Emotionally Yours: Bettye LaVette brought fresh life to the songs of Bob Dylan at Sonic Lunch

MUSIC REVIEW

Bettye LaVette at Sonic Lunch

Tangled up in blues: Bettye LaVette dug into the soul of Bob Dylan at Sonic Lunch on Thursday. Photo by Christopher Porter.

For anyone who believes in the power of pop music to communicate in a powerful, even transcendent way, the idea of Bettye LaVette singing the songs of Bob Dylan creates some pretty high hopes. On August 9, the Sonic Lunch concert series brought that pairing to downtown Ann Arbor, and the results were just as good as expected.

Local singer Antwaun Stanley and his tight band opened the show with a sharp, energetic set that brought a modern spin to a 1970s soul/funk sound. A couple of terrific covers -- Maze’s “Running Away” and Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful” -- demonstrated his compelling stage presence and showcased his vocal range. 

But the highlight of Stanley’s set was “Where Are We Now?,” a song he wrote with Tyler Duncan and Theo Katzman in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. Something of a modern-day “What’s Going On,” the song drew a huge response from the crowd. “Are we breaking through, or are we breaking down?” Stanley sang. “We’ve got to be the change; we’ve got to preach the change.”

LaVette opened her set with the title song of her recent Dylan album, Things Have Changed. One of the best of Dylan’s latter-day works, it carries a new, ominous impact in the current social climate, and LaVette brought all of that to her performance.

Tennessee "Stars": Slipstream brings a promising new play to Ann Arbor 

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Bailey Boudreau in A Night of Stars by Slipstream Theatre

Bailey Boudreau as Tennessee Williams in Slipstream Theatre Initiative's A Night of Stars. Photo by Jennifer Jolliffe.

Maxim Vinogradov’s A Night of Stars with Tennessee Williams is a series of snapshots featuring Williams’ encounters with celebrities, aspiring artists, and those closest to him -- memories, most of all, of the impact he had on them, for better or worse. Ferndale’s Slipstream Theatre Initiative has brought A Night of Stars to Ann Arbor for an August run at The Yellow Barn, with Bailey Boudreau playing Williams.

The play's scenes are sometimes funny, sometimes serious, and always well-written. Williams remembers, can’t remember, and hates remembering key moments from his past, which he has probably distorted anyway. We watch Williams cajole some actors into taking roles they don’t really want and bypass others. We see him with friends, family, and his most significant other. There are few surprise revelations to those familiar with Williams’ biography, though some of it is not remembered accurately enough to ring a bell. The fun is in the dialogue and in watching these figures come to life in brief scenes.

Gifts of Art's summer exhibitions keep on giving

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Patty Carroll's Parrots Fancy

Patty Carroll's Fancy Parrots, photograph

With eight different exhibits in its summer presentation, Gifts of Art continues to be an important part of the University of Michigan's creative ecosystem. The exhibitions, which run through September 9, serve as an important facet of the hospital, bringing the gallery experience to patients, staff, and visitors. 

Local Legends: "One-Shot Stanger: The Photos of Eck Stanger" at AADL

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Eck Stanger - YWCA Day Camp "Circus," July 23, 1937

Eck Stanger, YWCA Day Camp "Circus," July 23, 1937

Local legend says Egbert ("Eck") Stanger, a 1930s copy editor for The Ann Arbor News, was hired as the paper's first staff photographer because he was the only staffer who knew how to read the German instruction manual for the newspaper's only camera. 

As recounted by Arthur P. Gallagher, News editor 1954-1976, in a 1976 article, Stanger supposedly said, "They gave me a second-hand Speed Graphic Camera and a booklet on how to use it."

But why would the Rochester, N.Y.-made Speed Graphic Camera have a German instruction manual?

We're clearly in the realm of John Ford's famed journalistic observation in his 1962 cowboy movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

But Stanger doesn't need any shaky legend to legitimize his incredible body of work, and AADL's One-Shot Stanger exhibition gives us a look at 21 of his finest photos, taken from AADL's Old News collection.

Fun House: Ron Asheton's 70th Birthday Celebration at The Blind Pig

MUSIC REVIEW INTERVIEW

The Shemps at the Asheton family home

The Shemps outside the Asheton family home in Ann Arbor. Front: Jennifer Herrema. L to R: Henry McGroggan, Kim Gordon, Don Fleming, Kathy Asheton, Mario Rubacalba, Mike Watt, J Mascis, and Mark Arm. Photo via the Ron Asheton Foundation.

Kathy Asheton’s voice was cracking.

“It’s all very sensitive,” she said, the sentence trailing off to silence.

She’s recalling her brothers, Ron and Scott, the guitarist (and later bassist) and drummer for The Stooges.

Ron died in 2009 at 60 and Scott in 2014 at 64, and their younger sister still struggles with their loss.

The Facebook page Kathy runs for the Ron Asheton Foundation is filled with personal remembrances and family photos taken in their West Ann Arbor home near Weber’s Restaurant. Her mom bought the house from Herman Weber in 1964, and it's still owned by Kathy.

The modest 1,400 square foot structure, with its brick facade on the lower half and siding on top, doesn’t look like the sort of place that would launch a musical revolution. But the band that helped plant the roots for punk rock, The Stooges, began its life here, all with the blessing of mother Ann Asheton.

“She was not only accommodating by letting my brothers practice -- that’s where the band literally started, in the family home,” Kathy said. “But she could also rip and say, ‘Don’t drink out of the milk cartons!’ and let us have it. She was a mom in the true sense. She yelled at them like she yelled at us.”

“Them” includes the MC5 and other bands who passed through the Asheton home, and it was Iggy who Ann yelled at for drinking out of the milk carton. Momma Asheton’s support was repaid in song.

Star Power: Sunflower Bean at Sonic Lunch

MUSIC REVIEW

Sunflower Bean at Sonic Lunch

Photo by Christopher Porter.

Some people seem destined to be stars.

Sunflower Bean is fronted by a supernova.

The New York-based Julia Cumming (bass, vocals), Nick Kivlen (guitar, vocals), and Jacob Faber (drums) flew to Ann Arbor specifically to play Sonic Lunch on July 12, and their 13-song spirited performance under sunny skies turned Liberty Plaza into a rock 'n' roll club.

"Are you guys here for a good time?" Cumming said. "Just because it's noon it doesn't mean we can't rock." She then taught the crowd to sing along with the "no, no, no" part of the chorus for "Crisis Fest."

Method Man: Ken Vandermark's Marker at Kerrytown Concert House

MUSIC REVIEW

Ken Vandermark's Marker at Kerrytown Concert House

Marker Space: Electric guitarists Steve Marquette and Andrew Clinkman, drummer Phil Sudderberg, and bandleader Ken Vandermark, who is in front of violinist/keyboardist Macie Stewart. Photo by Christopher Porter

Ken Vandermark is a method musician.

The Chicago-based saxophonist/clarinetist likes to construct scenarios and systems for his various bands and then write material that fits whatever methods he's devised. It's rigorous work that forces Vandermark and his musicians out of their comfort zones, but it has led to a voluminous and varied body of work that is among the most impressive in modern jazz and composition.

Vandermark's latest creation, Maker, came to Kerrytown Concert House on July 9 and ripped through a four-song, 75-minute set that touched on avant-garde jazz, funk, drones, minimalism, and Afrobeat. 

Refuge and Isolation: Ypsi Alloy Studios' "Sanctuary" at Ann Arbor Art Center

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Ann Arbor Art Center's app for Sanctuary

ICON Interactive's virtual reality app for Ann Arbor Art Center's Sanctuary exhibit.

Ann Arbor Art Center’s Sanctuary exhibition features some pieces that focus on the meditative aspect of the titular concept, but other works confront the “double-edged sword” of what "sanctuary" means, lending to the gallery’s successful interpretation of a broad theme. 

Featuring work from 15 artists from Ypsi Alloy Studios, the show is described by the gallery as:

Hungry Hearts: Michigan Rattlers at Sonic Lunch

MUSIC REVIEW

Michigan Rattlers at Sonic Lunch, July 5, 2018

A sort of homecoming: Michigan Rattlers returned to Ann Arbor, the birthplace of bassist Adam Reed. Photo by Christopher Porter.

Raccoons, foxes, and hawks prey upon the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake.

But the Michigan Rattlers are most susceptible to being consumed by broken hearts, Bell's Two-Hearted, and the eternal debate about where your heart truly belongs.

Comprised of Petoskey-raised childhood friends Graham Young (guitar) and Adam Reed (upright bass), along with more recent members Christian Wilder (keyboards) and Anthony Audia (drums), the Los Angeles-based Michigan Rattlers returned to the Sonic Lunch concert series on July 5 and played 13 originals plus a cover of Leonard Cohen's "On the Level."

Young and Reed performed as a duo at Sonic Lunch last year and their close-harmony Americana was immediately striking for its beauty and simplicity. But as a quartet, Michigan Rattlers brought a honky-tonk rock 'n' roll vibe to their acoustic-guitar-based compositions.

Dream Weavers: Chirp at Top of the Park

MUSIC REVIEW

Chirp at Top of the Park, June 30, 2018

Ann Arbor jammers Chirp helped Top of the Park close its final weekend of the summer. Photo from facebook.com/chirpmusic.

I remember it; if you were a kid who grew up in Ann Arbor you do, too. The nights you spent in the hot summer air with cold lemonade, and the smell of the food trucks, the times you sat in the grass looking up at the sky, listening to bands on the main stage. It felt like a dream.

Top of the Park has been around now for 35 years and I've gone to it almost every year that I've lived in Ann Arbor. But this was the first time that I went alone to review a band. It's funny how being alone can sharpen your thinking and make you a keener observer.

By the time Chirp took the stage on June 30, the park had filled out. People stood or sat in chairs in front of the stage, while others sat in the grass or under the beer tent. Bassist Brian Long, guitarist-vocalist Jay Frydenlund, guitarist Ken Ball, and drummer John Gorine mix styles freely, touching on rock in their guitar work, jazz with the drum and bass solos, and soul through Frydenlund's voice.