Review: The Chieftains’ UMS Show at Hill Thrills Fans


The Chieftains support local artists, even letting them join in the fun.

The Chieftains support local artists, even letting them join in the fun.

Just a wee bit in advance of St. Patrick’s Day, the University Musical Society brought the Chieftains to Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium on Saturday, March 5th. And if this charming, 90-minute show failed to get you in the mood for the holiday, nothing would.

The Chieftains have been torch-bearers, and set the gold standard, for Irish music for more than half a century now. One of the group’s founding members, Paddy Moloney, still sings and plays the pipes and tin whistle at center stage. The band’s current roster also includes Tara Breen (violin, saxophone, dance), Jon Pilatzke (fiddle and stepdance), Kevin Conneff (bodhran and vocals), Matt Molloy (flute), Triona Marshall (harp and piano), and Tim Edey (guitar and accordian), with featured stepdancer Nathan Pilatzke, and featured vocalist and dancer Alyth McCormack.

The Chieftains – perhaps not surprisingly, given their longevity – have a pitch-perfect sense of balancing up-tempo, foot-stomping reels with more delicate numbers. Following a spirited fiddle solo (and dance) by Breen early in the show, Conneff sang “The Flower of Magherally,” largely without any musical accompaniment, letting us focus entirely on the melody and story. Then a quick take on “Cotton Eyed Joe” played out before McCormack appeared on stage to sing the moving ballad, “The Foggy Dew” (previously recorded by the Chieftains with Sinead O’Connor).

With such a vast catalog of music from which to choose, the Chieftains inevitably venture beyond the songs most familiar to fans. Among “new to me” offerings were: the Chinese tune “Full of Joy” (not my favorite, but a clear demonstration of the group’s commitment to sharing not just their own culture’s music); an inspired, gorgeous harp solo, masterfully delivered by Marshall; a song for Nelson Mandela titled, “The Troublemaker’s Jig”; and a musical reading of W. B. Yeats' poem, “Never Give All the Heart.”

But the Chieftains also offered tunes from the documentary television series The Long Journey Home (about Irish migration to the United States), including the American standard “Oh Shenandoah,” accompanied by the Ann Arbor Grail Singers. Indeed, several local groups were integrated into Saturday evening’s show, including Lansing’s Glen Erin Pipe Band (featured most prominently in “San Patricio”), and young students from Plymouth’s O’Hare School of Irish Dance.

This leads me to mention the electrifying role dance played in Saturday’s show. Though Breen was the first to put down her violin, various combinations of dancers performed throughout the show, and the consequence was consistently thrilling.

Most breathtaking of all were the Pilatzke brothers, whose percussive, perfectly synced, wildly complex dances conveyed a palpable sense of joy. I cheered every time they made their way back to the stage’s dance space. Something about their connection to each other amped the energy even higher, and in one instance, as they danced without music, they reminded us that, sometimes, the dance and the music are one and the same.

As the show neared its end, Moloney thanked the crowd and said, “This is one of our very favorite venues,” then played an encore and invited people from the crowd to join in a traveling dance line that moved through the aisles before heading back to the stage. Several fans rushed across their rows to take part, demonstrating the crowd’s unbridled enthusiasm for the show. With everyone’s hands joined, raising and lowering in time together, the moment seemed a wholly fitting conclusion to a night that felt so heartwarming and hopeful.


Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.

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Review: Folk Musician Chris Buhalis - New Album Release Show



Buhalis's music has taken him all over the country, but he’s always returned home to Michigan.

Local folk musician Chris Buhalis says that his newest album Big Car Town, coming out March 11, is very Detroit-focused. “You’re never sure how well that’s going to go over in some places,” he joked to attendees at a small concert in an Ypsilanti home last month. Buhalis was born on the east side of Detroit in 1969 and, though his music has taken him all over the country, he’s always returned home to Michigan.

Buhalis is a master of evoking the feel of a place in his songs, and those familiar with Michigan will connect deeply with many of the tracks on his new record. The title track talks of Buhalis’s experiences growing up in Detroit. I loved the line in the chorus “Jesus saves, and Gordie Howe gets the rebound,” which Buhalis remembers seeing spray painted in giant letters on the backside of Olympia Stadium before it was demolished.

Buhalis doesn’t just sing about Michigan, though. One of the privileges of seeing him in such a small and casual venue was that he was able to talk intimately and at length with the audience. He talked after every song, sharing stories about his life now and about experiences he had in the past, tying it all back in eventually to the next song that he was going to play. For example, when he was driving to the Boundary Waters between Minnesota and Canada years ago, Buhalis said that he saw the same truck pass him three times on a long stretch of lonely road. That truck driver was the inspiration for one of the songs. Buhalis also told us the story behind the song “Whiskey Six,” which he performed as well. He read about the men who, during the Prohibition Era, would drive their Model Ts back and forth across the frozen Detroit River, transporting alcohol from Canada to the United States. These cars were known as “whiskey sixes,” and Buhalis was so fascinated by the concept that he had to write a song about it.

Buhalis also covered three Woody Guthrie songs, the last one—“This Land is Your Land”—by request from the audience. I was thrilled to hear him cover Bruce Springsteen, too; he played “Two Hearts” and told us that he couldn’t wait to see Bruce on his upcoming The River tour -Buhalis has already seen him multiple times, and said he wouldn’t miss it.

The Big Car Town release will be accompanied by a show at The Ark on March 11. Buhalis will be joined at the show by Jeff Plankenhorm, Dominic John Davis, and Michael Shimmin, all of whom played on the record.


Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at AADL and shares Buhalis' love of The Boss.


The March 11 show at The Ark starts at 8 pm and doors are at 7:30. Tickets are $15. Visit The Ark’s website for more information.

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Team Laith Al-Saadi!


Ann Arbor favorite Laith Al-Saadi appeared in a blind audition episode of NBC's The Voice on March 1st, earning interest from two of the show's four judges. His powerful rendition of Joe Cocker's own blues-rock cover of "The Letter," complete with a Pharrell-wowing guitar solo, grabbed the interest of judges Blake Shelton and Adam Levine. Al-Saadi noted his near-constant performance schedule, which is already well-known here in his hometown.

In fact, you can catch him performing at Weber's Habitat Lounge or the Arena Sports Bar a few nights this week and next, and probably beyond! Go Team Laith!


Sara Wedell is a Production Librarian at AADL and thinks Team Adam was probably the right call.


The Voice airs on NBC on Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 pm.

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Review: Alvin Lucier: I am sitting in a room


Alvin Lucier sitting in a room.

Alvin Lucier sitting in a room.

Some might say Alvin Lucier: I am sitting in a room is not art by any means. But it is certainly right to say that it’s art by other means.

The Connecticut-based Lucier’s uncanny project—in the cutting-edge UMMA Irving Stenn, Jr., Family Project Gallery at the University of Michigan Museum of Art—is likely to be as underwhelming in its appearance as it is overwhelming in its accumulative cacophony.

The Stenn Project Gallery space has been stripped of everything except a few panels of soundproof insulation against its walls and armless couches for listeners to sit upon. Standing aside in the dimly lit gallery—and standing alone on a strategically placed black pedestal—is a single audio speaker. The only other thing left—as is sometimes said—is art.

Well, that’s to say, what’s left is a particular application of 20th century modernism because I am sitting in a room is as much creativity for the mind as it is an increasingly out-of-tune artful melody for the ear.

Lucier’s artistry—as minimalist in its execution as it is complex in its single-minded commitment—is analogous in spirit (though differing in execution) from the ambient replication of Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and La Monte Young. It’s an enigmatic industrial drone that has as much of an equal footing in proto-electronica as it does abstract conceptualism.

Originally crafted in 1969 at Brandeis University’s Electronic Music Studio as an experimental echo installation, Lucier’s intent was— and still is through its systematized multiplication—to scramble the physical property of soundwaves through the interrelationship of automated media and our human ear.

Composed in such a way as to make stumbling upon it a matter of chance, Lucier’s words unfold repeatedly upon themselves until their recurrence becomes indistinct. Increasingly incomprehensible as a verbal congruence steadily replicating itself, the result is a sonic environment whose totality is the aggregate of its texture.

Lucier narrates the following text:

“I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice and I am going to play it back into the room again and again until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves so that any semblance of my speech, with perhaps the exception of rhythm, is destroyed. What you will hear, then, are the natural resonant frequencies of the room articulated by speech. I regard this activity not so much as a demonstration of a physical fact, but more as a way to smooth out any irregularities my speech might have.”

That’s it, folks. Could anything be any simpler than this?

Well … the difference is in the details. After all, the Brandeis’ Music Studio in 1969 is not the same place as the UMMA Stenn Project Gallery today. And this means the work’s resonance will differ from the recording’s original acoustic setting.

Just as likewise, the sound of the recording will differ ever so slightly from the center and corners of the gallery depending on where you listen. There will therefore always be a subtle differentiation between each recipient of the source, the source of the transmission, and the transmission of the text itself.

An existential soundscape conditioned by its increasingly blurred repetition, the milieu plays a major part in the art itself. Lucier’s fragile reading—he has a discernible stutter—becomes progressively indistinct as his utterances are gradually blurred beyond recognition. But the cadence of his discourse also creates a peculiarly boisterous harmony through its replicated duplication.

It’ll admittedly take a bit of patience to sit through this masterwork, yet the experience is also going to be singular. Hovering uneasily somewhere between real-time and canned reiteration, I am sitting in a room is phenomenology as art gone nearly amok.


John Carlos Cantú has written extensively on our community's visual arts in a number of different periodicals.


University of Michigan Museum of Art: “Alvin Lucier: I am sitting in a room” will run through May 22, 2016. The UMMA is located at 525 S. State Street. The Museum is open Tuesday-Saturday 11 am–5 pm; and Sunday 12–5 pm. For information, call 734-764-0395.

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Review: The Triplets of Belleville LIVE: A Real Treat!


Le Terrible Orchestre de Belleville.

Le Terrible Orchestre de Belleville.

The University Musical Society presented an amazing live performance of The Triplets of Belleville to a sold out crowd at the Michigan Theater on Friday night. The theater screened the movie while a live band played the soundtrack onstage. UMS announced this program on social media in February 2015, so I had a full year to look forward to it. Even with that anticipation, all my expectations were exceeded.

I was accompanied by my wife, my best friend, and my 88-year-old Grandma, who particularly loves The Triplets of Belleville. When the movie first came out, I walked into her house only to have my hearing almost destroyed by the soundtrack blaring from the speakers. She came downstairs with a triumphant grin and asked “Guess what CD I bought at Borders?!” It was not a hard guessing game.

For the uninitiated, Triplets is a 2003 animated film written and directed by Sylvain Chomet about the Tour de France, an aging jazz trio, the wine mafia, and the feud between an overweight dog and a train. In addition to its wonderfully strange story and delightful animation style, the film set itself apart by almost entirely eschewing dialog in its storytelling. The soundtrack, heavily influenced by jazz of the 1920s (but also prominently featuring Bach's Prelude No. 2 in C Minor), featured the Academy Award nominated song "Belleville Rendez-vous".

The first surprise of the live performance (to me; not to folks to read the event description more clearly) was that the conductor was Benoît Charest, who actually composed the soundtrack. It was amazing to see the person who had written the music that I love so much, and watching him conduct was a joy. In addition to conducting, he sang, played the guitar (and vacuum!), and danced along to the music. Charest also provided the French commentary for the Tour de France scenes.

The eight piece band, Le Terrible Orchestre de Belleville, was excellent and played in sync to the movie, occasionally looking up to the screen to make sure their timing was precise. At a few points during the show, the musicians got up and moved around to the center of the stage in order to play some of the more unusual instruments highlighted in the movie, including a newspaper, a cooking pot, and a vacuum cleaner. My favorite part was when the conductor, along with a few of the other band members, danced on a wooden board while clapping and snapping to create a rhythm section. After they pulled this off, they high-fived each other while the audience cheered.

The live performance of The Triplets of Belleville was an incredibly joyous event. The entire band seemed to enjoy themselves as much as the audience. Perhaps the only thing that could have made the evening better would have been a hound dog trained to act (bark?) out the role of Bruno, the movie’s lovable pooch. Of course, it’s highly likely that I’m the only person in the audience who would have liked this. Everyone I attended the performance with loved it, and the crowd was practically giddy as the theater emptied out. The music amplified the story and made each emotion shown on screen both stronger and sharper. My grandma called the night “a real treat.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.


Evelyn Hollenshead is a Youth Librarian at AADL and is interested in finding a local instructor for vacuum playing lessons.

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Media Player

Peter Guralnick

Peter Guralnick.

Peter Guralnick, author of the critically acclaimed Elvis Presley biography Last Train to Memphis, brings us the life of Sam Phillips, the visionary genius who singlehandedly steered the revolutionary path of Sun Records.

The music that Sam Phillips shaped in his tiny Memphis studio with artists as diverse as Elvis Presley, Ike Turner, Howlin' Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash, introduced a sound that had never been heard before. He brought forth a singular mix of black and white voices passionately proclaiming the vitality of the American vernacular tradition while at the same time declaring, once and for all, a new, integrated musical day. With extensive interviews and firsthand personal observations extending over a 25-year period with Phillips, along with wide-ranging interviews with nearly all the legendary Sun Records artists, Guralnick gives us an ardent, unrestrained portrait of an American original as compelling in his own right as Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, or Thomas Edison.

The interview with Peter Guralnick was originally recorded on December 10, 2015.

Downloads:

File NameSizeType
martin_bandyke_under_covers_20151211-peter_guralnick.mp311 MBAudio
Length: 00:27:03
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library


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Review: You’ll Laugh, You’ll Cry, You’ll Learn Absolutely Nothing: Taylor Mac and His History of Popular Music


Taylor Mac's A 24-Decade History of Music

One of Taylor Mac's many costumes, designed by his long-time collaborator Machine Dazzle. Photo by Peter Smith.

Taylor Mac is not a teacher. If you’re interested in learning history—take a class. Read a book. Get sucked deep into a Wikipedia black hole and hang out for a while.

On Saturday, February 6th, actor, performance artist, and drag queen, Taylor Mac gave a performance of his A 24-Decade History of Popular Music that made me laugh, made me cry, and made me extremely uncomfortable. The only thing it didn’t do was teach me any history. Which, considering just how much it attempted to do—and successfully managed—was not such a big surprise.

Hosted by the University Musical Society, the show was part stand-up routine, part concert, part drag-show, and part performance art. I have no words for this sort of performance amalgamation, and so I was perfectly willing to accept Taylor Mac’s own description of the event as a “radical fairy realness ritual.”

From the start, it was clear that the event would be unusual. Our host, Taylor Mac, came on stage in a hot pink skirt suit spray painted with an American flag on the back, a sash made of soup cans, and a jaunty little hat. Behind him on stage sat a band of seven musicians—a pianist, a bassist, a drummer, a guitarist, a guy who seemed to be playing a different instrument every time I looked at him (saxophone, trumpet, flute, possibly the flugelhorn), and finally, two exceptionally powerful back-up singers.

Mac began the show by explaining the bare bones of his musical project—each hour of the three-hour performance would be dedicated to a different ten-year period: 1956-1966, 1966-1976, and 1976-1986. Each decade came complete with its own costume, eight or nine songs from the time, and a central historic theme. This performance was just a fraction of a much larger endeavor Mac has planned for a later date, a 24-hour performance with an hour for every decade from America’s inception in 1776 all the way up to the glorious pop-fest that is the year 2016. Mac explained the idea that he would be on stage for a full 24 hours, singing and entertaining non-stop without food, bathroom, or sleep breaks, with the casual air of someone who is either very confident or incredibly irresponsible. Possibly both.

Probably both.

The first decade of our less-ambitious 3-hour show, ’56-’66, focused on aspects of the Civil Rights movement, or, as Mac puts it, “Songs Popular in the Bayard Rustin Planning Room.”

It kicked off with a slow and sultry rendition of Jay Hawkins’s “I Put A Spell On You.” By itself this would have been excellent entertainment—Mac’s stellar flair for theatrics is matched by his smooth, powerful voice. But just in case the audience had started to settle into the comfortable idea that they were at some tedious concert-meets-comedy-meets-drag-show, Mac introduced a new and terrifying element: audience participation.

After a very brief introduction of the racially tense atmosphere pervading the late ‘50s, Mac asked all of the straight, white people in the audience to stand up and slow-motion run to the sides of the room, simulating white flight.

“I understand that there won’t be a lot of room for you over there,” Mac said to the amazingly willing audience as they wiggled and stepped over each other to get to the sides of the room, “But I really want you to get the feel of the suburbs. I want you to be so close together that there’s a straight, white person on top of you even when you really don’t want a straight, white person on top of you.”

By the end of the song, I wasn’t sure if I was laughing, crying, or hyperventilating. If you’ve never seen a hundred people of all ages, including senior citizens, slow-motion run to the sides of a room and pack in like sardines, I highly recommend it.

With all of the elements fully introduced, the show really got under way. The ‘56-‘66 hour contained a bit of background on race issues and centered its attention on the March on Washington, though unfortunately most of the story that Mac told focused on the imagery of getting on a bus to go to the March. It involved an awful lot of audience playacting of getting to the bus/being on a bus/singing on a bus, without much actual information on the March itself.

Despite the fact that Mac didn’t tell much of a story, the music certainly did. The songs were well-chosen, a combination of Civil Rights anthems like The Staple Singers’ “Freedom Highway” and Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam” and chart-toppers like The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin' On” and Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” The songs that came with their own clear message, such as the impossible-to-misinterpret “Mississippi Goddam” were as powerful as you might expect. But even the popular hits, thrown in front of the backdrop of the 1950s and forced into context gave songs like Simone’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” deeper meaning and even greater muscle.

I’ll admit it—the ‘56-‘66 decade was definitely my jam. But the following decades carried the same sort of structure and a lot of the same impressive weight.

Taylor Mac

Mac's costumes from '56-'66 (left) and '66-'76 (right). Photo by Peter Smith.

Curtis Mayfield’s "Move On Up" transitioned us into the 1966-1976 decade, as Mac stripped down to a tiny yellow Speedo on stage, then disappeared behind the curtain and remerged in an outfit made up of so many different things that I honestly couldn’t tell if it was a dress, a jumpsuit, or if he’d tripped and fallen into a scrap box on his way back to center stage. The whole ensemble was tied together by a rainbow cape made of clear plastic tubes and a glittery silver headdress. This era had its eye trained on the beginnings of the gay liberation movement and the Stonewall riots of 1969. Songs included Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” Patti Smith's "Birdland," and The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter."

Taylor Mac

Photo by Peter Smith.

The 1976-1986 decade focused on the idea of the '70s and '80s club scene and their infamous "back rooms." This aspect of history seemed like an odd choice until I realized that these "back rooms " were a prevalent part of Mac's own experience as he came up in the club scene. Dressed in a bright silver jumpsuit with a ruffled purple shawl and a shiny purple mohawk, Mac told his most personal (and most graphic) stories during this era in between Laura Branigan's "Gloria," David Bowie's "Heroes," and Prince's "Purple Rain."

The gaps between each song were filled with comic stories, musings, and, of course, the obligatory ridiculous activities that come with performance art. During the 1956-1966 portion of the show, audience members were asked to dance, march, engage in some pretty exaggerated crying, and, finally, to email Rick Snyder.

Sometime around the 1970s, we were handed ping-pong balls to throw at Mac as he ran through the aisles in his rainbow-tube cape and yellow Speedo. As we moved into the late '70s part of the show, Mac pulled an older gentleman up on stage and sang him a love ballad, while the pianist groped the man’s leg.

In the '80s, he had an entire row of the upper balcony come downstairs, go behind the curtain onstage, and emerge in ridiculous wigs, boas, and glasses and dance through the aisles. Each activity was a bit more unbelievable than the last, finally culminating in a college-aged boy standing patiently still while Taylor Mac kissed him and rubbed glitter lipstick all over his face. Permission was not asked, just a perfunctory, “You’re over 18, right?”

Taylor Mac

Photo by Peter Smith.

It was wonderfully weird, and, while the entire thing carried the feel of a glittery game of Russian roulette as we waited to see who would be Mac’s next participation victim, it also succeeded in doing exactly what Mac had told us it would—creating a shared experience for the audience. The audience was incredibly good-natured, dancing when asked, moving when asked, and making sure to applaud loudly and sincerely for anyone who was a good enough sport to obey instructions like, “go stand on stage, but don’t smile and don’t dance” or “lay down on the floor and let these five strangers carry you out of the room.”

From all this highly entertaining madness, I only came away with one critique. As a person who would have loved all the elements of this show even if they were completely separate and not one giant, Katamari Damacy-style ball-of-everything, I was absolutely enchanted by this performance, so much so that I didn’t even resent Mac for keeping me up past my 8 pm bedtime. Give me comedy, music, or drag any time of day and I’m game. But I was also interested in the promise of some really good history-nerd satisfaction, and so I was a bit let down by the minimal emphasis on the actual history.

While Mac did occasionally address the lack of historical fact—“If you want to know more about the March [on Washington]…Google it. What about this outfit says anything more than Wikipedia?”—I felt like it was such a shame to dismiss the history so casually because of how much it could have brought to the show. Even the barest skeleton of historical facts would have ramped up the storytelling element and could have made this fun and flighty show a little bit stronger and a lot more engrossing, particularly in the gaps between musical numbers.

But considering how much it did do right, I really can’t fault it for the one thing it didn’t completely ace. The show managed to be a masterful musical performance, an entertaining drag show, and a surprisingly fun communal audience experience, so really, who cares if he didn't include a history lesson? It was still a performance I’m not likely to forget. At least, not in this decade.


Nicole Williams is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and, despite this positive experience, still thinks audience participation is the worst.


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Review: Jive Colossus At The Club Above


Jive Colossus plays the recently remodeled Club Above

Jive Colossus plays the recently remodeled Club Above.

Ann Arbor-based Jive Colossus, an eclectic ten piece jazz-funk ensemble, played at The Club Above on Saturday, February 6. Unable to cram themselves all onto the small stage, keyboardist Mike Ager was relegated to the floor nearby, but no one seemed to mind, least of all the enthused crowd.

The band members are known to pick up various instruments over the course of a performance, including triangle, tambourine and maracas, but, along with the keys, Jive Colossus mainly features its talents on two guitars (played by Rich Wright and Ed Green), a trumpet (Ross Huff), a baritone sax (David Swain), a trombone (Asim Khan), a bass (Tony Ketz), and two sets of drums, played by Jim Predhomme and Keith Poncher, as well vocalist Shelley Catalan. The band members range in age, and the genuine enjoyment they get out of hearing each other - and themselves - play makes them a very fun band to watch.

The crowd for JC was older, but the energy was high until closing time. The band played mostly original songs, but did a few covers, including a cover of “Ride or Die” by The Budos Band, which was met with enthusiasm. Like any good ensemble band, Jive Colossus gave their different sections time to shine, allowing the horns, drums, and keys to all solo at different points in the songs, which was great fun.

The music of Jive Colossus is, unsurprisingly, great for dancing. Fast-paced funk beats laced with a little bit of a Caribbean feel kept the dance floor hoppin’ all night at The Club Above, the recently remodeled second floor of Heidelberg.

The vibe inside The Club Above is a little trippy, with space scenes painted on the walls and flat screen TVs showing slowly moving swirls of color, but the dance floor is big, and there’s a good amount of seating, both at hightop tables and on couches and lounges. The venue is definitely worth checking out, especially if Jive Colossus happens to be on the stage.


Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library.

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Review: Kaki King at The Ark


Kaki King performed on a specially made projection guitar. Photo by Randy Gunter.

Kaki King performed on a specially made projection guitar. Photo by Randy Gunter.

On a frigid, January night in Ann Arbor, Kaki King warmed up The Ark with her unique brand of guitar theater. She currently tours with a projection guitar—images from a screen behind her mesh and mingle with similar moving images on her axe. Here is an artist who has embraced the visual age and incorporated our insatiable fixation with ocular stimulation into her performance.

Kaki King’s guitar work is singular. While stylistically divergent and favoring an acoustic, she is a virtuoso in the vein of Pat Metheny or perhaps Jaco Pastorius (who worked a bass, but you get the point). She finger-picks her instrument with artistry and technical precision—if she misses a note, it sounds intentional. Her textures range from experimental jazz to avant-garde folk to hip-hop. Dave Grohl has sung her praises.

King opened with some somber noise numbers—an inquisitive start to her performance-art narrative—then gradually intertwined musical sleight-of-hand with carefully selected moving pictures. She followed with some incredible noodling skills (almost unfair to use jam-band terminology, but words fail) with just a touch of funk and percussion. The performance crescendoed with a visual, captioned story about her ivory-colored guitar over a mellow hip-hop beat. The vignette also served as personal backstory for a musician who has clearly fought to assert her eclectic nature.

Her latest album, The Neck Is A Bridge To The Body, released in 2015 on the Short Stuff label, is her eighth full-length album, and showcases an artist who is ever-evolving and ever-evading the status quo. Her earlier work was a bit more straight-ahead; she has preferred more uncharted corners of the musical universe since her first two albums (Everybody Loves You, Velour, 2003 and Legs To Make Us Longer, Red Ink, 2004).

While originally from Atlanta, King espouses a New Yorker’s sensibility. She has a song entitled “Carmine Street” (off her debut album) and the accompanying visuals for one song on the night were clearly of NYC mise en scene (including a sign for Carmine Street, which lies just north of Houston in Greenwich Village).

Her insistence on free-flowing jazz and artistic reverie can be infuriating, even inaccessible, but her mastery of her craft must be appreciated. The house was certainly entranced and intrigued and stuck around for her annotations afterwards. King rarely features vocals (when included, they are often from guest artists), so it almost seemed like breaking the fourth wall when she spoke to the audience after her set. Kaki King offered an unpredictable art installation alongside her music—her work and live performance are equally compelling.


M.F. DiBella contributes to Current Magazine and Found Magazine, and blogs at 1lessblog.com

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Preview: Tanya Tagaq in Concert with Nanook of the North


Tanya Tagaq in Concert with Nanook of the North.

Tanya Tagaq in Concert with Nanook of the North.

My guess is Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq’s unnerving, primal singing style isn’t exactly what filmmaker Robert Flaherty had in mind to accompany his silent masterpiece, Nanook of the North (1922). But when she was commissioned in 2012 to provide a soundscape to Flaherty’s legendary cinematic landscape, Tagaq, an outspoken advocate of aboriginal rights, was put off by the film’s racial stereotypes and so conceived a soundtrack meant to reclaim the film with a 21st-century filter.

Flaherty’s documentary methods, including some staged sequences, have come under criticism over the decades. But the landmark film, still stunning nearly 100 years on, has an authenticity that overrides these complaints. (And to be fair, there was no documentary or ethnographic film-making to speak of before Flaherty; he can arguably be said to have invented the genres. And as such, there was certainly nothing remotely resembling later-day Cinéma vérité.)

Above all, the miracle of Flaherty's achievement in Nanook of the North - aside from the fact that he pulled it off with one camera and no lights in the freezing cold - is in documenting a remote way of life never seen before during a decade of the 20th century noted for ratcheting up nationalistic fervor and suspicion of outsiders across the globe. In her upcoming performance, Tanya Tagaq’s evocative style, full of throaty breathing and influenced by electronica, industrial, and metal, should lend as much to the stunning beauty of Nanook’s arctic landscape as it does in calling out the film’s racially charged clichés.


Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.



"Tanya Tagaq in Concert with Nanook of the North" takes place on February 2, 2016 at 7:30 pm at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, 911 N. University, Ann Arbor.

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