Spring Arts Preview 2014
From classical music and theater to visual arts and books, a look at the hottest events and releases this season.
Itâs a new day. Weâve got a mayor whoâs promised to appoint a citywide arts czarâand keep the bars, and the T, open till the early morning. No more excuses, Boston: Itâs fun time. As we thaw out from a bone-chilling winter, weâve gathered the cityâs top culture vultures to help you get reacquainted with that smoking-hot creative economy youâve been hearing so much about. Ready?
Meet Sarah Paine Stuart,Â New Englandâs next great memoirist who explores the high cost of living on our quaint revolutionary roads in Perfectly Miserable. In addition, check out 10 titles from local literary heavyweights, from the finish line to the Senate.
Guns and rock ânâ roll, old American quilts and modern Mexican couture, paintings of shining seas, New York streets, and America the beautiful are some of the sights in store around Boston this spring. Plus: a rare visit from one of the founding documents of Western democracy.
Magic, music, the media, and a modicum of gore get splashed across Boston stages this springâalong with Pushkin, Sontag, Sondheim, Shakespeare, and a couple of polar bears.
Meet a lab thatâs creating a new kind of cinema.Â HarvardâsÂ Sensory Ethnography Lab, an interdisciplinary program scattered about the universityÂ draws on the resources of the Harvard Film Archive, the Film Study Center, and the Anthropology Department.
Read about the good, the bad, and the Lake Street Dive.Â Plus: festivals, homecomings, and triumphs of âlocal losersâ help Boston thaw after a long, cold winterâand conductor Benjamin ZanderÂ returns for a vigorousÂ second act.
The Guardian of Concord
New Englandâs next great memoirist explores the high cost of living on our quaint revolutionary roads. âEugenia Williamson
Most of us think of Concord as a Revolutionary War battleground, the cradle of American literature, or the quintessence of affluent New England charmâa place where even the Dunkinâ Donuts has a brass-on-cream sign. But the novelist Sarah Payne Stuart thinks of her hometown as a kind of New England Puritan Disneyland, with all the bombast, artifice, and manufactured happiness that such a designation implies.
âHow can any child go wrong when they grew up in this happy little town?â Payne says, on the phone from her current home in Maine. âYou just canât believe theyâd become murderers or homeless or anything like thatâŠbut of course they do.â
Stuartâs upcoming memoir, Perfectly Miserable, is an acidic, hilarious, and monumentally self-deprecating account of its authorâs doomed love affair with the worldâs quaintest town. After an idyllic 1950s childhood traipsing through the woods immortalized by Louisa May Alcott and Henry David Thoreau, Stuart began to chafe against Concordâs manic wholesomeness in her teenage years. She became a hippie and took off, eventually landing in New York. But when she became pregnant with her third child, Stuart felt her hometownâs primal call. She left behind her advertising career and moved back, hoping to give her children the sublime upbringing only Concord could deliver.
And that, you might say, is where the trouble began. In Perfectly Miserableâwhich began as a 2012 piece for the New Yorkerâshe writes frankly about her and her husbandâs real estate folie Ă deux, which involved trading a nice house for a home in Concordâs most exclusive neighborhood at the precise moment his business went south, then selling that property when they could no longer afford the mortgage. âThe whole point of being a New Englander is that you want people to approve of what you are,â she says. Life in Concord may seem perfect, âbut thereâs always this sense youâre not measuring up. Youâre constantly being judged.â
âConcord has always been a haven for people screwed up about money,â she writes in the book. This generalization includes herself, as well as her own family, a group of neurotic bluebloods with ever-dwindling trust funds. Stuart writes unsparingly about the blithe flashiness of the super-rich, new-money types taking over the town. But she was most anxious about outing her deliberately shabby WASP neighbors as the multimillionaires they are. âI was really nervous about it, because people who have old money donât want anyone to know they have any money,â she says. âBut then I got a letter from the Land Trust saying, âYouâre the guardian of Concord.ââ
When Stuart set out to write her newest book, she envisioned a historical account of Concordâs famous authors, their families, and their dealings with the town. She reread Emerson. She became an expert on Thoreau. (âHeâs not that great,â she says, but she did rent his house for a spell.) Stuart was particularly taken with Louisa May Alcottâs sad and impoverished Concord childhood, spent coping with the outsize personalities of her parents, Amos Bronson Alcott (likely bipolar) and the long-suffering Abigail May, known to Little Women fans as Marmee, whom Stuart considers the âmost disapproving woman of all time.â
But Stuartâs editor deemed her original idea âtoo New Englandâ and encouraged the author to write about herself. Still, these long-dead heavyweights cast a long shadow over Perfectly Miserable, providing a guiding spirit in Concord even now. âTo this day in Concord, Marmees still bound from the bushes,â she writes. âThese were the matriarchs of my youth, a landscape of cherished but not always cherishing womenâmending their swimsuits, buying gingerly at the Aâ&âP, holding up the bank line with their satchels of rolled pennies, attacking the lawn with broken bamboo rakes.â
Stuartâs memoir serves in part as a eulogy to this militantly unassuming way of life: The Marmees, now in their nineties, are being pushed aside. âIt was old money that settled Concordârich, rich, miserable, masochistic Puritans with so much moneyâŠand they gave it away and they were ashamed of it,â she says. âWhen I was growing up, you had no idea who had money. They looked very similar, and you just didnât know. The houses were really shabby. People went to public school. Nobody had help. But it really has changed.â
Things started to shift right around the time she and her husband moved into a fixer-upper in the elite neighborhood Nashawtuc Hill, where âthe money was so established and well bred you never heard its rustle.â Amid the âdog-walking women in shapeless, comfortable clothes and menâs bootsâ sprung up ostentatious new homes built by people who âcame from everywhere but New England and were blissfully unaware of its shabby-genteel mandatesâŠ. The owners of the new houses actually seemed to enjoy living in them.â
But not Stuart, not anymore: These days, the Guardian of Concord lives in northern Maine and New York City. From this remote vantage, she sees Perfectly Miserable as an ambivalent farewell to the town of her dreams. âI weep every time I say goodbye to Concord,â she says, âbut my husband says weâre not allowed back.â
From the finish line to the Senate, 10 titles from local literary heavyweights.Â âEugenia Williamson
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And the Dark Sacred Night
Out 4/1, Pantheon
In the decade since she won the National Book Award for her first novel, Three Junes, Julia Glass has written three books. Her current novel tells a story of family secrets, catching up with Three Junes characters Lucinda Burns and Fenno McLeod. Glass will celebrate its release at the Concord Bookshop on April 6 at 3 p.m.
New Life, No Instructions
Out 4/1, Random House
Gail Caldwell, former Globe book critic and Pulitzer winner, last dipped into memoir with Letâs Take the Long Way Home, the story of her friendship with the late Phoenix columnist Caroline Knapp. Sheâll read from her new memoir, exploring the changes that come at mid-life, at the Harvard Book Store on April 25 at 7 p.m.
No Book but the World
Leah Hager Cohen
Out 4/3, Riverhead Books
Leah Hager Cohenâs last novel, The Grief of Others, won universal acclaim for its deft portrayal of family misery. Her latest concerns a sister put to the test when her brother is accused of murder. Cohen, a creative-writing teacher at the College of the Holy Cross and Lesley University, will appear at Porter Square Books on April 3 at 7 p.m.
The Temptation of Despair: Tales of the 1940s
Out 4/21, Harvard University Press
In his new book, Harvard professor Werner Sollors examines the Second World War and its terrible aftermath in the Germany of his childhood, scouring primary sources such as diaries and films for signs of residual trauma. Heâll speak at the Harvard Book Store on April 11 at 3 p.m.
A Window on Eternity: A Biologistâs Walk Through Gorongosa National Park
Edward O. Wilson
Out 4/22, Simon & Schuster
When it comes to places of biological significance, who better to guide us than the legendary naturalist E. O. Wilson? In his forthcoming book, he takes us with him to Mozambiqueâs Gorongosa National Park, a complex natural wonder nearly destroyed by war.
A Fighting Chance
Out 4/22, Metropolitan Books
After penning bestselling finance books with her daughter, Elizabeth Warren has written a hotly anticipated memoir of how she, a janitorâs daughter, became a Harvard Law professor, and then a U.S. senator. She frames her policy views in a human light, offering personal anecdotes as well as the stories of those she encountered on her journey.
Remember Me Like This
Bret Anthony Johnston
Out 5/13, Random House
Bret Anthony Johnston directs Harvardâs creative-writing department and has won acclaim for his journalism and his short-story collection, Corpus Christi. His first novel tells the story of a boy who goes missing from a small Texas town and is found a few miles away from his family; itâs already being praised by heavyweights John Irving and Alice Sebold.
Love & Fury
Out 6/3, Beacon Press
Emerson College senior writer-in-residence Richard Hoffman is a man of many modesâheâs published three books of poetry, a collection of short stories, and now, with Love & Fury, two memoirs. His second autobiographical work tackles masculinity and baby-boomer baggage. Hoffman will read at the Harvard Book Store on June 3 at 7 p.m.
Out 6/24, Knopf
The setting of Sue Millerâs ninth novelâa New England town cast into panic and suspicion when an arsonist starts burning homes to the groundâmight give Somerville residents dĂ©jĂ vu. But readers can count on Miller, the bestselling author of While I Was Gone and The Senatorâs Wife, for resonant characters as well as pyrotechnics. She will launch the book at Porter Square Books on June 26 at 7 p.m.
Donât Let Us Win Tonight: An Oral History of the 2004 Boston Red Soxâs Impossible Playoff Run
Allan Wood and Bill Nowlin
Out 4/1, Triumph Books
Ten years after the Sox creamed the Cardinals in the World Series, two sportswriters look back on how a team that hadnât won a championship in almost a century raced to the top of the heap. Wood and Nowlin mined accounts from everyone involved, from players to administrators to the doctor who saved Curt Schillingâs ankle.
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Remembering the Boston Marathon
Long Mile Home: Boston Under Attack, the Cityâs Courageous Recovery, and the Epic Hunt for Justice
Scott Helman and Jenna Russell
Out 4/1, Penguin
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Stronger: Fighting Back After the Boston Marathon BombingÂ
Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter
Out 4/8, Penguin
Of all the books about the marathon tragedy to be published this spring, Stronger and Long Mile Home stand out as required reading. Runner Jeff Baumanâs memoir recounts what happened after he lost his legs at the finish line. Globe reporters Scott Helman and Jenna Russell transformed the paperâs extensive reportage on the bombings and their aftermath into a gripping narrative.
Guns and rock ânâ roll, old American quilts and modern Mexican couture, paintings of shining seas, New York streets, and America the beautiful are some of the sights in store around Boston this spring. Plus: a rare visit from one of the founding documents of Western democracy. âGreg Cook
CarlaÂ FernĂĄndez:Â âTheÂ Barefoot Designerâ
As the daughter of the director of the Mexican governmentâs National Institute of Anthropology and History, fashion designer Carla FernĂĄndez was raised with a reverence for historical traditions. Her designs mix Western high fashion with the rectangles and patterns of traditional Mexican blouses, ponchos, and wraparound skirts. And sheâs the founder of the Taller Flora fashion label, which works with indigenous groupsâespecially womenâs co-opsâto sustain Mexican textile traditions.
4/17â9/1, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 280 The Fenway, Boston, gardnermuseum.org.
âRichard Estesâ Realismâ
This survey of one of the pioneers of photo-inspired realist painting that emerged in the 1960s demonstrates the New Yorkerâs magical ability to capture the gleam of light on cars, windows, and the waters of Maine, where heâs spent time since the late â70s. As the paintings have aged, theyâve ripened with the heart-tugging feeling of moments irretrievably gone.
5/22â9/7, Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Sq., Portland, Maine, portlandmuseum.org.
In this Boston painterâs canvases, psychedelic words seem to burn through classic American landscapes of waterfalls, forested mountain lakes, and crashing ocean shores. The words, in fact, are lyrics from rock bands like Black Sabbath and Rage Against the Machine.
5/10â6/20, LaMontagne Gallery, 555 E. 2nd St., South Boston, lamontagnegallery.com.
âTurner & the Seaâ
The 19th-century British artist Joseph Mallord William Turnerâs paintings of land and water are so lush and passionate and tumultuous that they split the opinions of his contemporaries. âVibrating between the absurd and the sublimeâ was how the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray put it.
5/31â9/1, Peabody Essex Museum, 161 Essex St., Salem, pem.org.
Jordan KesslerÂ âLead and Silverâ
The recent MassArt grad looks at Americaâs gun culture via photos of targets and shipping cases. The guns themselves are absent, but you can sense their spirit, humming with annihilating power.
4/18â5/24, Gallery Kayafas, 450 Harrison Ave., Boston, gallerykayafas.com.
âMagna Carta: Cornerstone of Libertyâ
One of four surviving copies of the 1215 charter that became the seed for modern English and American democracy makes a rare voyage from its home at Britainâs Lincoln Cathedral to the New World on the eve of its 800th birthday in 2015.
7/2â9/1, Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, mfa.org.
âQuilts and Colorâ
Quilts are Americaâs old-time, no-prescription-required psychedelics. Here are prime examples spanning from the Civil War to World War II from the collection of Gerald Roy and the late Paul Pilgrim. They began acquiring antique textiles as part of their interior-decorating business in the 1960sâand were especially attuned to patterns of rings and triangles and bunches of grapes that will make your eyes pop.
4/6â7/27, Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, mfa.org.
Kenji Nakayama âEtudesâ
The hip Boston sign painter is perhaps best known for his project creating bespoke placards for beggars, though he also likes to turn out crazily elaborate stencil paintings of city streets and trains. One of his signatures is the pinstriping that heâs previously used to decorate lettering on signs, antique saws, and motorcycles. Here it mutates into calligraphic abstractions.
4/14â5/18, Fourth Wall Project, 132 Brookline Ave., Boston, fourthwallproject.com.
Wood construction is the subject of this Boston Society of Architects exhibit. From old New England (Hancock Shaker Village, the USS Constitution) to contemporary design, lumber is considered in many formsâcomposite, veneer, ancient, green, sensual, strong.
6/30â9/30, BSA Space, 290 Congress St., Boston, bsaspace.org.
In Pearlsteinâs videos, performers move about, assemble into still tableaux, move again, and repeat. The results are curious, minimalist dances.
6/6â7/19, SamsĂžn, 450 Harrison Ave., Boston, samsonprojects.com.
Jim Hodges âGive More Than You Takeâ
This 25-year retrospective of Hodgeâs art reveals that at its heart is transformationâglass shaped to resemble tree branches, chains becoming spider webs, denim cut up and rearranged as tumultuous cloudy skies.
6/5â9/1, Institute of Contemporary Art, 100 Northern Ave., Boston, icaboston.org.
Magic, music, the media, and a modicum of gore get splashed across Boston stages this springâalong with Pushkin, Sontag, Sondheim, Shakespeare, and a couple of polar bears. âCarolyn Clay
Obie-winning New Yorkâbased troupe the Builders Association applies its âsignature synthesis of video and soundâ to the formative years of intellectual icon Susan Sontag in a solo show drawn from her early journals Reborn and As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh. Actress Moe Angelos is the low-tech element.
Zeitgeist Stage Company
Actor Rod McLachlanâs 2013 playwriting debut, seen here in its New England premiere, investigates rather than sends up reality TV. When the producer of a show based on the Aâ&âE series Intervention (on which the writerâs wife worked) travels to South Carolina to profile a very unstable meth addict, her own inner demons get out. David Miller is at the helm.
The Unbleached American
Ernest Hogan, called by some âthe father of ragtime,â was the first black American to play Broadway. He was also infamous for penning a spate of so-called coon songs, which he came to regret. Now Hogan is the subject of a new play by Michael Aman, which imagines a relationship between the elderly Hogan and a woman sent to care for him as he ponders mortality and his sullied legacy. Weylin Symes directs, with the powerful Johnny Lee Davenport filling Hoganâs tap shoes.
Central Square Theater
Underground Railway Theater presents the world premiere of Chantal Bilodeauâs play, winner of the first Woodward International Playwriting Prize. Set on Canadaâs Baffin Island, it looks at climate change through the lens of Inuit myth; of its eight characters, two are polar bears. Megan Sandberg-Zakian directs.
Into the Woods
Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Spiro Veloudos directs this revival of Stephen Sondheimâs 1987 musical mash-up of the Brothers Grimm. The cautionary journey beyond happily-ever-after offers a giant, a witch, a wolf, and a warning against getting what you wish for. And here it fields an outstanding cast that includes Aimee Doherty as the witch and Maurice Emmanuel Parent as Red Riding Hoodâs lascivious lupine admirer.
Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre
The Boston Ballet put Pushkin on point. Here the renowned 94-year-old Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre of Russia, known for its productions of classics such as Uncle Vanya and Anna Karenina, puts him on stage in a visually stunning adaptation by director Rimas Tuminas of the Russian masterâs 19th-century ânovel in verseâ in which love is rejected, then bitterly lost. Infused with the music of Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, as well as with French and Russian folk songs, and featuring 45 actors, the production won the 2013 Crystal Turandot, Russiaâs most prestigious theater award.
Carrie the Musical
SpeakEasy Stage Company
A legendary Broadway flop in 1988, this singing version of Stephen Kingâs tale of a bullied telekinetic teen was successfully revamped in 2012, and now drips into Boston in a production helmed by Paul Melone.
AmericanÂ RepertoryÂ Theater
Prospero may turn in his staff at the end of Shakespeareâs play, but you can bet there will be âmagic to doâ before that in this adaptation by Aaron Posner and Teller (of Penn & Teller) of the Bardâs pyrotechnic valedictory, with conjurations by Teller and songs by Tom Waits. Think âFull Fathom Fiveâ to the tune of âChocolate Jesus.â
Artistic honcho Peter DuBois helms the Huntington Theatre Companyâs world premiere of Lydia Diamondâs new play, an exploration of the tricky topic of race set during the 2008 presidential contest. Based on academic research on âimplicit biases,â it asks whether our prejudices might be wired into us. The collab has good karma: HTCâs production of Diamondâs Stick Fly hit Broadway in 2011.
Central Square Theater
The Nora Theatre Company presents this solo show starring terrific Shakespeare & Company vet Tod Randolph as the pioneering journalist Dorothy Thompson, who was married to Sinclair Lewis and thrown out of Germany by Hitler himself. Largely forgotten today, the subject of Norman Plotkinâs play was Time magazineâs second-most influential woman in America in 1939âright after Eleanor Roosevelt.
The Cruelty of Reality
At Harvard, meet the lab thatâs creating a new kind of cinema. âPeter Keough
Harvardâs Sensory Ethnography Lab is hard to find. An interdisciplinary program scattered about the university, it is nowhere in particular and everywhere in general: Its minuscule staff and handful of students draw on the resources of the Harvard Film Archive, the Film Study Center, and the Anthropology Department. As Stephanie Spray, co-director of their newest film, Manakamana (which opens in Boston in April or May), jokingly puts it, itâs âin the cloud.â
You could almost say that SEL is not so much a place as a state of mind that fuses scientific objectivity and an almost spiritual faith in the power of film. And yet the laboratory has formulated a ferocious new documentary style that is transforming nonfiction filmmaking, and maybe cinema itself.
Take SELâs last release, Leviathan (2012), directed by the anthropologist Lucien Castaing-Taylor and VĂ©rĂ©na Paravel. The cameraâs eye descends into the maw of a New Bedford fishing vessel as it sucks up and processes sea life. The filmmakers shoot from wherever their GoPro cameras can find access: underwater, between the legs of fishermen, upside down staring into the abstract patterns of angry seagulls, or eye to eye with a deck full of sloshing, half-dead marine creatures.
They edited the resulting footage into 87 kaleidoscopic minutes, set against a palpable, near-painful soundtrack orchestrated by SEL co-director and sound specialist Ernst Karel. The experience ranges from serene, psychedelic Escher-like patterns to the cinematic equivalent of waterboarding.
SEL was founded in 2006 by Castaing-Taylor, and in some ways its approach resembles conventional ethnographic filmmaking: For Leviathan, Paravel tells me via email, she and Castaing-Taylor âwent out on six trips, for a total of perhaps two and a half months at seaâŠand ended up with around 300 hours of rushes.â At the same time, though, the SEL technique draws on the subjectivity of first-person documentariesâbut without the filmmaker appearing on camera. Most important, it leaves out an element common to both of those nonfiction approaches: language.
Despite, or because of, this, Leviathan did a respectable run in art houses and later on DVD and Blu-ray discs. It was successful enough for Hollywood studios to contact them to find out how theyâd achieved their effects.
So far, though, SEL has made its biggest impression on critics, scholars, and cinephiles. The films have gotten rave reviews, won festival prizes, and appeared on the year-end lists of publications including the New York Times and the New Yorker. And in April and May, SEL productions will be featured simultaneously in Lincoln Centerâs âArt of the Realâ program and at the Whitney Biennial. Says Lincoln Center program director Dennis Lim, âThese films have already been influential in expanding many peopleâs ideas of what a documentary could be. My guess is that Leviathan in particular will come to be seen as one of the most influential films of our time.â
Castaing-Taylor, for his part, finds all the fuss embarrassing. âI think itâs stupid,â he says of the hype. âTheyâre always on the lookout for some new fashion.â
Weâre sitting in an SEL studio in a modest building on the fringes of the Harvard campus. It consists of three rooms, one of which is full of computers and editing equipment. No one is using them at the moment.
On the coffee table next to us rests a plastic model of a human brain beside a book on Chernobyl. A painting of a carcass (Untitled, from Maxwellâs Lair, by Emilie Clark) dominates one wall. On another wall hangs a horseâs skull punctured by a bullet hole, a souvenir of Castaing-Taylorâs days making Sweetgrass (2009), a film about a sheep roundup in Montana that he co-directed with Ilisa Barbash. A whiff of incense lingers, perhaps sandalwood.
Genial and bearded with a Liverpool accent, the fortyish Castaing-Taylor asks to be quoted not at all, or as little as possible. He doesnât want to be the center of attention.
We talk for more than an hour. He explains how, unlike most ethnographic documentaries that try âto express in propositional prose the sense of the infinite magnitude of human existence that canât be transcribed,â their films try to move beyond voice-overs and talking heads to confront raw existence.
For his next project, Castaing-Taylor is making a feature combining fiction and nonfiction. âItâs about sex and cannibalism,â he says. âWhat is more basic to human existence than sexual desire?â
Cannibalism? I ask. He points out how cannibalism has been a prominent topic in the history of anthropology, though mostly the ritualistic kind practiced in non-Western cultures. But he is more interested in âsexual cannibalism,â the modern, consensual kind in which people advertise on websites for someone to have sex with them and then eat them. âIt happened in Germany,â he says, adding, âItâs illegal.â
Before I leave he insists that I talk with other SEL members. They are more articulate, he says. And donât mind being quoted.
I had already called on Stephanie Spray, who is on campus. We talk in a quiet office in Sever Hallâs Film Study Center.
I had just seen her film Manakamana. Where Leviathan assaults, Manakamana soothes. But both challenge the viewer.
The premise is deceptively simple. In Nepal, Spray and her collaborator Pacho Velez make trips in a cable car with pilgrims to the shrine of the title deity. The film consists of single takes from a fixed camera facing the other passengers, each shot running the entire 10-minute trip to the temple. Then they do the same with a different party going back again. Each trip, back or forth, ends in the din and darkness of the station.
Itâs like riding the Green Line and spying on people, wondering about their lives. Every gesture and glance takes on significance and mystery. Here youâre doing the same when, bang, the darkness comes, and it starts again.
I ask Spray, âIs this a metaphor for death and rebirth?â
âSamsara,â she agrees. âItâs an attempt to touch the real. Not that there is any absolute.â
On the desk I notice the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the film critic James Ageeâs collaboration with the photographer Walker Evans, an account of their eight-week sojourn with Alabama sharecroppers during the Depression. Itâs required reading for SEL students.
âItâs our bible,â Castaing-Taylor says when I ask him about it. He quotes from the book: ââThe cruel radiance of what is.â Thatâs our goal. To get away from the conventions that constrain and prettify film and to get back to the cruelty of reality.â
The Good, the Bad, and the Lake Street Dive
Davids Letterman and Remnick may love them to death, but Americaâs newest roots-pop sensations are still Bostonians at heart. âMaura Johnston
Itâs a cold February Friday in Harvard Square, but inside the Sinclair, on Church Street, the room is ablaze. The capacity crowd is here to celebrate the Boston-bred band Lake Street Diveâs second album, Bad Self Portraits (Signature Sounds), and itâs a kind of reunionâthese fans have been with Lake Street Dive since the beginning.
âI think all of us have loved playing in Boston, but especially now,â says bassist Bridget Kearney, whose skill on the upright gives the groupâs live show extra swagger. â[Our] new audience knows us for a certain small window of our band history, and going back to Boston, there are people in the house who know all of our first songs from 10 years ago. So thatâs awesome.â
Ah, yes, that ânew audience.â Lake Street DiveâKearney, vocalist Rachael Price, trumpeter/guitarist Mike âMcDuckâ Olson, and drummer Mike Calabreseâhave experienced quite the whirlwind over the past two years. Though theyâve been together since the early 2000sâthey met while attending the New England Conservatory of Musicâtheir big break came in 2012, when a video of the band standing on a Brighton street corner became a YouTube sensation, as did the covers-heavy EP, Fun Machine, that accompanied it. That videoâa sultry, single-mike cover of the Jackson 5âs âI Want You Back,â with lightly brushed drums, upright bass, trumpet, and the groupâs devilâs-food-cake harmoniesâsums up a lot of Lake Street Diveâs appeal, placing their conservatory training at the front in an almost modest way that didnât overshadow the songâs fundamental melodic appeal.
âThe central reason why we call ourselves a âpop band,â and what appeals to us [about] pop music, is the immediacy of itâthe visceral appeal,â Kearney says. âWeâre not trying to make music that is fundamentally super-challenging to listen to. Thatâs not the first goal for us. We want to make music that people are going to enjoy, and thatâs going to be popâŠular.â She laughs.
T-Bone Burnett was one of the people who took notice of the bandâs alchemical abilities, and he invited the band to play at New Yorkâs Town Hall last September as part of the âAnother Day, Another Timeâ concert. The show, which celebrated the Coen Brothersâ Inside Llewyn Davis, had a ton of Big Appleâbased tastemakers in attendanceâincluding New Yorker editor David Remnick and a Letterman booker. Lake Street Dive laid down a performance of âYou Go Down Smooth,â a swinging Bad Self Portraits track about being drunk on bad love, and the raves rolled in. âAmy Winehouse by way of Michael Jackson,â Remnick called itâan assessment thatâs in line with the bandâs pop outlook.
âWeâre influenced by pop music from a bunch of different eras,â Kearney says. âOne of the things people hear most in it is some of the more retro pop music weâre intoâthe Beatles, Motown. Thatâs definitely some of our favorite music to listen to, so it makes sense that those sounds would be present in our music. But weâre also into a bunch of current musicâBeck, the Dirty Projectors, Rubblebucket.â
Bad Self Portraits splits the difference among a handful of classic pop idioms. Priceâs velvety voice has just enough gritâand the arrangements are just crisp enoughâfor Lake Street Dive to do double duty at cocktail bars and rock clubs. Each member has a hand in writing the skeletons of songs (Kearney, for example, wrote the heartbroken title track), but the bandâs workshopping process involves collectively arranging both the track andâcruciallyâthe vocal harmonies, which curl underneath Priceâs enigmatic purr in ways that make them sound plush. âI think that adds a coherence to a collection of songs that are written by four different people,â Kearney notes.
After playing to a series of sold-out crowds across America this spring, Lake Street Dive will come back to Boston for a show at Royale, a sprawling downtown palace thatâs quite a ways from the bandâs scruffier beginnings. âWe did some of our first shows at Toad, in Cambridge,â Kearney recalls. âItâs just a perfect, tiny dive bar where we learned how to be a band. Now that weâre playing bigger venues, I sometimes imagine myself still in Toad to get into the right place. Toad and the Lizard Lounge and Club Passim were the clubs in Boston that really took us under their wing when we were first getting started, and weâre so grateful to the people who run those spots.â
On that Friday in Cambridge, gratitude flowed back and forthâthe audience sang along with Lake Street Diveâs originals and covers, while the band declared from the stage that it still considered Boston its hometown. Later on, after the bar closed, the band would make its Late Show with David Letterman debut. They threw down a performance of Bad Self Portraitsâ title track that caused the notoriously sardonic Letterman to ask them if theyâd be interested in coming back âevery nightâcan you do that?â Given Lake Street Diveâs increasingly tight schedule, the residency offer probably wouldnât work out. But the idea of them bringing something new to the Ed Sullivan Theater stage night after night isnât too farfetched.
Lake Street Dive plays April 6 at Royale, 279 Tremont St., Boston, lakestreetdive.com.
Festivals, homecomings, and triumphs of âlocal losersâ help Boston thaw after a long, cold winter.Â âMaura Johnston
The Both, The Both
(SuperEgo, out April 15)
In 2012, Ted Leo and Boston new-wave icon Aimee Mann toured together and later began collaborating as #Both. Theyâve since dropped the hashtag from their name and recorded a briskly smart, self-titled full-length. The combination of Mannâs precise songcraft and Leoâs punk-honed chops is a delight; The Both is crisp and wry, full of well-appointed pop songs in which Mannâs sullen, muscular alto provides a grounding counterpoint to Leoâs rich tenor. Bonus: Their onstage rapport should be in even finer form by the time they hit Boston in April.
4/25, Paradise Rock Club, 967 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, the-both.com.Â
Pile, âSpecial Snowflakesâ
(Exploding in Sound)
You know youâre making waves when other bands are writing songs about you. Earlier this year, local noise-pop outfit Krill put out âSteve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts into Tears,â a valentine of sorts to the effects of this quartetâs shoulder-shaking, scene-beloved rock. Even Pileâs slower jams inspire aggressive moshing: the lead song from their new single, âSpecial Snowflakes,â trades quiet guitar interludes with screamy freakouts until it screeches to a halt. Itâll turn Great Scott into a combination mosh pit/ballet studio.
3/30, Great Scott, 1222 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, pile.bandcamp.com.
âNew England Metal & Hardcore Festivalâ
This three-day, two-stage salute to face-melting metal and hardcore goes up for the 16th time in mid-April. Springfield metalcore outfit All That Remains headline day one, while renowned Boston hardcore metallurgists Sam Black Churchâreuniting for their third performance of the 21st centuryâanchor the local offerings.
4/17â4/19, the Palladium, 261 Main St., Worcester, metalandhardcorefestival.com.Â
This weeklong, multi-venue âcelebration of music, art, and technologyâ features talks, screenings, and art installations. Mos Def plays the Wilbur on May 15; the music lineup also includes U.K. dance producer Sophie. The documentary I Dream of Wires, which examines the resurgence of the analog synth, will screen at the ICA.
5/11â5/18, various locations, togetherboston.com.Â
Mean Creek, Local Losers
(Old Flame, out April 8)
The latest album by this feisty four-piece is the best recording to date of the undeniable energy the group brings to its raved-about live setsâimagine Springsteen headlining a basement show. The vocal interplay between Chris Keene and Aurore Ounjian is particularly arresting on the hungry âJohnny Allen,â while Kevin Macdonaldâs strident bass playing provides a solid yet pleasantly loose anchor.
4/25, the Middle East, 472â480 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-864-3278.Â
Slaine, The King of Everything Else
(Suburban Noize, out June 24)
Depicting Bostonâs hard-knock life on record and in film (he played the heavy in Ben Affleckâs Gone Baby Gone and The Town) comes naturally for this MC, whoâs been rapping since he was nine years old. Darkness dominates his work, although he did tell the news site HipHopDX that his next albumâthe hyper-autobiographical The King of Everything Elseâwill be lighter, like âa combination ofÂ Hunter S. ThompsonÂ and Chris Farley.â
The third installment of Bostonâs big downtown festival is a little bigger: It now runs Friday to Sunday. Early-aughts indie titans Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie headline the weekend days, joined by practiced festival hands such as Hawaiian strummer Jack Johnson, heart-rending Long Islanders Brand New, and sisterly duo Tegan and Sara, not to mention new kids like Bastille and the Neighbourhood.
5/23â5/25, City Hall Plaza, bostoncalling.com.
TAANG! Records:Â The First 10 Singles
Back in the 1980s, the legendary indie label TAANG!âa tortured acronym for âTeen Agers Are No Goodââhelped put Bostonâs underground scene on the map. This year, on Record Store Day, April 19, itâs coming back. The label is reissuing 10 of its early 7-inch singlesâincluding sides by the Lemonheads, Slapshot, Moving Targets, and Gang Greenâas a limited-edition, vinyl-plus-CD box set, with liner notes by founder Curtis Casella.
Eli âPaperboyâ Reed, Nights Like This
(Warner Bros., out April 29) Brookline-bred, Mississippi-taught retroist Eli âPaperboyâ Reed gave Boston a peek at his forthcoming album, Nights Like This, when he played the Sinclair this past Valentineâs Day. The frantic âWoo Hooâ shows off his falsetto and ability to turn a wordless phrase into an incitement for a party; âShock to the Systemâ (co-written with Fitz & the Tantrumsâ Michael Fitzpatrick) splits the difference between Sam & Dave and Bruno Mars.
The Church of Zander
Nearly sunk by scandal two years ago, the conductor is back for a vigorousÂ second act. âZak Jason
On a recent afternoon, Benjamin Zander stood at the prow of 117 musiciansâthe oldest barely legal to drinkâand drove them into the stormy heart of Mahlerâs Symphony No. 5. Zander growled, roared, and barked from the podium, drenched in sweat, dabbing himself with a bath towel dangling from his music stand every few minutes. Then he slashed the air with his baton, and the orchestra came to a full stop.
âThis moment is a wild, terrifying tango of death,â he intoned in his British accent, addressing two pubescent clarinetists. âCan you play that again with more cojones?â
This scene would have seemed unlikely, if not impossible, two years ago. In 2012, Benjamin Zanderâs career looked like it was kaput: A scandal had cost him his 45-year reign as a pedagogical deity at the New England Conservatory, and it seemed the conductor would simply fade into ignominy.
Yet here he is, on the cusp of 75, more vigorous than ever. Not only is he helming a new youth orchestra, but he is also leading the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra into its 35th seasonâplaying Symphony Hall on April 25 and holding a celebratory gala the following night. On the side, heâs performing and guest-conducting with orchestras from Virginia to Malaysia, and giving motivational speeches to corporate executives. Itâs a second movement no one could have predictedâexcept those who know him well.
âThe wounds are still open,â says his former wife and close friend, Rosamund Zander. âBut he doesnât visit them. Ben doesnât spend time doing pointed work on himself; heâs out there in the public.â
Born two years after his Jewish parents fled Berlin, Zander dropped out of high school at 15 and trained as a cellist under the Spanish virtuoso Gaspar CassadĂł. He came to Boston in 1964 on a Harkness Commonwealth Fellowship to study at Harvard and Brandeis and wound up at NEC, where he cofounded and developed NECâs partnership with the Walnut Hill School for the Arts. He took the program from seven students to 90, and transformed a fledgling youth ensemble into an orchestra that brought connoisseur audiences from Brazil to China to tears.
âYou could try to temper him, but it wouldnât happen,â says longtime BPO cellist Armenne Derderian. âEspecially with the kids, heâs incredibly dramatic. He wants a holy explosion of fabulous music, full commitment, for you to sink yourself into the music in a way no other conductor demands.â
Former NEC student and current BPO violinist Joshua Peckins says, âHe treated all of us like real musicians and real humans.â
Zanderâs downfall came in early 2012. At the time, a scandal was unfolding at Penn Stateâafter former football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was indicted for decades of raping children, 46-year head coach Joe Paterno was fired in November 2011 for failing to fully report his knowledge of the abuse. This set the backdrop for the NEC administrationâs discovery that a videographer Zander had hired to tape the youth orchestraâs rehearsals was a convicted child rapist. Worse, that Zander had known about the conviction before hiring him, and had even written character testimony for the man at his sentencing in 1993.
NEC president Tony Woodcock had no great love for Zander; the previous summer he had forced the conductor to agree that he would retire in 2013. Armed with the new information, Woodcock fired Zander outright on January 12, 2012. Reactions were polarized. Students picketed an NEC benefit and wrote a petition for his reinstatement. Many companies canceled his motivational speeches. Some pundits excused his behavior; other cited his âbreathtaking irresponsibility.â
âNobody gained from that,â Zander says from a seat beside his fireplace, where above the mantel sits a bumper sticker that reads: A positive attitude may not solve all of your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort. âAnd I donât blame anybody. It was the atmosphere of the time. Everybody was so sensitive. If they thought it out a little more deeplyâŠââ He pauses there. Thatâs all he wants to say on record.
But Zander has a history of snatching victory from defeat. For example, the board of the amateur Civic Symphony Orchestra of Boston fired him in 1979 for going against their edict of performing more contemporary American music. Instead, heâd persistently scheduled masterworks of Mahler, Beethoven, and Dvorak. âIt was becoming the Ben Zander orchestra and not the Civic Symphony,â one of the boardâs vice presidents told the Globe. Days later, however, every CSO musician joined Zander in founding the semiprofessional BPO, the group that has made him one of the worldâs top Mahler interpreters.
And again, in the late 1980s, as his marriage to Rosamund fell apart, the pair agreed to attend the Landmark Forumâa three-day seminar popular among corporate executives but often lampooned in the media for its hokey insistence that participants disclose their deepest feelings. The seminar did not save their marriage, but it transformed their relationship. âRather than getting lawyers to destroy each other, we created this new world,â Zander says. Together they wrote the self-help book The Art of Possibility (2000). Zander still preaches its message on the public-speaking circuit, where he has also become a cult figure. Today, he and Rosamund live separately, but her landscape paintings fill the walls of his home, and they speak every day.
This time, as the scandal unfolded and Zander sheltered from reporters, Rosamund and NEC colleagues in his corner convinced him to start the tuition-free Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, a âpossibility organizationâ that shapes both musicianship and interpersonal philosophy. He held auditions in his home. More than two dozen students fled NEC. In all 170 tried out, and Zander brought on 117. They met for the first time a year and a half ago and debuted in November 2012 with a nearly sold-out and rave-reviewed performance of Straussâs Ein Heldenleben in Symphony Hall.
Zander begins every Saturday BPYO rehearsal with a whimsical assignment such as âFeel a spring in your stepâ or âFail with spiritâ and gives each young musician a blank sheet of paper to reflect on their musical and personal growth or struggles, reflections Zander often posts on the BPYO Facebook page. Since their founding, theyâve performed at the Concertgebouw, in Amsterdam, and at Carnegie Hall, a performance the New York Times called âbrilliantly played, fervently felt.â
Zanderâs omnipresence has also maintained his semiprofessional BPO as a serious competitor to the 133-year-old, $413-million-endowed Boston Symphony Orchestraâthis in an age when most American cities strain to keep a single ensemble alive. He pumps funds from his possibility seminars into the BPO. âIâm the Robin Hood of classical music,â he says. Heâs a consummate marketer: While most conductors save their energy backstage, Zander cackles with patrons in the lobby and presents deeply researched and lyrical preconcert talks. Zander often says, âMy definition of success is not wealth, fame, or power. Itâs how many shining eyes are around me.â
Retirement is not on the horizon. âHeâs a teenager in many ways, avoiding structure, avoiding settling down,â says BPYO artistic adviser and former NEC dean Mark Churchill. âIâll give him another 20 or 25 years, no question.â
When that happens, what will become of his orchestras? âItâs almost impossible to imagine the BPO without him,â Peckins says. âIt wouldnât be the BPO without Ben,â Schwartz says.
Back at rehearsal, Zander let the Mahler proceed for a few bars, and then cut off a woodwind solo. âHere, youâre searching,â he said, clasping his hand, as if catching a fly without squashing it, and looked up at the 40-foot ceiling. âSearching for some truth that you donât know where to find.â When the flutists played it back, the phrase became less robotic and much more inquisitive, human.
âHa!â he shouted as they continued.
âIâm going to spend the rest of my life here,â Zander said during a break. âTheyâll take me off the stage and into a box.â
April 7, 2014, 6:10 p.m.: Due to a reporting error, the Lizard Lounge was misidentified as the Losers' Lounge in the story "The Good, the Bad, and the Lake Street Dive."
Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/arts-entertainment/article/2014/03/25/spring-arts-preview/