Category Archives: pop/rock

Upcoming for May

I’ve been trying to manage my outings a bit better. Not sure if I’m succeeding or not, but here’s what I’ve got on my calendar for May:

  • Friday, May 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Jordan Hall: Cantata Singers’ final concert concluding their Benjamin Britten season. Featuring songs written by 4th grade classes at a local elementary school and the same songs worked into Andy Vores’ “Natural Selection”. The full program is as follows:

      Britten: The Company of Heaven
      4th Grade Classes, Neighborhood House Charter School: 2 songs
      Andy Vores: Natural Selection (premiere)
      Benjamin Britten: Psalm 150
      J.S. Bach: Cantata BWV 50, “Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft”
  • Was going to catch Junior Boys and Max Tundra at The Middle East Downstairs, but it’s this Friday and so it conflicts with the Cantata Singers concert. Drat. And now it looks like Certainly, Sir is opening for them. Ah well.
  • May 11-17: Boston Ballet’s Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Their description says: “This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Ballets Russes, established in 1909 by the Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev. Boston Ballet celebrates with classic works by Balanchine, Nijinsky and Fokine. Resident Choreographer Jorma Elo will premiere a new work, his sixth for Boston Ballet, to Igor Stravinsky’s ‘Le Sacre du Printemps'”. I’ll probably try to get 1/2-off tix through Goldstar.
  • May 27-June 1: Guerilla Opera premieres Boston composer Marti Epstein’s Rumpelstiltskin.
  • Scarce, Back at The Plough and Stars, with Mary Lou Lord

    I’d really enjoyed Scarce when I saw them in duo form a few months ago at The Plough and Stars. So when my concert buddy M told me they’d be back last Wednesday I was psyched to go. The P&S site said the show was starting at 10:30, but apparently Scarce started more like around 10. I was bummed that I’d only caught the end of their set, but luckily after Mary Lou Lord‘s set they went back up for a few more songs, and then MLL finished up with a few more as well (although I didn’t stick around for her second set).

    I’m not really into folk chicks with guitars, so I can’t really judge MLL that objectively, although like many folk musicians she draws from the well that is Bob Dylan a bit too often and too deeply. As is her wont she also included a fair number of covers, although none with a whole lot of distinction. During the majority of her first set she was accompanied by Dave Fischer on lead guitar who also provided lead vocals on the somewhat-out-of-place-given-the-otherwise-fairly-chill-ambience-of-the-intimate-venue cover of The Who’s “Substitute”. But when she went solo for a few songs at the end it became clear that she really doesn’t benefit from the beefier sound: the unique qualities of her voice and her playing become much more apparent, and for me much more enjoyable, when she’s on her own. The song “The Wind Blew All Around Me” stood out in particular, although there were a few others I liked as well.

    Not a whole lot to add about Scarce other than what I said in my previous post about them. There are some people that I don’t really feel the need to see multiple times (e.g. Cut Copy who are hitting the new House of Blues on Sunday), particularly within the span of just a few months, but there’s something about the vibe of the duo and in this venue that would make me more than happy to see them again soon. Their music is unassuming, musically interesting, and evocative, and their performance is both committed and playful; they’re clearly people wholly enjoying themselves and each moment onstage. If you haven’t already checked out their MySpace page you should. And now I’m really looking forward to their new album, whenever that may be.

    The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Pants Yell!, and The Depreciation Guild, Upstairs at The Middle East

    [The preview for this review can be found here.]

    Ech, I know this is late, but I’m still catching up on the uphill backlog. So, I did make it out to the The Pains of Being Pure at Heart concert Upstairs at The Middle East a couple of weeks ago. I caught two of the other bands, The Depreciation Guild and Pants Yell!. The one I had been looking forward to was The Depreciation Guild and, as often happens, they eschewed the dreamier, layered electronics of their recordings for a more typical guitar-centric live set. The newer songs they played seemed to bring out this kind of blander U2-ish poppy side which I really wasn’t into, and their background projection, comprised of flashing squares of color, quickly grew tedious. But I still want to go back and listen to their album, which they have as a free download on their website.

    And, as seems to also be happening often, the band that I hadn’t particularly cared for before the show was the one of the two openers I saw that I liked better live. Pants Yell! are from Cambridge and their songs are fairly light-hearted explorations in angst, a la Morrissey. The songs and hooks were catchy, although they did have a tendency to repeat their hooks verbatim a bit too often. But this may have just been due to the lack of supporting instruments, e.g. trumpet, that appear on the recordings. A laid-back and enjoyable set, despite what I believe on American Idol they call “pitchy” vocals, not to mention a guitar that could’ve been a bit more carefully tuned. Although I suppose both did add to the group’s charm, not unlike that charming man Morrissey’s perpetually sharp vocals. 😉

    Similarly, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart also suffered from obviously uncentered vocals, although the boyish enthusiasm of the lead singer was also charming, and somewhat refreshing compared to the aloof moroseness one often encounters with too-cool-for-school indie bands. Their set was high energy, nice and new wave-y, and overall as enjoyable as their recordings. Speaking of which, they just put out their first album this month, and it looks like a good buzz has been developing. You can download a couple of mp3s from their official site and a couple other tracks on their MySpace page. And if you’re interested, here’s an interview from last December on Oh, and BrooklynVegan has some pics from a show in November if you need something to post over your bed. 😉

    Upcoming for February

    Because of the Boston Conservatory’s annual New Music Festival, this first week of February has ended up being jam-packed. So much so that due to conflicts there are some things I want to see but won’t be able to. Here’s what I’ve got lined up, and the ones I’m sadly going to have to miss out on:

  • Friday, February 6: Passion Pit, Paper Route, Cale Parks Downstairs at The Middle East (18+, $12). I’d heard Passion Pit’s track “Sleepyhead” and then liked their other tracks on their MySpace page. The way I’ve been describing them is, “Like MGMT, but much less annoying and more interesting.” Won’t be able to make this one, though, due to the conflict below.
  • Friday, February 6: Brave New Works: The Boston Conservatory’s New Music Festival, as usual, has a load of worthwhile concerts. This one features a new work by Andy Vores entitled “Objects and Intervals”. It’s immediately preceded by a “prelude concert” by the Ludovico Ensemble of Kurtag’s Kafka Fragments for violin and soprano. Their soprano, Aliana de la Guardia, has yet to disappoint, and after the publicity of the Sellars/Upshaw performance at Lincoln Center this past fall I’m guessing I won’t be the only one interested in this thorny work.
  • Saturday, February 7 (2 p.m., All Saints Parish, Brookline): Benjamin Britten Noye’s Fludde: David Hoose, Music Director; Lynn Torgove, Stage Director; Members of Cantata Singers and PALS Children’s Chorus; Alysoun Kegel, Artistic Director; Young instrumentalists from Boston area arts organizations. Part of Cantata Singers‘ Britten season. Should be fun.
  • Saturday, February 7 (8 p.m., First Church in Cambridge): Sarasa Ensemble, Music of Handel, Purcell, and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with Dominique Labelle, soprano and Michael Chance, countertenor: Part of the Boston Early Music Festival.
  • Sunday, February 8: Momenta Quartet: Also part of the Boston Conservatory’s New Music Festival. Featuring Glass’s Quartet #5 and a premiere by faculty member Dalit Warshaw for theremin and string quartet with the composer playing theremin. This evening also includes a prelude concert by the Ludovico Ensemble, Morton Feldman’s Crippled Symmetry.
  • Sunday, February 15 (3 p.m.): Chameleon Arts Ensemble “a tale that’s told in ancient song”. Especially looking forward to violinist Joanna Kurkowicz‘s performance of Ravel’s fiery crowd-pleaser Tzigane. You can get 1/2-price tickets from and if you register using this link I get a small commission. Whoo!
  • Sunday, February 15: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Pants Yell! and The Depreciation Guild Upstairs at The Middle East (18+, $9). Another show M wanted to go to, but I quickly got into The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s shoegaze-y brand of pop as well as The Depreciation Guild’s dreamy electronics. If you like M83, you’ll probably like The Depreciation Guild, and in fact at the moment I actually prefer the latter.
  • Phew! Looks like it’s going to be a marthon two weeks. Hopefully I’ll have enough stamina to get through it all. Stay tuned …

    Heroes: 80’s night at T.T.’s

    I’ve been meaning to post about a dance night I go to regularly called “Heroes”. It’s an 80’s/new wave type of night, but don’t be surprised if you hear some newer retro tunes by the likes of Cut Copy or some classic helium-voiced Madonna thrown in. The tunes are courtesy of my favorite DJ in Boston, Chris Ewen, of Figures on a Beach and Future Bible Heroes fame, among other things. He used to spin at ye olde Manray, now defunct, which I used to frequent all too regularly in college, even on weeknights when I had a class at 9 a.m. the following day. I blame my less-than-stellar GPA entirely on him.

    The 80’s night was homeless and floated around town when Manray closed, but has since found a semi-permanent home at T.T.’s where they put it on at least a couple Saturdays a month (be sure to check the website to see if they’re on for a given week). The music is as good as ever, although the crowd has definitely been a bit hit or miss at times. The crowd at Manray used to be pretty consistent, and although some regulars such as myself have made the transition and kept the scene relatively indie there are some nights that are almost painfully fratty and “girlfriends’ night out”. Which isn’t me being a snob, honest. I’m all for people appreciating good music, but it’s just that it kind of kills the dreamy Joy Division mood when drunk girls and guys are grinding on the dance floor and/or spilling beer on me. Anyway, I’m definitely not complaining too much and fully appreciate Heroes’ new home. Long live Heroes at T.T.’s!

    And if you’re looking for some links, Heroes has a page at MySpace. I also came across this set of photos from maybe early last year at

    The Smittens and Cotton Candy at The Middle East

    [The preview for this review is here.]

    On New Year’s I caught Cotton Candy upstairs at The Middle East. Their set was pretty good. The setlist was very similar to the performance I’d seen at The Plough and Stars, although there the duo benefited from the intimate setting. At The Middle East their quirkiness and sparse presentation didn’t quite fill the space, and it took awhile for the audience to really “get” their unique brand of humor. But M and I both enjoyed their set (although I found myself wanting to hear more of their own songs instead of the jingles and covers, enjoyable as they are), and the addition of a drummer on one song was a welcome surprise. We also both finally got around to looking up the origins of their closer song, which is actually entitled “Freelove Freeway”. Turns out it’s from the British The Office. A video of the uncut version of the song from the show can be found here. M also did some research and found a nice preview of Cotton Candy and the show at the Weekly Dig and a rough-around-the-edges-but-endearing performance of theirs from May 22 of last year for WMBR’s “Phoning It In”.

    Part of the reason it took a while for the crowd to settle into Cotton Candy’s set was because they had been preceded by the much more rollicking and freewheelin’ group The Smittens, from Vermont. I’d heard a bit of them beforehand online and had found them to be a bit too twee for me, but live I was won over by their humor and easygoing stage presence. I’ve gotten a bit tired of boy/girl vocals, but I really enjoyed how the three vocalists in The Smittens work in tandem, at times trading verses within the same song, and the fun and memorable vocal arrangements they come up with. One highlight in particular was “Half My Heartbeats” which featured band member Dana Kaplan making the best of the circumstances and playing a single castanet, and ending up making it look like nothing so much as some strange sort of miniature Muppet. It was pretty great.

    So that was a big win for the night, and it’s great to start the year with another band to add to my list of bands to keep track of. Their official site is here and there’s a fair amount of other audio on their page as well. [Edited: Can I just say I’m totally digging their recordings now? I’m definitely going to pick up a CD or two when they’re next in town.]

    Missed the first band and stayed for just a bit of the final band One Happy Island. Unlike The Smittens I was pretty much completely turned off by OHI live, who on mp3 sound fine, but live just came across as really fratty. Which is not to my taste, but if you’re a fan of bands like Neutral Milk Hotel or ones that feature trumpet you may enjoy them.

    Upcoming for January

    A bit worn out from the holidays, so don’t have much set for January. Tonight I’m going to the Cotton Candy concert I mentioned previously, part of their “4th Annual Indie Pop New Year’s Day Night”, upstairs at the Middle East. Here’s the schedule, courtesy of M:

      8:45 Cathy Cathodic
      9:30 Smittens
      10:15 Cotton Candy
      11:30 One Happy Island
      Doors 8:30, $9

    The Cantata Singers is in the midst of a season focusing on Benjamin Britten. Hadn’t managed to catch any of their concerts in the fall, but I’m a pretty big fan of Britten and there are three concerts this spring that I’ll definitely be making an effort to get to. The first concert is being presented as part of The New York Times’ 2009 Arts & Leisure Weekend, and you can use the promotional code “NYT09” to get two tickets for the price of one. (The Times’ site also has other arts-related promotions listed in MA for that weekend as well.)

    Here’s the info on the Cantata Singers concerts I’ll probably be checking out, taken from their website:

      Friday, January 16, 8:00 pm – Jordan Hall
      Roger Tapping, viola
      Five Flower Songs
      Janna Baty, mezzo-soprano
      Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings
      Michael Slattery, tenor
      Michael Thompson, horn
      Rejoice in the Lamb, orch. Imogen Holst
      First Boston performance of chorus-orchestral version

      Saturday, February 7, 2 pm — All Saints Parish, Brookline
      Benjamin Britten Noye’s Fludde
      David Hoose, Music Director
      Lynn Torgove, Stage Director
      Members of Cantata Singers and PALS Children’s Chorus
      Alysoun Kegel, Artistic Director
      Young instrumentalists from Boston area arts organizations

      Friday, May 8, 8:00 pm – Jordan Hall
      Benjamin Britten Psalm 150
      Boston Children’s Chorus
      Anthony Trecek-King, Artistic Director
      J.S. Bach Cantata BWV 149,
      “Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg in den Hütten der Gerechten”
      Classroom Cantatas Cantata
      First performance
      Student composers from Neighborhood House Charter School
      and Boston Children’s Chorus
      Andy Vores Natural Selection
      First performance
      Britten The Company of Heaven
      Karyl Ryczek, soprano
      William Hite, tenor
      James Petosa, speaker

    While I’m at it, here’s The Phoenix’s preview of the spring classical music offerings. Also, the Boston Metro has a pretty concise listing of the theater and special events for January.

    Scarce at The Plough and Stars

    So I didn’t make it to the Crystal Stilts or the +/- shows, but I did wind up at The Plough and Stars last week to see this band originally from Rhode Island that M likes called Scarce. (The photo above is from a previous show from this year.) The band has an interesting history involving a near-fatal brain hemorrhage, which you can read about here. That recounting ends with their breakup, but on their MySpace page you can find more information about how they got back together.

    They had a show at T.T.’s a couple weeks ago that I missed, but the show at The Plough and Stars, while probably an anomalous introduction to the group (being acoustic and sans drums), was quite enjoyable. In their acoustic incarnation Chick Graning’s voice contributes a lot to my feeling that the group reminds me of Archers of Loaf’s Eric Bachmann’s subsequent bluesy band Crooked Fingers. There’s also a bit of Frank Black’s solo sound (also bluesy) mixed in. On their album, however, the group rocks much harder, so I think the acoustic sound is rather a separate beast.

    Either way, though, I’ve been enjoying what I’ve heard. At the show I saw, the duo (which includes Joyce Raskin on bass and pretty much equally-divided vocals) were clearly having fun, and the whole set had a nice, relaxed feeling. The chord progressions have a nice amount of surprises thrown in that keep the songs feeling fresh, and the duo’s vocals work nicely together. After they finished they took a break and then came back with a short set of older songs. Highlights among the newer songs were “The Hurricane” and “Between My Teeth” (neither of which have been recorded yet, alas), and “Ocean Blue”, a song that Raskin supplied yearning, almost chanteuse-y vocals to. Of the older songs one that particularly stood out was “Sense Of Quickness” from their first album. If you’re looking for a CD they’ve got some for sale on their MySpace page and some mp3s on Amazon.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the group again, acoustic or not, although it seems they’re going to be taking some time off to record their new album. Also have really been getting to like the shows at The P&S, which are small but nice and laid-back and clearly for fans of good music instead of fans of whatever trendy band happens to be in town. Will be trying to get myself over there more in the coming months.

    Upcoming for December

    In general I’m pretty picky about going out to see theater in Boston, but I’m intrigued by the SpeakEasy Stage Company’s The Seafarer at the Boston Center for the Arts. Their description is:

      A 2008 Tony Nominee for Best Play, “The Seafarer” is a funny and
      haunting alternative to traditional holiday fare. On Christmas Eve in
      North Dublin, Sharky Harkin finds himself reluctantly hosting old
      friends at the rundown house he shares with his older brother. A lot of
      booze and card-playing carry the men into Christmas Day when Sharky must face the grim promise he made to one of his guests decades ago.

    Half-price tickets are available at

    Will also be checking out the MIT Museum’s new holography exhibit:

      Throughout the winter beginning at dusk, the MIT Museum presents an exhibition of contemporary, three-dimensional holographic artworks displayed in the windows, viewable only from outside the Mark Epstein Innovation Gallery. Featured will be holograms by six international artists whose varied imagery represents artistic and technical advancements in the field of display holography.

    Will try to make it to the opening this Friday, although my sources tell me it’s probably going to be more kid-friendly than not:

      December 5, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.
      Lighting Ceremony and Opening Celebration
      Free admission, refreshments and street festivities

    A few shows coming up I may hit as well. Love is All + Crystal Stilts at Great Scott in Allston next Monday, December 8. The latter is described by one as “the love child of The Jesus and Mary Chain + Joy Division”, haha. Their MySpace page is here.

    +/- is playing The Middle East Upstairs the following night, but I’m probably going to have to pass, being too wussy to go to a show two nights in a row. Yes, I’m getting old. 😛 [Update: It looks like the show has been moved to Saturday, December 13. But I’m going to be out of town! Darn.]

    So looks like that’s the next couple of weeks figured out. Phew! 😉

    Cotton Candy at the Plough & Stars and Ludovico’s “From Britain”

    [The preview for this review is here.]

    Had a good time at The In Out and Cotton Candy show at the Plough and Stars last Friday. I was correct in my surmise that M wanted to go because CC is on TeenBeat Records. And actually CC is apparently comprised of the TeenBeat man himself, Mark Robinson, along with TeenBeat mainstay Evelyn Hurley. Dug up this interview with Robinson from 2002ish which is right around the time he relocated to the Boston area.

    There’s a discouraging paucity of info online about the duo Cotton Candy itself, though, which makes me suspect they either haven’t been around that long or are more of a throw-together sort of team-up (or both). They’re not even listed as a group on ye olde TeenBeat Records website, but live they gave a very good impression. Their all-too-short setlist alternated between laid-back but catchy songs with the duo sharing guitar duties, and TV and radio jingles rendered a capella (plus a completely random recreation of David Bowie’s guest appearance on season 2 of the British Extras). There was a pervading sense of fun and whimsy that penetrated my usual Bostonian veneer of jadedness and came off as utterly charming and winning.

    So much so that I sprung the 5 bucks for the 3-track EP and was likewise not disappointed. On disc the unique charm of the duo doesn’t come across quite so clearly, and the connection to Robinson’s other work (e.g. Flin Flon and his solo recordings), with their shared spare guitar, sparse texture, and easy vocal delivery, becomes more evident. But the songs (“Invisible Kisses”, “A Sentimental Song” (which is on TeenBeat’s MySpace page), and the clear forefront in my affections, “Fantastic and Spectacular”) for the most part successfully navigate the fine line between too twee and perfectly easy quirkiness. The latter song was memorable from their live set, as was the song they closed with but apparently haven’t yet recorded entitled something like “Free Love on the Freeway”. Here’s hoping that they record a new EP soon, particularly in time for their New Year’s performance The Middle East Upstairs. M and I will definitely be in attendance. The info on the website is:

      Thu 1/1/09
      4th Annual Indie Pop New Year’s Day Night with One Happy Island, Cotton Candy (Mark Robinson & Evelyn Hurley), The Smittens, Cathy Cathodic – 18+ $9 NOTE doors at 8:30pm

    The In Out, who was headlining, was also enjoyable. Live they came across much better than the recorded tracks I’d heard, with a more varied sound. Nothing too unusual, but a solid performance and an enjoyable set. Had never been to the P&S for a show, but it was nice and intimate, and although there wasn’t much of an audience those who were there seemed to be having a good time.

    Last Sunday was the Ludovico Ensemble‘s “From Great Britain”. To recap the program:

      Cantata X by Jonathan Harvey
      Nenia: The Death of Orpheus by Harrison Birtwistle
      Dark Mother by Andy Vores
      (Featuring Boston Symphony Orchestra violinist Julianne Lee)

    First off, I have to say the programming was well thought out and came off well. The first and third works were based on myths, and the second work had a fantastical, mystical element that complemented them well. Also, the first two works featured soprano and three clarinets, which added to the unity of the program. Those two works, both from the 70’s, felt a bit dated, but the performance still felt worthwhile, helped in large part by the soprano, Aliana de la Guardia. De la Guardia’s focus, control, expressiveness, not to mention beautiful singing, continues to impress, and her commitment to the music drew the audience completely in (particularly in some of the Birtwistle which at times would just sound laughably quaint otherwise). The clarinets did not often contribute a particularly clear texture to those two works, but the scoring isn’t particularly helpful in that regard.

    The Vores work, Dark Mother, from 1999, was a heavily programmatic piano trio recounting the myth of Persephone from her mother, Demeter’s, perspective. The score feels fresh, and the performance was for the most convincing, although I question their choice to retune before the final movement which I found disruptive. (Mp3s of the performance by Triple Helix can be found here.)

    All in all, though, the concert was a good length, and this is a group that is clearly providing Boston with worthwhile new music experiences. Their next performances are Boston Conservatory Student Works in January, followed by Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments and Feldman’s Crippled Symmetry in February.