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Live Culture: Vermont Arts News and Views


November 15, 2013

Night Vale Welcomed Anaïs Mitchell

This is kinda old news, like practically a year old, but hey. It took me that long to discover the "Welcome to Night Vale" podcast, which apparently is a top download on iTunes.

It's a twice-monthly "community update" for an imaginary desert town where hooded figures roam the forbidden dog park, "glow clouds" menace downtown traffic, and the city council appears to be composed of ill-intentioned immortals. It's also weirdly soothing. If you enjoy David Lynch, H.P. Lovecraft, mellifluous voices and/or making fun of unflappable public radio personalities, you should discover it immediately, too. Perhaps you already have.

Anyway, today I was listening to last December's episode 12, "The Candidate," and who should I hear as the voice of "the weather" but Vermont's own Anaïs Mitchell? (The Night Vale weather forecast is always musical, with a different artist featured each time.) The song was "Of a Friday Night," misidentified in the podcast as "The Brightness," and it sounded appropriately spooky and ethereal. You can hear the whole episode here.

November 14, 2013

Video: "Matador" by tooth ache. (NSFW)

ToothacheA couple months ago, local electro-pop songwriter tooth ache. — aka Alexandria Hall — released a rerecorded version of her debut LP Flash & Yearn, which was originally released in 2011. Ms. ache. has just unveiled a provocative new video for one of that record's signature cuts, "Matador."

Earlier this year, Hall dished to 7D about the song for a piece we did on local love songs. Here's what she said:

“Matador” is a glimpse at love as the game or sport or chase. In the song, the matador exercises more control over the situation, while the speaker, the bull, is the passionate, even desperate one, hurling herself at him despite love’s lances.

But the matador is in danger, too. So while it may seem like the bull is the “victim” of love, they’re both in this turbulent, dangerous, but showy and appealing zone. It’s this kind of chaotic but necessary ritual. It’s anxiety and anticipation … the drum machine’s urgency or the bass line’s hesitance.

Playing up the aforementioned love-as-sport angle, Hall's new video is set in a combination bowling alley/strip club — Shenanigan's in White River Junction, to be exact. (And, yeah, it's a real place.) Produced by Burlington's Sullen Belle Productions, it's an entertaining video that almost plays like a short film. It features bowlers, strippers, one of the greatest ironic T-shirts ever and one unfortunate fella laid to waste by a stiletto heel through the eye — perhaps a stylish allegory for bullfighting? Oh, yeah, there's a real live bull, too. (We hear his name is Ace.)

Here's the video, in all its delightfully sleazy glory. And, yes, some of the strippers are topless. So if naked lady parts offend, maybe skip this one. (Though frankly, we find the heel through the eye scene to be far more unsettling than a few passing bewbs.)

Tooth Ache | "Matador" [NSFW] from SULLEN BELLE productions on Vimeo.



November 13, 2013

New Tunes: "Rest in Pieces," Paper Castles

1292009_718294808187111_171537384_oAbout a year ago, Paddy Reagan stepped down as the talent buyer at the Monkey House, ending a six-year tenure during which he helped oversee the growth of the Winooski nightspot from a relative hole-in-the-wall to a relative hole-in-the-wall with consistently great music, both local and from beyond. The factors influencing his decision to leave the Monkey were twofold. One, he needed to spend more time on his bedbug-sniffing-dog business. Two — and most germane to our purposes here — he hoped to devote more energy to his talented, but oft-idle, indie band, Paper Castles.

On Wednesday, November 20, Paper Castles will unveil the fruits of those latter labors: a new album titled Vague Era, which is a follow-up to their 2011 effort, Bleating Heart. Earlier this week, the band — which also includes Wren Kitz, John Ragone and Brennan Mangan — made an advance single from the record available for public consumption, "Rest in Piece."

Much like Paper Castles' previous work, the song is a winsome, laid-back slice of jangly indie rock. But this time around, that slackerly bent is fortified with punchy hints of latter-day Yo La Tengo and cool, angular guitar lines that call to mind Slanted and Enchanted-era Pavement — ditto Reagan's sleepy vocals on that latter score. Check it out below. 


November 11, 2013

Interview with ETHEL's Ralph Farris

ETHYL_Protraits2012-1255While it's not exactly incorrect to refer to the music of ETHEL as classical, it would surely miss much of the point. The genre-defying, restlessly inventive string quartet brings its new program, "Grace," to UVM's Lane Series on Friday, November 15.

Cofounding member and violist Ralph Farris spoke via phone to Seven Days about the band's creative process, different kinds of grace and the enduring greatness of Rush.

SEVEN DAYS: Why is your name in all caps, anyway?

RALPH FARRIS: Why not? I don’t have a good answer! It showed up in a graphic we did once, and it stuck. The name doesn’t stand for anything, and means nothing. There’s really no good reason, which is a terrible answer for you.

So you used to be the musical director for Roger Daltrey. What does that mean, exactly?

 It was a quick little run, in 1994. I was the guy who went to each city in advance of a touring concert with the Roger Daltrey Band, who were playing with orchestra, playing the music of Pete Townshend. I would train up the orchestra playing with him, but I really was the assistant conductor. The conductor would show up after me and conduct the show, and I would then be the fiddle soloist for the band. I would play “Baba O’Reilly” all summer. Really cool gig.

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November 08, 2013

A Review: Alison Bechdel's Fun Home the Musical

FunHome1This review was contributed by former Seven Days associate editor Ruth Horowitz, who now lives in Providence, R.I. She and her husband, David Christensen, recently headed to Manhattan to see Fun Home the Musical, at the Public Theater off-Broadway. It is based on Fun Home, the graphic memoir, written/drawn by Vermont-based cartoonist Alison Bechdel. This originally appeared in Ruth's blog, Giving Up the Ghost.

David and I took a quick trip to New York last weekend to see Fun Home, the incredible musical based on Alison Bechdel’s incredible 2006 graphic memoir about her closeted gay father’s suicide not long after she came out as a lesbian.

Alison was writing Fun Home at the same time that I began to write my novel. We swapped drafts. She commiserated with me when I faltered (I’m still fussing with my book), and our whole family celebrated with her as she finished her project — to much acclaim.

The “best of” lists, the interviews, the awards — all that success made sense to me. But when Alison told me someone had optioned the rights to turn Fun Home into a musical, I wasn’t convinced. That is, I thought it was the most ridiculous idea I’d ever heard. The book is so intricately crafted, and makes such rich use of the graphic-novel format, the rhymes and ironies and reiterations between words and pictures so perfectly expressing the narrative’s conflicted point of view — how could that possibly translate to the stage?

I was skeptical. But also intrigued. So naturally, when I had a chance to attend an early “lab” performance of the play in progress, I bought tickets, and David and I Megabussed it down to New York to see the show.

That was a strange experience. But not for the reasons I had anticipated. The set featured a meticulous replica of Alison’s Bolton studio, a room I had been in lots of times, but not since David and I moved out of state, a few years earlier. I couldn’t stop staring at it. Actor Beth Malone’s portrayal of the adult Alison was so spot-on, with so many gestures and postures and inflections that were just right, I couldn’t stop noticing the few she got wrong. And I was so curious about which parts of the book the play would leave in, I couldn’t stop thinking of the parts it left out.   

Even with all those personal distractions, lots of parts of the play blew me away — the performances, the songs, some achingly poignant scenes. But as a whole, it felt disjointed, uneven, off balance.

 Fun Home is a coming-out story, a coming-of-age story, a family story, a story about growing up in a funeral home, and a story about coming to terms with the past. It’s also a story about the necessary and dangerous business of turning our lives into stories — necessary because storytelling helps us make sense of events; dangerous because how can we know if the stories we tell ourselves accurately convey the facts, or are just the version we want to be true?

Continue reading "A Review: Alison Bechdel's Fun Home the Musical" »

November 07, 2013

Better Late Than Never, the Burlington Fringe Festival Is Back

Andy Gordon called it a "big mix of whatever" last year. But that minimalist description from one of the actors in Potato Sack Pants Theater certainly didn't augur the three-night variety show that was Burlington's Fringe Festival in August 2012. Tonight at the Off Center for the Dramatic Arts, the Fringe returns at last.

As it happens, Potato Sack isn't performing this year, but 18 other acts are. And did I mention variety? The performers include stand-up comedians, dancers, musicians and theater artists of serious and silly sorts. Or, as John Alexander puts it, from "drama to madcap craziness."

Each of the three nights will have a different MC, explains Alexander, the Off Center cofounder. Mastering the ceremonies tonight is actor/playwright Seth Jarvis; Phinneus Sonin will be in charge on Friday, and Kim Jordan on Saturday. 

While the performers are not exactly juried, there is some quality control, Alexander suggests. But, he adds, "We want to give new people the chance to get out there. That's why Off Center was created."

Each act will have just 10 to 20 minutes onstage. And, judging by last year's shows, this one promises to be just as deliriously entertaining.

The shows start at 8 p.m. $15 at the door, or order online via the Off Center's website.


November 06, 2013

An Interview with Phish's Mike Gordon


Photo courtesy Julia Mordaunt, copyright Phish

As we reported in this week’s cover story about Phish’s 30th anniversary, we had the opportunity to speak with bassist Mike Gordon. It was early October, and he and the band were finishing up rehearsals in Vermont before embarking on their 12-date fall tour.

We know now that the band was practicing a batch of new songs, 12 of which they performed at their Halloween show in Atlantic City. Many of those are likely to appear on Phish’s forthcoming studio album, Wingsuit, which they were scheduled to begin recording this week. But at the time, Gordon and the rest of the band were being tight-lipped about what they were up to. 

Gordon did share his thoughts about Phish turning 30, living in Vermont, working on his own side projects and how the band has matured over the years. He also shared his four secrets to success.

SEVEN DAYS: So how does it feel to be 30?

MIKE GORDON: To have our 30th anniversary?

Yes, yes.

It does feel pretty monumental. I mean, if I could flash back to my college days, I don’t think I could’ve predicted that 30 years later I’d be playing with the same three people and having this much success at it with such strange music and funny ideas. So I’m surprised, I guess, that things are going so well.

How do you explain that? What’s kept things moving forward and going so well 30 years in?

I think people only can guess why they’re successful. It would be presumptuous to be able to say the secrets of success or longevity with a project — not that it’s a project, but anyway. But I could make my guesses. For starters, the band members continue to have a healthy relationship. Any relationship is going to have ups and downs over the years, but in general it’s been a benchmark relationship in my life to compare other ones to, because we communicate openly, we find compromises when people have different goals, we’re respectful of each other and encouraging of each other, so that each person feels like their individuality doesn’t get lost when summing up the parts. It’s a nurturing, it’s a healthy relationship.

With some bands, or maybe other artistic groups, it gets to a point where someone wants to do something else, or people could say, ‘Well I’ve done this for long enough.’ And I think there’s always an opportunity — you can say that with a marriage, too — there’s always an opportunity to look at the other side, which is that you’re rewarded for continuing commitment and the deeper commitment that comes by sticking together for a longer and longer and longer period of time, because in a relationship you build all of these foundations. You build and build and build and so it keeps getting deeper in some ways. That’s what I honestly think.

The music feels more mature, and not that there aren’t certain moments back in the career where we had a good thing going, a good sound, or approach that’s different from now. Sometimes the fans look back and say, "You know, what about the way you jammed in ’94 and this and that." I never do that. I always feel like we keep progressing, personally. It might be in subtler ways, like just that the grooves are more even — but that’s a deep thing from my perspective.

Continue reading "An Interview with Phish's Mike Gordon" »

November 05, 2013

An Interview With Bluesman James Blood Ulmer

James_Blood_Ulmer-0198James Blood Ulmer's music is equal parts blues, free jazz, funk and a lot of other things. He's a ferocious guitarist whose playing is tinted with shades of Jimi Hendrix, Sonny Sharrock, Gary Lucas and Son House, but his work is very strongly his own.

Ulmer has collaborated with Ornette Coleman, Vernon Reid, Bill Laswell, Art Blakey, Rashied Ali and countless others in his long and varied career. There's no other guitarist quite like him.

Ulmer recently spoke with Seven Days by phone from his home in New York City, in advance of his concert at the Flynn. The conversation began with a consideration of the best route to take when driving from New York City to Burlington.

Seven Days: There are so many different traditions winding through your music: blues, jazz, funk, soul, gospel. How do you define yourself, musically speaking? Does it even matter?

James Blood Ulmer: What I’m trying to be, what I’ll hopefully be, is … a change in music. I came up with a guitar style that was a totally different change, that sounds different from the regular sound of the guitar. … I’m always trying to make a difference, trying to upgrade. Well, not upgrade, but change. I’m a guy who always wanted to take my guitar at high noon and play it at a Baptist church on Sunday … I’d like to play my guitar for the Baptist folks and have them not throw me out the door.

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October 31, 2013

New Tunes: "Island I Would," Nyiko Beguin

Promo_15_closeup.largeThe last we heard from local songwriter Nyiko Beguin he was fronting a promising indie-folk outfit called Whales & Wolves. That band's 2012 release, Up to the Ground, though rough around the edges, was a solid step forward from its 2009 debut, Green and Gray. The record showcased ambitious, if somewhat schizophrenic, arrangements and hinted at a talented songwriter in the making.

Recently, Beguin has been working as a solo artist. He's currently chipping away at a new EP, Always Always, slated for release next year — provided his crowdfunding campaign hits its mark. The five-song EP will be released on vinyl and is accompanied by an art book featuring compositions by some 15 national artists.

Beguin has made the first single from that EP, "Island I Would" available for public consumption. Bathed in dreamy synth that explodes into dramatic hooks, the dynamic, danceable cut suggests Beguin has come into his own. (Bonus points for the crafty use of steel drum. Nice touch.)

Check out that single below. To hear more from Beguin, you can drop by the BCA Center on Friday, November 1, when he plays a Kickstarter launch party with Mixtape Party and Sasquatch BTV


October 30, 2013

Magical Moving Halloweeny Images at Stowe's Helen Day Art Center

Magic-lanternHalloween doesn't have to be about costumed ghouls and overloading on high-fructose corn syrup. For the artistically curious, Helen Day Art Center in Stowe is offering, on Halloween night, a visual smorgasbord of short films, accompanied by an original score by DJ Ikail del Toro. 

The second annual Magic Lantern Show Art Film Festival evokes the bygone tradition of magic lantern shows, which were an important precursor to cinema. The original magic lantern shows, which date back several hundred years, were often put on by itinerant impresarios, who would project light through fanciful, painted glass plates while providing an early form of voice-over narration. 

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