REVIEW: Brett Dennen at the Blind Pig

Seeing any show at the Blind Pig, known for bringing relatively famous acts to Ann Arbor, is bound to be an experience.

Even before the opening act took the stage, the place was filled with people ranging from the minors on one side of me to the thirty/forty something couple on the other side. There were no fans running and little ventilation, so people were shedding outer layers like crazy as we waited.

Then Lily & Madeleine took the stage. As the couple next to me put it so well:

“Are they sisters?”

“I don’t know, but they’re cute as pie”

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A quick Google search for this blog confirmed that they are in fact sisters hailing from Indiana, and they are definitely Midwestern–from “almost went to U of M” to writing a song about the city of Chicago.

The announcer mistakenly announced the venue as the Ark, and Lily & Madeleine’s music would have been a much better fit for that more relaxed atmosphere. I enjoyed listening to their music–I’m downloading a couple albums Flume as I write this–but the acoustic and piano-heavy set was probably not the way to go opening for Brett Dennen at the Blind Pig.

The audience was one of rudest I’ve ever experienced. As you can probably hear in this video, it was hard to hear the music over the sound of everything talking and making noise. Most people weren’t paying attention to Lily & Madeleine, and one woman next to me kept texting in a phone that was on full brightness. It would have been one thing if the music was bad, but Lily & Madeleine proved themselves to be talented artists that didn’t deserve such a treatment.

Luckily the crowd calmed down by the time Brett took the stage.

Somehow Brett Dennen turned 36 the day of the concert, even though he looks like he stopped aging after 25. Brett’s boyish looks and figure make his music all the more endearing. Switching between two acoustic guitars, his crooned slower favorites like “Ain’t No Reason” and “Where We Left Off.” For the faster numbers, he brought out the electric guitar and shredded the heck out of it.

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The crowd sang along to hits like “Wild Child,” “Comeback Kid,” and my personal favorite “Make You Crazy.” Singers like Brett Dennen make it impossible to stand in the crowd and not shake your head or shake your hips along to the music. Performers like Brett know when to point the microphone out to the audience, when to stand at the very front of the stage and jam with his tongue out, and when to take a break and ask the audience for their birthdays.

I freely admit that I am only a casual Brett Dennen fan, but I could easily become of the devoted fans that sang along to every one of his songs at the concert if I let myself. If you get a chance to see Brett in concert, I highly recommend it.

PREVIEW: Brett Dennen at the Blind Pig

If you haven’t heard of Brett Dennen, the singer-songwriter hailing from Oakland, CA, I invite you to listen to one of my favorite songs from him:

An oddly satisfying blend of pop and folk, right? Brett’s newest album, Por Favor, was released in May, and you can hear it live at The Blind Pig on Thursday, October 27th

Where: The Blind Pig

Time: Doors open at 8

Cost: $25

Satisfaction at seeing Brett Dennen perform live: Priceless

PREVIEW: Dorrance Dance taps to the Power Center

Join Dorrance Dance for the second performance of their two day run in Ann Arbor. Former STOMP member, Michelle Dorrance and her dancers are set to rattle the Power Center’s rafters with the rhythm of their shoes.

Traveling with their own floor may seem a little extreme, but you won’t be sorry they did! Michelle Dorrance is the winner of the 2015 MacArthur “Genius” Grant and her stunning choreography continues to gain praise. Friday night’s performance features segments from both ETM: Double Down, which uses platforms with sensors linked to computers, and SOUNDscape.

I was never very good at tap, despite my mother’s continued attempts to change this by enrolling me in classes. I was always jealous of the girls who could just tap their toes and create music. I’m sure I will be both very jealous and wondrous watching what Michelle Dorrance has in store tomorrow!

The performance starts at 8pm on Friday, October 21st at the Power Center and is approximately 2 hours with an intermission. Tickets at this point are very limited! Check out this video for a sneak peek.

Review: Moth Night at Circus Bar

Think of the phrase “hot mess.” Now think of time when your life has been a hot mess, or when you have listened–dutifully–as a friend told you about their hot mess. This was The Moth in a nutshell.

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Although over three hundred people were packed into the room, with dozens standing in the back (including me), each story felt intimate and unrehearsed.

The first story, about one man’s ex-fiance that was 90% perfect, and 10% crazy whenever she drank, warmed us up for the night. Three teams of judges gave their scores after his five minute story, and the results were tallied on a white board at the front of the room. Just like the Olympics.

Satori Shakoor was the emcee for the night. The director of Twisted Storytellers in Detroit, I probably would have paid money just to see this woman perform. Between personal anecdotes, readings of the prompt the audience filled out, and reactions to the storytellers, Satori wove the night together in a way only a superior emcee can do. I think the best part about her was that she never made the night feel awkward, even when there were several potentially awkward moments.

Which brings me back to the stories. One young man decided to go backpacking in the middle of Alaska with friends. That went about as well as you think it would have gone. Another woman–only eighteen–talked about putting two cars out of commission on the way to an appointment. A local story pitted a good Samaritan against a Hawaiian-shirted thief.

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The winner, and without a doubt the best performance of the night, came from a man with a metal plate in his collar bone that had to get an MRI. Although the story itself was not the best of the night, his skill in telling it had all the right twists, a gag that was repeated without being repetitive, and a final shock that turned into a happy ending.

Each story of the night was different, and even with the theme of “hot mess,” common denominators like alcohol and drugs only made it into a few of the ten stories of the night.

I was shocked and impressed that all of the storytellers spoke clearly and concisely. Some stories were better than others, yes, but not a single one of the stories was boring or overly lengthy. In fact, I wish at least one of them had kept going.

 

REVIEW: Ah, Wilderness!

Boy do I never get tired of seeing our amazing School of Music, Theatre, and Dance students perform. In the first play of the 2016-2017 year, they sure did not disappoint. This one was one of Eugene O’Neill’s more lighthearted plays, which meant not every character was terminally sad and there were a good number of jokes, but it also came with moments of sincerity and serious undertones.

The play revolved around a young boy named Richard who had just been rejected by his love, Muriel. This results in Richard galavanting off with one of his older brother’s friends and an older woman at a bar, where he becomes drunk and gets kicked out by the barkeep. He later finds out he had been deceived by Muriel’s father, and Muriel did indeed still love him. They meet to apologize and Richard explains what he had done. Everyone ends up surprisingly happy, which seems like a rare thing to come by in an O’Neill play.

Throughout the play, Richard’s father, Nat Miller, plays a strong role as a classic American father. He wants his son to become the best he can be, but is hesitant to punish him as he personally does not like having to punish his children. Some of the most touching moments in the play were when Nat would try to discipline his son or have a serious conversation about life, but ended up getting embarrassed and leaving Richard confused. There was obvious chemistry between the two actors that truly resembled a genuine father-son relationship and made watching the two grow through story even more touching.

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I would say the most impressive part of this performance was the cast’s ability to perform the subtle humor of the play. Not all of the jokes were outright funny, but had more nuance to them, and the cast portrayed this nuance perfectly. The cast even executed the more boisterous humor, like uncle Sid coming home drunk, incredibly well in all of its absurdity.

Finally, the set design was extraordinary. The women’s garb was exactly out of the 1900s, with the collared dresses and big waisted skirts. The men as well were iconic, with goggled sunglasses and boater hats. The bar scene was quintessential, and the home decor at the Miller residence set the mood for a suburban American family at the turn of the century. These little details made the story easier to follow, putting the radical thoughts of Richard Miller in perspective with the rest of the world at that time.

All in all, this was a very touching coming-of-age story, filled with many classic family brawls and a beautiful romantic scene under the moonlight. The actors did a spectacular job of portraying a close family going through daily life, and bringing the audience into this little slice of life O’Neill wrote a century ago.

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REVIEW: Mark Morris Dance Group

The Mark Morris Dance Group performance was certainly a new experience for me. I have never been to such a mixed arts event in the past. Walking in, before the first people came on stage, before even the lights began to dim, you are immediately aware of the art of the performance because of the backdrop of the stage. There is this brilliant painting that sets the background for the entire performance, consisting of what appears to be large brush strokes sweeping across the canvas. The entire painting consists of only 3 colors, but as the lighting changes on stage, the painting changes colors as well. This sets the mood for the performance, as the rest of the dancers come out dressed in similarly bright colors.

At the beginning of the performance, a group of 4 musicians come on stage and perform a short piece that also begins immersing the audience into the world of Layla and Majnun. The music is accompanied by English captions above the stage, translating the story being told by the two singers in the group. Immediately, from the key of the music and the poetic quotations being presented in the captions, the audience gets a feeling for the tragic nature of this story.

Then, the entire music ensemble walks on stage. As the musicians begin playing, the dancers start to walk out two at a time. All of the female dancers are dressed in these brilliant pink flowing dresses, and the men are dressed in bright blue. This choice of colors perfectly contrasted the men from the women, as well as made the aesthetic of the stage come together beautifully with the painting in the backdrop. This can be seen in the image below, taken by Susana Miller.

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Photo by Susana Miller

Throughout the performance, one is entranced by the beautiful singing of Alim Qasimov and Fargana Qasimova, seated directly in the middle of the stage and surrounded by the music ensemble. They demonstrated an incredible control over their vocal range and ability to express such deep emotion in their voices. I do have to say I was biased towards focusing on the musicians more than the dancers, since my training is in music, not dance. This also meant I was new to the style of dance the Mark Morris group utilized. It was predominantly lyrical, trying to showcase the tragedy of this love story through the movements of the body. However, this also meant there was not a focus on showcasing skill, so the performance was much more centered on telling the story of Layla and Majnun rather than exhibiting the dancers. In this way, the choreography often included simple physical movements that demonstrated love and loss, repeated by each male/female pair in the dance group.

Overall, I fell in love with the beautiful colors of the stage and the voices of the singers and the talents of the musicians, but I found myself unable to stay focused on the dancers. My eyes kept drifting back to watch Alim and Fargana perform extraordinary cadenzas effortlessly. I would love to see the Mark Morris Dance Group perform in a more dance-central piece, but I was not able to experience the character and skill of the group in this performance.

by Kim Sinclair