Jonathan Richman, accompanied by his long-time drummer Tommy Larkins, gave fans an intimate and fun performance this past Sunday, November 15, at the Blind Pig. Richman, who created the well-known band The Modern Lovers in 1970, has been touring on his own for decades, often accompanied by Larkins. Their extensive time together has made them the perfect duo: on occasion, Richman will lean over and suggest a vague beat to Larkins, who always seems to know exactly what he means and adjusts his drumming without expression.
As is traditional for Richman’s style, he rarely played a complete song at his Blind Pig show. Instead, he played snippets of songs, interspersed with direct conversation with the audience and wild dancing around the stage, typically with a maraca in each hand. Heavily influenced by other cultures, Richman sang songs in Italian, Spanish, and Arabic as well as in English, generously pausing throughout each one to translate for those of us who hadn’t the faintest idea what he was singing about. He encouraged fans to dance and clap, especially during upbeat songs like “I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar” and “Keith Richards.” Every so often, Richman paused and said, “Let’s see what Tommy is up to on the drums,” stepping back to grab his maracas and take a dance break while Larkins—still expressionless, of course—regaled us with a nifty drum solo.
One of my favorite moments of the evening came in the middle of Richman’s song “When We Refuse to Suffer.” He paused and stepped forward on stage to chat with the audience about driving through the United States with Larkins on prior legs of the tour (a funny image in and of itself, when you imagine Richman talking a mile a minute and gesticulating wildly while Larkins sits unmoving and silent in the passenger seat). At a gas station in Texas, Richman was struck by a magic marker sign taped to the wall that read, “Each person we see is fighting a battle that we know nothing about.” The gas station clerk told him simply, “Yeah… my boss wrote that.” Even though Richman chuckled when he told us this, he reminded the audience to keep the sentiment in mind as we went about our days.
Richman was about to end the evening, but then hurried back on stage saying he “had one more idea to try.” He struck up a song I’d never heard before, which, frankly, may have actually been made up on the spot. As Richman played guitar and sang “This love thing…” he had the audience respond back “…let me do it right!” This continued for three or four minutes, with Richman grinning happily. He then gathered up his maracas and guitar and gave the audience a quick wave as he and Larkins hopped off the stage.
Their tour continues in California, Oregon, and Washington in December.
Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library who drives a Dodge Veg-O-Matic.
He flew us into Los “Angeleez”, then to the City of New Orleans, on to Stockbridge Massachusetts (where the Massacree occurred) and then to Woodstock. It was family night for Arlo and the Guthries, and the capacity crowd at the Michigan Theater loved every minute of music and stories.
I snagged a last-minute single ticket among the few left from everyone’s favorite online ticket marketer (who shall, like Voldemort, remain nameless), and headed up to balcony right for a seat at the rail with perfect sight lines to the stage. What a spectacular and rich venue the Michigan is. I secretly hoped that the mighty Barton organ would provide a processional as we were seated – it did not.
The evening began with Sarah Lee Guthrie who joined her dad’s tour a few weeks ago as an opener. Growing up in her father’s musical world (as Arlo did with his dad Woody) Sarah appeared on Arlo’s work as both a toddler and an adolescent, and has today established a solid singer-songwriter-storyteller reputation of her own since she began recording in 2001. She channeled her dad’s stories on stage, and her grand-dad’s lyrics and music to provide a delightful introduction to a Guthrie generational anthology that was told through the rest of the evening.
The three generations have all written songs especially for children, and Sarah has made a specialty of it in recent years. She delighted the crowd with a spirited sing-along "Go Waggaloo" from Woody’s catalog. She played lovely standards in her own style such as Tim Hardin’s "If I Were A Carpenter", followed with one of her grandfather’s most loved songs "I’ve Got to Know" and finished her portion of the evening with her own "Circle of Souls".
To be clear, Sarah can hold her own, on her own, in any roots, folk, or Americana venue. There’s no need for her to borrow from that legacy to make her performance powerful. She is proud to sing her heritage on stage, and you can see that same family pride in the face of Arlo’s son Abe as he leads the band with keyboard and provides supporting vocals. The rest of the band that supported Sarah and Arlo features drummer Terry Hall, guitarist and vocalist Bobby Sweet, and guitarist Darren Todd.
As Sarah left the stage, the ornately vaulted Michigan Theater did not brighten as it would for intermission. A large screen flickered to life at the rear of the stage as we heard the first chords of "The Motorcycle Song" accompanied by a stop-motion animated short created almost 40 years ago entitled No, No, Pickle. What a delightful way to bring out a vital and still funny-as-hell songwriter, Arlo Guthrie.
Displaying youthful energy and a slightly raw throat strained by touring – Arlo Guthrie hammered out a classics-studded evening of music and stories that kept the capacity crowd laughing and singing along all evening. He first measured the crowd’s age: “For those of you who heard about this concert and asked, ‘isn’t he dead?’… well, I’m workin’ on it.”
While prefacing a story about Woodstock, he quipped, “Well, I remember getting there…” and then told the story of his history-making appearance in front of “more people than I knew I would ever see again in my entire life” while in a significantly altered state of consciousness. It was just what we wanted to hear from an icon of the era, and he kept all generations in the audience enthralled with story and song.
Arlo Guthrie Set List – November 9, 2015 – Michigan Theater
1. The Motorcycle Song
2. Chilling of the Evening
3. St. James Infirmary (Joe Primrose)
4. Ballad of Me and My Goose
5. Pig Meat Blues (Leadbelly)
6. Coming Into Los Angeles
7. Alice's Restaurant Massacree
8. I Hear You Sing Again (Janis Ian)
9. City of New Orleans (Steve Goodman)
10. Highway in the Wind
11. This Land Is Your Land (Woody Guthrie)
12. My Peace (Woody Guthrie)
The crowd lit up for the most memorable tunes, including a rousing back-to-the-60s rendition of Coming into Los Angeles to close the first set. The story of the infamous “massacree” – the namesake of Guthrie’s 50th Anniversary Tour – top-lined the second set, and you could tell the audience had not gotten tired of the telling. Somehow, Arlo told the story as though for the first time – so that those listening for the first time would not be short-changed. “If I’d known the song would be so popular, I wouldn’t have made it so long.”
According to Arlo, Steve Goodman gave him a song he had just written, "City of New Orleans", to hand off to Johnny Cash. Arlo recounted that Johnny was concerned that one more train song might pigeon-hole him…to Arlo’s eternal benefit. The words to Arlo’s greatest ballad were on almost everyone’s lips in the audience. Mr. Guthrie also presented himself as an accomplished musician throughout the evening, brandishing a number of acoustic and electric guitars and a keyboard. Most enticing was the blue-to-black Rainsong 12-string acoustic as it jangled its carbon-fiber sound across the theater as if on its own dedicated speakers.
Arlo rolled up the evening with more of his own stuff like "Highway in the Wind", a lesser-known but no-less-special cut from his 1967 breakout album, Alice’s Restaurant. He included a sweet cover of Woody & Janis Ian’s "I Hear You Sing Again" as if he was singing of his own family, and then explained that he lost his wife of 43 years, Jackie, to cancer in 2012. Arlo may still be grieving, but remains wistfully positive on stage. He spoke of their meeting in 1968, and how Jackie knew she would marry Arlo the moment she saw him. You can see the result of their love on the stage with Arlo in Sarah and Abe.
The whole family took the stage for the Guthrie past patriarch’s masterpiece "This Land Is our Land", and Arlo spoke of the song: "as though in the multitudes of re-singing by so many millions of people, the song has now acquired its own spirit and weight in the universe. He bade us goodbye by passing his peace to us – My Peace – from he and his family to the audience".
Arlo and his family are an extraordinary example of the age-old practice of passing on passion and skills from one generation to another. They don’t just want to sing their father’s – and his father’s – songs. It’s not just good folk music or good money or good politics. They must sing them. It’s a family thing.
Many, many thanks to The Ark and to the Michigan Theater for bringing the Guthrie family back to Ann Arbor.
A very similar audio version of this great live event is available on Spotify. Check it out.
Don Alles is a marketing consultant, house concert host, and musical wannabee living in and loving his recently adopted home, Ann Arbor.
Having built a hometown following with My Dear Disco, and then as a solo artist, Theo Katzmann’s name is a familiar one around Ann Arbor. Although Brooklyn has been his more recent home base, he's swinging through A2 this week.
Katzman and his Vulfpeck took a creative approach to streaming/Spotify last year, and just dropped a new record last month. He also contributed his production and songwriting chops to Michelle Chamuel's 2015 pop album Face the Fire.
This time around, however, his Blind Pig date is billed as a solo affair — with a few of the 'peck backing him up.
Mariah Cherem is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Matt Jones at the keyboard / Photo by Doug Coombe
Check out the piece the folks over at Concentrate Media did on Ypsilanti musician Matt Jones and his River Street Anthology project. The project has been underway since March and is Jones' attempt to record as many Michigan musicians as he can.
From the article:
"I'm obsessed with history. I'm obsessed with preservation," he says. "It's so important that things like this never die out. All of us songwriters and bands, we can't just—poof—disappear. I need to keep everybody on the books."
Good luck to Matt on this noble endeavor! We hear you on the preservation thing, man, and it's really great to see folks taking it on.
The son of pioneering folk icon Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie grew up with a unique perspective on a genre he would later adopt as his own. Surrounded by folk and “beat” greats, he was forged in a smelter of arts and artists like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, Bill Monroe, and Doc Watson.
And then came Alice’s Restaurant. This presumably true – albeit festooned with literary license – story of a garbage dump run gone horribly wrong, pushed Arlo Guthrie to the front of the folk and rock stages in an era of general angst and wrenching generational change. The musical and spoken story, released in 1967 about the fateful day in 1965, along with the “the twenty-seven 8-by-10 colored glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one”, became a cult classic, earning him a spot at Woodstock and a place in the hearts of counter-culture music lovers around the world.
50 years later, Arlo Guthrie will re-tell his story – perhaps with a few new verses thrown in – this Monday night at The Michigan Theater, at the latest stop of The Alice’s Restaurant 50th Anniversary Tour. Those of us desiring to re-live our hazy youths will want to see this brilliant and funny performer once again, and those of us who just want a great evening of songs and storytelling will want to see Arlo for his enduring humor and musicality.
Don Alles is a marketing consultant, house concert host, and musical wannabee living in and loving his recently adopted home, Ann Arbor.
Arlo Guthrie brings Alice's Restaurant to the Michigan Theater on Monday, November 9, at 7:30 pm . Tickets are available through Ticketmaster online or by phone at 800-845-3000.
There's so much going on in town every weekend, it's easy to overlook the multiple waves of consistently astounding student recitals coming out of the UM Music School. But to do so risks missing some extremely rare opportunities to hear top-notch musicians tackle enormously exciting and engaging work, such as last weekend's simply jaw-dropping Celluloid Tubas performance, put on by the University of Michigan's Euphonium and Tuba Ensemble (UMETE), led by visiting conductor and arranger E. Todd Fiegel.
Fiegel and UM Tuba & Euphonium Professor Fritz Kaenzig met as students and have remained friends ever since; Fiegel arrangements and appearances have been periodic features of Octubafest concerts over the years. Fiegel is a lifelong fan of film and film scores, and has brought his challenging and faithful arrangements of famous film themes to brass ensembles across the country through his Celluloid Tubas and Celluloid Brass series. The program for last Sunday's recital at the Stamps Auditorium on North Campus featured eight of Fiegel's arrangements of famous film themes for Professor Kaenzig's ridiculously talented Tuba & Euphonium students, accompanied by a team of five percussionists, each set of pieces played in sync with video.
It's not unheard of for a live ensemble to play along with a video; in fact there are several touring arrangements of video game or film music, such as the Legend of Zelda tour (that comes as close as that town to the south in 2016), and most of these shows use a digital click track in earphones, or a special video feed for the conductor, to show exactly when each beat must happen for the music to stay in sync with the video. The Celluloid Tubas Show utilized no sync tools at all; Feigel simply watched the video on the screen along with the audience, and conducted the ensemble to keep the music matched up with the action. This was an extremely impressive feat, demonstrating Feigel's deep knowledge of the scenes and the scores, and while not every beat was precisely perfect, the musicianship on display by the conductor and the ensemble was simply staggering.
Starting off with a suite of themes from Bruce Boughton's score for Silverado (1985), the richness and warmth of a Tuba & Euphonium ensemble was immediately on display, very well suited to the panorama-evoking score from the film and the Coplandesque open harmonies that are shorthand for cowboy movies. Beef, it's what's for dinner. Feigel carefully set the stage for each section, explaining what was going on with the plot and how the score amplified and reflected the emotions, while lovingly protecting the audience from spoilers, such as that Kevin Kline would not die in the climactic gunfight against Brian Dennehy.
The next piece was a very famous sequence from 1955's The 7th Voyage of Sinbad: the epic Skeleton Fight, scored by Bernard Herrmann, who went on to score most of Hitchcock's best films, including, as Feigel noted, the music-less score of The Birds. The ensemble did an amazing job with a very difficult piece, and my post-millennial 13 year-old son was also astounded by the quality of Ray Harryhausen's entirely hand-animated special effects. Even all these years later, that post-production Skeleton is convincing in a way of which Jar Jar Binks can only dream.
The first half of the concert featured what Feigel described as "Two vocal soloists at the top of their game," in an arrangement he calls It Ain't Over 'til the Fat Instrument Plays. My son and I had this one pegged for What's Opera, Doc? from the moment we got the program in hand, and we were delighted to be right, with the original vocal performances carefully separated from the original music and accompanied by the power of an ensemble of which Wagner could barely have imagined. Also, it was only 5 minutes long, which Wagner certainly could not have imagined.
The second half began with one of the most famous fusions of animation and music ever produced, Paul Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Arranging this woodwind-heavy piece for a low brass ensemble truly showed off Feigel's chops as an arranger, as well as the ranges of the performers, but the truly impressive feat was the timing of the very specific, spread out beats at moments in the short, such as when the splintered broomsticks come back to life, or the final potch Mickey receives at the end of the short. Every single pulse of the music is evident in Disney's animation, and the ensemble nailed them all.
Of course, you can't do a program of Movie Music without something by John Williams, and Fiegel brought three outstanding picks from Williams' catalog. Send in the Clones is the score of the final scene of the otherwise execrable Attack of the Clones, where the famous Imperial March is heard for the first time, a piece extremely well suited to the naturally sinister Euphonium. Then, after a beautiful but undeniably maudlin excerpt from Saving Private Ryan, the ensemble launched into Fiegel's vrOOM vrOOM Scherzo, an arrangement of William's Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra that scores Henry Jones Jr. and Senior's escape from the Nazis. One of the best bits of Indiana Jones music, this piece catches every bump and jostle of the scene with the Last Crusade's Nazi Theme underscoring throughout.
But the most impressive achievement of the evening, and the closing number, was Eine Kleine Tubamusik für Roadrunner und Coyote, a very faithful conversion of Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn's score for the Roadrunner Cartoon Zoom and Bored. The scoring of a Roadrunner cartoon is so distinctive, from the alternating fury and depression of Wile E. Coyote's efforts, to the signature xylophone blinks of confusion, that despite the unusual instrumentation, the score fit right in, from the Beyooooop to the That's All Folks. But you don't have to take my word for it, here's a video of a performance of the arrangement from a previous Celluloid Tubas show at Umich in 2005:
It was a delightful evening of film, commentary, rich tones, and lots of spit. UMETE is one of the most impressive ensembles on campus, and with arrangers like Todd Feigel pushing their boundaries, it's worth taking the time to see what Tubas and Euphoniums can do, without a full band holding them back.
Eli Neiburger is Deputy Director of the Ann Arbor District Library and was one of the worst Sousaphone players in the Michigan Marching Band.
You can stay on top of what the University of Michigan Tuba & Euphonium Studio is up to on their facebook page .
Southern band The Avett Brothers will play Hill Auditorium on November 6th. I stumbled into The Avett Brothers purely by accident: I bought their album Emotionalism solely based on the cover art, which was printed with silver ink (what can I say? I have simple, glittery tastes). Luckily for me, I actually liked the music in addition to the sparkle. The Avett Brothers play folk rock with a bluegrass twist, which translates to plenty of banjos AND indie rock lyrics.
Between the band’s experience (they’ve been playing together since 2000) and the fantastic Hill Auditorium acoustics, this show is sure to be wonderful.
Evelyn Hollenshead is a Youth Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
The Avett Brothers play Hill Auditorium this Friday, November 6, at 7 pm. Purchase tickets online or in person at the Michigan Union Ticket Office.
Still working on your Halloweekend plans? Tonight, the Ark welcomes The Ragbirds back to their hometown stage. The hard-working and hard-touring band is built around Erin Zindle, a musician who is as comfortable singing-while-playing violin as she is wielding an accordion.
This last year, Zindle and crew have been hard at work on their fifth studio record with Grammy-nominated producer Jamie Candiloro (Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, Willie Nelson), and this show gives fans a chance to hear much of that material prior to its 2016 release.
The Ragbirds often go all-out to celebrate this spooky holiday, and accordingly, this year’s performance goes beyond just a “show” — it’s a full-on masquerade, for the band and fans.
Come already decked out, or arrive early — there will be a special souvenir masquerade mask for the first 250 people.
Mariah Cherem is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
The Ragbirds' Halloween Masquerade with Rhyta Musik will be held tonight, Friday, October 30, at the Ark. Doors open at 7:30 pm, show starts at 8 pm. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online in advance until 3pm or at the Ark Box office.
Sunday evening live music at the Old Town Tavern is a long-time staple for many locals. This Sunday’s show should be particularly rousing. Guitarist and singer Kyle Rhodes, from the local band Wire in the Wood is teaming up with Jay Lapp, frontman of the Virginia bluegrass band Steel Wheels to form an Americana duo playing a fusion of bluegrass, jazz, and indie rock. Mandolin fans in particular won't want to miss this show: both Rhodes and Lapp are accomplished mandolin players and we can expect the instrument to feature prominently in Sunday's show, too.
Wire in the Wood, first formed in 2008, also features Billy Kirst, Jordan Adema, and Ryan Shea. Formerly known as The Bearded Ladies, the band got their start when Kirst put an ad on craigslist seeking bandmates for the “Best String Band Ever.” Rhodes was the only one who answered the ad, and Wire in the Wood was born. The band frequently plays at the Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti.
The Steel Wheels is also comprised of four young musicians who first met when they were in school at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia. The four band members—Lapp, Trent Wagler, Brian Dickel, and Eric Brubaker—were all raised in Mennonite families. The band played informally together throughout the late aughts, while also working day jobs and starting families, and released an LP in 2007. In 2010, they finally came together as The Steel Wheels, and have been releasing albums ever since, including their most recent one Leave Some Things Behind, which came out this past May. The band puts on the Red Wing Roots Music Festival every year in Virginia. 2015 was the third year of the festival.
Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Jay Lapp & Kyle Rhodes will begin their set at Old Town at 8:00 pm this Sunday, October 25. Old Town features live music every Sunday, from artists of all types, as well as live jazz music on Tuesday evenings. You can find out more about upcoming shows and performers here.
The October 21 University Musical Society performance by Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor is a unique opportunity to hear voices of South Africa through this legendary jazz piano master and his extraordinary young group.
Whether you know the sounds of Soweto from Hugh Masakela’s horn, Miriam Makeba’s “Click Song”, the high harmonies of the Mahotella Queens, or the bell-shuffle-sweep of Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s joyous a cappella songs, Ibrahim sifts and swaps all of it! The soaring horns of Ekaya behind Ibrahim’s hymn-like chording and glistening vamps will take you places that only great music can go. Take this chance to hear why the great Duke Ellington launched this big talent with a 1963 Paris recording, and why Abdullah Ibrahim still delights audiences around the world 52 years later, at age 81.
Ira Lax is an Outreach and Neighborhood Services Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library
Abdullah Ibrahim and Ekaya perform at the Michigan Theatre on Wednesday, October 21 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available online, by phone at 734-764-2538, or at the Michigan Theatre door.