REVIEW: Jukebox the Ghost @ The Blind Pig

After waiting in line for half an hour (sold-out show), my friend and I finally got into the Blind Pig, just in time to catch the remnants of Cooper Anstett, one of the opening performers. Cooper Anstett was a duo and sounded like most opening acts that had one guy on drums and one guy on guitar–in other words, though they sounded nice, they were ultimately nothing special and easily forgotten. Not bad music to listen to while you wait for the joint to fill up.

The Elwins

Then there was the second opening act, The Elwins, who have been touring with Jukebox the Ghost on and off for the last several years. Their sound was distinctive–upbeat pop that likes to have fun–and is a clear complement to Jukebox the Ghost. The band also liked to have fun, and various members moved and danced all around the stage, They were in a surprisingly good mood considering, as they informed us, that their beloved van had broken down and they had to travel here in a uHaul. They were all even dressed in black to show their grief–and still they played with an infectious happiness. Towards the end of their set, they told us about how they and Jukebox the Ghost play this game called Brimball, during which they occasionally make crab hands and say “thanks for the Brimball.” After informing us of this pastime, they had the audience complete this motion and repeat those words and took a video to later surprise Jukebox the Ghost. Overall, their performance was engaging, dynamic, and upbeat, and properly warmed up the audience for the main act.

Speaking of audience, they were younger than the usual Blind Pig crowd. Typically, the Blind Pig draws heavily from college students and older Ann Arbor locals, but many members of this audience were high schoolers and I’d wager that more than a few got into the Blind Pig using fake IDs. Still, it wasn’t a bad crowd and had there been more room, there might have been dancing, but as it was, since we were crammed together, the dancing was limited to moves that only needed six inches of space.

In addition to this unusual audience, it’s always interesting to see pop and upbeat bands playing in the dark, cramped Blind Pig. Though the exterior does not take away from the music in anyway, it’s also not exactly the place one pictures a band like Jukebox the Ghost playing. It’s got major grunge vibes going on and one can easily see why Nirvana considered it one of their favorite places to play.

Jukebox the Ghost

Finally, Jukebox the Ghost performed, opening with their bombastic song, “Somebody.” Like The Elwins, they were playful with the audience, and at one point, when their keyboardist and lead singer pulled out a granola bar during a song due to his ravenous appetite, they announced that history had been made bey e. It was a memorable moment. Another instance that stands out is when they played “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which got everyone in the audience channeling their inner Queen. Their set list was long–they have four albums to choose songs from–and they played a substantial amount of songs. By the end of it, though the band kept its energy, the audience was clearly exhausted–still enjoying the show, but tired from standing around for four hours. Thankfully, their encore was brief. They played another cover (chosen from their wheel of songs) which they had to remember how to play first and then closed with “The Spiritual,” a slower, more gospel-like song that ends with the line “let me go in peace.”

Review: That Brown Show

As I expected, That Brown Show (TBS) was an impressive array of performances. I’ve got to begin by saying that audience etiquette is very different at this performance than they are in most performances I attend. Here, there was constant shouting from the audience, and sometimes the performers acknowledged them, too. It’s interesting, that interaction, because it’s something I’ve noticed just at TBS really.

The show began with renditions of both the American and the Indian national anthems. Both singers were quite good, but it proved to be quite the juxtaposition between styles of music: Alicia Kalsi, who performed the American anthem, sounded just faintly as if she were trying too hard, adding grace notes and extending her high notes – exactly how everyone that performs the American anthem does. Meanwhile, Vaidehi Dongre, who performed the Indian anthem, seemed to add very little froufrou to the song, and that plus the anthem’s narrower vocal range gave it a comfortable, effortless feel. I find it intriguing to compare the different definitions of a “classically trained” voice between American and Indian culture, because the way these two anthems were sung is a perfect example of the difference.

Most of the acts this year had a story to them. I can’t quite decide whether or not I liked the use of a video to introduce the premise. Some of these premises were surprisingly dark, and while I don’t object to the showcasing of serious themes, it seemed to cast a temporary shadow on an event that is normally (at least as far as I’m aware) on the exuberant side of things.

Each act was strong, very tightly knit and immaculately choreographed. Sahana Music’s performance was so beautifully blended I couldn’t tell who was doing what (though I wish I could have, because they all sounded fantastic). Michigan Raas had an amusing premise, that of one of India’s more well known dating websites) and their synchrony (barring a slight mishap) was excellent. Taal, who themed their performance on Alice in Wonderland, had a larger set piece that obscured some of the text on the screen, but this was more than offset by the way their dancing matched the disjunct quality of the book, and the clever way in which they created the face of the Cheshire Cat. Sahana Dance did a fantastic job of melding multiple dance forms together seamlessly, and their formations were so clean that even though I was in the balcony and not at the right height to appreciate the uniformity, I still did. Maize Mirchi had excellent harmonies and rhythms in their performance, although I’d definitely like to know what songs they sang and/or how they choose their music, because I didn’t see much of an Indian influence in their performance. Novi Nazar, a high school group, was a new addition to the ensemble performing at TBS (or at least they were for me – I’ve never seen them perform before), and I was impressed with their performance. The Michigan Bhangra Team had a wonderfully lively performance, and happened to use a snippet from one of my favorite songs, but I do wish the people dancing offstage in the wings had stayed behind the curtains more. Izzat, the show’s closing act, had an incredibly dynamic performance, with very nicely synchronized movements.

In the lobby of the theater was an art gallery showcasing a series of photographs taken to showcase the South Asian experience, each with a caption. The photographs were beautiful, but I do think the captions told more of a story – or maybe that’s just because I gravitate towards words.

The main impression with which I left the theater was that the choreography had been excellent. It is difficult enough to get two people to move in unison, but twenty? A near impossibility, and yet these groups all accomplished it magnificently. It speaks to the caliber of these groups and the dedication they have towards their art. I’m very glad I got to experience it.

Review: Our Victory and Pride

On Saturday I attended the Men’s Glee Club concert titled Our Victory and Pride: Singing in the Key of Michigan Since 1859.  I have been to multiple concerts of the Men’s Glee Club, however, this one was by far my favorite!  The concert celebrated Michigan’s composers as a part of the bicentennial celebration.   And if you missed this concert, there will be another celebrating the bicentennial in the fall!

I absolutely loved all of the songs that were sung, and could definitely see the tie to Michigan in them.  Some of the composers such as Kristin Kuster (composer of “given a body” and “Michigan: Unite”), Shawn Crouch (composer of “The Peace of Wild Things”), and William Brehm (“I will remember, my Michigan”) were in the audience on Saturday night.  The Men’s Glee Club also sang an awesome “Motown Medley” arranged by director Eugene Rogers and JDM.  My personal favorite had to have been “The Map”.  “The Map” took us on a drive through the state of Michigan and highlighted some of the more popular cities.  The hilarious and lovable group of The Friars also made an appearance, singing some of their songs.

The Men’s Glee Club closed their concert with the popular “Varsity and the Victors” as well as “The Yellow and Blue”, in which they invited the alumni of the Men’s Glee Club onstage.  This was such a fun concert to attend and I’m looking forward to part two on November 10 and 11 at the International Male Chorus Symposium!

REVIEW: The Little Mermaid

Tonight I had the opportunity to see The Little Mermaid performed by students in U of M’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and it was wonderful!!!  It brought me right back to my childhood and dreams of being a Disney princess.  There honestly was not one character in the show that I didn’t like.  The audience immediately fell in love with the quirky, adventurous mermaid Ariel (Halli Toland) and the charming Prince Eric (Trevor Carr).  And Sarah Lynn Marion rocked those crazy Ursula solos, with thunderous applause after each one!  Other noteworthy characters included Ariel’s best friend Flounder (Matthew Kemp), the “smart” seagull Scuttlle (Barrett Riggins), Ariel’s father King Triton (Jordan Samuels), Prince Eric’s guardian Grimsby (Elliot Styles), and the crustacean Sebastian (Liam Allen).

“Under the Sea” (Photo Credit: Peter Smith Photography)

 

The applauses were endless after numbers like Halli Toland’s beautiful solo of “Part of Your World”, the biggest number with dancing fish and even a giant stingray – “Under the Sea”, and Sarah Lynn Marion’s evil “Poor Unfortunate Souls”.  If I could see this show over and over again, I would!

The Little Mermaid can still be seen Saturday and Sunday April 15-16 at 2pm.  Tickets are on sale now: Reserved seating $26-$32 and Students $12 with ID.

Ticket information can be found at: http://tickets.music.umich.edu/single/eventDetail.aspx?p=3001

REVIEW: A Far Cry with Roomful of Teeth

I listen to classical music for studying. I find the genre soothing when I need white noise in the background to my work, without the distraction of words. Not being a classical music enthusiast, that is what I think of when I hear the words chamber music and string instruments. I could not have studied to the music performed at Wednesday evening’s performance by A Far Cry and Roomful of Teeth. It was distracting and simultaneously hypnotic, it was empowered to give voice to the feeling of powerlessness and powerful when just voiceless music.

A Far Cry is a 17 person self-conducted orchestra with a lively and spritely sound. Not knowing much about classical music, I can’t speak in depth on their musicality except to say it was brilliant. As they played I was constantly surprised by the changes in movements, the way the musicians but their whole selves-moving vigorously to the music- into their playing. My notions of what strings’ classical music is were completely subverted. And in this subversion I found something inside of me relaxed; I was able to just enjoy the music. I felt comfortable in the space and allowed to let go of the stressful rush of deadlines for the end of the school year.

The same phenomenon occurred during the peices by Roomful of Teeth. The mesmerizing sound lulled me into a sense of ease when I would have expected to feel unsettled by the disregard for what I thought of as “Chamber”.  But instead, I was eased and astonished that 8 human voices could makes so many sounds. That they could blend, create dissonance, and fracture in such a myriad of ways!

The final piece was one with the two groups together, written specifically for them by Roomful of Teeth’s member Caroline Shaw. The two seemed for one moment to do a fun exchange passing the melody and featuring one group, just to then tightly intertwine groups the next moment. The interplay of friendship and musicianship was wonderful to watch.

I would recommend catching these two groups perform if given the chance; for both the classical music enthusiast and the non alike, they will change your perception of chamber music.

Roomful of Teeth
Photo credit: Bonica Ayala (UMS website)

Preview: That Brown Show

Michigan Sahana is a student organization that performs Indian classical dance and music. That Brown Show is an annual celebration of South Asian performing arts, featuring performances by not just Sahana members, but also other music and dance groups on campus. South Asia is a vibrant, colorful place, and this show highlights that: when I saw it two years ago, I walked out feeling the urge to dance.

The show is at the Michigan Theater Saturday, April 15 at 7:30pm. Tickets can be bought at the door (student price $12), or free admission is available with the Passport to the Arts.