No Standard Standards: The Pherotones turn cover songs upside down and inside out

MUSIC INTERVIEW

The Pherotones

Phe-nominal group: (L to R) Ross Huff, special guest Randall Moore, Brennan Andes, Giancarlo Aversa, Michael Shimmin.

Versatility is key to a covers band's success, but The Pherotones' repertoire really takes that idea to the next level. In its Thursday night standing gig at The Last Word, the group puts a jazzy spin on a wild variety of musical eras and genres. A recent show found the group covering material ranging from a jazz standard ("These Foolish Things") to a century-old spiritual/protest song ("Down By the Riverside") to an '80s pop hit ("Everybody Wants to Rule the World") to a classic TV theme (The Muppet Show). 

The Pherotones' catalog rewards a deep and diverse appreciation of popular music in its numerous incarnations, and the band's musical approach to the material is similarly enjoyable. The jaunty arrangements add a dignified but fun twist to familiar tunes, with the whole band shouting out unamplified vocals on some selections. The players themselves form a distinguished local supergroup of sorts. Trumpeter Ross Huff and bassist Brennan Andes are well-known for their roles in The Macpodz (and countless other groups), and drummer Wesley Fritzemeier is known for his more folk-influenced work with the Ben Daniels Band and Thunderwude. Locals may know pianist Giancarlo Aversa for his proficiency in quite a different art: The Last Word's principal bartender. 

Although it's now been over five years since The Pherotones originally got together as Giancarlo and the Wedding Rehearsal Singers, the band's story remains something of a mystery. There's very little publicity on the band and little online record of its work. We tracked down Huff to ask about The Pherotones' origin story, how they've developed their repertoire, and how they respond to audience requests.

Rocking the Roots: Jim Manheim spins polka, country & bluegrass on WCBN

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Jim Manheim by Doug Coombe

Jim Manheim by Doug Coombe.

Jim Manheim has the unique distinction of hosting both one of WCBN's most popular shows -- and, arguably, one of its most obscure. Since 1989 Manheim has co-hosted The Down Home Show, a classic country music program that often raises the most or second-most money during station fundraisers (WCBN's closest equivalent to more traditional listenership metrics). He also co-hosts a popular bluegrass program, Bill Monroe for Breakfast. But in three stints from 1996 to 1999, 2008 to 2011, and 2014 to the present, Manheim has also regularly graced WCBN's airwaves with the Drivetime Polka Party

Currently airing Wednesdays at 6:30 pm, the Drivetime Polka Party is a joyful and educational trip through the once popular, now largely forgotten art form of polka. While the music itself doesn't fit into today's sonic landscape, it's still difficult to resist its buoyant rhythms and surprisingly wild sense of experimentation. (For one particularly mystifying example that caught this writer's ear on a recent Polka Party, check out this hillbilly-polka crossbreed cover of "Hot Rod Lincoln" by Jimmy Sturr and His Orchestra.) 

Manheim is a charming and engaging guide throughout this weekly journey, projecting a light-hearted, good-humored personality that matches the music (and is inspired by Buffalo, N.Y., polka DJs). He's also a treasure trove of information, providing background on each song while also placing it in the broader historical context of the genre. We chatted with Manheim on why he started the show, what keeps him coming back to the polka genre, and what his plans are for his WCBN shows as he mulls a move to Indonesia.

Real Cool Times: WCBN's "Local Music Show" has documented Michigan music for the past 20+ years

MUSIC INTERVIEW

WCBN Local Music Show logo

WCBN's Local Music Show's (LMS) is a staggering live performance archive of southeast Michigan music stretching back to 2003 -- and that's not even a complete archive of the program.

"It seems like no one really knows when it started, but I think it was at least the mid-'90s," says Shelley Salant, a longtime LMS host. Offering an eclectic mix of both recordings and in-studio performances by area musicians, the show has become something of an institution not only at its host station 88.3 FM but within southeast Michigan's music community itself.

"As One" opera explores a trans woman's journey to find her true voice

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

As One composer Laura Kaminsky. Photo by Rebecca Allan.

As One composer Laura Kaminsky says the work didn't follow a typical path for creating an opera. Photo by Rebecca Allan.

Those who don't closely follow the opera world may not think of the artform as a medium that addresses issues any less than a century old. But the 2014 opera As One, which will run April 6-7 at the Kerrytown Concert House, addresses one of the biggest social issues in our current public discourse: the experience and rights of transgender people.

See Shells: Michigan music MVP Shelley Salant on her new solo LP

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Shelley Salant, Shells LP2

Shelley Salant's second solo LP, Shells 2, features a cover painting by her mom, Katherine Salant.

Between all the various ways she's involved in southeast Michigan's music scene, it's almost surprising that Shelley Salant has any time to make music of her own. By our count, Salant is a member of at least four different bands at the moment: Tyvek, Bonny Doon, Chain and the Gang, and The Vitas. She DJs regularly, hosts the Local Music Show on WCBN, and books and promotes numerous shows.

Somewhere in the midst of this maelstrom of creative activity, the Detroit resident (and Ann Arbor expat) recently released Shells 2, her second full-length solo record.

And what a record it is.

Salant's solo instrumental guitar work is vibrant and layered, with reverb-soaked melodies washing over one another. Salant has a terrific grasp of how to build a song's momentum and emotional power, and the distinct moods that come through on each track feel deeply revealing. Salant's music certainly seems to be the purest personal outlet for a woman who comes off as quiet and unassuming in person. On the new record, her sound is rounded out just a tad by synths and production work from another local music titan, Fred Thomas -- but the sound is still wholly Salant's.

We chatted with Salant about her writing style, the recording process for Shells 2, and a frightening and inspiring trip she took to Big Sur. If the end of the interview seems abrupt, it's because she was running out the door to tour Europe with Chain and the Gang.

Just another day in the life of Shelley Salant. 

The Leon Loft concert series is Ann Arbor's intimate hideout for great music

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Spoon at The Leon Loft

Britt Daniel and Alex Fischel from Spoon played The Leon Loft on Aug. 1, 2017. Photo courtesy of The Leon Loft.

Although it's far more polished than your average basement club, The Leon Loft still boasts the same hush-hush cool that surrounds a good underground venue. You likely won't just buy a ticket to see a show at the venue on the second floor of Leon Speakers' custom audio business adjacent the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport. In addition to hosting various private events, the Loft's signature offering is its ongoing free concert series hosted by Acoustic Café's Rob Reinhart. The series has presented an eclectic mix of over 30 artists including Michael Franti, Fitz and the Tantrums, and City and Colour. The concerts are broadcast live on 107.1 FM and archived online in video form, but to catch one live you'll have to win tickets on 107.1. 

But once you get in, you're in for a treat.

Purple Rose Theatre's "Flint" is intensely, painfully real

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Flint

Olivia (Casaundra Freeman) comforts her husband, Mitchell, affectingly portrayed by Lynch R. Travis. Photos by Sean Carter Photography.

Titling a play Flint may seem somewhat presumptuous after all that's gone down in the beleaguered city in recent years. How could one summarize the city's water crisis and the devastation it's caused Flint residents in an 80-minute show? But playwright Jeff Daniels rises to the challenge impressively with his new show, currently making a world-premiere run through March 10 at his Purple Rose Theatre Company (PRTC).

Daniels' wisest decision -- and the main reason the show works as well as it does -- is to go very, very small and very, very personal in approaching an issue that has rocked thousands of peoples' lives. Flint follows two couples, one white and one black, in the latter couple's kitchen as they laugh, drink, fight, and contemplate bleak futures, all in a mostly uninterrupted stretch of real time.

Purple Rose Theatre's "God of Carnage" is stuffed with delicious comic chaos

REVIEW THEATER & DANCE

God of Carnage at Purple Rose Theatre; photo by Sean Carter

Left to right: Paul Stroili, Kate Thomsen, and Rusty Mewha star in the Tony Award-winning God of Carnage at Purple Rose Theatre. Photo by Sean Carter.

The only real carnage in God of Carnage happens entirely offstage, but the knock-down, drag-out battle of social mores that takes place more than earns the play its comically dramatic title. Yasmina Reza's 2009 Tony Award-winning play, which runs through Dec. 16 at the Purple Rose Theatre, is 70 minutes of one-act, real-time comic chaos as two married couples attempt to reconcile after their sons get into a playground fight.

Death-Dodger Rocker: Alejandro Escovedo at The Ark

INTERVIEW PREVIEW MUSIC

2017 Ann Arbor Blues Festival

Alejandro Escovedo brings his scrappy, hook-filled songs (and dapper duds) to The Ark on Wednesday, August 23. Photo by Nancy Rankin Escovedo.

It's been a rough few decades for Alejandro Escovedo, but at age 66 the musician seems to be enjoying a new lease on life. Born to Mexican immigrants in Texas, Escovedo cut his teeth in the punk band The Nuns and blended in rootsier influences with his later bands Rank and File and The True Believers. He embarked on a solo career in the '90s, winning the auspicious designation "Artist of the Decade" from roots and country music magazine No Depression in 1998. But behind the scenes of that professional achievement, Escovedo had only begun a prolonged personal battle. He was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 1996, and a combination of financial troubles and negative reactions to traditional treatment caused him to struggle with the disease for nearly 20 years.

Escovedo collapsed onstage in 2003, which led him to seek non-traditional treatment for his condition. He was finally cured of hepatitis in 2015 -- but not before he and his new wife, Nancy Rankin Escovedo, underwent a different kind of harrowing experience. Hurricane Odile struck during the couple's 2014 honeymoon in Mexico, tearing off the front of the beachfront home they were staying in. Both the Escovedos were diagnosed with PTSD following the experience.

In the wake of all this hardship, however, Alejandro Escovedo has experienced considerable rejuvenation both personally and creatively. Last year he released Burn Something Beautiful, a new album co-written with former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey, frontman of The Minus 5 and The Young Fresh Fellows (and a regular R.E.M. collaborator). As with Escovedo himself, the scrappy, hooky record has far more energy than anyone might expect of the average senior citizen.

Escovedo will play The Ark on Wednesday, August 23, sharing the stage and swapping songs and stories with fellow Texas rocker Joe Ely. We caught up with Escovedo while he was visiting Austin, where he lived for over three decades before a recent move to Dallas.

Right on the Chin: Bruce Campbell on B movies, "Evil Dead," and hosting a game show

Bruce Campbell, Hail to the Chin

Bruce Campbell wants the "savages" to show up at his Michigan Theater appearance on Wednesday, August 30.

Actor Bruce Campbell has had some iconic roles in his life, but at age 65 he seems to have finally landed on the role he was truly born to play: that of a game show host.

The Royal Oak native is best known as the cocky zombie-dismemberer Ash Williams in the three original Evil Dead movies and the more recent Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead, and as the washed-up military man Sam Axe on Burn Notice. But after hosting a charity game show for the military in 2015, Campbell was inspired to start pitching what he calls "a game show for geeks": Last Fan Standing. The comic con-themed streaming platform CONtv produced 10 episodes of the show, which may now be viewed online. Campbell is clearly in his element on the show, mercilessly razzing his contestants, handing out dollar bills from his own pocket to those who do well, and generally reveling in his role as an elder statesman -- or perhaps just a dorky old dad -- of nerd culture.

Campbell has continued Last Fan Standing in select promotional appearances for his newly released second autobiography, Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor. Following up on his 2001 New York Times bestseller, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor, Campbell's latest tell-all proves that he's still just as willing to turn his smart-aleck sense of humor on himself. From his tale of wrecking a tank while on a USO tour in Iraq to his epic story of almost getting cut from his minuscule role in Evil Dead director Sam Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful, Campbell maintains a level head, a sense of humor, and a true passion for his business.

Campbell will appear at the Michigan Theater on Wednesday, August 30, to host Last Fan Standing and talk about his latest autobiographical book. We chatted with him about game shows, changing perceptions of B movies, and whether he really cares about reviews.