Laith Al-Saadi kicks off Sonic Lunch 2017


Laith Al-Saadi kicks off Sonic Lunch

Laith Al-Saadi kicks off the 10th edition of the free Sonic Lunch concert series. Photo by Liz Grapentine.

Any Ann Arbor townie will tell you there’s one place to be at 12 noon on Thursdays in late spring through the end of August: at Liberty Plaza for Sonic Lunch

On June 1, Sonic Lunch kicked-off its 10th year of free, live music events, and it had one of its local stars opening the season: Laith Al-Saadi, an Ann Arbor “hometown blues-rock hero,” in the words of Martin Bandyke from local radio station 107.1.

When I made my way past some roadblock barriers and into Liberty Plaza, I’d shown up just 5 minutes before noon and the place was already packed. I should have predicted as much with the gorgeous weather that day, not a cloud in sight. What I didn’t predict was no open spots or shade in sight, either. This poor ginger didn’t even think to bring her sunblock as she stood in the midday rays for an hour, but the chance to hear Al-Saadi’s performance was worth the sunburn.

Mittenfest: The Avatars


The Avatars

The Avatars have returned to their bodily form for one last show. Photo by Doug Coombe.

See the rest of our Mittenfest coverage:
Overview of the festival with music samples
The Belle Isles interview
Blue Jeans interview
JUNGLEFOWL interview

The Ann Arbor-based rippin’ rock band The Avatars had a four-year run starting in 2003 that included one 7-inch single and a kickass album, Never a Good Time (2006). Then real life got in the way for guitarists Chris "Box" Taylor and Charlie Lorenzi, drummer Claudia Leo, vocalist Mariah Cherem, and bassist Theresa Kiefer, and the garage-rockin’ power-poppers broke up in 2007.

But The Avatars reformed in October to play a single show in Hamtramck opening for a friend’s band. The show ended up being so much fun, The Avatars decided to do one last gig near their Ann Arbor home base. (Though Lorenzi won’t be appearing.)

Pulp caught up with Kiefer (and at the end, Taylor) before The Avatars play their ultimate show at Mittenfest on December 29.

Mittenfest: Blue Jeans


Blue Jeans

Santa Monica Swim & Dive Club are back in denim.

See the rest of our Mittenfest coverage:
Overview of the festival with music samples
The Belle Isles interview
The Avatars interview
JUNGLEFOWL interview

Blue Jeans takes the minimalist hooks of Buddy Holly, marries it to the stomp of glam rock, and sweetens the deal with just enough indie pop to make it a super-fine hybrid of genres and eras.

Formerly known as Santa Monica Swim & Dive Club, earlier this year the group came out with its first full-length album, Songs Are Easy, under the new-ish name Blue Jeans. The group recorded it with Ann Arbor superstar Fred Thomas (Saturday Looks Good to Me, etc.), and he kept the cymbals-free album stripped down and crunchy, just like vocalist-guitarist Tim Sendra, bassist Heather Phares, and drummer David Serra intended.

Blue Jeans, we just met a band called Blue Jeans -- well, at least Phares, who answered some questions for Pulp before the group plays the final day of Mittenfest.

Review: U of M's “First Crop” Chamber Jazz Ensembles Concert


Chamber Jazz

Jazz always seems to be the music that surprises me the most, with its playful syncopation, the clashes created by a few extra notes added to familiar chords, and the sheer ingenuity that comes from improvisation. On Sunday, I had the chance to be surprised by students in the chamber-jazz ensembles from the University of Michigan’s SMTD Jazz department, playing their own compositions and standards, and I came away with that warm-and-fuzzy feeling of having seen something enjoyable and unique. Hosted in the beautiful Stamps Auditorium on North Campus, it was a great space for the music, and the casual atmosphere was incredibly welcoming. The performers were still warming up on stage when I walked through the door — a serendipitous experience for myself and the others who decided to show up a bit early.

Review: SMTD @ UMMA Concert Series – Chamber Choir Performance


UMMA Chamber Choir

En-choir-ing minds want to was the concert at UMMA last weekend?

One of the things I love most about the arts is the way they can be beautifully connected. On Sunday, October 23, the arts of music and photography combined when artist Catie Newell's exhibition Overnight at the University of Michigan Museum of Art inspired a University of Michigan Chamber Choir performance at the museum. The performance was themed around the concepts of darkness and light, in honor of Newell's work.

The award-winning conductor, Dr. Jerry Blackstone, opened the concert by encouraging the audience to review the exhibit after the performance. Blackstone also presented the listeners with the arrangement of the concert: the theme of darkness to be set in the first half of the performance, with light theme being presented afterwards.

This was a sensational concert. The vocalists were some of the most talented musicians I’ve heard. With each vocalist standing beside a vocalist with a different voice part, the whole choir was beautifully balanced. In every song, you could hear the gorgeous melodies each section could be proud of. In some pieces, the harmonies were so tight that the sound was like how I’d imagine water running would sound as it splits from one stream into many – effortlessly smooth. I could have believed in magic that night the way Dr. Blackstone used his hands, like a magician conjuring sonic enchantment out of thin air.

The musical selections were overwhelmingly beautiful. From pieces totally new to the ones more familiar, each song was a joy to the ear. The Rachmaninoff “Bogoroditse Devo (Ave Maria)" is one I’ve sung before, but this performance of the piece still knocked me off my feet. If you consider yourself a music lover and have never heard it, get thee to YouTube. A new piece I heard that night was “Ev’ry night, when the sun goes down” arranged by Gwenyth Walker. With the soulful tenor solo and the gorgeous choral sections, I had to close my eyes and focus all my senses on those heartwarming sounds. I attended the concert with someone totally new to choir concerts, and even he had chills during that piece.

I heard other favorites, like Brahms’ “Der Abend” and the “O nata Lux” from Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, but overall my favorite had to be “Northern Lights” by Eriks Esenvalds. As hand-chimes came to the stage along with wine-glasses filled with water, Dr. Blackstone introduced this piece as an expression of first seeing the lights from the perspective of a ship crew, previously bunkered down under the docks in darkness. Throughout the piece, the choir mimics the lights with their shimmering and smooth tones as the notes rise and fall. I could also hear the urgency in the captain’s voice when the choir sings “Come above,” the part of the story just before the crew rises to see the night’s spectacle. During the part of the song when the crew finally climbs up into the night from below, the choir bursts into the poetic line that Dr. Blackstone prepared us for before beginning: “the sky was aflame.” From then to the end, the chimes and water glasses are played to create a tinkling, ringing sensation that sends your thoughts to the shine of those lights. The whole piece was incredible – it melted my heart.

Not only was the music stunning - the atmosphere was equally appealing. A long time choir geek myself, I’ve sung in plenty unique places, but setting the performance in the lobby of UMMA was a spectacular experience. The space gave the effect of a European cathedral, with the glass above, the pillars all around, the resonation of the room, even with the choir beginning along the balconied edge of the second floor (just as if they were singing in a cathedral’s choir loft). Seriously, I could not have asked for a better way to end the weekend.

Liz Grapentine is a desk clerk at AADL. A graduate from Oakland University with a major in Music Education and a minor in English, Liz enjoys all the arts in every form. Liz is also a true Ann Arbor townie and a proud patron of the library since 1995.

No Tickets Needed: A Free Dose of Culture


Nix pix.


Ann Arbor is a city that has plenty to offer, but sometimes the cultural highlights may be a *little* beyond the budget for those of us who may not have the most regular of paychecks. So for those of you who are looking for an arts experience while still saving $$$, look no further! This piece of blog is here to share the local arts events you can attend FOR FREE! 
The University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theater, and Dance is a great source of low-or-no-cost access to displays of incredible talent. The UM-SMTD events calendar, lists concerts, lectures, and master classes taught by visiting instructors or guest faculty. This calendar has a $ symbol on events that have a cost, but thankfully those symbols are few and far between.

Earlier this month, I participated in an open-to-anyone master class led by a guest instructor in the dance program. I arrived and grabbed a seat, which turned out to be right beside the guest speaker, Anita Gonzalez. This was less awkward than it might have been because she was soon on the floor, warming up with the rest of the dancers. Gonzalez called the class to attention as the dancers stretched and flexed and effortlessly made shapes with their bodies. As she led activities, she explained the connection between breath, voice, and movement. Eventually, the dancers created moving historical vignettes of African American slaves working in the fields, with lumber, or on the railroads – singing the songs that kept them from despair and connecting them through their common goal of freedom. It was amazing to watch.

But wait, there’s more! The art of the written word is celebrated almost every day of the week at Literati Bookstore on Washington St! Just a few weeks ago I attended a (free!) reading at Literati of the new fiction bestseller The Nix by author Nathan Hill.

The Nix is Hill's first book that the Literati emcee described as “deceptively simple” but with the excitement of a “choose your own adventure story.” The major selling point for me was the claim that it was “a big book that reads fast.” Once Hill took the podium in that second floor Espresso Bar space, he explained The Nix was 10 years in the making, and once he started reading from the work, I had to agree that it was 10 years well spent. The reading he selected was from a chapter in which a student in the protagonist's logic class manages to include all 16 types of fallacy as they argue for a better grade.

The chapter is hilarious; my cheeks hurt by the end of the night from constantly smiling. Hill’s main character comes across as well-educated and flawed in relatable ways that make you want to keep reading. In this chapter, Hill also features a run-on sentence of epic proportions which required him to fortify himself with a drink water before reading it. It was truly a delight to hear this new author read, and I encourage readers to get their hands on a copy if only to discover why the words “aluminum” and “nuther” are so laughable.

Literati has tons of events, so check their calendar often to stay up to date. It is usually only their "ticketed events” that have an associated cost - most Literati events don’t cost a dime!

Liz Grapentine is a desk clerk at AADL. A graduate from Oakland University with a major in Music Education and a minor in English, Liz enjoys all the arts in every form. Liz is also a true Ann Arbor townie and a proud patron of the library since 1995.