Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dagmar: No reason to get bugged

The swarm of Dagmar fans is undoubtedly bugged-but-not-especially-surprised by the news that there’s still nothing behind Door No. 3, the much-anticipated, long-promised third edition of  what we like to call Jim Bauer's Insect Chronicles. You know? Depressed-boy-meets-insect-goddess. A stirring, of sorts. Issues arise and, and ... and taking a dramatic turn on the follow-up, Door No. 2, buzzing toward reality, including what happens to the real-life band and and .... And Dagmar, the Beverly-based, New York-hardened band fronted by Bauer and lit up, like a lightning bug, by Meghan McGeary, with her goggles, flight gear, cute little wings and soaring voice ... the band has been, um, let’s say a little optimistic about getting that third disc into our grubby little hands for a while now, so, as Bauer admits on the band’s web, there’s no particular reason to believe them now that the album is almost done. No, really, it is.  But there is good news on the Dagmar —  or, as Stephen Colbert might have it, Dagmarish —  front, as “The Blue Flower,”  a bit of musical theater that combines pre-war Berlin cabaret decadence  and ... well, country and western lyricism hits the stage. No? Think Weill working with Merle Haggard rather than Brecht. American Repertory Theater will be taking the production around the block as part of its new season, right about the time that the playwrights — the husband-and-wife team of Jim and Ruth Bauer — set up shop as visiting artists at Harvard.

Lots of interesting things about this show. It was indirectly responsible for the formation of Dagmar, putting Bauer and McGeary together for the first time, when the one-who-would-become Insect Goddess joined the Blue Flower cast in 2001. It was picked for the first New York Music Theatre Festival in 2004 and was a finalist for the 2005 American Academy of Arts & Letters Richard Rodgers Award, but with seven actors, a tech-heavy video component — “and no commercial potential,” Bauer adds — the project ultimately collapsed of its own artistic weight. Which was fine. Bauer was eager to get back to music. The show also introduced the world to Babblespeak, or, as Bauer sometimes calls it, “Maxperanto.” It sounds vaguely German, but it is a completely made-up language. It’s his nod to the Dadaists, who concluded — accurately, it turns out — that language has become so completely corrupted that it is nearly useless as a vehicle for communication. On “Door No. 1,” Bauer sings “Babylon,” a gritty blues number, in Maxperanto. Sometimes during interviews, when asked for an explanation, he gives long, complex answers in the made-up tongue, with McGeary translating.

The show will run from  Dec. 2 to Jan. 8 at ART’s Loeb Drama Center. The new album should be done by then. No, really! Besides, if you need to scratch that Dagmar jones, you can check them out Memorial Day weekend at In a Pig’s Eye, 148 Derby St., Salem. The Dagmar Duo will perform from 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. May 29. There’s no cover, but they’ll be passing around the hat. Hey, even insects have to eat.  Questions? Check out Dagmar’s web or call 978.741.4436.

Friday, April 23, 2010

D&T: Good news, bad news

Good news, bad news on the Death & Taxes front. The bad news first: The band is pretty much no more. No big surprises there, seeing how frontman Jeff Morris moved a thousand miles away from bandmates Mike Savitkas and Steve Toland about a year ago, making rehearsal, recording and a regular schedule, um, rather difficult. In fact, they were supposed to have played their last live show ever last week at the Brickhouse in Dover, N.H. Which we missed, unfortunately. Good news is that fans will be given a second — and maybe a third — chance to say their farewells. “Looking at booking one or two last shows in Boston and Dover by end of July,” Morse says, “then we will have to call it a day.” They’ll announce dates when they’re confirmed. Check out their Facebook page for details.

More good news is that they’ll be putting out a couple of songs. The first is a remastered version of the old Bruisers song “40 Miles of Bad Road,” which kicked off D&T’s “Back Alley of Broken Dreams,” the band’s 2005 demo. Not many of these puppies around any more — only 50 copies were made. They were given away to fans (and the press deadbeats, ‘natch) at local shows. It’s a completely different take from the original, which Morris wrote for the Bruisers’ “Up in Flames” album.  The second is a raw live track of D&T covering Hendrix’s “Roomful of Mirrors,” then sliding into the Bruisers’ “Gates of Hell.” Morris originally recorded “Roomful” for “The October Tapes,” a Zuni Fetish Experiment EP, which was released as that band morphed into Death & Taxes. The track, recorded last year at Gino’s in Portland, has an almost country opening. Definitely worth a listen.

Morris is also featured in ”Mutes in the Steeple: Stories from the Newburyport Music Scene,” a new film by Port native Joshua Pritchard. The film, which looks at the Port DIY scene back in the 1990s, debuts May 15 at the Burst & Bloom Festival at Buoy Gallery, 2 Government St., Kittery, Maine. 


Monday, April 5, 2010

Detouring into reggae

You never know, exactly, what you’re going to get when Gary Shane and the Detour pulls into town. The band, which scored several big hits in the power pop days of those lazy, crazy eighties, is a, um, constantly shifting musical paradigm propelled by a virtual musical kaleidoscope of local talent. So it should be no big surprise to anyone to see a couple of unfamiliar names on the roster for the Return of Gary Shane and the Detour show coming up at Stone Soup Cafe, an Ipswich venue that has seen more than its share of (re)incarnations. This time out, Shane will be backed up by Granite State guitarist Dennis Monroe, who has been a constant in the post-2000 revival of the band; drummer Peter Gordon, bassist Eric Bistany and Richard Pierce on harmonica. They’ll be doing “the same old rock and roll thing,” says Shane — playing hits like the reggae-tinged “Shadow World” and “Johnny’s Coaltrain,” both of which made huge splashes on local and national charts back in the day.

But the interesting thing about the show, which is being billed as “The Return of Gary Shane and the Detour,” is the fact that the Detour, in fact, is the opening act. At some point, and it’s still a little loosey-goosey at this point, the Detour will shift gears — and personalities — and become Imojah and the Skylight Band. That will happen just as soon as Jamaica-born singer Wade Dyce shows up. He’s the real deal, a singer who made his bones, musically, on the island with Cultural Roots, which released four albums in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Shane met Wade, now a Salem resident, in the Shadow World of real life, in the hallways of North Shore Community College — actually singing him a tune in the hallway — and “got a real education” and a “burning yearning” for reggae from him. Since then, they’ve done a couple of benefit concerts for Haiti relief efforts, at Great Scotts, in Allston and at Blackburn Performing Arts, and a fundraiser for Whole Foods.

Expect the old Luciano song “Sweep over my Soul,” expect a cover of the Road Apples hit “Let’s Live Together.” After that, well, who knows? The concert starts at 8 p.m. April 17 at Stone Soup Cafe, 141 High St., Ipswich. For more information, call 978.356.4222.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Beyond NSMT: A new troup in Gloucester

I know I should be happy when an art venues survives or, in the case of North Shore Music Theatre, is wrestled from its dirt nap — even if it hasn’t put on a show I find even remotely interesting in ... well, ever? And maybe I am. Way down, deep inside. But, more than anything, the news that somebody was able to con the bank out of $3.6 million and is dumping it into a Dunham Road venue that seemingly met its maker last year after a prolonged, agonizing porcelain swirly dance (a failure as much of imagination as finances, always an issue in corporate arts and mass-produced culture) underlines the importance of living wills and do-not-resuscitate orders, as well as the need for good aim and velocity when working with wooden stakes. And what’s going to save the old Music Tent this time around, you ask? You know, the same overproduced, overpriced dog food that the pup just won’t go near. They’re calling them time-tested musicals, we call it (yawwwwn) the same old thing — brilliantly repackaged, I’m sure, just like the old theater itself.

We wish them well as we cluck our tongues, but we are way more intrigued by the theater news up the road a piece from the Garden City, in Gloucester, Fishtown (Does every community around here have a nickname?), where Cape Ann Theater Collaborative, the new kid in town, is about to launch its first season, one that is as intriguing as NSMT’s is flat and predictable — and, from the look of it, very little in the way of song and dance. Thank God. And probably none of the bells and whistles either. They open March 19 with “The Weir” by Irish playwright Conor McPherson. The play is set in a small pub in rural Ireland, where local men swap spooky stories in an attempt to impress a young woman who recently moved into a nearby “haunted” house. The tables are soon turned when she tells a tale of her own.

They’ll follow that up next month with, if you can believe it, the largely forgotten but ultimately riveting lyrical “Effects of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds,” an unflinching look at dysfunctional family life in a home destroyed by booze, probably best remembered for its 1972 big-screen adaptation with Joanne Woodward as the boozy, bleary Beatrice. How it translates across the decades, we’ll see. The company will also stage ”The Ocean of Technology,” a new piece by the improv group the Fish Schticks in the fall.

The company was founded in January by Michael McNamara, Susan Frey, Pauline Miceli and Pat Maloney Brown. The idea is to keep the focus local and the productions affordable — and, by building a season in the shadows of Gloucester Stage’s dark months, supporting year-round theater on the island.

What? Yeah, yeah. We love North Shore Music(al) Theater. It really is an institution. Blah, blah.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Cape Ann Theater Collaborative will stage “The Weir” by Irish playwright Conor McPherson, at 7:30 p.m. March 19-20 and 26-27, and at 2 p.m. March 21 and 28 at Gorton Theater, 267 E. Main St., Gloucester. The cast includes David McCaleb, Michael McNamara, Rory O’Connor, Michael O’Leary and Kierstin Searcy. Dublin native Pauline Miceli directs. Tickets are $15. Info: 978.879.3172.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Musical Mystery Tour: Mendelssohn's "Fantasy and Variations"

It’s not often that smaller pieces grab all the attention — especially when the centerpiece of the performance is Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, traditionally an audience favorite. But that’s exactly what’s happening this month with Cape Ann Symphony. The program includes an historical curiosity, an unusual piece for two pianos and orchestra that was written, in part, by a major classical composer, a piece that vanished, pretty much without a trace, resurfacing 176 years later, after getting what amounts to major reconstructive surgery, reassembled after a major musical forensic workup — then getting a premiere half a world away (in Texas, of all places) and hitting the road for its East Coast coming out party with the Gloucester-based orchestra. Adding to the mystery of the rather breathlessly named “Fantasy and Variations for Two Pianos and Orchestra on the Gypsy March from Weber’s ‘Preziosa.’” is the fact that it was written with two endings, both of which will be played during the March 28 performance, without fanfare, without much in the way of comment, and letting the audience know which of the composers wrote which ending — or even, with any certainty, for that matter, which ending was actually used.

“Fantasy and Variations” was a one-of-a-kind collaboration between Felix Mendelssohn and Ignaz Mocheles, a composer “now largely forgotten, but someone with a pretty good reputation in his day and as big as Mendelssohn,” says Kiyoshi Tamagawa, pictured, left, the Southwestern University pianist who premiered the piece with the Austin Civic Orchestra a year ago. They were pals, together in London for a benefit concert in London in 1833, and decided they should do something together. The path of least resistance, especially when you’re talking about creative people with large egos and certain ideas of how things should be done, would be writing variations for piano and orchestra, allowing them to work together — and apart — at the same time.

They settled on “Gypsy March,” from Carl Maria von Weber’s “Preziosa,” incidental music for a play of the same name, essentially a retelling of “Novellas ejemplares,” a series of short post-Quixote stories by Cervantes. They composed four variations on the theme — Mendelssohn writing the first two, Mocheles the rest — in less than two weeks. Contemporary accounts say the performance, with Mendelssohn himself playing piano, was a rousing success. And that was the first and last time the piece was performed as such — until 2009, eight years after J. Michael Cooper, a musicologist and Mendelssohn scholar based at Southwestern, got his hands on the original — if frustratingly incomplete — documents.

The original piano parts were never published. Mendlessohn left the original score with Moscheles, who published an arrangement for two pianos without an orchestra the following year — thoroughly irritating Mendelssohn, because “ he scarcely recognized the music,” says musicologist John Michael Cooper, also of Southwestern University. The work has been performed and published in that version, often with Mendelssohn himself credited as the main author. The score — and with two separate versions of the finale — and various scraps of paper on which the two pianists had worked out their own parts, remained in Moscheles’s possession until his death, ultimately ending up in the papers of Russian piano virtuoso Anton Rubinstein, who donated it in the late 1800s to the Library of the St. Petersburg Conservatory. There it remained until 2003, when Cooper — author of a virtual library shelf of material on the composer, including “Mendelssohn, Goethe, and the Walpurgis Night: The Heathen Muse in Western Europe, 1750-1900,” “Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ Symphony,” “The Mendelssohns: Their Music in History,” and “Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy: A Guide to Research” — discovered the papers. Cooper and Jonathan Bellman, a leading authority on the so-called Hungarian Gypsy style that colors the work’s central theme, reconstructed the piano parts. That is what Cape Ann Symphony will be playing. The piece shows “what the piano parts might have sounded like,” Tamagawa says during a recent interview from his home in an unusually cold and wet Texas. “Nobody knows for sure what they actually played.”

The sound of music
So what’s it like? It’s a short piece, running about 15 minutes. Tamagawa, who has lived in Texas since the 1980s, but is from Connecticut and still considers New England his home — “so it’s always nice to get back,” he says — compares the work to jazz singers covering a standard, as a vehicle to putting their stuff on display, a chance to show off their chops. It has a lot of flash — “a combination of virtuosity and bombast,” says Tamagawa. “It’s very entertaining and not meant to be especially serious.”

“It’s a fun piece,” says Yoichi Udagawa, conductor and music director of Cape Ann Symphony — and the Melrose and Quincy symphony orchestras and faculty member at Boston Conservatory, where he teaches conducting. “It’s very virtuosic, there are a lot of notes. It doesn’t pretend to be deep. It requires a lot of flash ... It’s fun. Which is not to say that fun can’t be serious. The overall mood is upbeat.”

Playing Mocheles to Tamagawa’s Mendelssohn will be Jun Tuguchi, a “phenomenal player,” says Udagawa, “and a remarkable performer who’s able to play in any style.” The New England Conservatory-trained pianist last played with Cape Ann Symphony five years ago, performing Ravel’s Concerto in G major.

They’ll play both endings at the Cape Ann performance — closing with one, backing up and playing the second. Which one will go first, the Mendelssohn or the Mocheles? And which ending does the man with the baton prefer? “I won’t tell,” says Udagawa. “Both are good endings. Actually, the differences are subtle,” says Tamagawa.

The “undiscovered” Mendelssohn, as it is being billed, will be sandwiched between Mozart’s Don Giovanni Overture and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. “It’s very exciting to play a new piece,” says Udagawa, but the conductor also likes to pair unknown and well-known pieces, like this as a way of “finding a new balance.”

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Pianists Kiyoshi Tamagawa and Jun Tuguchi join Cape Ann Symphony for the East Coast premiere of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Fantasy and Variations for Two Pianos” at 2 p.m. March 28 at Fuller Auditorium, Blackburn Circle, Route 128, Gloucester. Also on the program, will be Mozart’s Don Giovanni Overture and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. Yoichi Udagawa conducts. Tickets are $30 for adults, $25 for seniors, $20 for college students, free for children under 18 years old. Information: 978-281-0543 or .