REVIEW: Once Upon a Pops

As much as I love words, they can only do so much. When I am speechless, when words escape me, I turn to music to express what I cannot put into words. The Michigan Pops Orchestra have combined my two favorite modes of communication, putting on a night full of literature, ranging from childhood favorites to modern classic, all in the form of music.

Disney made a beautiful showing through Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, and movie and musical soundtracks had their fair share of representation through powerful, emotional performances of Forrest Gump, Jane Eyre, The Godfather, Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, Fantastic Beasts, Romeo and Juliet, and The Sound of Music. All of these selections gave the Pops a chance to shine.

The break from literature was found in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concert in D Major. Katie Sesi was the winner of the 2018 MPO Concerto Competition and performed this beautiful masterpiece with breathtaking precision and tackled the incredibly intimidating technical difficulty with poise. I’m excited to see all the talent she has to bring to the music scene at University of Michigan when she attends in the fall, as she already received a standing ovation with her debut performance with the Michigan Pops Orchestra.

The night featured soloists Kevin Starnes, who shook the jungle with his silky baritone rendition of “Bare Necessities,” and Allison Prost and Michael Floriano as they took on the classic love duet, “All I Ask Of You.”

It wouldn’t be a Pops concert without a hilarious video narrative and a trivia game. This time we followed the story of a princess, stand partners, and the inferior Harvard Pops Orchestra as music director Rotem Weinberg read the story of the PrinPop Bride from “Scheherazade” for a sick boy. The battle of the bookworm consisted of naming a classic book based on amusing summaries (my favorite was “teenage boy fights noseless alum”).

Overall, it was a pretty standard Pops concert, which means it was phenomenal, full of the usual amount of laughter and engagement and amazing music you find at a Pops concert. I can’t wait to see what the Michigan Pops Orchestra has to present next year!

PREVIEW: Once Upon a Pops

Once upon a time, a student-run, student-directed orchestra formed on the University of Michigan campus, bringing engaging, exhilarating music to the stage. With special effects to blow your mind, these familiar tunes from all your favorite movies will make you dance internally and sing along as your inner child rejoices.

The Michigan Pops Orchestra’s “Once Upon a Pops” concert will be at the Michigan Theater on April 7 at 7pm. Tickets are $5 for students and $8 for adults, but it’s FREE with a Passport to the Arts voucher! So snatch one up around campus and take a trip down memory lane this weekend!

REVIEW: New Beat Happening Presents: Diet Cig and Palm

The Rogel Ballroom in the Michigan Union was transformed on Wednesday night into a colorfully-lit, almost unrecognizable concert venue in preparation for the Diet Cig and Palm concert, as brought by New Beat Happening, a student organization committed to bringing various musical acts to campus.

I was excited for this concert, especially because I was familiar with Diet Cig’s music beforehand. While not a devoted fan, I do have some favorite songs by them, including “Harvard” and “Maid of the Mist.” I was not familiar with Palm before the concert, though I did some research on them in advance and found a song or two that I also enjoyed.

Palm

Palm took to the stage first, immediately launching into their first song without any preamble. If there is anything to be said about their performance, it is the hypnotic, almost lullaby-esque, element that is maintained throughout. The songs blended into each other (the band had no pauses or gaps between their songs, maintaining a constant hum of sound, be it a droning bass or a steady drum beat as they set up for the next track), having the final effect of a long, monotonous stream of music that was punctuated by the occasional guitar riff or a faster scatter of drumbeats. The members did not really look at each other; they were very disconnected in that aspect. Instead, they all seemed more focused on the music, and would dip in and out of the melody with their contributions of guitar, drum, and bass notes, with the occasional discernible stream of lyrics.

In all honesty, their music was not really to my taste; however, I heard some very positive reviews from the people surrounding me, so perhaps mine is just a minority opinion.

In regards to the people attending the show, a nice crowd began to form as time went on, and only swelled in size as time came closer to Diet Cig’s performance. I spotted at least two girls with glitter on their cheekbones (one of the trademark aesthetic elements of Diet Cig) and a plethora of band shirts. Everyone seemed to be in a generally pleasant and excited mood for a Wednesday night, but that could also be because of their excitement and passion for music, which was palpable. To my left, a group of people were discussing different guitar models and brands of equipment, and behind me a pair was dissecting Palm’s performance into its various musical elements. It was really cool to be able to be surrounded by people with such tangible interest in music.

The crowd’s energy was kicked into overdrive as soon as Diet Cig (Alex Luciano  and Noah Bowman) hit the stage. I heard more than one comment on Alex being like a fairy!, perhaps in regards to her short-cropped hair, infectious energy, the glitter smeared across her cheeks, her high-pitched voice, or some combination of all. Alex’s enthusiasm was so powerful and noticeable, radically different from the opening act, who hardly spoke to the crowd at all. In contrast, Alex interacted very openly with the crowd from the beginning, immediately letting everyone know that the show was a safe space, and addressed the importance of safety and consent during their performance, as well as where to find the people to talk to if you didn’t feel safe.

Diet Cig

As I stated before, I was excited to see Diet Cig perform, as were the people surrounding me. There was lots of dancing and shouting, and Alex fed off of the energy; she not only sang each song with as much fervor and spirit as possible, she also danced, bounced, spun, and kicked her way across the stage. What makes Diet Cig’s music interesting is its way of addressing serious topics about interpersonal and personal relationships in a way that has the capacity to be both angry and joyful at once.

I am happy to note that my two favorite songs were played. I had a nice time, and am really grateful for New Beat Happening for arranging the show. I look forward to future events hosted by them.

 

 

REVIEW: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Chick Corea

The concert given by the jazz legend Chick Corea and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra was a spectacular experience overall and great opportunity to see some classic jazz tunes in a new light.  In spite of the start time of the concert falling just after the conclusion of the Michigan Men’s Basketball team Final Four game, the audience at historic Hill Auditorium was full and eager to see one of America’s best big bands perform live.  This tour was the first to feature the JLCO without their music director and regular frontman, Wynton Marsalis.  Because of their top tier status, the orchestra has the luxury of switching one legend to lead them for another.  The band consisted of four trumpets, four saxophones, three trombones, a bass players, a drummer, and Mr. Corea on keys.  The concert opened with a Chick Corea classic, “Armando’s Rhumba”, as arranged by the bass player of the band.  It was not a traditional performance of Chick Corea’s music because it was originally written for the instrumentation of various jazz combos he has played in.  A jazz combo usually only consists of a few members while this big band had 15.  In his performance at Hill, his pieces were shown in a whole new light as arrangements for big band.  These specific arrangements were done by members of the JLCO for this tour.  Each arrangement had multiple opportunities for solos and the members of the JLCO did anything but disappoint when called upon to step into the spotlight.  Just about every member of the orchestra got a solo at some point.  Usually, there were three or four soloists on a song across all instrument groups.  The song selection for the concert spanned a broad array of different types of jazz.  Songs like “Armando’s Rhumba” showed off the Latin side of Corea’s music while a song like “Windows” and “Crystal Silence” showed off some of his most beautiful writing.  As a percussionist, I was particularly interested to see how the drummer of the JLCO played both with the group and as a soloist.  With the group, his groove was sound and he added tasteful embellishments to it throughout the various songs that only added to the textures being made by the ensemble.  At the beginning of the first piece, it was a little hard to hear him, but I think it was probably just a microphone issue because I did not notice it for the rest of the night.  As a soloist, he seemed to have the mentality of going into the solo with a few cool ideas and performing variations on them all around the kit.  He executed these maneuvers incredibly well, as would be expected for a member of one of America’s best big bands.  Every member of that ensemble was up to the level of the drummer both as ensemble players and soloists as well.  As amazing as the group was, the audience was there to see the headliner, Chick Corea.  Chick was fantastic on every song, leading the band through the intricacies of his music.  It seemed as though there was some sort of piano issue that required a stagehand to fiddle with something under his piano a few times during the performance, but he overcame whatever the issue was.  What impressed me most about Chick was the respect he had for the other members of the band.  Sometimes he had to play background for a solo, but when given the opportunity to watch a band member solo, like the drummer, Chick got out of his seat to actually watch him with a better view.  Overall, all of the musicians were amazing and I would highly recommend seeing Chick Corea and/or the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to anybody who has the opportunity.

PREVIEW: Bad History Month / Soft Fangs / Johanna Baumann

On April 10, 7-10:30 PM, Electric Eye Cafe presents a concert featuring Bad History Month, Soft Fangs, and Johanna Baumann. Suggested donation is $5.

Bad History Month, from Boston, MA, is the solo project of Sean Bean, and has been described as “a glum, anti-folk act.” NPR writes about the the band’s music as being a “combination of ribald jokes, effervescent self-deprecation and blunt existentialism focused on understanding oneself from the inside out in service of isolation — assuming the position of the middle school loner in the back of a classroom.”

Soft Fangs’s music is, well, soft. With gentle melodies and harmonies, accompanied by John Lutkevich’s mellow vocals, Soft Fang’s music is a mix of the dreampop, shoegaze, and indie genres. Check it out here.

Johanna Baumann is an artist based in Ann Arbor. I listened to her album, Peach, the other day, and really enjoyed it! My favorite tracks include “Peach” and “Boy Who Loved Anne.” Here is her bandcamp page.

Electric Eye Cafe is a recently opened coffee shop, who describes themselves as “the Dream-Come-To-Life for Our Team. Envisioning a calm and measured space & atmosphere from which to enjoy the art of coffee.” I have not had the chance to visit yet, but after scrolling through the pictures and reviews on their Facebook page, I cannot wait to pay a long-overdue visit! The cafe has been hailed as providing a great space for creative work, fantastic service, and delicious coffee and baked goods (also free wifi!) Here is a link to their website and Facebook page.

PREVIEW: New Beat Happening Presents: Diet Cig and Palm

Like alternative rock/ indie pop? This Wednesday, April 4, at 7:30 PM, come to the Union for a FREE Diet Cig and Palm concert, presented by New Beat Happening, a student org committed to bringing music to campus. (Tickets are free to students with an MCARD, when purchased at MUTO. If you would like to buy them online, they are $5).

I have been listening to Diet Cig for a while, and am personally really psyched to be able to see them play live. If you are a fan of Girlpool, Frankie Cosmos, or Slutever, you will probably enjoy Diet Cig, too. Their sound is bouncy and fun, a true testament to the “indie pop” genre. Check them out on Spotify! My favorite songs by them include “Harvard” and “Link in Bio.”

I am not as familiar with Palm, who are listed as part of the “experimental rock” genre, and who describe themselves as “playing rock music backwards.” The New York Times hailed the band as being “one of the most ambitious and promising acts in today’s art-rock scene.” I recommend giving their EP, “Shadow Expert,” a listen.

The Facebook event can be found here, and more information about the artists can be found on their Spotify pages or Bandcamps (1, 2).