Boston Events This Month
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David Byrne’s American Utopia
Last year, David Byrne drew rave reviews for his first solo album in 14 years, American Utopia, which featured worldly funk, soaring melodies, and lyrics tackling the state of the country with his trademark mix of surreal dread and wonder. The ensuing band-backed live tour, which delivered sizzling interpretations of Byrne’s solo and Talking Heads catalog, earned similar praise: It “may just be the best live show of all time,” gushed the U.K.’s New Musical Express. Newly revamped for a 16-week Broadway run, the production first visits Boston for 18 performances in September. We caught up with the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer recently, while he was still tweaking the final set list, to see what music and theater fans can expect.
You’ve scored original theatrical work in the past, but what was it like to reverse-engineer a dramatic show from an album that came first?
It becomes a little bit of a puzzle, or like Tetris. Choreographer Annie-B Parson and I started pairing different songs with different lighting and different kinds of movements. It begins with me on an empty stage holding a brain: The song is of a man looking at what’s inside his head, but as the show goes on, he’s not totally locked inside his skull anymore, but looking out in the world. This is a music concert that borrows a lot from theater and dance—it’s really a hybrid beast.
Your band members play wireless instruments so they can simultaneously dance, sing, and really perform freely. How did you get them to show off all of these talents?
It was a learning curve for everyone. Drummers and keyboard players especially have never done that before, so it was a little bit of a new world for them, like patting their heads and rubbing their tummies. But when they saw how an audience reacts to it, they thought, I’m totally into this.
So about that ecstatic review from the New Musical Express—feeling any pressure to live up to it this time around?
[Laughs.] Yeah, I thought, It’s all downhill from there! You can’t top that! I don’t think I’ve ever gotten praise that was that over the top, but there it is. Now we gotta live up to it.
Evolution of Hip-Hop Festival
From 3 to 7 p.m., Somerville’s Union Square becomes a destination to discover the region’s best in all categories of hip-hop culture, including rapping, dancing, beatboxing, and live art, plus interactive activities for the whole family.
Boston Arts Festival
Close out the summer with this big arts-and-crafts shebang by the North End waterfront. Kick back to live music and explore the extensive wares—from jewelry to ceramics to paintings—presented and sold by more than 70 New England artists and artisans.
September 7–8, Christopher Columbus Park, thebostonartsfestival.com.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum opens its fall music season with this performance by the local orchestra Phoenix, featuring music inspired by visual art. Exhibit A: a world premiere by composer Jonathan Bailey Holland influenced by John Singer Sargent’s El Jaleo, which hangs in the Gardner.
September 8, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 617-566-1401, gardnermuseum.org.
“Women Take the Floor”
This sprawling MFA exhibition is a bold antidote to the underrepresentation of women in many fine-art institutions. More than 250 works by A-list female artists (think: Kahlo and O’Keeffe) and their unjustly unheralded peers dominate seven galleries, organized into themes such as landscapes and printmaking.
September 13–May 3, 2021, Museum of Fine Arts, 617-267-9300, mfa.org.
Boston Film Festival
This venerable cinematic showcase, now in its 35th year, always offers an exciting peek at the season’s most buzz-worthy features and shorts: Last year’s schedule, for example, included Rhode Island director Peter Farrelly’s Green Book, which won the Oscar for Best Picture months after Bostonians saw it here.
September 19–22, bostonfilmfestival.org.
It’s been 10 long years since Boston Ballet performed Giselle, the romantic masterwork about a doomed peasant girl who learns and teaches about love, heartbreak, and forgiveness. Now Larissa Ponomarenko, who was practically synonymous with the lead role during her 18 years as a principal dancer for the company, will stage its return by guiding the next generation of headliners. “There will be several ladies who will rehearse and perform the role of Giselle,” explains Ponomarenko, who joined the company’s artistic staff as ballet master in 2011, marking a graceful transition from performer to educator.
In this version of Giselle, she hopes to stay as loyal as possible to the original 1841 choreography while individualizing her approach to suit each dancer. This off-stage role is one she relishes. “It simply feels like a continuation of my artistic journey in the world of ballet,” Ponomarenko says, “a journey that tests my professional knowledge yet continues to push me forward.” —Henry Lin-David
September 19–29, Citizens Bank Opera House, 617-695-6955, bostonballet.org.
Among the most influential arthouse films of all time, Godfrey Reggio’s 1983 classic (named after the Hopi word for “life out of balance”) is revered for its time-lapse cinematography—and its hypnotic, electronic/classical soundtrack by composer Philip Glass, who this night joins his ensemble to perform the score live to the movie.
September 20, Orpheum Theatre, 617-876-4275, globalartslive.org.
“Yayoi Kusama: Love Is Calling”
Here’s some big, psychedelic news: The ICA now owns one of the largest Infinity Mirror Rooms by Yayoi Kusama, a famed Japanese installation artist. Lose yourself in its seemingly infinite, kaleidoscopic landscape of Day-Glo color and bulbous sculptures.
September 24–February 7, 2021, Institute of Contemporary Art, 617-478-3100, icaboston.org.
“Raising kids may be a thankless job with ridiculous hours, but at least the pay sucks.” Such laser-sharp (but kinda cuddly) truisms are a trademark of standup superstar Jim Gaffigan, author of the bestseller Dad Is Fat. His mini residency at the Wilbur should bring countless laughs over parenthood and more.
September 25–29, The Wilbur, 617-248-9700, thewilbur.com.
The Cirque-inspired, Montreal-based theater troupe the 7 Fingers (a.k.a. Les 7 Doigts) returns to Boston with their—wait for it!—seventh show. The cast’s trademark mix of music, dance, and acrobatics informs vignettes that revolve around themes of trains, travel, and life’s passage.
September 25–October 13, Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre, 617-824-8400, artsemerson.org.
Staged in a carnival-like installation at a Boston ice rink, this immersive reinvention of the iconic Italian opera about deadly jealousies in a theater troupe features tenor Rafael Rojas as Canio, a murderous clown, and Natick native Lauren Michelle as his doomed love interest, Nedda.
September 26–October 6, DCR Steriti Memorial Rink, 617-542-6772, blo.org.
Fashion and Design Gallery
This month the Peabody Essex Museum debuts its latest grand expansion, a 40,000-square-foot new wing that includes an atrium, a landscaped garden, and additional galleries—including space dedicated to exhibiting textiles and design, such as the fab couture of style paragon Iris Apfel.
September 28–January 1, 2022, Peabody Essex Museum, 978-745-9500, pem.org.
Local podcaster Jake Brennan’s true-crime show, Disgraceland, is now a deliciously pulpy book about rock stars “behaving very badly.” Tales of musician malfeasance include the Sex Pistols’ murderous Sid Vicious and TLC’s Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, who torched her boyfriend’s house.
Out October 1, $28, Grand Central.
“Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live”
A cult-hit TV show in the 1990s, MST3K featured a human actor and his three robots watching Z-grade flicks and making snarky comments. Now series creator Joel Hodgson is staging his final live tour, cracking android-assisted jokes about Jean-Claude Van Damme movies and other stinkers.
October 11–12, Emerson Colonial Theatre, 888-616-0272, emersoncolonialtheatre.com.
“The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art and Technology”
Before media disrupters like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg passed through Harvard, there was Edwin Land, who left the school after his freshman year to experiment with what would become the Polaroid camera. Its accessibility and instant nature made it extremely popular with everyone from artists to scientists to families before the company went belly-up in the digital age, much to the dismay of its die-hard fans.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the end of the story: After the MIT Museum’s 2010 acquisition of 10,000 Polaroid artifacts created international buzz, director of collections Deborah Douglas began planning this traveling exhibit, which features cameras and prototypes alongside original work from 120 artists, such as Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol, and Barbara Crane. After exhibiting in six cities around the world, the flash show is coming home—about a block and a half from where Land made his breakthroughs. “We are a culture obsessed with the movement of information and ideas instantly,” Douglas says. “[The Polaroid] is fundamentally one of the most recognizable symbols of this Zeitgeist of superfast instant time, and that’s endured.” —Hannah Ebanks
October 11–June 21, 2020, MIT Museum, 617-253-5927, mitmuseum.mit.edu.
This famous three-day festival brings the joy of live music and global activism to Davis Square by inviting street bands from around the world. At the 14th annual installment, the groups will include local brass blowers as well as troupes from Berlin and Brazil.
October 11–13, honkfest.org.
Marc Maron is best known now for his hugely popular podcast WTF, for which he’s chatted with everyone from David Letterman to David Lee Roth. But his true calling is laconic yet biting standup—catch him in Boston for a taping of his “Hey, There’s More” tour.
October 12, Shubert Theatre, 866-348-9738, bochcenter.org.
In its New England premiere from New Repertory Theatre, this comedic coming-of-age play follows two Hasidic friends as they drive their “Mitzvah Tank” through 1990s New York City, trying to do good. When a stranger questions their traditions, they start questioning themselves—and their friendship.
October 12–November 13, Mosesian Center for the Arts, 617-923-8487, newrep.org.
“Ancient Nubia Now”
The region of Nubia—which spans modern Egypt and Sudan—is considered an ancient cradle of civilization, and the MFA’s collection of artifacts is the largest outside of Sudan. This survey of 400-plus objects includes queens’ jewels, statues of kings, and more.
October 13–January 20, 2020, Museum of Fine Arts, 617-267-9300, mfa.org.
“When Home Won’t Let You Stay”
In an era when immigrants and refugees face a global human-rights crisis, this timely showcase features sculptures, paintings, and more by artists from Palestine to South Korea to the U.K.—all created since 2000 and inspired by personal experiences with migration or deep meditations on the issue.
October 23–January 26, 2020, Institute of Contemporary Art, 617-478-3100, icaboston.org.
“Dance Me, Music of Leonard Cohen”
Before Leonard Cohen died, the singer-songwriter and poet, whose legacy includes “Hallelujah” and “Suzanne,” personally approved this tribute by his hometown’s Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal. In its Boston premiere, the company’s production uses grand original choreography to bring Cohen’s fabled repertoire back to life.
October 25–26, Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre, 617-876-4275, globalartslive.org.
“Leipzig Week in Boston”
In 2017, the Boston Symphony Orchestra entered into a five-year partnership with Leipzig, Germany’s renowned Gewandhausorchester. The relationship includes performances in each other’s concert halls; this year’s Leipzig Week in Boston features the orchestras separate and together playing works by Brahms and Mahler, with a special appearance by Notre-Dame cathedral organist Olivier Latry.
October 27–November 2, Symphony Hall, 888-266-1200, bso.org.
As evidenced by classic albums like Dig Me Out as well as their latest, The Center Won’t Hold, Sleater-Kinney is among the greatest power trios of all time. Though thunderous drummer Janet Weiss quit the band, the tour is still blowing down doors venue by venue.
October 29, House of Blues, 888-693-2583, houseofblues.com/boston.
Which artist has been celebrated with 10 Grammy Awards, an Emmy, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Super Bowl spot, and a biopic starring Andy Garcia? Legendary Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, that’s who. Be reminded why he’s one of the greats with each blazing brass solo.
November 8–9, Scullers Jazz Club, 866-777-8932, scullersjazz.com.
Boston Art Book Fair
Your coffee table will never be the same. The Boston Center for the Arts partners with the cult-streetwear shop Bodega to welcome more than 100 publishers and artists promoting their books. Plus: a lineup of beat-dropping DJs, art installations, and workshops.
November 8–10, Cyclorama, Boston Center for the Arts, bostonartbookfair.com.
This rotating collective of musicians has seen its retro-tinged, vocal-jazz renditions of Top 40 hits like “All About That Bass” rack up more than one billion YouTube views. Now it’s offering a show of holiday classics that’ll make you want to swing-dance and clink eggnog martinis.
November 13, The Wilbur, 617-248-9700, thewilbur.com.
In what he is really, truly, seemingly sincerely touting as his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour, the rock legend says goodbye with an assuredly epic show of deep cuts and, of course, classic hits—from “Bennie and the Jets” to “Tiny Dancer.”
November 15, TD Garden, 800-982-2787, tdgarden.com.
Playwright Octavio Solis—who worked on the Disney/Pixar hit Coco—transports Cervantes’s Don Quixote from medieval Spain to today’s Tex-Mex border. Accompanied by mariachi and Tejano music, the aging “knight-errant” searches for his lost love among migrants and family members angling to put him in a senior center.
November 15–December 8, Huntington Avenue Theatre, 617-266-0800, huntingtontheatre.org.
Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter
When it comes to Boston’s African-American history, certain landmarks and touchstones are very well known: the Black Heritage Trail on Beacon Hill, Malcolm X’s youth in Roxbury, Barack Obama’s studies at Harvard Law School. But these days not enough people know the story of the Boston Guardian, a nationally important black newspaper published downtown and in the South End during the first half of the 20th century. With this biography of the Guardian’s founder, William Monroe Trotter, Tufts historian Kerri Greenidge aims to change that. She drew from a vast wealth of primary sources to piece together the life of Trotter, an African-American activist and contemporary of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois. Controversial for his time, Trotter advocated a tough, antiestablishment approach—one much less accommodating than Washington’s, and just as influential over time. By shining an overdue spotlight on a powerful political voice for the black working class and a prominent businessman in our city, Greenidge’s book is more than a biography—it is a great story of Boston, and one that she hopes will change the way we look at it. “The book is a testament to a city that has a complicated relationship with African-American history,” Greenidge says. “It’s my attempt to complicate what people have always thought of as Boston, New England, and blackness during that period.” —Samantha Baldwin
Out November 19, $35, Liveright.
The Chevalier Theatre has helped revitalize Medford’s downtown, luring big-name musicians and major events. True to form, the hall celebrates its second birthday with a show by Andover’s most famous funny native.
November 23, Chevalier Theatre, 781-391-7469, chevaliertheatre.com.
Boston Bhangra Competition
Thanks largely to epic Bollywood films, Bhangra—the traditional Punjabi folk dance—has permeated world culture. This thrilling annual show brings together North America’s best competitive groups, further exposing audiences to Bhangra’s deep history and glittery future.
November 23, John Hancock Hall, 617-687-9181, bostonbhangra.com/bbc2019.
What to Send Up When It Goes Down
Described as a “community ritual” more than a play, this work by writer Aleshea Harris made a big splash Off Broadway. A direct, engaging challenge to confront racial violence against African-Americans, Harris’s work immerses audience members in a series of vignettes using song, movement, and parody.
November 20–24, Loeb Drama Center, 617-547-8300, americanrepertorytheater.org.
The pop goddess has inhabited many personas over the years. Her current incarnation? The Iberian senhora featured in the Portuguese and other globally minded grooves of her 14th album, Madame X. Even more surprising is that the superstar is eschewing arena shows, instead performing extended dates at international theaters.
November 30–December 2, Wang Theatre, 800-982-2787, bochcenter.org.