Arts Fuse critics select the best in music, theater, and film that’s coming up this week.
By The Arts Fuse Staff.
Roots and World Music
Indian Ranch, Webster, MA
Songwriter-turned-star Johnson’s success has come despite being just about the polar opposite of the typical, pre-packaged, mainstream country hunk. But there’s one classic country tradition that Johnson doesn’t embrace: stage banter. Last winter at the Royale, he put on a blistering, two-hour show so packed with songs that he never even stopped to introduce the band.
Hard-touring purveyors of a variety of regional Mexican (and Mexican-American) styles, Los Inquietos are back on the road plugging their latest collection of story songs, “Mi Amigo El De Arriba.”
There’s not much of a blues circuit left, and the few authentic acts still out there tend to pass by Boston. Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials’ energetic sets at last weekend’s Lowell Folk Festival reminded us how thrilling a good, road-tested blues band can be. Thankfully Chan’s in Woonsocket keeps the torch burning. Their August calendar includes a rare local date by former Muddy Waters and Magic Slim sideman John Primer, one of the best practitioners of old-school electric Chicago blues. The excellent soul-blues journeyman Johnny Rawls shows up a week later. Rawls is also playing the second Gloucester Blues Festival on August 10—but he’s joined on the bill by a number of loud blues-rock acts who are long on pyrotechnics and short on vocal talent.
The history of R&B is littered with lousy record deals, but the founding members of War have it especially tough. Even though Howard Scott, Harold Brown, BB Dickerson, and harmonica innovator Lee Oskar played on every single hit the Latin funk legends had, legal woes have left them unable to even call themselves “former members of War” in concert ads. Meanwhile, a dubious band calling itself War—despite having only one original War band member, keyboardist Lonnie Jordan—scores lucrative gigs playing “Cisco Kid” and “Why Can’t We Be Friends” to clueless casino gamblers. Scott, Brown, Dickerson, and Oskar have toyed with alternate names—once they played the Middle East as “Guerra,” and then there was the time that as “S.O.B. (Same Old Band)” they drew all of 10 people to an excellent show at the old House of Blues. Their current moniker references one of their biggest hits. Their first New England show in about 15 years finds them opening for Dave Mason at this free, South Shore street fair.
One of the benefits of living in Boston is the chance to hear Malian balafon master Balla Kauyate, an area resident, on a regular basis. This show finds him debuting a new duet with cellist and fellow Yo-Yo Ma collaborator Mike Block. And no, that 11 p.m. showtime on a Tuesday does not seem to be a listings typo—the club has West Coast singer/songwriter Steve Poltz at 8 p.m.
About a decade ago, elusive funk guitarist Otis’s 1974 LP Inspiration Information was reissued to much fanfare. But Otis squandered the momentum with what were described as horrendously unfocused performances, and his gigs dried up before a Boston show could get booked. The same album is now getting yet another push—this time from Sony, which is likely banking on a forthcoming documentary becoming the next Searching for Sugarman. Live show reports have been considerably more positive this time around. Otis’s hipster cred means he’s also been tapped to play the Nines Festival, a new indie and electronic music event in Devens, MA, on August 10.
Speaking of compelling music documentary subjects, one of the best we’ve seen recently was Family Band: The Cowsills Story. The tale of the real-life inspirations for the Partridge Family is a harrowing one, but surviving siblings Susan, Paul and Bob still have their dignity and the harmonies they employed on “Hair” and “The Rain, The Park and Other Things” are intact. (The other living Cowsill, John, is busy with his gig as drummer for the Beach Boys.) Route 1’s Asian-food palace seems like an appropriately cheesy place to see the godparents of sunshine pop do an acoustic show.
— Noah Schaffer
Stephen Drury, pianist
Presented by Monadnock Music
August 3, 7:30 p.m.
Peterborough Town House, Peterborough, NH
One of Boston’s great new music champions performs a typically eclectic and provocative program: Chopin’s Ballade no. 1 paired with Frederic Rzewski’s landmark variations, The People United Will Never Be Defeated!.
Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring
Presented by the Boston Symphony Orchestra
August 4, 2:30 p.m.
Koussevitzky Music Shed at Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
Charles Dutoit, who’s developed one of the deepest and most musically meaningful relationships with the BSO over the last several decades, leads a performance of Stravinsky’s groundbreaking ballet. Stravinsky’s early Fireworks and Dvorak’s popular Cello Concerto (with Yo-Yo Ma) round out the program.
— Jonathan Blumhofer
Listening to the Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s “Fiesta Sinfónica” on Wednesday evening, I was not in the least surprised to find bassist/vocalist/composer Alex Alvear in the thick of an evening of excellent music, as liaison with IBA/Villa Victoria and as literally a major voice in the premiere of Gonzalo Grau’s Viaje. Alex and many of the other guest performers will be back in action on Friday evening when his brilliant (and funky) “salad” of Latin rhythms, Mango Blue, returns to the Regattabar for two not-to-be-missed shows.
Bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Adam Nussbaum have strong links to Boston and to the Berklee College of Music in particular, and it’s always a pleasure to hear them again. The wild card in this aggregation, though, is Israeli saxophonist Ohad Talmor. The last time Swallow and Talmor went into the studio, the result was the CD L’Histoire du Clochard, which gave Swallow’s original compositions a Stravinskian twist. So, expect some surprising moments when the trio reconvenes at the Regattabar on Wednesday.
— J. R. Carroll
Bank of America Pavilion, Boston, MA
I have few fond memories of my 6th-grade music class. Arts education is of course important, but man, it isn’t always fun. The one saving grace of the class in question was that the teacher would start things off by allowing an assigned student to bring in a song of their choosing (on one of those newfangled CD thingies) to play for the class. The student could bring in whatever he or she wanted, keeping in mind two rules: no swearing and no rap music. Thinking about it now, the no swearing was understandable, though the no rap decree was both musically closed minded and borderline racist. I remember lots of Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Aerosmith (Big Ones was well-loved by 6th graders in suburban Massachusetts), but my most vivid memory is of the day one of my classmates brought in “Loser” by Beck. Now, there are no swears in “Loser,” and Beck isn’t really rapping, but somewhere around the second refrain of “I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me,” my teacher pushed the “stop” button. To her credit, my teacher wasn’t angry with my classmate’s selection, she just wouldn’t allow it to continue playing. After all, there’s no telling what kind of suicidal maniacs we would have turned into if she had.
That was two decades ago, and Beck is still at it. “Loser” had “one hit wonder” written all over it, and yet by continually evolving and pushing at the boundaries of his sound, Beck has thrived and still stands as one of the most respected artists of his generation (Radiohead pulled off a similar trick when they escaped the corner that “Creep” had seemingly painted them into). I don’t expect my middle school music teacher will be at Bank of American Pavilion Friday night to see him, but I’m sure even she would have to grudgingly admit Beck has had a pretty respectable career. Hell, he just headlined the Newport Folk Festival!
— Adam Ellsworth
André Gregory: Before and After Dinner
Through August 9th
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
One of the summer’s most exciting theatrical events in New York is The Public Theater’s presentation of Wallace Shawn’s The Designated Mourner, directed by André Gregory. Their collaboration goes back 40 years. Together they shared ideas on life, love, and art in Louis Malle’s 1981 film, My Dinner with Andre, which they co-wrote. Now at long last there is a documentary in which this marvelous artist speaks about life, the nature of art, and the creative process. For anyone who loves the theater, this is not to be missed.
The Early Films of Alfred Hitchcock
Harvard Film Archive Cambridge, MA
This rare series continues with The Trouble With Harry on Friday and a rare screening of his 1927 silent film, Downhill with piano accompaniment on Saturday. A double feature on Sunday includes The Secret Agent (1936) with Rich and Strange (1931). Monday is The Paradine Case (1947) with Gregory Peck and Charles Laughton.
The Look of Love
The Brattle Theater, Cambridge, MA
A new Michael Winterbottom film is always a cause for celebration. His prolific filmmaking includes the semi-documentary Road to Guantánamo and In This World, as well as winning comedies with Steve Coogan—24 Hour Party People, Tristram Shandy: a Cock and Bull Story, and The Trip. Winterbottom’s current film features Coogan as Paul Raymond who, in the late 1960s and 1970s, became the British soft-core porn “King of Soho.” This should be interesting.
— Tim Jackson
Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht
Directed by Tony Simotes
Staged by Shakespeare & Company
Through August 25
The Tina Packer Playhouse, Lenox, MA
OBIE Award-winner John Douglas Thompson joins Academy Award winner Olympia Dukakis in a production of Brecht’s rough-hearted and -minded anti-war play. They are using critic Eric Bentley’s translation. (The esteemed theater critic is 96.) It should, if performed well, provide “a profound insight into the moral implications of war.”
— Bill Marx