Thursday morning music news: Bon Iver and the Flaming Lips get fuzzy, De La Soul gets back and Earl Scruggs passes on / Volker Neumann

RIP to one of the greatest musicians ever to draw a breath: Earl Scruggs has died at the age of 88.

Behold: The complete list of Record Store Day releases.

Because of apparent bandwidth issues, Paste names only 10 Missouri bands “you should listen to now.”

Mike Skinner of the Streets talks about his new memoir.

Fact Magazine lists the 10 best and worst posthumous albums of all time.

Aussie band Jet is no more. City Pages tries to persuade you to mourn.

Download some beyond-classic ’80s-era mixes by DJ Jeff Mills.

The Quietus takes you deep inside Abbey Road Studios.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse dive into the American folk songbook.

Bobby Womack has stage one colon cancer.

De La Soul is back (sort of) as First Serve.

Flaming Lips + Bon Iver = Fuzz not for the faint of heart.

Sonic Youth’s Lee Renaldo has a sit down with PopMatters.

Together again: Snoop Dogg and Willie.

The AV Club tries to guess headliners for Lollapalooza 2012.

No guessing required: The Twangfest 16 lineup is out.

Watch a new video for a new Sigur Rós song.

Found: The lost guitar solo from George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun.”

“Least negative” is not exactly “most awesome,” but the music industry will take it.

There are root canals, and then there is the American Hipster YouTube Channel.

Concert review: The Hive Dwellers (with Dustin Wong, Woodsman and Sleep in Sundays) play by their own rules at the Luminary Center for the Arts, Tuesday, March 27 / Sarah Cass

In her book “Bossypants” Tiny Fey describes “30 Rock” co-star Alec Baldwin’s “Irish Negotiating Technique” as Baldwin saying “they offered me more money and I told them to go f**k themselves.” Baldwin might have too much money to care by this point, but his technique is not terribly different from that of Calvin Johnson, frontman of the Hive Dwellers.

Formerly of Beat Happening and Dub Narcotic Soundsystem and the founder/current owner of the iconic K Records, Johnson has remained stalwartly independent throughout his career. Preferring touring to radio, affordable all-ages shows to pricier tickets and merch, and offbeat small venues to rock clubs, Johnson is an indie rock idealist who has turned a philosophy of an eternally youthful, energetic, defiantly anti-corporate art form into a decades-long reality.

The Hive Dwellers visited the Luminary last night as part of their second national tour, supported by Dustin Wong, Woodsman and local band Sleep in Sundays. I caught all but Dustin Wong, who played after the headliner for whatever reason. This was an unconventional lineup and a little too late for me, a reviewer who is otherwise employed at a very early hour on weekdays. Sincerest apologies to Dustin Wong. If I didn’t have to work today, I would have stayed for your set.

The three-fourths of the evening I was able to see was constructed as a gradual escalation of sound. Sleep in Sundays played mild, pastoral indie folk featuring soft-spoken vocals and ambient traffic effects so hushed they could be tides. Fuzzy blanket music isn’t typically the best warm-up for a headliner but segued well into Woodsman‘s set, a perpetual ambient landscape of psych rock. The Denver-based group performed what could have been an experimental jam session with crisp, refined guitars and drums creating an acidy but not at all dissonant sound.

A roving co-op art project of sorts, the lineup of the Hive Dwellers varies, but the incarnation to visit the Luminary last night consisted of Johnson, Gabriel Will (guitar/bass) and Evan Hashi (drums). This no-frills three-piece played minimalist arrangements without the benefit of a mic for Johnson, whose vocals were at times so deep that they bordered on spoken word. The Hive Dwellers performed with the house lights up, creating an almost busker-like atmosphere that especially enhanced the stream-of-consciousness “Get It” as well as a brief dissertation on the science of touring between small towns and big cities. It’s one thing to talk to your audience with stage lights in your face, but it’s another to have a face-to-face conversation with people you can actually see.

The Hive Dwellers don’t do affectation or adornment. Johnson told stories to Hashi’s snappy, unobtrusive beat, and Will (who looks like Van Gogh crossed with Robby Krieger) nonchalantly ran through bossanova bass lines and funk-derived licks.

K Records’ site describes the Hive Dwellers as: “…a band, a combo (as in combination) of disparate individuals who share a common love of rock ‘n’ roll, library cards and railroad travel…the Hive Dwellers are present tense, bearing witness to the maraca wilderness of the modern Basement State.” This is an almost laughably hipster explanation, but it’s accurate, and perhaps “disparate” is the best way to describe musicians who can so effortlessly produce what is essentially free-form jazz in the basement of a former elementary school.

Concert review: A packed Pageant swoons for the Head and the Heart (with Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives), Sunday, March 25

The Head and the Heart at the Pageant in St. Louis, March 25, 2012

Kate McDaniel

The Head and the Heart brought an abundance of sing-along sunshine from Seattle to St. Louis on Sunday night at the Pageant. Joyful attendees stomped, clapped and swayed along to the sweet folk-rock and harmonies offered throughout the evening.

Opening act for this KDHX-welcomed night, Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives gave an emotional and psychedelic display of their own breed of folk-rock, progressing through a variety of musical influences. As frontman Drew Grow entered alone, his droopy, blue cabby hat shading his face, he took his position at center stage surrounded by four guitars. Grabbing an acoustic, he began strumming and singing a simple folk song and was soon joined by band members taking their respective positions and offering supporting harmonies to the modest introduction.

With all four members now on stage, the band launched into a passionate rock jam reminiscent of Langhorne Slim. Midway through their set, Drew Grow and company were joined on stage by the Head and The Heart’s co-frontmen, Jon Russell and Josiah Johnson, adding a tambourine and maraca to the mix. Aggressively wandering through rockabilly, folk and psychedelia, the raw vibes, powerful harmonies and ambient explorations gained quick approval as the crowd in the pit grew denser. The band concluded with a full-throttle jam before inviting members from their fellow touring acts to join them on stage for a final gospel tune laden with tambourines, shakers and vocal harmonies.

Roadies and band members alike set up equipment and stage décor preparing for the evening’s main event. As the room swelled with anticipation the crowd danced along to M83 playing through the speakers before the band entered to My Morning Jacket’s “Wordless Chorus.” The crowd cheered and continued to dance as the band took to their positions. Russell stood at center stage with an acoustic guitar on one side and an electric on the other. Johnson to his left held his acoustic, while Charity Rose Thielen stood behind a wildflower-wound microphone stand with her violin. Drums, bass and piano were all situated in the background; this was to be the most still the band would be for the rest of the evening.

Beginning in correlation with their sole album to date, drumsticks tapped the intro of “Cats and Dogs” as vocals and guitars joined. As the bass line kicked in, the lights strung between Chinese lantern globes overhead glowed warmly. Continuing in line with the album, the band moved directly into “Couer d’Alene,” as fans cheered and sang along. The dim Chinese lanterns took over stage brightening again as the piano introduced the third song of the album, “Ghosts.”

Following the soft piano outro, Russell announced the first of a handful of new songs for the evening. After the audience showed their appreciation, the band continued to direct the choir of the crowd through more of their album hits. The layers of harmonies soared beautifully throughout the building as the band drew energy from the audience and danced about the stage.

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Theatre Review: ‘How We Got On’ at the Humana Festival

Terrell Donnell Sledge as Hank and Deonna Bouye as Louann in "How We Got On"

“How We Got On” by Idris Goodwin
Directed by Wendy C. Goldberg
The Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville
Through April 1, 2012

View Chuck and Joan Lipkin’s video blog review.

Synopsis: “Hank, Julian and Luann are the flip side to the A story of hip hop’s rise in the late 1980s—kids who forge a cultural identity in the white suburbs by dueling with poetry in parking lots and dubbing beats on a boom box. In this coming-of-age tale remixed, a DJ loops us through the lives of three Midwestern teen rappers who discover the power of harmony over discord.”

If I had to single out one play as the high point of this year’s Humana Festival, this would be it. As someone whose musical tastes run more to classical, cabaret, musical theatre and vintage rock, I wasn’t sure I’d find much to love in a piece in which rap and hip-hop play a crucial role. That idea, as it turns out, was totally wack.

“How We Got On” is a literate, poetic, deeply felt and warmly human look at three suburban teens (two black and one Latino) in 1988 trying to make sense of their lives, their ambitions, and their relationships with their parents while learning to express themselves with rhymes and beats. A DJ/narrator holds it all together and weaves a highly educational history of history of rap into the story. The result is a compelling, moving, funny, and exciting piece of theatre that deserves—and will likely get—a wider audience in the future.

Terrell Donnell Sledge is the bright and vulnerable Hank, who provides the rhymes for the brash beats and stage persona of Brian Quijada’s aggressive Julian. As the play progresses, Hank learns that he must let go of his fear and Julian of his anger and need to succeed at any cost before they can truly express themselves. Luann (Deonna Bouye) helps them find the key to unlock their souls—and shows them that a girl can rap and rhyme with the best of them. These three charismatic and gifted performers are not only fully invested in their roles but prove to be tremendously entertaining rappers as well with crystal-clear elocution and some wicked dance moves.

As the DJ Selector (who also takes on other roles, including all the parents) Crystal Fox is slick, soulful, and thoroughly engaging.

Playwright Goodwin describes himself as a “Break Beat Poet” whose work includes essays, poetry, and rap performances as well as plays. “How We Got On” makes a very strong case for rap and hip-hop as poetry, and demonstrates how they connect with far older traditions, including the basic human need to move, groove, and sing. It’s a joyous celebration of the things that make us human and give our lives meaning. Casting it might be a challenge for some companies, but even so I expect this to be making the rounds for years to come.

Join in the discussion on Twitter with the #hf36 hash tag and follow me @clavazzi. Look for Joan Lipkin’s reviews at The Vital Voice.

Theatre Review: ‘The Hour of Feeling’ at the Humana Festival

Rasha Zamamiri as Abir and Hadi Tabbal as Adham in "The Hour of Feeling"

“The Hour of Feeling” by Mona Mansour
Directed by Mark Wing-Davey
The Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville
Through April 1, 2012

View Chuck and Joan Lipkin’s video blog review.

Synopsis: “It’s 1967 and the map of the Middle East is about to change drastically. Fueled by a love of English Romantic poetry, Adham journeys from Palestine to London with his new wife, Abir, to deliver a career-defining lecture. As the young couple’s marriage is tested, Adham struggles to reconcile his ambitions with the pull of family and home. But what if seizing the moment means letting go of everything he knows?”

As the late John Fitzgerald Kennedy once noted, we are a nation of immigrants. Outside of the alternate reality inhabited by the current round of paranoid nativists, the history of America is a history of immigration, so stories of people forced to leave their homelands should have real resonance for us. I speak from personal experience here—my grandparents were political and economic refugees.

In light of all this, then, I should have been moved by “The Hour of Feeling”, but I found this story of a man trapped between two cultures curiously uninvolving. Partly, I think, that’s because Adham is a curiously unsympathetic character who seems to have a surprisingly impoverished inner life for a scholar of poetry. He never seems to connect with anyone, including his wife, and two hours of that sort of disconnect can make for pretty static drama.

It’s hard to know how much of my response to this play stems from the text vs. the direction and acting. Mark Wing-Davey’s pacing seemed slow, though, and some of the blocking choices appeared puzzling, putting the actors in awkward juxtaposition, so I’m inclined to cut the actors some slack.

Given the script and direction, I thought the work of Hadi Tabbal as Adham, Rasha Zamamiri as Abir, and Judith Delgado as Adham’s tough-as-nails mother Beder was very professional. David Barlow and William Connell have the somewhat unenviable task of playing a pair of stereotypical upper-crust academics, as does Marianna McClellan as the flighty girlfriend of one of them, but they make the most of what they’ve been given.

“The Hour of Feeling” raises some very compelling issues about the meaning of place and home in a world that is becoming increasingly “hot, flat, and crowded” (as Thomas Friedman says). Perhaps a different director might find more life in it. It’s certainly within the technical capabilities of other regional theatres, so it will be interesting to see what future productions make of it.

Join in the discussion on Twitter with the #hf36 hash tag and follow me @clavazzi. Look for Joan Lipkin’s reviews at The Vital Voice.

Theatre Review: ‘Michael von Siebenberg Melts Through the Floorboards’ at the Humana Festival

Baron Michael von Siebenberg lines up his next meal

“Michael von Siebenberg Melts Through the Floorboards” by Greg Kotis
Directed by Kip Fagan
The Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville
Through April 15, 2012

View Chuck and Joan Lipkin’s video blog review.

Synopsis: “Meet Baron Michael von Siebenburg: a 500-year-old Austrian bachelor living in an American city, whose secret of eternal youth involves endless first dates and a special meat tenderizer. But when his landlady gets suspicious and the ghost of a medieval comrade commands him to take Constantinople back from the Turks, Michael finds himself haunted by past and present. A hilariously dark comedy about the rigors of vampiric immortality.”

Some vampire tales, to paraphrase Tom Lehrer, don’t go far enough. This one goes too far, at least for me. As the author of the hilariously satirical “Urinetown”, Mr. Kotis clearly knows how to find laughs in material which, on the face of it, looks pretty tasteless, so this send-up of immortal bloodsuckers ought to be funny. I just found it creepy, however—and not in a good way. No matter how well it’s handled, I find it hard to get much entertainment value from a play in which the protagonist and his cohort maintain themselves by killing, pulverizing, and eating women. This gets too close to serial killer/Dahmer territory for me.

Yes, the vampire von Siebenberg finally decides to melt through the floorboards and die rather than continue in his bloody ways, but I didn’t find his conversion from cannibalism to love all that convincing. Still, others in our party found the play highly entertaining. Your own mileage might vary.

As was the case with everything we saw at the festival this weekend, the cast for “Michael von Siebenberg” was first rate, headed by Rufus Collins in the title role, Michah Stock as his “Jaeger” (hunter) Sammy (who is responsible for victim recruitment), Caralyn Kozlowski as the sprit of Michael’s wife Maria, and John Ahlin as the ghost of Michael’s Crusader colleague Otto, who absurdly exhorts him to fly to Constantinople and re-take the city for Christendom. There’s great work as well by Ariana Venturi and Laura Heisler as both victims and incredibly clueless cops and Rita Gardner as the justifiably suspicious Mrs. Rosemary.

“Michael von Siebenburg” was staged in the 637-seat Pamela Brown Auditorium, so sets, lighting, and technical effects were pretty stunning. At well over two and one-half hours (including intermission), it’s a bit long, with a first act that goes over the same ground too many times (at least for me), but given the popularity of vampire lore these days the play may find eternal life with regional theatre companies looking for a potential commercial success. Personally, I’ll stick with Dracula.

Join in the discussion on Twitter with the #hf36 hash tag and follow me @clavazzi. Look for Joan Lipkin’s reviews at The Vital Voice.

Theatre Review: ‘The Veri**on Play’ at the Humana Festival

Jenni and her co-conspirators

“The Veri**on Play” by Lisa Kron
Directed by Nicholas Martin
Original music by Jeanine Tesori
The Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville
Through April 1, 2012

View Chuck and Joan Lipkin’s video blog review.

Synopsis: “When Jenni called customer service, all she wanted was to fix a minor problem with her cell phone bill. Instead she was sucked into a vortex of unimaginable horror. Now she wants revenge—or to get her cell phone service turned back on. Part thriller, part screwball comedy, part inspired by events that have undoubtedly happened to YOU.”

In a world dominated by omnipresent corporations (or, here in the USA, omnipresent “persons”), nearly everyone has a bad “customer service” experience. Actor/playwright Lisa Kron, however, has turned hers into a 70-minute piece of highly entertaining Brechtian agitprop that sharply satirizes the corrupting influence of corporate power and the ease with which corporate media distract us from that influence with a steady stream of celebrity trivia. Noted theatre composer Jeanine Tesori (“Thoroughly Modern Millie”, “Caroline, or Change”) provides the effective incidental music and a rousing anti-corporate anthem for an audience sing-along at the end.

Playwright Kron has the star turn as the beleaguered Jenni. Hannah Bos does a great quick-change routine as Ingrid and Cydney and Carolyn Baeumler is a wonderfully duplicitous Anissa. Others in the fine cast are: Joel Van Liew, Kimberly Hébert-Gregory, Ching Valdes-Aran, Clayton Dean Smith, Calvin Smith, Sabrina Contini, and Chris Reid.

There’s an international chase scene near the end that is, perhaps, a bit drawn out (although I appreciate its relevance as a commentary on the world-wide reach of the corporatocracy), but otherwise “The Veri**on Play” is a neat piece of satire that deserves additional productions.

Join in the discussion on Twitter with the #hf36 hash tag and follow me @clavazzi. Look for Joan Lipkin’s reviews at The Vital Voice.

Theatre Review: ‘Death Tax’ at the Humana Festival

Quincy Tyler Bernstine as Nurse Tina and Danielle Skraastad as Maxine in "Death Tax"

“Death Tax” by Lucas Hnath
Directed by Ken Rus Schmoll
Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville
Through April 1, 2012

View Chuck Lavazzi and Joan Lipkin’s video blog

The synopsis: “Maxine is rich. Maxine is dying. Maxine thinks Nurse Tina is trying to kill her. When the patient confronts her caretaker, her accusations have unforeseen—and irrevocable—consequences, in this tightly-wound thriller about money, power and the value of a human life.”

Like many of the plays we saw at the Humana Festival, “Death Tax” could stand a bit of trimming, but even in its current form it has a dramatic power that can’t be denied, demonstrating forcibly the corrupting effects of money and power—and, for that matter, of want and powerlessness. It also raises disturbing questions: as medical science advances, will we become a race divided between those who can purchase virtual immortality and those who can’t? And what will that mean? “Death Tax” suggests the answers might not be pleasant.

“Death Tax” unfolds mostly as a series of monologues with a few duet scenes, and provides one of the great monstrous characters of the stage in the character of Maxine. She ruthlessly manipulates everyone around her: Nurse Tina (who is not, in fact, trying to kill her), Tina’s boss Todd, Maxine’s daughter, and even, in a chilling final scene, a social worker and Maxine’s grandson. She uses money and later guilt as weapons to prolong her life, destroying many others in the process. Like “Sunset Boulevard”, this is an American horror story without the supernatural.

The cast is tremendous. Judith Roberts is a nearly demonic figure as she rages, cajoles, wheedles and generally screws over everyone around her. Quincy Tyler Bernstine carries off the very different roles of Nurse Tina and the social worker with great skill, as does T. J. Kenneally as Todd and the grandson. Danielle Skraastad has only one major scene as the daughter, but she makes it her own.

As is the case with many Humana Festival shows, “Death Tax” has relatively modest technical demands, so it should be well within the reach of not only regional companies but smaller theatres as well. It has political and moral implications that deserve attention.

Join in the discussion on Twitter with the #hf36 hash tag and follow me @clavazzi. Look for Joan Lipkin’s reviews at The Vital Voice.

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