Brandi Carlile with Darlingside at the Anthem

Sunday night I finally made it down to DC’s new concert venue, The Anthem. I’ve been staring longingly at all the shows I would love to see on their concert calendar, but DC is such a trek it usually takes a lot to get me to pull the trigger on anything especially on a weeknight. Of course it would be Brandi Carlile that finally got me down there.

Yes, I did just see her twice in New York City in April. I went up there because I was afraid I would be busy on whatever Baltimore/DC date she was going to schedule in the future. Sure enough when she announced her full list of tour dates I was glad I got the tickets for New York City because the original DC date was on the same day as our annual Preakness party. For reasons I won’t go into we didn’t wind up having our party this year, but by the time we knew that wasn’t going to happen the Saturday show was sold out. Luckily they added a second show on Sunday night. I waffled back and forth about going since I had just seen her in New York City, but I was nudged over the edge by my husband volunteering that he would go with me and telling me I should buy tickets and also my desire to see Darlingside who were opening.

Darlingside is a folk band from Boston. Their harmonies are incredible. They basically spent their entire set grouped around a single mic singing together. In addition to their beautiful music they are also really nerdy and funny in a way that I had no idea about. Their stage banter made me laugh a lot. They said the first thing they thought about The Anthem was that they were playing in front of the Galactic Senate from Star Wars. I hadn’t thought of it before, but as soon as they said it I could totally see it. There are a lot of nerdy references in their music that I didn’t realized before either. They have a song all about Harrison Ford, which I don’t think I had heard before. My major revelation of the night came in reference to their song “Go Back”, which is apparently a reference to Back to the Future 2 and not the nerdy reference to Lost that I’ve said before is what I have always thought about when listening to that song. Their whole set was great. They got a standing ovation and people yelling encore at the end, which is not something you see a whole lot for opening acts. I definitely look forward to seeing them again in the future.

Darlingside playing music

Brandi’s set was much the same as the shows I saw in New York, but there were a few additional songs. The Beacon Theatre has a strict 11 pm noise ordinance whereas The Anthem obviously does not so they added a few more songs to their set. The set list made me very glad I was there for the Sunday show instead of the Saturday show. I looked Saturday’s set list up and I was happier with the extra songs on Sunday. She played “Dreams”, which I really like in and of itself but which I now always associate with this delightful time in which one of WRNR’s DJs decided to play it twice in a row because he loves it too. For one of the encore songs they brought Darlingside back out on stage and sang a cover of The Eagles’ “Seven Bridges Road”, which was wonderful. Between Darlingside and Brandi and Twins there were practically more harmonies than that stage could handle. It was an amazing show from top to bottom and well worth the effort to go down to DC on a school night. Now I’m counting down the days until I get to see Brandi again when she plays my dream concert co-headlining with Jason Isbell.

Brandi Carlile playing music

BSO Pulse with Moon Taxi

Last Thursday I went to the final BSO Pulse concert of the season with Moon Taxi. I’ve written about these concerts before in which the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra plays, followed by a set from an indie band, and finally a collaboration in which the BSO backs the band on a few of their songs.

I haven’t been to all of these concerts, so I don’t know for sure if this one was different from all of the others but it was at least somewhat different than the other ones I’ve been to. What I tend to think about when I think of a band playing with an orchestra is a lot of strings, which has been the case for the other shows I’ve been to. This one however was all brass and percussion. Rather than one or two movements, this time the BSO played a number of shorter pieces including the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Olympic Fanfare, and a Handel piece written to accompany the Royal fireworks in Britain.

Moon Taxi is one of those bands that has been around for over a decade doing their thing, but is finally getting some real recognition six albums in. They were a super fun band to watch. Their lead singer, Trevor Terndrup is a fantastic performer. They were super energetic and got the crowd into it. Everyone was grooving. I was a fan of their music going in and now I’m even more sold on them. I would definitely go see them live again the next time they’re in the Baltimore area.

The decision to make arrangements with brass and percussion for the BSO to back Moon Taxi was perfect. Nicholas Hersh, the BSO’s Associate Conductor who conducts these concerts is always super fun to watch as a conductor, but this was extra awesome. He was totally grooving while he was conducting.

They also announced that they will be coming back for a Season 4, which makes me really happy. I wasn’t sure if there would be anything beyond Season 3 because I know they had a 3 year grant to do this. I really love these shows and am excited there will be more of them.

Songs I Love: Born in the Right Country by River Whyless

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about any songs I love here. It’s not because there haven’t been many songs entering my world that are worthy of being written about but as I’ve said before that my mental energy to write has been almost non-existent hence the few and far between posts around these parts. But I’ve been on a vacation from work, Twitter, and Baltimore and have restored my energy for a few days at least.

River Whyless is a band that I should really listen to more but for some reason just don’t. I like their music and I loved seeing them perform at the Newport Folk Festival a few years ago, so I’m not sure why they haven’t been a band I pay more attention to. Their newest song may just change that. “Born in the Right Country” is the first single off the forthcoming new album Kindness, A Rebel. I would completely dig this song based on the beat and guitar work no matter what lyrics went along with the music. In a time when it becomes more clear every day that the idea of the American dream is a lie this song speaks to the fact that where you end up in life is very much determined by where you are born in life and the systems that are in place are designed to keep people who are already in power in power. Not exactly a cheery song, but one that speaks the truth and to a great tune.

 

 

Cobra Kai

The other week on Facebook I said something to the effect that I hate how Hollywood is just continuously eating its own tail at this point and doing what seems like nothing but  prequels, sequels and reboots. Obviously they keep doing it because the market is there, so I hate myself a little every time I contribute to their reasoning. Despite saying that there was no way I was not going to watch Cobra Kai, the sequel to the Karate Kid movies created by YouTube Red.

I feel like most people I know talk about what movies they watch over and over again Shawshank Redemption is always on the list. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that movie exactly once. The movies I’ve seen a billion times are not nearly as high brow. My most watched movies list consists of Overboard, When Harry Met Sally, Can’t Buy Me Love, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and of course The Karate Kid. So YouTube Red wins. They hit right on my nostalgia button to make me finally set up an account with them. At least I got to watch it all via a free trial.

The series picks up in the present day following the characters of Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso and where they are now 35 years later. In some respects they have switched places from where they were in the movie. Daniel is now the well-to-do one who owns luxury car dealerships and is married with two kids. Johnny is down on his luck going from one menial job to the next, divorced, and a dead beat dad. Despite their different circumstances both of them are still stuck in the past in various ways.

Johnny decides to open up a Cobra Kai karate dojo, but instead of the cool kids that were part of Cobra Kai when he was a teenager his students are now the losers of the school. Meanwhile Daniel unbeknownst to him begins mentoring and teaching karate to Johnny’s estranged son. Neither one of them has let go of what they think the other one did to the other back in high school and are using their respective proteges to fight their own drama.

I did not have high hopes for Cobra Kai actually being any good, but it surprised me a little. Granted it’s still relying at least 60% if not more off of your nostalgia for the original movie. I’ll be interested to see how I feel about it during its second season when they don’t have all the callbacks to rely on because they’ve already used them all.

It’s certainly not high art, but I enjoyed watching it. I will not lie. Most of my favorite moments were tied to callbacks to the original movie. I definitely cheered a little for every one. But the show is not solely relying on those. They’ve actually done a decent job of developing the characters. I especially loved Daniel’s wife who called him out every time he started acting like a high school idiot again. She had my favorite line of the whole first season in the final episode. There is also a lot more nuance in looking at who is actually right and who is wrong as opposed to the very clearcut good vs. evil in the movie.

I will definitely keep watching when it comes back for another season. If you don’t have a strong attachment to the original Karate Kid movie I’m not sure I would bother watching this, but if you loved it like I did I would say it’s worth 6 hours of your time.

David Bowie Exhibit and Children of a Lesser God

I did a few other things in my trip to NYC last weekend. Because of my concert ticket mix-up that led to me staying an extra day I had all of Friday during the day to do something. I have been wanting to go to the Tenement Museum for forever, but since it’s all timed guided tours I often feel like I don’t have time to fit it in between whatever else I have scheduled. I thought this trip might be a good opportunity, but from what I understand some of the tours are outside and they recommend you pairing an inside and outside tour. The weather was supposed to be not great so I nixed that idea.

In looking through the weekly New York Times article about what exhibits to see this weekend I stumbled on the fact that there was a David Bowie exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum that sounded pretty cool. I decided that was what I wanted to do. I told my friend who I was staying with and she decided she wanted to go too, so we both got tickets (it’s timed entry and you should definitely buy tickets online ahead of time).

Our entry wasn’t until 1:15 so we decided to head down to Brooklyn early and find somewhere to grab brunch/lunch beforehand. Based on Google maps it looked like there were a number of options up one of the major roads near the museum so we just decided to wander. We saw a place on Google maps as we were walking called Tom’s that said it was a Brooklyn institution since 1936. After popping our heads into a couple of other places that we decided weren’t what we were looking for we wound up at Tom’s. At first it looked like we might not be able to get a table, but there was a an open table for two hidden away in the back corner. We were sitting there talking and all of a sudden I glanced at the wall and saw this

framed lyrics to Tom's Diner by Suzanne Vega

So we apparently accidentally stumbled on eating at the Tom’s where Suzanne Vega wrote the song “Tom’s Diner” and only knew about it because we wound up sitting at that particular table. I love serendipity.

The David Bowie exhibit was really cool. I don’t have any photos of it really because there weren’t any photos allowed. I’m happy about that because it was crowded enough and difficult to see and read everything without having to deal with people trying to take photos of everything. The exhibit was really cool. When you go in you get handed a pair of headphones to use through the entire thing. There’s some mechanism set up so that what is playing changes as you move through the exhibit most often providing you the audio to whatever video is playing. There were of course lots of artifacts, lots of video and audio, and costumes. If you even remotely like David Bowie I would highly recommend this exhibit if you can make it to Brooklyn before it ends in July.

Before heading home on Saturday I saw a matinee of Children of a Lesser God. Although I had some knowledge of what it was about I had never seen a previous staged production of it or the movie. This revival stars Joshua Jackson as James Leeds a speech teacher at a school for the deaf and Lauren Ridloff as a Sarah Norman one of his students who doesn’t want to learn to speak or read lips and whom James falls in love with. She signs her entire performance and you basically get what she is saying by the way he responds to her. I wonder how it would change the experience if you knew sign language and were watching. It’s a very thought provoking play about communication and power.

I really enjoyed it and though Joshua Jackson and Lauren Ridloff were both great. Anthony Edwards is underutilized in the role of James’ boss, which is one of the few things I agree with in the New York Times’ less than favorable review of the production. The set also didn’t do much for me, but those are about the only disparaging things in that review that I agree with. The show like the original is still set in the 1970s. The gender dynamics were treated as such which is something the reviewer seemed to take issue with. He seemed to want the show to also address race and gender in ways the show wasn’t meant to. I thought it was a great show and I would definitely recommend it if you’re in New York and looking for a play to see.

Brandi Carlile at The Beacon Theatre

When Brandi Carlile started announcing the dates for the tour for her new album, by the way I forgive you, she started by announcing 2 or 3 dates including two (which eventually became three) nights at The Beacon. I decided I was going to go ahead and buy tickets to see her in NYC because the last few times she has toured through the DC area I’ve been out of town. Since I didn’t know what the DC dates were going to be I was afraid if I waited the NYC shows would sell out and then I wouldn’t be able to go to the DC date. Turns out I was fairly accurate on that since the original DC date falls on the day of our annual Preakness party. They have added a second night that I could go to, but going to DC on a school night is a lot.

In the process of buying these tickets I apparently did not get my dates right because I meant to buy a ticket for the Friday night show, but a few weeks before the show I got an email telling me my ticket for Thursday night was in the mail at which point I had a minor freak out. I had already bought theatre tickets for Saturday so I was going to have to stay in the city until then. Since the friend I was staying with kindly offered to put me up another night I decided to change my train ticket to Thursday, snag a ticket for the luckily not quite sold out at that point Friday show and go both nights. My only regret at this point is that I didn’t stay for the third night. I feel like I left something unfinished only going to two of the three nights.

I am not someone who normally joins fan clubs, but I joined Brandi’s because the price to join went to The Looking Out Foundation, the organization started by Brandi and her wife Catherine that goes to support a lot of causes I believe in. I figured I was donating to something I would support even if I wasn’t getting anything in return. It was just a bonus that it gets me some free bonus songs and access to pre-sales. Since I bought the Thursday night ticket with a pre-sale code I got a first row seat dead center. I have never had a seat that good for a concert and probably never will again. Friday night I was had to slum it all the way back in the 9th row behind some woman who annoyingly recorded the entire show. I would really love to ban everyone’s cell phones and cameras at concerts.

Anyway Thursday was interesting because I was surrounded by a lot of Brandi super fans. I should have seen that coming because of course everyone else in those seats would also be a part of the fan club.  They all seemed to know each other from interacting on the fan club forums, which I have never done. I don’t obsess over things like that. I did feel somewhat like an imposter when the woman next to me was asking me who I was and trying to introduce me to all the other people from the fan site and I was like ummm I never go there so you have no idea who I am and I don’t know anyone else. Comparatively I don’t have to feel like a crazy fan for seeing Brandi 4 times this year.

The shows on Thursday and Friday night pretty much had the same set list with the only difference being the one cover song they played (Elton John’s “Madman Across the Water” on Thursday and the Led Zeppelin version of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” on Friday). I figured they would be because they are playing every song from the new album along with a handful of songs from previous albums. I didn’t mind one bit though because Brandi Carlile is the one artist/band (I never know what to say since it really is a band with her and twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth, but it also feels weird that the band name is her name) for whom I have liked every new album even more than I’ve liked the last, which means by the way I forgive you is now my favorite Brandi Carlile album. It also means that it’s my dirty little secret as a Brandi fan that The Story, which is her seminal album, is my least favorite album. I’ve listened to the songs on the new album enough since it came out at the end of February that it already feels like those songs are a part of me.

They are touring with the biggest band ever this go around. I was curious what they were going to do because there is a lot of orchestration on many of the songs on the new album. The answer is that in a addition to a drummer and pianist/french horn player they are touring with a string quartet. It gives the songs such a great richness and adds just another facet to the incredible range of music from beautiful orchestral songs, to foot stomping folk rock, to flat out rock jams that Brandi plays.

One of the older songs they played was “Raise Hell”, which I was very happy about because it is my favorite song to see them play live. It is just a foot stompin’, hand clappin’ joyous good time.

One of the things they do any time they play in a nice old theatre that has great acoustics like The Beacon does is they go off mic and just the Twins and Brandi sing a beautiful song acoustic. This time it was another one of their older songs, “Cannonball”. That’s definitely not something I’ll see at the two outdoor venues I’ll be seeing them at later this year.

As for songs from the new album, I love them all. Don’t worry I’m not going to write about them all, just a few for which I have something specific to say. As the title of the album indicates there are a lot of songs about forgiveness on there which feels so needed right now. They started the set with “Every Time I Hear that Song”, which contains the lyric “by the way I forgive you” where the title of the album comes from. That chorus is my favorite thing on the entire album.

“The Joke”, which was the first single from the album while a beautiful song is one I have a hard time with because as nice as it is to think all the horrible people in the world will get their comeuppance I don’t think it’s true. While it’s a nice thought and something I wish were the case, I’m too much of a cynic to buy the message of this song.

I’m not a parent but watching my friends have kids over the past many years has given me a decent perspective on what being a parent is like and “The Mother” is the single best song I’ve ever heard that describes what being a parent is like. On Thursday night I saw the woman sitting next to me had a photo of a little girl who is probably about the same age as Brandi’s 4-year old daughter, Evangeline, set as the wallpaper on her phone. This song must have really hit her because she sobbed through the entire thing. Also speaking of being parents on Friday night (not during this song) one of Phil’s daughters ran out on stage and gave him a hug between songs. It was super cute. Brandi said they have a rule that if their kids are there and they want a hug from mom or dad they have permission to come get one even if mom and dad are “working”.

The song they’re using as their encore and final song is “Hold Out Your Hand”.The lyrics of the chorus start, “hold out your hand/take hold of mine and then/round and round we go”. Whenever I listen to this song I picture when you do that thing where you hold hands with someone crisscrossed and then spin round and round. It’s a very joyous image and I love it. I haven’t quite parsed the real meaning of the full lyrics. Something about outrunning the devil or death or something or maybe not that at all. Doesn’t matter because like all art, once it’s out in the world it means whatever the people consuming it interpret it to mean. It feels like the perfect song to end the show to because to me it seems like a song about taking each others hands, joining together, and going out to fight the good fight. On Thursday night as I mentioned I was surrounded by a lot of super fans who already knew each other and knew this was going to be the final song. They agreed before the start of the show that when the chorus started and talked about taking each others’ hands we were all going to join hands, which was kind of fun.

Brandi is friends with Pete Souza, who was Obama’s official White House photographer for all 8 years of his presidency. He was at the shows and came out to sing along on the final song and of course snap some pictures while he was out on stage. He posted one from each night to his Instagram. Since I was front row center you can actually see me in the one he took on Thursday (although it’s only half of me since the woman next to me has her arms raised and is covering me up). Now I can say that Obama’s photographer has taken a photo of me too.

Brandi Carlile Pete Souza photo

It was an amazing two nights and I can already hardly wait until I get to see her again, which unless I decide to trek down to DC in May will be in July in upstate New York when she participates in my dream concert and co-headlines with Jason Isbell. I will undoubtedly be seeing her at the Newport Folk Festival the week after that as well. They have already announced so many people I want to see for that festival that I said I might skip Brandi since I will have already seen her three times, but after this weekend I know there is no way I’m doing that, especially since I still go back and listen to her 2015 Newport Folk Festival set on the regular when I need to feel hope. That was just a few weeks after same sex marriage became legal and she was thrilled that her family could now be legal something she thought would never happen. Everything felt so joyous and hopeful back then before everything fell apart. Sometimes I just need to remind myself of how that day felt, and there’s no way I’ll miss out on whatever happens this year.

Dear Evan Hansen

I recently went up to New York for the day with some friends to see Dear Evan Hansen. It was a show I wanted to see for a long time, but I didn’t jump on the band wagon soon enough and it was hard to get tickets. So we bought these almost 9 months ago, and the day finally came the weekend before last.

I loved the show, and it was as great as I had been hearing. The musical is beautiful and moving. I definitely cried multiple times during the show. At a time when everyone seems so divided the show’s message about human connection felt really poignant.

I often like to go into shows cold especially if I know I’m not going to be seeing the original Broadway cast because otherwise I wind up comparing the cast I’m seeing to what I hear in my head from the cast recording. Although there were still a few people left from the original cast most of them were new, so I did studiously avoid listening to the cast recording and only knew the bare minimum of the plot going in. In retrospect I wish I had known a little bit more going in because I spent three quarters of the show anxious about how Evan’s lie was going to blow up in his face. It actually turned out to be much less terrible than I was anticipating, but either way I kind of wish I had known what was coming so that I didn’t feel so much stress about it for most of the show. Stupid anxiety brain.

Speaking of anxiety brain that was my one complaint about the show. You can’t really think too hard about the mental illness piece of it otherwise you’ll hate it. I mean it’s not instantaneous, but there is a lot of subtle suggestion that getting popular and getting a girlfriend seemingly cured Evan of his debilitating anxiety, which is just not how that works. I loved the rest of the show, so I’m just going to set that aside and not worry about it too much.

It’s definitely a great show, and if you can get tickets I would recommend it to you if you’re looking for a Broadway show to see. That being said I think it’s a show that you can also wait and see as a touring production if you’re like me and weigh out which shows are best seen on Broadway versus those which will be fine as a touring production. There’s not really anything in this production that can’t be recreated well enough on a tour, and especially now that you’re not really going to see the original Broadway cast if that’s something you’re into there’s no reason that the touring actors aren’t just as good as who you would be seeing on Broadway.