Dust Never Sleeps: The Dustbowl Revival threw a party at Top of the Park

MUSIC REVIEW

The Dustbowl Revival

Zach Lupetin fell in love with the Ann Arbor Summer Festival and its free, outdoor Top of the Park concerts during his time as a University of Michigan student. Wednesday evening, some 11 years after graduating, he returned as a performer, leading his LA-based acoustic band The Dustbowl Revival in a joyous, spirited set.

Recalling his U-M years, when he led an earlier local band called the The Midnight Special, he spoke of the community’s deep appreciation for live music. “People come together no matter what,” he said mid-show. “It’s an honor to play music here.”

The Dustbowl Revival made a name for itself more or less in the Americana genre, with some flavors of old-time jazz and western swing woven in. The band’s latest album expands its sound further, and Wednesday’s set started with a trio of songs -- the sexy “Call My Name,” the clever and danceable “Gonna Fix You,” and the intense “If You Could See Me Now -- that incorporated more elements of rock, soul, and funk.

Encore Theatre's production of "West Side Story" is unnervingly timely

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's West Side Story

Not all that long ago, West Side Story seemed kind of quaint.

We’d all watch this classic, 1950s stage musical twist on Romeo and Juliet, built on the talent of four iconic artists (Jerome Robbins, concept; Arthur Laurents, book; Leonard Bernstein, music; Stephen Sondheim, lyrics), and think, “So many of the characters in this story are openly, unapologetically racist and anti-immigrant! I’m so glad we’ve evolved from this.”

Cut to the recent travel ban; and campaign promises about building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico; and white supremacists proudly marching in Charlottesville last summer; and the U.S.’s short-lived, limited aid for American citizens living in Puerto Rico, following Hurricane Maria last fall; and the children of detained migrant families being separated from their parents.

So “West Side Story” -- playing through August 12 at Dexter’s Encore Theatre -- which had always felt a little dated to me, seems almost unnervingly timely now.

Riveting Riveters: Purple Rose’s “Willow Run” tells the story of four strong women

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Purple Rose Theatre's Willow Run

Southeast Michigan was in the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt “the Arsenal of Democracy” as the area’s auto manufacturers moved from making cars to making planes, tanks, jeeps, and other machinery needed to fight the Axis in World War II.

The heart and soul of that arsenal was Ford Motor Company’s Willow Run plant in Ypsilanti as it was transformed from auto production to production of the B24 Liberator bombers. Willow Run was more than just a factory, it was a place where national necessity created profound social change.

Women began to fill jobs once held by men and proved their value time and again. The image of Rosie the Riveter became iconic for the emergence of women as a key part of the wider workforce.

The Purple Rose Theatre is staging the world premiere of Jeff Duncan’s Willow Run, an affectionate portrayal of this local and historic story of social change.  

Performance as Art: The Black Opera at Top of the Park

MUSIC REVIEW

The Black Opera

You know you're onto something unique when you can count both Deepak Chopra and Snoop Dogg as fans.

The Black Opera, an alternative hip-hop group formed in 2011 in the Ann Arbor area, performed at Top of the Park on Tuesday, and from the moment the duo took the stage they had the crowd on their feet dancing, laughing, and enjoying the hard-hitting beats from the gritty group. The Black Opera was happy to be home and MCs Magestik Legend and Jamall Bufford showed it in each enthusiastic rhyme.

Dubbing itself “rap’s first performance art group,” The Black Opera began its set wearing striking white masks and proceeded to change portions of their outfits after each song to add new vibes and visuals. Videos played behind them with imagery ranging from the decorated streets of Detroit during the song “Beautiful City" to the Flint water crisis, and messages like “We Are One” and “Forever We Rebel” were splashed across the screen multiple times as a recurring theme of activism.

Both Sides Now: “See Through: Windows and Mirrors in Twentieth-Century Photography” at UMMA

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Elliott Erwitt, Cracked Glass with Boy -- Colorado

Elliott Erwitt, Cracked Glass with Boy -- Colorado, 1955, gelatin silver print. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of Gerald Lotenberg, 1981/2.194.2, © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos. 

​​​​​​See Through: Windows and Mirrors in Twentieth-Century Photography at the University of Michigan Museum of Art focuses on one of the most thought-provoking conundrums of art photography.

Curated by Jennifer Friess, the exhibit pivots on her observation that there’s a disjunct between “the choices photographers make when constructing their images and, in turn, the manner in which we -- as active viewers -- see [their] photographs.”

Drawing from one of the preeminent collections of photography in the country, Friess has crafted one of the most provocative exhibits of art photography to be mounted at the museum in this last quarter-century.

Harmoniously Happy: Brandi Carlile at the Michigan Theater

MUSIC REVIEW

Brandi Carlile

Nobody sings like Brandi Carlile.

Her voice has so much power and force it’s like something shot out of a cannon -- except that there’s subtlety there, too, and nuance, and many different shades of feeling.

At her June 9 show at the Michigan Theater show, co-hosted by The Ark, Carlile played to an ecstatic, sold-out audience, showcasing the power of her voice and the force of her backing band.

From her first album (Brandi Carlile) to her most recent (By the Way, I Forgive You), Carlile’s songs have reckoned with late nights, stiff drinks, and love affairs gone wrong -- or, occasionally, right. But in Ann Arbor, Carlile explored a different side of herself, a more grown-up side. If there was a theme to the show, it was parenthood.

West Park Monster: Penny Seats' "Gravedigger" begins the outdoor season with a frank retelling

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Penny Seats Theatre Company's The Gravedigger

Meet me at the cemetary gates: The monster Anton (David Galido) and gravedigger Kurt (Robert Schorr) in Penny Seats' production of Joseph Zettelmaier’s The Gravedigger.

Penny Seats Theatre Company’s two-show 2018 summer season -- cheekily called "Hail to the Victors" -- consists of two different takes on Mary Shelley’s classic horror story. Next month, PSTC will present Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan’s stage musical adaptation of Brooks’ 1974 film comedy Young Frankenstein, but the company first kicked things off this past weekend with a two-hour production of Joseph Zettelmaier’s The Gravedigger, directed by Julia Glander and Lauren M. London.

Culottes, Canes & "Calypso": David Sedaris at Literati

WRITTEN WORD REVIEW

David Sedaris

David Sedaris was his usual charming, generous self when gave a packed reading on Friday at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor in support of his new book of essays, Calypso. And, of course, he was hilarious, telling dirty jokes, cursing, and plotting revenge on his West Sussex neighbors.

In Calypso, Sedaris has returned to the humorous essay form with which he’s made his reputation. His siblings, parents, and boyfriend, Hugh -- familiar to long-time readers -- appear once again. But many of these essays are darker in subject and tone than Sedaris’s previous work. They describe aging, illness, and the unexpected death of his sister, among other things. In the book’s first sentence, Sedaris announces, “Though there’s an industry built on telling you otherwise, there are few real joys to middle age.”

Sedaris didn’t read that essay on Friday, but he did read the text of a commencement speech he recently gave at Oberlin College, which touched on similar themes. Encouraging young writers to pursue their vocation (at any cost), he said, “At 22 you are built for poverty and rejection. And you know why? Because you are so good looking.” He also said: “Be yourself. Unless your self is an asshole.”

Shakespeare in the Arb gets to the roots of "Romeo and Juliet"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Shakespeare in the Arb's Romeo & Juliet

Flower children: Romeo and Juliet make eyes in the Arb.

It’s perhaps a little surprising that over the 18 years that the University of Michigan Residential College has presented a Shakespeare play in Nichols Arboretum, this year’s production is the first time for Romeo and Juliet.

Of course, it’s one of Shakespeare’s best-loved works, packed with some of his most memorable lines and phrases. Certainly, any play with romance at its core has a place in the idyllic Arb. So whatever the reasons that it hasn’t been done before, the important thing is that it’s being done now. For fans of Shakespeare, of the Arb, and especially of both, it’s a treat.

To the Moon & Back: Nashville's Moon Taxi kicks off Sonic Lunch

MUSIC REVIEW

Moon Taxi at Sonic Lunch

Liberty Plaza was put into lunar orbit by Moon Unit in the kickoff concert of the Sonic Lunch series. Photo via Sonic Lunch.

The weather, the vibe, and the music all felt like summer on Thursday for the first concert in this year’s Sonic Lunch series, as rising pop-rock band Moon Taxi brought its infectious sound to Liberty Plaza.

Although past Sonic Lunch shows have occasionally had an opening band, this year for the first time every show will feature two acts. Thursday’s opener, Nadim Azzam, is a talented Ann Arbor singer-musician-songwriter who combines indie folk and hip-hop -- and some other genres -- into a seamless mix. “Out of Air” highlighted the enjoyable five-song set, in which saxophonist Jacob LaChance backed Azzam.

Moon Taxi leader Trevor Terndrup greeted a crowd that easily numbered several hundred, and under a cloudless sky, the band launched into “Let the Record Play,” the title track from its major-label debut album, released earlier this year by RCA. The reggae flavorings of the song came to the forefront a bit more in concert than on the studio version.