’s perspective—and how do we do that in cinema?” Really, he was approaching it very similarly to how I had approached it in my script, so it was like puzzle pieces clicking together.

BM: Was it tough fitting those pieces together when adapting your book into the screenplay?

ED: It’s funny. Everybody would have assumed that the first half was difficult because you’re in the room, but I sort of trusted that the camerawork would be smart enough to keep that interesting and varied. So, story-wise, the difficult part is in the second half. In fact, there’s one sequence that Lenny got me to rewrite over and over again. I had to do a lot of carving away. They filmed an entire scene in a shopping mall and ended up cutting it out—and there was quite a long sequence in the police station, and that got dropped before filming. So, there was a lot of shedding of layers of the onion. But it certainly didn’t feel like “Oh, this is an impossible book to adapt!” In many ways, the camera can show you a child’s perspective on the world beautifully. And so there are those moments when the camera tilts up at the skylight or something, and you think, “Oh yeah, this is just how the child is seeing it!”

BM: What was your reaction when you finally saw the completed film?

ED: I saw rough cut of the whole thing last March, when I saw it with the people from A24 [the film’s distribution company]. Afterward, one of them said, “Well, how did you like it?” and I burst into tears. And then I suddenly thought, “Oh no, he’s going to think I’m distressed because I hated it!” So I was like, “Good tears, good tears!”

BM: And audience response has clearly been very positive.

ED: I’ve been amazed! I thought people would like it, but I didn’t realize it would be taken quite so seriously—it’s an overwhelming experience. And you know, I’ve not had a stupid question from anyone in Boston so far… I hate to generalize about cities, but the standard of smart here is very high.

BM: I can be remarkably stupid during the day, I can assure you! I come alive at night, when most people are fast asleep.

ED: Well, I appreciate that you crawled out of your coffin for this!

BM: Well, kudos to you. You wrote a wonderful book, and penned an exceptional film!

ED: Thank you! This was lovely! Next time, we’ll do the interview at midnight!

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

The Bad Plus do smart addition with Joshua Redman at Berklee. Photo courtesy of World Music/CRASHarts.


If you want to see a live Beatle these days, you can either see Sir Paul ply the hits in a stadium setting or watch Ringo Starr take a more modest, fun approach at a more intimate hall like the Citi Wang Theatre, where the drummer/singer plays  Friday. Besides his Beatles favorites, you’ll get a complementary catalog sampling from his All-Starr Band members, including the wondrous Todd Rundgren, Toto’s Steve Lukather and early Santana’s Gregg Rolie. Also on Friday, Beverly-born post-rock heroes Caspian pack in the faithful at the Sinclair, while sexually frank electro-clash performer Peaches brings her latest show to the Paradise Rock Club.

The next-big-thing at age 21, (she just announced a headlining date at Madison Square Garden for next year), electro-pop singer Halsey strikes a balance between the spunk of Miley Cyrus and the brooding of Sinead O’Connor for a loving horde at House of Blues on Saturday. The same night, the David Wax Museum gives its Mexican-inspired folk more of an indie-pop snap at the Sinclair, Canadian singer/harpist Loreena McKennitt’s trio shares her Celtic folk at the Citi Shubert Theatre, and the 38th annual John Coltrane Memorial Concert presents “Ornette ’n ’Trane” at the Northeastern Center for the Arts, featuring an all-star local cast that adds pianist Laszlo Gardony and his steady cohorts Stan Strickland, John Lockwood and Yoron Israel.

But Saturday’s most electrifying option looms in Vintage Trouble, the California R&B-rockers who hit the Brighton Music Hall after opening for AC/DC in stadiums. Vintage frontman Ty Taylor crosses James Brown moves with a dash of Bruce Springsteen's savvy for crowd contact. Then on Sunday, World Music/CRASHarts offers a totally cool jazz supergroup at the Berklee Performance Center with slyly subversive piano trio the Bad Plus and Joshua Redman lending a rich fourth voice on saxophone, while John Doe (co-singer of X) steps out on his own that night at cozy Atwood’s Tavern.


Sound Ideas

Boston Music Awards Announce 2015 Nominations and Event

Improper faves Ruby Rose Fox (cover of August music issue), the Ballroom Thieves (also featured in that issue) and Speedy Ortiz (band choice for Boston’s Best) lead the 2015 Boston Music Award nominations with four categories each. All three vie for Artist of the Year honors, along with Bad Rabbits and Michael Christmas.

The Boston Music Awards event moves to the Sinclair this year, on Dec. 9 and 10. The first night is billed as a half ceremony/half rock show, free to nominees. The second, ticketed night will feature the pending 2015 Hall of Fame inductee, with an opening set by the winner of the New Artist of the Year category, noted below.

Public voting has begun on the BMA website, and here are all the nominees:



Bad Rabbits

Michael Christmas

Ruby Rose Fox

Speedy Ortiz

The Ballroom Thieves


Cousin Stizz – “Suffolk County”

Krill – “A Distant Fist Unclenching”

Session Americana – “Pack Up The Circus”

Sidewalk Driver – “My Face”

Speedy Ortiz – “Foil Deer”


Dirty Bangs – “I’m In Love With The Summertime”

Ruby Rose Fox – “Golden Boy”

Sidewalk Driver – “Everybody Loves My Face”

Speedy Ortiz – “Raising The Skate”

The Ballroom Thieves – “Archers”


Oh Malô


Party Bois




Dirty Bangs


Party Bois

Tigerman WOAH

Zip-Tie Handcuffs


Dirty Bangs

Hallelujah The Hills

Speedy Ortiz




Cousin Stizz

Dutch ReBelle

Michael Christmas




Meghan Trainor


Ruby Rose Fox

Shea Rose

Will Dailey


Bad Rabbits

Barrence Whitfield & The Savages

Jesse Dee

Sebastian Mikael

Shea Rose


Grey Season


Session Americana

The Ballroom Thieves

These Wild Plains


Barrence Whitfield & The Savages

Gracie Curran & The High Falutin’

Peter Parcek

Toni Lynn Washington

Willie J. Laws Band


DJ Knife

Frank White



Statik Selektah



Let’s Wait

Radclyffe Hall

St. Nothing

Skinny Bones


Dan Blakeslee

Grey Season


Ian Fitzgerald

The Ballroom Thieves


Debo Band

Dub Apocalypse


Roberto Morbioli

Shun Ng


Alison Keslow

Esperanza Spalding

Grace Kelly

La Vie en Rose

Lake Street Dive




Protean Collective




Raw Blow

The Hotelier

The Warning Shots

Trophy Lungs

Zip-Tie Handcuffs


Abbie Barrett

Danielle Miraglia

Lori McKenna

Ruby Rose Fox

Will Dailey


Abbie Barrett

Ellen Kempner

Lyndsey Gunnulfsen

Marissa Nadler

Ruby Rose Fox


Barrence Whitfield

Evan Kenney

Louie Bello

Peter Wolf

Will Daley


Benny Grotto

Brian Charles

Dave Minehan

Ed Valauskas

Paul Q. Kolderie


Eldridge Rodriguez – “Giving Myself Over To Boston”

Fran-P Ft REKS, SPNDA & Moe Pope – “Hypertension”

Hallelujah the Hills – “We Are What We Say We Are”

Petty Morals – “Just A Game”

Tigerman Woah – “Koopa”


Don’t Ask Don’t tell at Great Scott

Heroes with DJ Chris Ewen

PVRPLE at Good Life

Soulelujah at Zuzu

XMortis at The Middle East


Brighton Music Hall

Great Scott

Lizard Lounge

The Middle East

The Sinclair


Dadrock with Lyle Brewer & Co at Atwood’s

Dennis Brennan at Lizard Lounge

Louie Bello at Abbey Lane

The Blue Ribbons at TOAD

Tim Gearan Band at Atwood’s


Allston Pudding

Boston Hassle

Daykamp Music

Guestlisted Jed Gottlieb



Bowery Presents Boston

Crossroads Presents

Good & Nice

Illegally Blind

Randi Ellen Millman


Ben Stas

Johnny Anguish

Matthew Shelter

Michael Sparks Keegan

Michael Spencer


If You Go: Head of the Charles

What: 51st Head of the Charles Regatta

When: Oct. 17-18, 8 am-5 pm

Who: There's more than 11,000 competitors and most local universities have teams entered. 

Where to Watch: A lot of the bridges across the Charles River provide good spectating spots, as do some spots along the banks. 

Where to Get Free Stuff: The Weld Boathouse (Cambridge side) between the Weeks and Lars Anderson Bridges

Where to Get Good Food: Reunion Village (Boston side) between the Weeks and Lars Anderson Bridges ($10/day, $15/weekend, kids under 12 are free)

Where to Get Really Good Food: Eliot Bridge Enclosure, just upstream of the Eliot Bridge ($90/day, $150/weekend, 21+)

How to Get Prepped: Browse through this website of amazing photos of the regatta.

Other Cool Stuff: Proving the Head of the Charles stands alongside the Boston Marathon as Hub traditions, New Balance released a limited-edition 990v3 sneaker with the HOCR logo on many places (the heel, lace and insole) much as they released a special edition sneaker to mark the marathon last year. 

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

The weather’s about to cool down, but not the concerts. Welch quartet Catfish and the Bottlemen, led by flop-topped frontman Van McCann, hit Royale on Friday with guitar-driven Brit rock that’s not super original, but tuneful and lively to be sure. Meanwhile, at Scullers Jazz Club both Friday and Saturday, violinist Regina Carter explores the folk music of the South with her Southern Comfort ensemble, which touches everything from gospel to Cajun/zydeco.

Andra Day’s a major-label star in the making, a jazzy R&B singer (pictured above) with a vibrant, aching voice that nods to both Billie Holiday and Amy Winehouse, but you might boast that you saw her when by catching her Saturday date at Berklee’s cozy Café 939. Joe Walsh takes a breather from the Eagles to cover his own storied ground at the Orpheum Theatre on Saturday as well. And the Word – a gospel-jam supergroup featuring pedal steel virtuoso Robert Randolph, organ ace John Medeski and the North Mississippi Allstars – stirs up the Paradise Rock Club later that night in a rare Boston date.

For a lot of people, Sunday night means the Patriots/Colts’ long-awaited, post-Deflategate showdown, but there are also two compelling concerts. World Music/CRASHarts presents legendary South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim and his fine jazz group Ekaya in a truly rare stop at the Berklee Performance Center. And charming gospel-soul upstart Leon Bridges packs Royale, his suave voice reminding of Sam Cooke while his band kicks in with roadhouse R&B that shows his Texas roots. For a sure sign of how rapidly Bridges’ star is rising, consider that his next Boston concert just went on sale for March 5 at the Citi Wang Theatre across the street. To think that it was only this past May that Bridges made his own humble stop at Café 939.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

It’s a holiday weekend not without rocking concerts for those staying close to home, and the veteran jam-band moe. will rock for hours at House of Blues, where the Buffalo-born quintet (above) plays both Friday and Saturday. Expect entirely different shows with two sets each night, mixing the contrasting guitars of Chuck Garvey (think more Steely Dan) and Al Schnier (more Allman Brothers) around fluid Maine-based bassist Rob Derhak. With 25 years of forged chemistry, moe. ranks close to Widespread Panic, Umphrey’s McGee and of course Phish, with consistently levitating flights that blend meat ‘n’ potatoes with clever turns.

Columbus Day weekend also means the colorful annual HONK! Festival, where activist street bands like this one roll into Johnny D’s Uptown on Friday before hitting the pavement of Davis Square on Saturday and Harvard Square on Sunday. Here's the schedule and honk if you love free-roaming, horn-driven revelry – for free. Other concerts to consider on Friday including country-punks Lucero at Royale and Mark Knopfler at the Orpheum Theatre, where he’ll be bound to resurrect this Dire Straits tune.

On Saturday, the Orpheum turns to Brandi Carlile, who proved she’s just as dynamic in a stripped-down acoustic trio when she hit this year’s Newport Folk fest. And Luna, fronted by ex-Galaxie 500 singer/guitarist Dean Wareham, plays the Paradise Rock Club. On Saturday, Carolina bluegrass band the Steep Canyon Rangers play the Eastham Elks Club down the Cape before holding court at the Brighton Music Hall on Sunday, while alt-country singer Chuck Prophet (who led California rockers Green on Red back in the ’80s) plays Club Passim on Sunday. And Monday circles back to another group from Buffalo, alt-rockers Mercury Rev, who are likely to bring this seasonal offering to the Brighton Music Hall, closing out the holiday weekend with a bit of atmosphere.

Sound Ideas

Stage Review: Courtney Love Settles into "Kansas City Choir Boy" at Oberon

Todd Almond backs a subdued Courtney Love in "Kansas City Choir Boy" at Oberon. Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva.     -----------------------

Once upon a time, Courtney Love would hit town with her grunge-pop band Hole and turn a large rock venue into an exhibition(ist) hall, making moments intimate through antagonistic exchanges with the crowd. This was mostly back in the ’90s, before and after the death of husband Kurt Cobain, a time marked by drug abuse and tabloid fodder, before she turned to acting and eventually cleaned herself up. 

But Love’s stage debut in “Kansas City Choir Boy” casts a very different experience in the intimate cabaret-style space of Harvard Square’s Oberon. Here the singer was truly close to the audience – and sometimes even in the audience, along with co-lead Todd Almond, six dancing chorus “sirens” and a mobile string quartet. But she remained immersed in her theatrical zone.

Almond’s really the central character in “Kansas City Choir Boy,” which continues through Oct. 10 at the American Repertory Theater’s second stage. He wrote the music and lyrics and spends the most time onstage in the 55-minute production, unspooled as a flashback from a TV report that the girl he loved was found dead.

Still, all eyes focus on Love, from the moment she appears (classically) from a balcony as the character Athena and swoops into Almond’s life onstage. Their initial fondling seemed a bit stiff as the couple navigated around Almond’s keyboard during Friday’s press opening, but their chemistry quickly grew more evident – and Love displayed an alluring sparkle in her eyes, pulling her into the role.

From there, it’s a fairly straightforward boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-finds-girl story, if all largely implied with songs rather than dialogue. Love was never a great singer, but she settled into a slightly flat drawl a bit like Marianne Faithfull, conveying the right emotion and annunciation. And Almond projected his own winsome charm in singing as well as playing guitar, keyboard and a DJ-style laptop, as part of the score comes in lite electro to match pulsing LED lights that creep up the ceiling strip and backing wall of the tiny center-T stage.

Much of the appeal of “Kansas City Choir Boy” comes from the positioning of the cast on and around that Oberon stage under director Kevin Newbury and choreographer Sam Pinkleton. The surrounding audience is split into two tiers of seats to each side, leaving aisles and mezzanine steps for the cast to roam and serenade. Love chews some scenery when she strips to a bra for a disrobing early love scene and later appears in a black Zac Posen gown, but the Oberon’s small runway fits a production that’s modest yet engaging.

Sound Ideas

Live Review: Kraftwerk Immerses Wang Theatre in 3-D Visions

The men of Kraftwerk man the machines for an audio-visual travelogue at the Wang. Photo by Paul Robicheau.  -------------------------

It’s not enough that electronic-music pioneers Kraftwerk influenced everything from synth-pop to EDM, leading to Daft Punk, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode and the Cars, whose keyboardist Greg Hawkes was among those who filled the Citi Wang Theatre on Saturday to soak in the rare spectacle of a Kraftwerk concert.

Kraftwerk went beyond Nine Inch Nails’ multi-layered video effects to present an immersive 3-D experience (via distributed cardboard glasses) that more closely evoked the sound and vision of ’70s contemporaries Pink Floyd when that group played theaters back in the day. An exquisite surround-sound mix was perfectly synched to big-screen visuals as stunning as virtual spacecraft and skyscraper beams that hovered into the crowd much as Pink Floyd used plane and pig props. Kraftwerk even depicted a flying saucer landing outside the Wang marquee.

Granted, the onstage action seemed pretty static with the four band members (all wearing Tron-grid bodysuits that complemented onscreen line animations) poking away at podiums that suggested a high-tech game show. Kraftwerk even poked fun at the question over how much was being physically performed when mechanized-mannequin doppelgangers appeared at the podiums to recorded music and vocals for 1978 blip “The Robots.”

Otherwise, vocals were handled live by Kraftwerk’s remaining co-founder Ralf Hutter, bridging vocoder cool and Bryan Ferry-esque savoir faire. And for the most part, Hutter and his comrades busily synchronized the whole shebang from keyboards, samplers and computers, much of it indeed involving human hands. This was most evident when the players each soloed, bowed, and left one-by-one at the end. The last to leave was Hutter, who put his hand to his heart, then gestured thanks to the machines in lieu of any remaining humans onstage.

The machines certainly did their jobs as Kraftwerk clearly took advantage of advancements in digital equipment. The players forged rich synthesizer textures and hypnotic beats that climaxed in prog-rock swells rather than EDM drops when the group set the controls for the heart of the reactor in 1975’s “Radioactivity.”

For those who’d never seen Kraftwerk, which was probably most of the audience, the program worked near-seamlessly as a balanced catalog retrospective, with appropriate visuals also produced at the group’s secretive Kling Klang studio. That entailed the throbbing numbers in songs from 1981’s Computer World, the highway glide of extended 1974 highpoint “Autobahn” (with white lines also going the other way in a rearview mirror), archival bicycle-race footage for 2003’s Tour de France Soundtracks (more wheels and motion from a band of avid bicyclists), and ghostly bullet trains in 1977’s “Trans-Europe Express,” with animated sequences tightly meshed to the musical rhythms.

Credit the precision of German engineering to coin a phrase from automobile ad copy (the Volkswagen Bug and Mercedes-Benz sedan depicted for “Autobahn” indeed suggested a car ad). Two hours had already passed, along with the best video tricks, by the time Kraftwerk flashed terms like “Electro” (in “Planet of Visions”) and “Techno Pop” (in the song of that name) during a second encore. It seemed both obvious and unnecessary commentary on the band’s influence by that point.

Sure, the program might have been edited a bit, so not to drone on like the travel machines, but the musicians kept the proceedings percolating from their posts. And the whole production proved that Kraftwerk not only stands as a band that was ahead of its time, but one that remains largely ahead of our time.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Kurt Vile heightened his profile with the slow-burning glide of Wakin on a Pretty Daze, one of 2013’s best albums. On followup b’lieve I’m goin down, the laconic singer/guitarist strips back the textural guitar rock to muse a bit more on the folky side with banjo and piano. But one might still expect Vile and his band the Violators to stretch out on the guitars at the Paradise Rock Club on Friday.

Friday’s busy as well, starting with the surprisingly sympathetic pop collaboration of Franz Ferdinand and Sparks in the band FFS, which launches a U.S. tour at the Orpheum Theatre. If you’re not familiar with the cheeky humor of FFS, you can “Piss Off” with this live clip or click here to jump to my recent interviews with the band’s dual singers. House of Blues kicks in the same night with the rootsy Railroad Earth, who just toured with Warren Haynes (who brings his own new Ashes & Dust band with drummer Jeff Sipe and ChessBoxer to the Orpheum on Tuesday). Other Friday picks would be Maine-bred Americana singer/songwriter Patty Griffin at the Somerville Theatre, Dispatch’s Pete Francis with the fiddle-powered Nemes at new Union Square club Thunder Road, or poll-topping jazz vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant recasting vintage nuggets at Scullers Jazz Club.

Back to Union Square on Saturday, Bull McCabe’s hosts its 5th annual Roots to Reggae Outdoor Music Festival in its parking lot from 3 to 9:45 p.m. with groups including regulars Dub Apocalypse, the Silks and the Tim Gearan Band. Saturday night’s main event comes in the rare return of Kraftwerk, the ’70s-born German electronic music pioneers, who perform a 3-D concert at the Citi Wang Theatre. That means techie, eye-popping visuals on a large screen behind the four men (including sole remaining co-founder Ralf Hutter) at their synthesizer posts. Next door at the Wilbur Theatre the same night, veteran indie-rockers Yo La Tengo (pictured above) support their new album Stuff Like That There, sort of sequel to 1990’s Fakebook that features covers performed in a largely acoustic four-piece format.  Shoegaze trendsetters Ride also rev up their guitars at the Paradise while rapper Talib Kweli rocks the Middle East Downstairs to top a busy Saturday night.

Sunday sports another seminal rock outfit with guitars in Television. New York’s CGBG’s-era band, featuring guitarists Tom Verlaine and newcomer Jimmy Rip as well as original drummer Billy Ficca and bassist Fred Smith, will showcase its 1977 debut Marquee Moon. Chameleons Vox, fronted by Chameleons UK singer/bassist Mark Burgess, also rolls into the Middle East Downstairs that night to play the UK group’s entire 1983 debut Script of the Bridge on a purported farewell tour. Burgess is a showman with a great voice, but I’d personally prefer the whole original band performing Chameleons UK’s 1986 gem Strange Times

Sound Ideas

Live Review: Alabama Shakes Match Lunar Eclipse at Boston Calling

The cosmic conjunction of Alabama Shakes howling to Sunday’s supermoon eclipse to cap the fall edition of Boston Calling not only set up the festival’s highpoint. It forged the kind of moment that’ll live in the memories of those present long after many of the weekend’s bands fade into rock footnotes.

Yet as a last sliver of light rimmed the dark, reddish sphere over City Hall Plaza, the Shakes’ own force-of-nature seemed to be letting the eclipse pass without comment. Singer/guitarist Brittany Howard commanded her own zone, from her raspy, Janis Joplin-esque exortations of “I know, I know!” in “Miss You” to soulful coos about dreaming in “The Feeling,” as she slapped the strings of her Gibson SG.

Finally, Howard stopped. “We got ourselves a blood moon and a lunar eclipse,” the singer told the crowd. “That means it’s time to get weird.”

With that, the Shakes briefly dropped into spacey noodling as the light show on City Hall’s stone ediface rippled into slow oscillation under the eclipse (above, center) and the band slipped into “Gemini,” amid Howard’s ghostly vocal echoes and psych-fuzz guitar beams.

That song lends perhaps the most lunar-esque diversion from classic soul-rock on Alabama Shakes’ eclectic sophomore album Sound & Color. But Howard, who hit Coachella and Bonnaroo in a bleach-tipped coif, returned to earth in fighting trim with short-cropped hair and a print dress, to pump her fist as she took the stage to the PA sounds of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” And she still percolated with old-school soul, evoking the Chi-Lites on “Guess Who,” while “The Greatest” lent a Strokes-like punk rush with doo-wop edges (the band skipped its first hit “Hold On,” despite it resurfacing at recent Canadian dates).

God knows the Alabama-bred long shot deserves to rule the music world, and you could say the same for Hozier (below), the nice Irish guy-done-great who impressed in his preceding Boston Calling slot on Sunday. The lanky singer/guitarist with the hair bun stirred up sing-alongs, from the gushing “From Eden” to gospel-ish closer “Take Me to Church.” Like the Shakes, Hozier boosted his sound with backup singers, but his deep tenor stood out the most, making the best of the breezy “Someone New” and giving new import to the Beatles’ “Blackbird.”

Still, Hozier’s palette covered similar soul-blues-rock ground, much like Ben Howard’s set blurred at times as his band built epic, backlit atmosphere around the English singer’s ghostly finger-picking. But especially after just-enjoyable pop from Nate Ruess, who leaned on hits from his band Fun as well as Prince and Elton John, the final night of Boston Calling took a deeper turn towards music with roots and emotion. And in that realm, the Shakes tested the boundaries, found the moon, and held their own. Brittany Howard proved equally unforgettable.

Photos (c) 2015 by Paul Robicheau

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

It’s not all about Boston Calling this weekend, though that makes up the bulk of local concert action. There’s even a Gillette Stadium show on Friday with English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, charming his largely age 15-25 demographic with his brave solo tour-de-force that incorporates vocal and guitar looping.  Not so unusual, but certainly so for a stadium setting. Madonna hits the opposite end of the spectrum, as the matured Material Girl (above) brings her army of nattily attired dancers and musicians to TD Garden on Saturday. Her lavish Rebel Heart tour includes a cross-shaped ramp on the floor, a fair share of pole dancing, 2.5 million Swarovski crystals on Madonna’s costumes alone, and a mix of hits and rarities.

Boston Calling nonetheless kicks in on City Hall Plaza with beautiful fall weather, starting Friday night with a pleasant pairing of Icelandic folk-pop band Of Monsters and Men and spirited folk-rockers the Avett Brothers.  Saturday looks most interesting during the late afternoon with a stretch of ironic jammer Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks (who also play the Sinclair on Friday), smooth country outlaw Sturgill Simpson and sardonic folk-rock chameleon Father John Misty (who just covered Ryan Adams’ take on Taylor Swift’s 1989, but in the style of the Velvet Underground). Saturday night gets more electronic with Chromeo and Chvrches before alt-J faces the sprawling plaza. I like alt-J’s oblique trip-pop on record but have found their shows a bit underwhelming. Still, it won’t hurt to expand the British band’s light show to the kaleidoscopic designs that grace the face of City Hall to make Boston Calling a cool experience at night. Along those lines, Boston Calling finally closes with a bang on Sunday thanks to the last trifecta of folky English dark horse Ben Howard, Irish folk-rock darling Hozier and soulful rockers Alabama Shakes, fronted by the dynamic Brittany Howard. Again, that alone stands as a great concert bill. You can jump to my recent chat with Shakes drummer Steve Johnson. And here are BC set times.

If jazz is more your style, there’s also the Beantown Jazz Festival, making a free multi-stage street fair out of Columbus Avenue on Saturday afternoon, with a range of acts including R&B singer Ledisi, saxophonist Javon Jackson with drummer Jimmy Cobb (who played on Miles Davis’ iconic Kind of Blue) and the Mosaic Project led by Grammy-winning drummer and Beantown artistic director Teri Lyne Carrington. Here's the Beantown Jazz schedule. And up in Newbury, Buffalo Tom also caps Saturday afternoon at the American Music and Harvest Festival at Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm. On the folk singer-songwriter side, Greg Brown plays Somerville’s Arts at the Armory on Saturday, while Peter Mulvey returns to his old stomping grounds on Sunday with a free 12-hour concert on the street outside Club Passim in Harvard Square, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., with a 15-minute break every hour. And Canadian post-rock ensemble Godspeed You! Black Emperor gets darkly cinematic on Sunday at the Paradise Rock Club.

Looking ahead into next week, my top picks would be soul-folk vocalist Lianne La Havas at Royale on Monday and textural guitar-rockers Built to Spill at Brighton Music Hall for a three-night stand starting Tuesday.

Sound Ideas

Live Review: Diana Ross Shines at Citi Wang Theatre

Diana Ross summons memories of classic Motown hits with the Supremes, glamorous outfits, and her iconic persona as one of pop music’s premier divas. But the 71-year-old Ross certainly didn’t bring any diva’s attitude to the Citi Wang Theatre on Saturday. On the contrary, the beaming singer -- who looked and sounded fabulous, regardless of age -- proved warm and generous to both the audience and her sublime backing musicians.

“I love when they turn the house lights up and I see your faces,” Ross told her diverse fans. “You have no idea what that means to me.” And she genuinely came across as a seasoned stage professional who’s also happy and thankful for her long, successful career.

Sure, the spotlight was on Ross, who went through several costume changes of sequins, feathers and ruffles -- in a few colors, with matching hand-fans to cool herself down in style. Yet the show wasn’t all about her, as lights shined into a sea of people dancing, singing along, and capturing the moment on camera phones.

From opening pride anthem “I’m Coming Out” to a rousing finale of the Gloria Gaynor standard “I Will Survive” (with standout solo turns across her tightly arranged five-man band and three backup singers), Ross threw an inclusive, hit-filled party.

She kicked in early with a stretch of the Supremes' ’60s gems (“My World is Empty Without You,” “Baby Love,” “Stop, in the Name of Love” and “Love Child”). She dipped into jazzy blues phrasing for Billie Holiday nugget “Don’t Explain” (without vocal backups, which she never relied on anyway). When an audience member hopped onstage to dance to “Upside Down,” Ross not only rolled with it, she hugged him, then invited a guy up from the other side to test his moves. She heightened the sing-alongs with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and she got all hands swaying to “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand) to complete the communal love-in.

The night’s only downside was how quickly it all happened. Like clockwork, Ross hit the stage within moments of the show’s 8 p.m. starting time and in less than 80 minutes, it was all over. Some fans might have preferred more of her early hits instead of “Ease on Down the Road” (from musical The Wiz) or covers like “Why Do Fools Fall in Love.” Yet there was really no wasted time and no going through the motions. The Boston crowd was summarily thrilled and fulfilled, as Diana Ross came and conquered -- with heart, soul and precision.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

It’s not a holiday weekend per past tradition, but New Jersey jangle-pop pioneers the Feelies (pictured above) head north for their annual Boston visit by bringing their taut, rhythmic, Velvets Underground-inspired rock to the Sinclair. Expect two sets there on Friday, the first more mellow/folky and the second more driving, capped by an encore with classic covers. Harvard Square’s booming with two other events the same night. Golden-touch guitarist John Scofield and tenor-sax favorite Joe Lovano revive their co-led jazz quartet (also including fine drummer Bill Stewart) at the Regattabar. And Lake Street Dive’s Bridget Kearney joins former New England Conservatory accomplice Benjamin Lazer Davis at Club Passim on Friday to celebrate the release of their EP Bawa, recorded in the African country of Ghana and inspired by its Bawa music.

The Brighton Music Hall’s also cooking across the spectrum, with Eagles of Death Metal (co-led by Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Hommes on drums) on Friday, electronic ambient-house duo the Orb on Saturday and bluesy singer and guitarist Jackie Greene, best known for his stints with the Black Crowes and Phil Lesh. Rootsy garage-rockers the Heartless Bastards, another great live act graced by Erika Wennerstrom, hits the Paradise Rock Club on Friday. And soul-jazz singer Gregory Porter charms the Berklee Performance Center on Saturday.

MixFest 2015 takes over the DCR Hatch Shell on the Esplanade on Saturday afternoon with a free lineup that includes Rob Thomas, Third Eye Blind, Andy Grammer and Vance Joy. And if you want to take a last seasonal road-trip, consider the three-day FreshGrass festival at MASS MoCA in North Adams, featuring Dwight Yoakam, the Punch Brothers, the Del McCoury Band, Boston’s own Ballroom Thieves and Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure’s Touristes project with Berklee-bred guest vocalist Julia Easterlin, also both poised to mesmerize here Sunday in a World Music show at Johnny D’s Uptown.

However, the biggest names hitting town – in dates seemingly a tad under the radar – are Diana Ross, bringing her Supreme hits, outfits and diva-esque presence to the Citi Wang Theatre on Saturday, and ex-Led Zeppelin golden god Robert Plant, settling into a cross-cultural zone with his Sensational Space Shifters at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on Sunday, though they still love to reshape Led Zep nuggets. On Sunday afternoon, you can also catch modern country-outlaw Jamey Johnson at Webster’s Indian Ranch, while guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. (best known as a member of the Strokes) thickens up his solo sound with his band at the Sinclair that night. Fans of live music must find something enticing this mid-September weekend.

Going Out

Welcome to the Thunder Dome

Somerville's Thunder Road is now open for business

It’s been over a year since longtime local promoter Dan Millen of Rock On! Concerts and Charlie Abel, managing owner of the former Harpers Ferry, announced they’d be opening Thunder Road, a new music venue in the shuttered Radio space in Somerville. After some fits and starts—the opening has been pushed back several times—the club enjoyed a grand opening on Sept. 8 that kicks off a billing of already-slated shows including Jesse Malin on Oct. 8 and the Stone Foxes on Nov. 5. We tapped Millen for some deets about the new venue—as well as some insight into Boston’s ever-changing music scene.

My partner, Charlie Abel, who was the managing owner of Harpers Ferry for 18 years, and I were looking to form a live music club together. We’d worked closely for five years at Harpers prior to him selling his half of the club in 2004 and we really developed a shared bond for presenting live music. Charlie was and still is a mentor to me, so working with him now as a partner is a joy. Owning a club had been a personal dream of mine. I’ve worked in the Boston scene as a promoter for over 15 years and packed other people’s clubs full of thirsty revelers, I figured it was time to pack my own club, so I’ve saved up every nickel I’ve made for years to make it happen.

We have always intended Thunder Road to be a great space for fans of live music to enjoy, and bands to “strut their stuff” in a clean, friendly and fun environment. And, of course, now that there are so many other live music clubs closing [T.T the Bear's Place, Johnny D's, the recently announced closing of Church's music venue], as much as we are saddened about that, we are just glad that we are opening to fill some of the void left in the scene. 

Absolutely. We didn’t plan it that way, we thought we would be a great addition to a thriving music community, but now more than ever it seems like we will be needed.  Our philosophy has always been one of the “rising tide lifts all boats” and that the more places in town that feature live music, the more bands can develop and build fan bases. We don’t want to look at this as a good thing, though it will wind up being good for us and the bands that are losing places to play, to fill that void and, for want of a better phrase, to “carry the torch.”

I think the best one, off the top of my head, is presenting a relatively unknown band called Maroon 5 in the middle of a snowstorm in February of 2003, I think. About half the people who bought advance tickets wound up showing up for the show, it wound up being a relatively packed house, and the band just blew us all away.  Shortly thereafter they wound up on the radio, playing humungous domes, and the rest is history for them, but we get to say “we knew them when.” 

Spiritual Rez on a boat this past summer.  No BS —I’ve never seen a band with more of a command of the audience, so many great songs, and people going crazy!  They’re another band from Boston that it's been a joy to help grow.

Aerosmith or the Joe Perry Project. I got my start in the business booking Aerosmith’s old club Mama Kin on Lansdowne Street and have been fortunate enough to produce several smaller club “sneak a shows” with them. They’re my all-time favorite rock band. Gents, if you’re reading this, come play!


Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Boston’s veteran R&B-shouter Barrence Whitfield and his Savages remain on a roll with the garage-rocking momentum of new album Under the Savage Sky, but the best place to bask in the revitalized group’s prowess remains the stage. And there are two shots to catch the action this weekend, with the singer and his gritty gang (pictured above) invading the Columbus Theatre in Providence, R.I., on Friday, then holding court on Saturday at the Brighton Music Hall, where Whitfield pulled off an Egyptian royal entrance on his last visit.

Other Friday options include the return of Mike Peters to Johnny D’s, where he’s bound to stir up fans with solo versions of favorites from his ’80s rock outfit the Alarm. The same night, Death Cab for Cutie floats atmospheric pop introspection at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, though show-goers may want to arrive early for the cinematic post-rock guitar symphonies of Explosions in the Sky. The same venue flips on Saturday to the energized rock 'n' rap antics of 21 Pilots, who are likely to breach the crowd in the process (though not sure they'll want to launch a drum set across those rows of seats). Saturday also brings the JP Music Festival to Pinebank Field on Jamaica Pond with a lineup that includes the Upper Crust, Love Love, Erin Harpe & the Delta Swingers, Cask Mouse and Rick Berlin. That night, soulful gospel-jazz singer Lizz Wright rides a fresh surge of deserved acclaim into the Berklee Performance Center. And Sunday brings soul-blues rocker ZZ Ward – whose charisma on harmonica matches her vocal charms -- to Royale.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Got room in the tank for one more cool festival on an awesome-weather Labor Day weekend, maybe even with a side trip to the beach? Head to coastal Rhode Island for the annual Rhythm & Roots soiree at Ninigret Park in Charlestown. It all starts Friday night with a Signature Sounds 20th anniversary celebration headlined by the popular Lake Street Dive, peaks on Saturday with a lively lineup that sports country eccentrics the Mavericks, roots-rockers Los Lobos, Louisiana piano queen Marcia Ball and bluegrass upstarts Della Mae (pictured above) with Jim Lauderdale, and closes out Sunday with crossover troubadour Keb Mo. Plus there are accordion workshops, kids’ Mardi Gras parades, and Cajun and zydeco dance parties with Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys and Corey Ledet & his Zydeco Band. Here’s the full schedule and rundown.

Other great takes to the South include the J. Geils Band (who just kicked ass in Boston) at India Point Park on the Providence waterfront on Saturday and punk-funk pioneers Fishbone the same night at the Beachcomber in Wellfleet down the Cape. To the north, Della Mae also hits Rockport's smartly designed Shalin Liu Performance Center on Friday, indie-folk combo the David Wax Museum holds court at Prescott Park in Portsmouth, N.H., on Saturday, and the Mavericks move on to Hampton Beach’s Casino Ballroom on Sunday. Finally, back around Boston, you can catch country-rockers Little Big Town at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on Friday, a bill of great local bands -- Parlour Bells, Band Without Hands, the Static Dynamic and the Rationales -- at Cuisine en Locale's ONCE Ballroom the same night, and veteran shoegaze rockers Swervedriver at the Sinclair on Sunday.

Sound Ideas

Live Review: J. Geils Band Back in Vintage Form

Peter Wolf cues Magic Dick and Duke Levine with the J. Geils Band on Thursday. Photo by Paul Robicheau


J. Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf defies his 69 years as a wondrous dervish on a good night -- and that’s what a sold-out crowd certainly got at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on Thursday. In strong voice, the ever-skinny frontman rarely stopped moving through a 100-minute lesson in rock ‘n’ roll showmanship, shuffling, high-stepping, spinning in place, and exhorting both the crowd and his bandmates.

Mates they were, as the classic Boston band has now truly congealed since its 2012 break from namesake guitarist John Geils, who reportedly wanted less stage-rocking and more trademark residuals. Lead guitarist Duke Levine, his backup foil Kevin Barry and drummer Tom Arey shared equal spotlight with the veterans, as Wolf even urged Worcester journeyman Levine to join him more at the front of the stage for solos.

Better yet, the bonds between the singer and his original mates only seemed heightened. Wolf was out to share his great mood, not only catching Flying V-pumping bassist Danny Klein with a false fist-pump in “Detroit Breakdown” but smiling at keyboardist Seth Justman as he tried to get him to swig from his wine bottle. And harmonica ace Magic Dick got plenty of high-profile mileage, capped by his showpiece “Whammer Jammer.”

The fun and appreciation was contagious for the audience as well. “Thanks for your many, many years of loyal support,” Wolf made the point to the packed-fair-and-square crowd before an encore of the Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go?” And he looked touched when a young woman who won a contest through radio sponsor WZLX (celebrating its 30th anniversary) effectively mimicked his jive-taking intro to “Musta Got Lost.”

From a revved-up “Hard Drivin’ Man,” through blues nugget “Homework” and the funky breakdown of “Give It To Me,” to the confetti-blasted “(Ain’t Nothing But a) House Party,” the J. Geils Band hit all the bases in vintage form. Calling for one last song, Wolf still had the gas to toss a falsetto turn into “First I Look at the Purse.”

A stage introduction injected the sense of humor to trumpet the group as a multiple “nominee” for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame when a night like this only reminded how much the J. Geils Band deserves enshrinement.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Lake Street Dive continue to branch out in popularity, as the bubbly New England Conservatory-bred quartet plays Lowell’s Summer Music series at Boarding House Park on Friday and headlines the Amourasaurus! festival at the Pines Theater in Northampton on Sunday. Yet the weirdest coup for the jazz-pop group comes next month when its powerhouse singer Rachael Price steps into the Grace Slick role in a Hot Tuna-led Jefferson Airplane tribute at Virginia’s Lockn' Festival. Speaking of striking singers, this Friday as well, the Sinclair hosts four distinctive local bands in the glammy Sidewalk Driver, the soulful Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents, recent Improper cover star Ruby Rose Fox and rock outfit the Lights Out (who now ironically string LED-light chains on their instruments). And you can also watch all of those groups joining for this video of “Chain of Fools.”

Melissa Etheridge moves into Boarding House Park with her charismatic rock on Saturday and Northampton’s feisty, rising indie-rockers Speedy Ortiz change things up in playing Sunday afternoon aboard the Provincetown II’s Rock and Blues Concert Cruise on Boston Harbor, leaving from the Seaport World Trade Center.

Sound Ideas

Live Review: Phish Plunge into Magnaball Madness

Fans cheer Phish's post-midnight secret jam behind a drive-in screen at Magnaball. Photos by Paul Robicheau.


In 1996, six years before the birth of Bonnaroo, Phish hatched similar campout festivals packed with audio-visual goodies. Ten festivals later, some things haven’t changed, evidenced by this past weekend’s Magnaball in Watkins Glen, N.Y. A load of people show up in a remote location, party down, and revel in tons of music by Phish and only Phish, which performed more than 11 hours of music in eight sets across the weekend.

Granted, the 70,000-strong crowds that showed up in the ’90s (when I covered Phish festivals for the Boston Globe and Rolling Stone) have dissipated, settling into a relatively more comfy 30,000 sellout at Watkins Glen International. That’s a hell of a lot more manageable than the record-setting 600,000 that showed up at the racetrack for 1973's historic Summer Jam with the Allman Brothers Band, the Grateful Dead and the Band.

In turn, Phish erects a skyscraping stage for lighting director Chris Kuroda to spin matrix-like magic, campsites are awarded thematic names (this year after defunct rock venues from the Wetlands to Boston Garden) and the grounds are filled with installations designed by Phish’s visual-art friends. This year’s oddities included a castle-like “laboratory” filled with sideshow-like oddities and assorted sculptures, like a field of green ears.

But the big surprise, even if it's not much of a surprise these days, was an unannounced Phish set on the grounds beyond the main stage -- in this case, a mock drive-in movie screen that sprawled across the bleachers under an illuminated Magnaball sign -- complete with some old cars lined up at the bottom. After midnight on Saturday, Phish slipped onto a tiny stage behind that partially opaque screen to improvise a dark, 50-minute ambient soundscape while fractal visuals floated upon the scrim, eventually teasing glimpses of the live band (in turn, too bad the group didn't activate standard screens for fans on the outskirts to view the weekend's main-stage action). That late-night music also didn’t seem so novel after Phish had slipped into similarly abstract space during a few jams that emerged within three previous regular sets that long day alone. Still, exhaustion breeds the surreal.

That said, Phish has been on fire this summer, consistently jamming at a sophisticated level, fueled by guitarist Trey Anastasio’s experience playing “Fare Thee Well” stadium shows with the surviving members of the Grateful Dead. Sure, Phish took staples like “Chalkdust Torture” and “Down with Disease” for extended rides, but songs like “Bathtub Gin” and even the largely pokey “Prince Caspian” surged upon waves of inspired improv, hovering near the 20-minute mark. Even new songs like the funky “No Men in No Man’s Land” and bassist Mike Gordon’s apt “How Many People Are You?” rocked the field with a surprising edge and energy. Fans responded in kind, not only tossing glowsticks during a “Harry Hood” jam per '90s tradition, but almost any moment they thought was appropriate, at times making the field look like it was under attack from swarms of neon grasshoppers.

Phish served a couple of favorite jams from the band’s Halloween 2014 twist on the sound effects album Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House as well as such rarities as the sing-songy “Buffalo Bill,” Gordon’s “Mock Song” and the Jewish prayer “Avenu Malkenu,” wrapped in Anastasio instrumental “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday,” the theme from his senior thesis at Vermont’s Goddard College. Bluegrass was essentially omitted and covers were limited to five (most notably a soaring take on Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll”) as Phish amazingly played 70 songs without repeats across the weekend while skipping such warhorses as “Piper” and “Fluffhead.”

The band seemingly tried to round out its final set with as many touchstones as possible, serving “Mike’s Song,” "Fuego," “Twist,” “Weekapaug Groove” and a torrid encore of “You Enjoy Myself” -- complete with trampoline bouncing and an a cappella jam to an extensive fireworks display. Keyboardist Page McConnell had the last word – and drew a last laugh from Anastasio – as the music came to an end and he cut through the fireworks with a Halloween sample that blurted “You thought there was going to be a huge explosion, didn't you?”

Earlier, Anastasio practically choked up when he thanked members of the band’s crew while standout drummer Jon Fishman “sucked love” on a vacuum-cleaner hose for comic sonic effect in “I Didn’t Know.” But even though Phish has staged only three festivals since the band’s 2009 return after a five-year breakup, the success of Magnaball gave the impression that this one probably won’t be the last.

All photos (c) 2015 by Paul Robicheau

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