Monday, October 31, 2011

A Bright New Boise Begins An Apocalyptic Season at Woolly Mammoth

Photo by Stan Barouh
The Woolly Mammoth's new season is devoted to plays about the apocalypse. As readers of this blog know, I'm a big fan of "end days" stories, so I'm happy to be a season-ticket holder right about now.

The first offering is A Bright New Boise, which takes place mostly in a Wal-Mart-like break room at a retail store in Boise named Hobby Lobby. Will, a former member of an evangelical, cult-like church is escaping his dark past by taking a job there.

His real motive is to reconnect with his long-abandoned son, who also works at the store. But, hard as he tries to build a new life and fix his past mistakes, Will finds it hard to break out of his pattern of constantly waiting for that exact moment when the world will end.

Playwright Samuel D. Hunter's story reminds me a little of Wiener Sausage: The Musical!, my own play with writing partner Dan Sullivan. The big-box setting. The philosophical musings on corporations. The misguided characters. The end of the world. These topics are competing in a crowded field these days, so the fact that Hunter and the actors in the Woolly's production do such a great job is testament to the power of this play.

**** out of ***** stars

Saturday, October 29, 2011


I'm pretty lucky to have experienced three World Series championships so far in my lifetime. 1982. 2006. 2011.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Classic Reads: For Whom the Bell Tolls Previews World War II

Find the other parts of this ongoing series of "Classic Reads" in the Books section.

I don't like 1940's For Whom the Bell Tolls as much as Ernest Hemingway's other master war story, A Farewell to Arms, but that said, this is still better than 99 percent of all other novels.

Robert Jordan is a young American fighting the Fascists, led by Francisco Franco, in the Spanish Civil War, what was a prelude to the gory World War II. He and his elderly guide Anselmo are marching through the mountains of Spain, behind Fascist enemy lines, to meet another similar band of guerrillas, led by the drunken Pablo and his fierce and commandeering wife Pilar. Their plan is to blow up a bridge along with a good amount of Fascist soldiers, who frequently cross the bridge.

Meanwhile, a young girl named Maria has been rescued from starvation, torture, rape, and the execution of her parents at the hands of a band of Fascists. She is convinced nobody will ever be able to love her again, but Jordan convinces her this isn't true and they fall in love.

Along the way, Jordan encounters the remains of another guerrilla leader, El Sordo, and his band that has been slaughtered and beheaded by the Fascists. El Sordo's team was also supposed to help with the bridge scheme, so their defeat makes the plot look even more grim and hopeless. Making matters all the more impossible, Pablo steals the detonator and blasting caps one night while Jordan sleeps, meaning they will have to try and explode the bridge with the more-dangerous method of grenades.

Pablo returns right before the mission is to begin. Jordan uses his original tools and, sure enough, the bridge blows up. But the elderly Anselmo is killed by a flying steel fragment. Jordan, Pablo, Pilar, and Maria are soon trapped by Fascist troops, who fire at them. Jordan insists on being the last of the group to cross a dangerous road, and enemy fire drops his horse right on top of him. The others are able to drag him out of the line of fire, but he knows his leg is crushed. He voices his love to Maria and the others drag her away.

As Jordan contemplates his life in its waning moments, he decides he is not dying in vain. He fought for the common people and he knows he has helped lead them on a long road to eventual victory.

For Whom the Bell Tolls features the classic battle between the hopeful and good Jordan and Anselmo and the despaired, drunken, and bad Pablo. That gives the novel its heft and global meaning, and it is certainly the best story ever told about the Spanish Civil War.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Yuck Rocks. Black Cat Sound Guys Don't Rock.

Good friend Fran Chung wrote up the following review for the entertaining Yuck show the other night at the Black Cat in D.C. I'm just republishing his excellent take (which I completely agree with, and which appeared with this photo and others in DCist) rather than wallow through my own mixed emotions of seeing the show on the same night I got in my first car accident in decades (I'm fine, it wasn't my fault, and our Honda Fit didn't fare too badly). Despite that unfortunate distraction, I still give the show **** out of ***** stars. It was not as good as their recorded work, but I'm chalking that up mostly to the fact that the Black Cat sound engineers seem to be getting worse and worse every show I see there.


The label "1990s revivalists" follows Yuck around inexorably, sometimes an epithet, often a term of endearment, always an apt descriptor for their retro-leaning indie-rock sound. At the Black Cat on Wednesday night, the London-based four-piece wore it as a badge of honor, putting their own youthful spin on familiar tropes from the 20th-century's musically fecund final decade.
On the set-opening "The Base of a Dream is Empty", the guitars of Daniel Blumberg and Max Bloom trailed feedback before the band built up a creamy wall of sound that instantly called My Bloody Valentine to mind. A few songs later, Blumberg affected a J Mascis-like drawl during "The Wall", while "Suicide Policeman" came off as a strummy, mid-tempo ballad reminiscent of early Belle & Sebastian, complete with tender boy-girl harmonies. Bassist Mariko Doi took a lead-vocal turn on the appropriately-titled "Georgia", which sounded like it could have been a lost outtake from one of Yo La Tengo's classic early-'90s albums.
At the heart of the set came "Get Away", Yuck's finest song, and the one that best crystallizes their highly referential, yet distinctly appealing musical aesthetic. Bloom's bright lead guitar melodies sliced through the fuzzed-out mix on top of a throbbing, Pixies-esque bassline that propelled the song forward until Blumberg launched it into the stratosphere with his soaringly anthemic Sparklehorse-meets-Weezer hook. "Summer sun says get out more," Blumberg sang, "I need you, I want you, but I can't get this feeling off my mind." These were trite, jejune sentiments that have been expressed in a thousand tunes, but rarely with as much infectious verve.
By the end of their brisk, hour-long performance, Yuck had run through much of their self-titled debut LP, adding the bonus cut "Soothe Me" and the B-side "Milkshake". As the band capped their set with another Kevin Shields homage, "Rubber", it seemed fair to wonder what the quartet could do for a second act. As fertile a trove of musical resources as the '90s are, surely they are not inexhaustible, and one hopes the band's next record will explore some different territories. For now, though, it's probably best to just go along and enjoy the nostalgic ride.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lemonheads Return With a Glimpse into a 1992 Classic Album

Coming up on 20 years since the release of The Lemonheads' indie-pop 1992 classic, It's a Shame About Ray, it was moving to relive that year the other night at the Black Cat in D.C., with leader Evan Dando and his gang rollicking through a lengthy set with the full album serving as the first part of the evening.

Other than some sound problems for the first three or so songs, with Evan's guitar being too low in the mix, the music sounded great and Evan, who has had his ups and downs over the years, seemed to be in pretty good shape and form. (Apparently this wasn't the case two nights later in New York.)

Some people disagree that he was in fine form. And maybe I'm just too much of a sucker for the dozens of classic songs he and his three-piece band played. (Incidentally, the drummer and bassist were very strong and looked quite a bit like Ray-era bandmates David Ryan and Nic Dalton.) Still, I will admit that this band is by no means anywhere near the prime it was in throughout the early 90s. (I mean, check out this performance on Letterman. They could really throw down, and I even remember talking to Evan one time after a Soul Asylum/Lemonheads show at Mississippi Nights in St. Louis while he was wearing that ridiculous red jacket.)

I spoke with Evan briefly after Friday night's show and he was personable, in good spirits, remembered hanging out with me last year at Iota and letting me play his guitar, and spent some time seriously making out with one of his merch girls (while a line waited to buy shirts, open-mouthed and gawking). He also was very open to taking photos with his fans, as pictured here with some guy (and his favorite merch girl).

**** out of ***** stars

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Bike Tour Atlanta, Part 3: Pop Culture Edition

Finishing up my series on the great bike ride I recently enjoyed from Bicycle Tours of Atlanta (here are parts 1 and 2), this installment looks at some great entertainment options that happened to be in town while we rode.

First up, courtesy of my guide Robyn, is me taking a photo of a theater called the Variety Playhouse in the hipster neighborhood of Little Five Points, where my favorite new band, Girls, was playing. Unfortunately, my flight was leaving for home in a few hours. I would go on to miss Girls play in D.C. a few nights later for some similarly lame excuse.

Next, we wound our way downtown, where we had lunch and wheeled past the famed "fabulous" Fox Theater, where one of my son's favorite kids groups was set to perform. If you aren't yet familiar with Yo Gabba Gabba!, watch this bit with Jack Black.

And finishing out my blog bike tour, we stopped by the Martin Luther King National Historic Site, which is a large complex not far from the spot where the bike tour leaves from, in the Old Fourth Ward. Two highlights were seeing the wooden wagon MLK's coffin was carried in as part of his funeral march, and the gentleman in the photo who serenaded Robyn and I with a song of faith.