Jan 30, 2007


I can't remember how long it's been since I had a favorite song I wanted to hear over and over--the iPod has so scrambled my sense of what music I own, even when I only recently bought it. M Ward's Transfiguration of Vincent and Beirut's debut album are two I got for the holidays, and I've still only heard bits and pieces of them. The last song I remember continually reloading on my iPod was Elvis Costello's "Almost Ideal Eyes," from the orchestral record My Flame Burns Blue released about a year ago.

I've got a new one, and it's embarrassingly obvious: Lily Allen's "Smile," the sunniest kiss-off song since the heyday of the Smiths. It reminds me a bit of why I couldn't stop playing Cibo Matto's genius second record, Stereotype A: It's got a brilliant, insanely catchy bubblegum chorus over a big, stomping beat. To my ears the effect is something like Pet Sounds meets beatbox, and it's an aesthetic I find utterly disarming. It sounds like what I think of, literally, as "pop" music. (Much less endearing is Ms. Allen's reductively jokey video.)

More at TDF

More links to features at TDF: Theresa Rebeck on The Scene here; Judy Gold asks 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother (a much more interesting show than you'd think from the title, actually) here, and a piece on the late-night sketch/cabaret series "Don't Quit Your Night Job" here.

Jan 29, 2007

Surgical Strike

From the blog of the violist Lev Zhurbin, a.k.a. Ljova, comes this sobering post about a life in the arts, which of course is not confined to music. To wit:
"Music is not surgery" I often say, but in fact the industries I'm involved in often elevate it to that very state. The trouble with making a living in music is - if you want to get paid like a surgeon, you have to do it "right". Whatever "right" means to whomever is paying you.

But nobody wants to pay for music - not even you. I'd love to pay for it, and (though most of it comes to me for free), I do.

The only people who pay for music are people who "have" to - TV networks, brides, and churches. All of them "need" a certain kind of music, but for all of them, music is surgery.

What to do? Not sure. But I think I have to keep looking - looking for this atmosphere where I can breathe and create freely, and still make a living.

Where is that now? I'm not sure. Hopefully nowhere I've already been. But it is equally dangerous - for every Bohemian, there are at least two other people suffering at his or her mercy.

Does this dilemma sound familiar? Given how busy and brilliant Ljova is, it certainly gives pause to a piker like me.

Jan 27, 2007

"Sunday" with Mano & Kelli

His & hers features on the two stars of Reprise!'s staging of Sunday in the Park With George here and here.

Jan 25, 2007

When in Roma

My exposure to what I think of as so-called "gypsy" music has mostly been limited to French and Spanish distillations thereof, from Django Reinhardt to (ahem) Gipsy Kings. I’ve always been inordinately attracted to a sort of Old World, predominantly-minor-key oompah sound, from Weill to Waits to Rota. I’d been acquainted with Goran Bregovic’s irrepressible brass stylings via the extraordinary Balkan epic Underground.

But it’s only been in the past few weeks, since I attended the Golden Festival, and then a recent show at Joe’s Pub featuring the Balkan-style gypsy big band Romashka, and the antsy but gratifying wide-ranging chamber-jam music of Ljova, that I’ve experienced a full bracing blast of real Old World sounds. I’m not sure where this new musical frontier is leading me, but I like the soundtrack so far.

What’s novel and exciting about it—and I especially felt this with Ljova’s impossibly accomplished ensemble—is that it’s devilishly complicated, fully charted music but it felt like these musicians were jamming, grooving together. I felt much the same way about the fascinating string quartet Invert when I saw them play at Issue Project Room some time last year: They came off like a band that had worked out its parts by jamming together. They played like they’d never seen a music stand. I mean that as a high compliment—and as a high bar to shoot far.

Jan 24, 2007

Blast From My Past

I had no idea my little paperback book assignment from a few years back had received such an incisive and thoughtful review (link here). Maybe that will boost the sales into the triple digits!

NY Neos

Duh. While I'm still very excited about the Neo-Futurists' newest Chicago offering, I was only just made aware that they have a New York branch doing their signature sketch show Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. A podcast about it is here.

Jan 18, 2007

Lyman at Bat

Can't find this online anywhere, but I've heard from more than one source that Rick Lyman has taken over Patricia Cohen's job as theater editor at The New York Times. Not sure what this will mean for the Times' theater coverage, but I can say that Patti was unfailingly gracious and responsive in all her dealings with me, which began even before I moved East in the summer of 2005, and that what rewrites she did on my features were always improvements. If that sounds like brown-nosing, so be it--after all, it's now too late to do me any good, except perhaps karmically.

Rocking Amadeus etc.

There are no bylines on 'em, but here are a few features by yours truly which you might find should you wander over to Theatre Development Fund's website: a piece on one of Spring Awakening's 500 producers, Tom Hulce and a piece on teaching artist Nilaja Sun and her show No Child.... And more to come. UPDATE: Well, what do you know, here's Howard Kissel with an amusing piece on how to read criticism.

Jan 14, 2007

Kicking Brass

Thanks to a recent collaboration with the fabulous Mike Savino, I was tipped off about the annual Golden Festival (its official site is overloaded), a raucous all-night fete of Balkan and gypsy music held way uptown (near 207th and Broadway). It was a sweaty, brassy, stringy night in the company of upwards of 40 ensembles, headlined by the incomparable Zlatne Uste—a brass band that never takes the stage, sits down, or uses microphones, just blasts its kicking tunes in the center of a swirling dance floor. Savino was playing a more chambery gig with Ljova, a Russian violist with a seductively arrhythmic style. I won't miss this one again.

Jan 11, 2007


The Neo-Futurists strike again. We can only pray this new piece, based on surveys about what American theater audiences claim they want to see (intentional shades of Komar and Melamid), will make it to New York, as did their last masterwork? (Hat tip George.)

Jan 5, 2007

For Pete's Sake

If you're not otherwise engaged and find yoursef in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn next Tuesday night, here's something I can humbly recommend. I go on at 10 pm with a fabulous bassist and a very passionate accordionist.

UPDATE: Immensely flattered to see who else is on the bill with me.

Oregon Shakes

Bill Rauch has begun his reign at OSF. It's a bit painful, like all change can be, because Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Cornerstone, Rauch's former company, are among my two favorite theater organizations. So there are familiar and beloved names both among those leaving and those coming: Penny Metropulos, Tim Bond, Bill Bloodgood (leaving), and Chris Acebo, Alison Carey, Luis Alfaro (coming in). I trust Rauch's vision, and pray I can find some media institution willing to foot the bill so I can actually witness some of it take shape next year.

Jan 4, 2007

The new TDF.org

I can claim very little credit for it, as I've only been on the job for a few months and the redesign has been a project of many long months. But at last here it is.