Jad Fair and Half Japanese are "Invincible" after 42 years

MUSIC

Half Japanese's Invincible album

The documentary Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King begins with a title card that says, "Ann Arbor, Michigan - 1975" and then cuts to a blurry, grainy, backlit film of David and Jad Fair with their friend David Stansky jamming in the Fair family's living room.

The brothers' time living in Ann Arbor was a warm-up run for the primitive rock 'n' roll band that they officially started in Uniontown, Maryland, in 1977 with the car-crash-erific Calling All Girls 7-inch EP. The Fairs couldn't play their instruments whatsoever, but their unholy sound became an inspiration to Yo La Tengo, The Pastels, Beat Happening, Nirvana, and countless other punk-adjacent bands.

Forty-two years later, Jad is still bashing his untuned guitar and singing about love and monsters in Half Japanese, which just released the Invincible album. Meanwhile, David is a retired librarian and, like Jad, a prolific artist.

Jad's wondrous paper cuttings are featured in the 15 videos he made for every song on Invincible, which is far more musical than some Half Japanese offerings but no less sui generis. Check out the video playlist below. 

Alone in a Crowd: Pianist Gwilym Simcock performs solo at Kerrytown Concert House

MUSIC PREVIEW

Gwilym Simcock

The last time British pianist Gwilym Simcock was in Ann Arbor, it was as a sideman with Pat Metheny's quartet when the guitarist played Hill Auditorium in October 2018.

But in June 2017, Simcock played Kerrytown Concert House solo, which he'll do again on March 3.

I interviewed the pianist then and asked him how his playing changes when performing solo versus with a band:

Explosive Comedy: PTD Productions celebrates its silver anniversary with "The Miss Firecracker Contest"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

PTD Productions' Miss Firecracker Contest

Tessie (Cindy Franklin), Carnelle (Stacy Buck), and Elain (Mary Hopper) are a few of the explosively funny characters in PTD Productions' season debut production of Beth Henley's The Miss Firecracker Contest.

Twenty-fifth anniversaries are usually celebrated with silver. 

But PTD Productions is feteing its 25th with firecrackers.

The Ypsilanti-based community theater group kicks off its silver season with Beth Henley's The Miss Firecracker Contest, a successful long-run Off-Broadway comedy that takes place in a small Mississippi town.

Ann Arbor folk-rockers Little Traps hide complexity inside a warm, inviting sound

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Little Traps

The local indie folk-rock band Little Traps brings sharp musicianship, an off-center outlook, and a distinctive sound with a banjo leading the way. Released late last year, their first full-length album, Can’t Count, is a welcome showcase of their work. 

The band charms listeners with its warm, inviting sound, but underneath lies a somewhat more complex tone. “Uncertainty, ambivalence, and second-guessing are the bread and butter of my lyrics,” singer-songwriter-guitarist Nick Bertsos says. 

In addition to Bertsos, the core band consists of singer-banjoist Annie Palmer and guitarist/pedal steel player Thomas Green. At various times other musicians help fill out the sound; on Can’t Count, Howard White plays bass and keyboards, while Ali Snyder plays drums. On New Tricks, a recently released EP of cover songs, Jessiah Hall is the drummer.

Bertsos answered a few questions recently via email:

Influence & Appropriation: Carrie Mae Weems at the Michigan Theater

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Carrie Mae Weems photo from her Kitchen Table Series

Carrie Mae Weems in a photo from her Kitchen Table Series. Photo courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

“Sometimes we remodel because we’ve been left out.” --Carrie Mae Weems

I guess I would call myself superstitious. At least that’s how I think about it in those moments when I feel like the universe is pushing me in one direction or another.

I went to see Carrie Mae Weems speak on February 14 as a part of the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series. This was my second time in the Michigan Theater in the space of one week and for someone who sees herself as a person of somewhat nerdily pedestrian interests, I find myself off-kilter when I frequent what I think of as a higher-brow spot. I’m more Netflix than Michigan Theater.

Weems, though, is a name that I have come to know through encountering her work here and there -- and then having an I-have-to-know-more-about-this-artist moment, finding again, I am looking at Weems’ work.

Recombinant Tales: Ruth Crowe’s “Storytelling with Photo Infusion and Encaustic” at Gifts of Art

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Ruth Crowe, Storytelling images

Ruth Crowe, clockwise from upper left: Notorious RBG, photo encaustic/image fusion; A Different Kind of Cowboy, encaustic/image fusion; Let's Ride Sister - Put the Fun Between Your Legs, encaustic/image transfer/plaster.

Taken separately, photo fusion and encaustic are interestingly differing forms of art. Taken together, they reflect local artist Ruth Crowe’s wry multimedia Storytelling with Photo Fusion and Encaustic exhibit at the Gifts of Art Gallery in the University of Michigan Hospital main corridor.

Crowe definitely has views she wants to communicate in her art, yet she’s not a polemicist. Rather, she allows for her work to speak for itself. It’s a brave strategy -- and it’s this subliminal perspective that speaks volumes of her views.

U-M Musical Theatre offers hard-hitting drama "The Exonerated"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

University of Michigan's production of The Exonerated

The acting students at the University of Michigan’s Department of Musical Theatre will be shifting gears to perform in The Exonerated, a docudrama that reveals serious problems in the United States criminal system.

The Exonerated by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen tells the true stories of six wrongfully accused convicted survivors of death row in their own words. The script was prepared from interviews, letters, transcripts, case files, and the public record.

Timeless Ocarinas: The Seven Sages interpret music from The Legend of Zelda

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Seven Sages' Korok Forest

John Coltrane on the saxophone.

Eddie Van Halen on the guitar.

Link on the ocarina.

These are giants of their instruments.

But only one of these masters will be feted by The Seven Sages, a new quintet dedicated to playing music from The Legend of Zelda video game series.

Comprised of accomplished jazz and experimental artists Kirsten Carey (guitar), Andrew Hintzen (keyboard), Neal Anderson (EWI / trumpet), Jon Hammonds (bass), and Jonathan Taylor (drums), The Seven Sages make their debut at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti on February 21 -- the 33rd anniversary of the first Legend of Zelda game being released.

Carey and Hammonds answered some questions in an email interview about how The Seven Sages materialized, which Zelda songs the band will play, and their favorite tunes from the games. The queries were posed by myself and Eli Neiburger, who is deputy director of the Ann Arbor District Library and a member of the Nintendoland Family Band.

A Genuine Act of Discovery: U-M's Juan Cole on his book "Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Juan Cole and his book Muhammad

Dr. Juan Cole has spent his life dedicated to the study of the Middle East, Muslim South Asia, and religion. He’s been at University of Michigan since 1984, quoted in papers from the L.A. Times to the Baltimore Sun, and appeared on PBS Newshour, Nightline, and The Colbert Report. He received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for research on Shiite Muslim thought and history, published translations of Arabic literature by Kahlil Gibran (and later, sponsored an exhibit of Gibran’s paintings at the Detroit Institute of Arts), acted as the director of the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at U-M, served as editor in chief of the International Journal of Middle East Studies, and wrote or translated nearly 20 books. 

This past October, Bold Type Books published Cole’s most recent book, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires. The book’s publication at this particular time is in response to recent events around the world. “Extremist groups are misusing or using religious text in dishonest ways," Cole says. "North America and Europe have seen a rise in Islamophobia and the smearing of the prophet Muhammad.”

Cole originally studied early Islam and its foundations while in graduate school in Cairo and later at UCLA. “I got pulled away from the medieval studies," Cole says, "and pulled into writing about modern and contemporary issues in the Middle East by several events,” including the Iranian Revolution. “Although I had this earlier training, I didn’t put it to use in a whole book until now. I tried to tell the story as a response to this moment that we find ourselves in.”

With Full CareForce: Marisa Morán Jahn's "The Mighty and the Mythic" at Stamps Gallery explores interactive, social-activist art

VISUAL ART REVIEW

The Driver by Marisa Moran

The Driver from MIRROR | MASK series, 2017. Photo by Marisa Morán Jahn featuring Darlyne Komukama, Uganda.

The Stamps Gallery's The Mighty and the Mythic is an interactive exhibit featuring the multi-faceted work of social activist and artist Marisa Morán Jahn. Curated by Srimoyee Mitra, this exhibition is an expansive collection with examples from three of Jahn’s ongoing projects. If you visit, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to view the many videos playing on TV screens around the gallery.

The three projects on display are CareForce (2012 to present), Biblobandido (2010 to present), and MIRROR | MASK (2017 to present). Though these are the artist’s solo projects, Jahn relies on the participation of her collaborators, who are often immigrants, domestic workers, and youths. Stamps Gallery notes that the work is infused with play and humor in order to portray her subjects’ lives with dignity, the ability to critique power, and to “build momentum within their communit[ies].” Jahn bases her practice on her own experiences as the child of first-generation Chinese and Ecuadorian immigrants.