Rock 'n' Roll Heart: JD McPherson at The Blind Pig

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

JD McPherson band

Photo by Jena Ardell

I was a fan of JD McPherson’s music the moment I heard his debut album, Signs & Signifiers, around seven years ago. This was high-energy rock 'n' roll that immediately brought to mind the early masters of the genre -- think Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochrane, Bo Diddley.  

Rural Oklahoma native McPherson specializes in original material, not cover versions, and he and his dynamite group -- together for eight years -- put a fresh spin on music too often thought of as golden oldies, something safe and nostalgic. McPherson’s discography is thoroughly listenable and also includes 2015’s Let the Good Times Roll, 2017’s Undivided Heart & Soul (my personal favorite), plus Socks, his delightful album of new Christmas songs released late last year.

McPherson and his band -- bassist Jimmy Sutton, keyboardist Raynier Jacob Jacildo, drummer Jason Smay, and saxophonist/guitarist Doug Corcoran -- were in fantastic form when they played in Ann Arbor last summer as part of Bank of Ann Arbor’s Sonic Lunch concert series, and they return to town this Wednesday, April 17 for a show at The Blind Pig. I caught up with JD McPherson by phone last week as he was getting ready for a concert in Calgary, Alberta and had a lively discussion about everything from favorite recording studios to Socks to the reasons behind his rock 'n' roll sensibility.

Busting Up the Boys Club: Ladies Laugh Night at Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase

PULP LIFE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

A2 Comedy Showcase's Ladies Laugh Night comediennes

Clockwise from upper left: Connie Ettinger, Brandi Alexander, Kate Brindle, and Nicole Majdali.

John Belushi said it. Christopher Hitchens also said it. Jerry Lewis said it, too. They all said the thing that they likely would have never said about any other group: women aren’t funny.

If you need proof that women are funny -- and you shouldn’t, but in case you do -- come out to Ladies Laugh Night at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase on Thursday, April 11. The show features an all-woman lineup of Brandi Alexander, Nicole Majdali, Kate Brindle, and Connie Ettinger

Comedy Showcase owner Claudia Neeb includes more female comedians in the club’s lineup because “we believe in seeking out diverse types of comedians, including women. As a club, we try to ‘grow’ comedians by encouraging them to work on and strengthen their talent and then move onto the next level.”

Expected Greatness: UMMA's "The Power Family Program for Inuit Art: Tillirnanngittuq​" shows Ann Arbor's role in popularizing indigenous Arctic art

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Lucy Qinnuayuak, Large Bear

Lucy Qinnuayuak, Large Bear, Cape Dorset, 1961, stonecut and stencil. © Dorset Fine Arts. Promised gift of Philip and Kathy Power. Photography: Charlie Edwards

The influx of Inuit art in Ann Arbor began with Ann Arbor’s Eugene Power and Canadian artist James Houston. Power, a friend of Houston, became interested in the art and culture of Inuit peoples following his friend Houston’s research there, beginning in 1948. A decade later, Eugene Power and his son Philip founded a non-profit organization called Eskimo Art Inc. in Ann Arbor that operated as a wholesale distribution center for artworks imported from Kinngait (known then as Cape Dorset) Hudson Bay and Baffin Island. The organization sent profits to artists, funded art supplies, and organized artist training, including Japanese printmaking techniques. Inuit art continued to remain popular in the area, with Eskimo Art Inc. remaining open through 1994.

The Power Family Program for Inuit Art: Tillirnanngittuq exhibition includes many works that date to the beginning of the Power Family’s involvement with Inuit art and the subsequent creation of Eskimo Art Inc. Currently being shown at the University of Michigan Museum of Arts, the exhibition “celebrat[es] the exceptional gift of 20th-century Inuit art to the Museum by the Power family.” The exhibit features 58 works from the collection, which were promised as a gift to the museum in 2018. The title of the exhibition, Tillirnanngittuq, is the Inuktitut word for “unexpected,” referencing the tremendously positive public response to Canadian Inuit Art in Ann Arbor, and globally, beginning in the mid-20th century. 

U-M takes on Sondheim’s "Sweeney Todd," a musical challenge and a macabre story

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Sweeney Todd

Artwork from the original Broadway production of Sweeney Todd.

The musical theater students at the University of Michigan will take a walk on the dark side when they present their production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at the Power Center, April 18-21.

Sweeney Todd is an unusual show, combining dark humor, odd characters, a bit of the music hall, a bit of the opera and quite a lot of blood. 

Stephen Sondheim, the master of modern musical theater, has often taken on unorthodox musical theatre material from a survey of presidential assassins to a grim take on fairy tales to a bittersweet reworking of an Ingmar Bergman film.

But Sweeney Todd goes a few steps further into a grim story of revenge that balances horror with some deliciously off-kilter humor and some complex and compelling music.  

Roustabout Theatre Troupe’s “Mad As A Hatter” Is A Tea Party Reunion With Old Friends

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Roustabout Theatre's Mad As a Hatter

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Whether we’ve read Lewis Carroll's books or not, most of us are familiar with the character Alice and her adventures in Wonderland. One of the more iconic figures is the Mad Hatter with his tea party and nonsense riddles. Alice was based on a real person, Alice Liddell, but what about the Mad Hatter? Playwright Michael Alan Herman has proposed that he was, one Theophilus Carter, a well-known (at the time) furniture salesman and inventor who, according to Herman and others, bears a striking resemblance to Sir John Tenniel’s original illustrations of the Mad Hatter. 

Roustabout Theatre Troupe’s Mad As a Hatter -- directed by Joey Albright -- imagines Carter (Russ Schwartz) and Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll was a pseudonym) as school friends who grew up together then grew apart after Dodgson published his less than flattering portrayal of his good friend in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In the play, Carter is haunted by his literary alter-ego the Mad Hatter, who not only comes to life but also bears a striking resemblance to Dodgson (both Dodgson and the Mad Hatter are played by Jeffrey Miller). 

The State of the Art of Surveillance: "Blind House: Utopia and Dystopia in the Age of Radical Transparency"

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Blind House

The Institute for Humanities Gallery is currently housing "Blind House: Utopia and Dystopia in the Age of Radical Transparency," a collaborative installation by artists Paloma Muñoz and Walter Martin. Along the walls are digitally altered photographs of the architectural exteriors of houses and in the center of the room a miniature glass house. There is a school desk in the center of the glass house, on top of which sits a red typewriter.

Visitors are free to enter the space, grab a blank sheet of paper from under the chair, and try to create their own utopia on paper. On the desk there are instructions for the visitor in English and Spanish: “1. Read and throw the existing utopia in the garbage. 2. Write your own utopia and leave it on the typewriter for the next participant. Please feel free to look through the garbage.”

In front of the desk, there is a trash can, which was filled with crumpled up, discarded utopias, demonstrating the past participation of gallery visitors in the work. 

This Woman's Work: Camille Noe Pagan’s "I’m Fine and Neither Are You" tracks the troubles and radical honesty of a working mom

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Camille Noe Pagan and her book I'm Fine and Neither Are You

Author photo by Myra Klarman

The opening chapters of Camille Noe Pagan’s fifth book, I’m Fine and Neither Are You, communicate the struggles of the modern-day working mother. Penelope Ruiz-Kar is in it up to her eyeballs, “which is pretty much every woman I know these days," says the Ann Arbor-based Pagan.

The book follows Penelope as she juggles a full-time job, an underemployed husband, and rambunctious children as well as day-to-day adulting. Meantime, Penelope’s best friend Jenny seems to have the perfect life -- a wealthy husband, an enviable marriage, the luxury of not having to work, one child who always behaved impeccably. Jenny appears to have it all, have it made. But everything is not what it seems.

Everything flows at Argus Museum's photography exhibit “Water Is Life”

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Beutler's photo Fogged In

Frederick J. Beutler's Fogged In

Leave it to a museum in a city nestled in a state surrounded in three directions by water to appreciate that Water Is Life. For water is most definitely the topic in display in this expansive photographic exhibit winding its way through the Washtenaw County Historical Society's Argus Museum gallery space.

As curator Cheryl Chidester’s exhibit statement pithily tells us, “Five artists from the Ann Arbor Women Artists used their cameras to capture images that show the diversity, beauty and wonder of water” -- and do they ever.

Local photographers Frederick J. Beutler, Travis Erby, Daniela Gobetti, Sophie Grillet, and Sally Silvennoinen bring a special proficiency to their work at the Argus Museum. By way of professional expression and expertise, each of these talented photographers crafts artistry that’s as unique as a visual fingerprint marking their work as uniquely his or hers.

Joe Hertler and The Rainbow Seekers rocked their weekend residency at The Blind Pig

MUSIC REVIEW

When Pulp talked to Joe Hertler in March 2017, he explained that for him and his group, The Rainbow Seekers, “Every show is a celebration in human connection. We are honored to cultivate an experience where people can have fun and be themselves.” 

Two years later, the connection still remains.

Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers played at The Blind Pig on both March 30 and 31, their second two-night stop in Ann Arbor this academic year. Before the March 31 show even began, people were hollering at the band from the floor and taking pictures of flower-strewn stage. 

Harping Through Life: Peter Madcat Ruth celebrates his 70th birthday at The Ark

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Peter Madcat Ruth

A breathtakingly brilliant harmonica player who’s been an essential part of the Ann Arbor music scene for decades, Peter Madcat Ruth will officially celebrate his 70th birthday on Tuesday, April 2. But his big birthday bash will happen two days later at The Ark on Thursday, April 4, when he’ll be joined by an impressive number of special guests for a roof-raising celebration. Joining Madcat at The Ark will be Howard Levy, Chris Brubeck, Joshua Davis, Corky Siegel, Shari Kane, Seth Bernard, Rachael Davis, Drew Howard, Michael Shimmin, Mark Schrock, Dominic Davis, William Apostol, Dick Siegel, and Joel Brown, with the proceedings emceed by WEMU-FM music host Michael Jewett. 

Madcat is understandably best known for his virtuosic harmonica playing, but he’s also a gifted vocalist and just as impressive on ukulele, guitar, and a host of other instruments.

Recently I spoke to the laid-back, always friendly American roots music practitioner about his career, his upcoming birthday bash, and some of the top artists he’s worked with over the last 50 years or so.