Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sin Peaks

From the Georgia Straight

Sin Peaks deftly handles surprises

A colourful cast of characters brings weekly scandal to the Waldorf with the improv soap opera Sin Peaks.
Peter Holst
By Andrea Warner,
It’s 10:30 a.m. on Victoria Day, the star of your show is in Portland, Oregon, and the border lineups to return to Canada are already four hours long. Any other theatre company would be screwed, but the weekly improv soap opera Sin Peaks is all about deftly handling surprises. After all, the first rule of improv is “Never say no.”

Susana Behar

From the Charleston City Paper

Susana Behar shares songs from her Sephardic ancestry 

Oh Susana

The Cuban-born, Miami-based singer shakes up the spotlight concert series
The Cuban-born, Miami-based singer shakes up the spotlight concert series
If Susana Behar looks familiar, chances are you might have seen her in the audience during previous Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto festivals. After all, she's been attending them for the last eight years. That's a long time to hold on to a dream, and finally Piccolo Spoleto attendees will be privy to the acclaimed vocalist's exotic repertoire — the Sephardic music of her ancestors, Latin American folk, and a brief, passionate pit stop in flamenco — a set list that ultimately unfolds like a timeline of Behar's incredible life.

kd lang

From the Charleston City Paper

k.d. lang resurfaces with a sexy, swinging sound 

Sing It Loud

k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang make their much-anticipated Spoleto debut at The Gaillard
k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang make their much-anticipated Spoleto debut at The Gaillard

It is possible that one may never again experience the kind of soul-fulfilling bliss that accompanies hearing k.d. lang's rich and resonant cover of Leonard Cohen's ubiquitous "Hallelujah." Unless, of course, you already possess tickets to her sold-out show June 3 at the Spoleto Festival.

After years of laying low, the 50-year-old Canadian singer/songwriter, born Kathryn Dawn Lang, made a splashy return to the public eye in 2010, streaming into millions of homes around the world during Vancouver's opening ceremonies for the Olympics. Her stunning rendition of the aforementioned Cohen staple triggered a collective recollection: Oh yeah, k.d. lang, what's she up to? Where's she been?

Danny Kalb

From Charleston City Paper

Danny Kalb powers through health issues to make a comeback 

A Second Chance

Danny Kalb is still bridging blues, rock, and folk styles
Danny Kalb is still bridging blues, rock, and folk styles
Life hasn't always been kind to overlooked blues guitar legend Danny Kalb. After an all-too-brief burst of fame in the '60s as founder of the Blues Project, Kalb found himself out of the spotlight. He continued to make music, but failed to achieve the high-profile recognition of, say, his friend Bob Dylan or even his former Blues Project bandmate, Steve Katz of Blood, Sweat & Tears. But now, at almost 70 years old, Kalb is gearing up for a comeback, which includes a tour stop at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival. When the blues is your life, why let something like a recent stroke get in the way?

Cold Specks

In the current June issue of Exclaim!

And click here for the link to the related online news story. 

Cold Specks Emerges 

By Andrea Warner 

"I tend to lie in interviews. But I haven't lied today."

Al Spx's confession comes about three-quarters into our meeting. I can't help but laugh. So far, the 24-year-old singer-songwriter from Toronto has been guarded yet candid, and funny as hell. Could she be playing me? Sure, but there's such sincerity in her statement, it's like she's surprised herself by letting me in on the joke.

Spx is the bruised-but-beating heart of her own six-piece band, Cold Specks, and about to release her debut album, I Predict a Graceful Expulsion. It's a mouthful and a mind full ― and arguably among the most original records to come out of Canada since the Arcade Fire's debut almost a decade ago. It chronicles a messy number of years in Spx's young life: a falling out with God, depression, suicidal thoughts. Every single word wrenched from her bones in a last-ditch effort at preserving her sanity and sating her loneliness.

Suckers Exclaim

From April 13 on

Suckers Explain Their Shrinking Lineup with 'Candy Salad' 

By Andrea Warner 

Since their self-titled debut EP in 2009, Suckers have laid claim to all the key descriptors befitting of a "buzz band": Brooklyn-based, art pop, sampler happy. Riding the high of acclaim, the three-piece (cousins Quinn Walker and Austin Fisher, and childhood friend Pan) expanded to a four-piece with the addition of drummer Brian Aiken and released their first full length, Wild Smile, in 2010.

After lengthy tours honing their performance chops -- and often upstaging the headliners for whom they were opening -- Suckers retreated to work on their follow-up album. The result? The catchy and clever Candy Salad, and the surprisingly casual reveal that Aiken has left the band.

"There's just three of us at the moment," Pan tells Exclaim! as Candy Salad's late April release date approaches. "We never made a major announcement or anything."

"Brian is moving to Thailand to start a new life. He bought a one-way ticket," Fisher adds, by way of explanation that this is a permanent change to Suckers' lineup.

They don't go into any further details, but say that the end result "has worked out nicely," and they've added a drummer and keyboardist to their touring band to fill Aiken's void.

"We're just now starting to play all the songs and promote them, so nothing else is really going to change immediately," Fisher says. "Until we start writing again."

Pan explains: "And I don't think that will change. If anything, with just three writing songs, it will make it faster."

As previously reported, Candy Salad is due to arrive April 24 via Frenchkiss Records. In support of the new album, Suckers will be out on a North American tour come May. You can see all the stops listed below.

Ting Tings Exclaim

In-depth Q&A with the Ting Tings for Exclaim!

And click here for the online news story that ties in to this article.

The Ting Tings 

By Andrea Warner

 The Ting Tings' multi-platinum debut, We Started Nothing, offered catchy, frenetic pop ditties that proved fun for club freak-outs, cross-training and everything in between. Jules de Martino and Katie White became overnight sensations thanks in equal measure to their sound and the ethos behind it. In almost every interview, the Manchester-based duo eschewed popularity and commercialism in favour of art and creativity. In kind, their live shows proved a real Breakfast Club of champions, with the art-school chic bouncing alongside power-poppers, DIY post-punks and second gen emo-lites.

So, could de Martino and White make lightning strike twice with their long-awaited follow-up, Sounds from Nowheresville? In short, not yet. The record dropped about six weeks ago, and though it might not be what the industry or Ting Tings' fans expected, de Martino says it's exactly what he and White envisioned when, halfway through the recording process, they deleted six songs the label loved, fled the country and started fresh. Pretentious, self-destructive snots or idealistic, uncompromising artists? You be the judge.

Norah Jones Questionnaire Exclaim

From the May issue of Exclaim!

Norah Jones 

By Andrea Warner 

Norah Jones has never quite shaken off the wide-eyed ingénue persona of her debut, 2002's Grammy-winning Come Away With Me. But her new record Little Broken Hearts ― chock full of grown-up problems like messy break-ups, murder fantasies, and infidelity ― should shatter any preconceived notions about the 33-year-old singer/songwriter.

"I wrote a few songs that were a little mean, but it's not like I'm such a bad girl," Jones laughs. "I'm an adult. I'm not a little kid. I don't really mind when people have a misconstrued perception of me. It's not like I'm pulling one over on people. I am a nice person." But she and collaborator Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, have a lot of fun playing with that "nice girl" image. The two met years back and talked about recording together, but it kept getting pushed back. Finally when they were ready to sit down, Jones arrived at his studio, freshly wounded from a defunct relationship, armed with only a couple beginnings of songs. She and Burton started to talk and they built Little Broken Hearts from the ground up.

Norah Jones Exclaim online news story

From April 27th on

By Andrea Warner 

Norah Jones Sheds Light on Losing Her "Good Girl" Rep, Working with Danger Mouse

There were plenty of raised eyebrows when it was announced that Norah Jones would be making her next album with Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse. She's ruled the adult contemporary airwaves since her 2002 Grammy Award-winning debut, the softly pleasing radio staple Come Away with Me. Jones's talent is indisputable, but there's been plenty of scorn levied her way about what she does with her gifts.

Her upcoming record, Little Broken Hearts, is a defiant middle finger to her critics and the man/men that have done her wrong. Not that Jones really cares what anyone thinks. But she knows that once people have come out of Hearts' other side, her "good girl" reputation may not be intact. The album dwells in some dark and dangerous corners, including the stellar "Miriam," a spooky stand-out that finds Jones sweetly singing a fantasy about killing the woman who stole her man.

"Obviously I care a little bit about what people think, but I try not to," Jones tells Exclaim! "I feel pretty secure in who I think I am and what I know I do. It's not like I do anything crazily different [on Hearts], just a couple of songs were a little mean. It's not like I'm such a bad girl. I'm an adult. I'm not a little kid... It's not like I'm pulling one over on people. I am a nice person."

Plus, Burton's own fingerprints are everywhere on the album, including on the actual song composition. Jones says it was an unusual experience, sharing songwriting duties with another person, but feels the record benefitted from their mind meld.

"Since we wrote all the songs together, there were definitely things in the songwriting that are different from what I would normally do, which is great, and made it a collaboration," Jones says. "But also the sonic landscape. I went out to L.A. to record in his studio with his engineers, because I wanted whatever he had. I wasn't really sure what that was because he's so versatile. I just knew he had a different sonic language that he used.

"He's kind of a gear head, they know how to turn a lot of knobs and make a simple acoustic guitar sound really different. But they never go too far, it always sounds interesting and beautiful. You can go too far with that stuff sometimes, but I just never heard him do that. He's so good at striking that balance of playing natural instruments and producing in a way that kind of feels right."

The two had talked about making an album together for years, so it was a twist of fate that when the timing came together; Jones happened to arrive in L.A. fresh from breakup.

"I never really intended to write about [my breakup] and it's still kind of encrypted," she says. "We've all gone through things and had those moments. Whether you're going through a breakup that's serious or casual or you're jealous of something. We've all had twinges of these feelings at some point. Or, the older you get, you will.

"It became more about me and Brian being a little bit more philosophical about relationships. We definitely got inside each other's heads. I wouldn't have been able to write these kinds of songs with somebody I didn't know that well. We would take a feeling and kind of run with it... but the album's not a diary. I was never nervous about writing it, because I know what's real and what's not."

Little Broken Hearts arrives May 1 through Blue Note/EMI.

Aida review

It's been ages since I properly updated this account with everything I've been publishing. I'm going to aim to fix that now!

From Apr. 23: The Globe & Mail

A scene from "Aida" at the Vancouver Opera - A scene from "Aida" at the Vancouver Opera | Handout

Opera review

Aida: A few hiccups take shine off three hours of grandeur

In closing its season with the “grandest of grand” operas, Vancouver Opera is taking a calculated risk: stumble under the weight of Giuseppe Verdi’s beloved Aida or triumph over its epic tale of doomed love across enemy lines. 

The lengthy standing ovation following opening night on Saturday proved that the company’s gamble paid off – for the most part.

The production begins unevenly, both despite and because of the extraordinary power of Morris Robinson. As Ramfis, the high priest, Robinson’s bass is so deep and assured it’s as if a vibration goes through the audience every time he opens his mouth. Arnold Rawls as Radames, the Egyptian army captain, doesn’t have the same command. His tenor sounds thin throughout the earliest scenes that attempt to establish Radames as a noble warrior and lover. Eventually Rawls’ finds his footing and digs into the role with relish, rising to the intense vocal challenges presented in Acts III and IV.

The women, Mlada Khudoley and Daveda Karanas, are gloriously gifted as Aida, the Ethiopian prisoner (and secret princess), and Amneris, the Egyptian princess, respectively. As mismatched rivals for Radames’ heart – Aida having the upper hand despite being Amneris’ servant – it’s fascinating to see how Karanas reveals Amneris’ unhinged longing, allowing a steely hint of madness to permeate her mezzo-soprano.

Khudoley conveys Aida’s unending turmoil with great beauty. Her voice is remarkable, and it’s put to the test in Act III when Aida’s forced to betray her beloved Radames, lest her father disown her. As the Ethiopian King, Quinn Kelsey’s presence is both suitably royal and paternal. He’s particularly effective as he shames Aida for turning her back on her country, his words invoking the spirit of her dead mother made all the more resonant by his booming baritone.

When Radames realizes the extent of Aida’s betrayal, the devastation is real: Aida flees and Radames is sentenced to death. But only when Amneris begs Radames to renounce Aida does the incredible trick of Verdi’s writing reveal itself. The declarations of love between Aida and Radames carry little weight. After all, they’re just words. The opera’s legendary romance comes out of sacrifice: Radames would rather die than accept Amneris’ offer, and the scene is an incredible showcase for both singers.
While many individual moments stand out, they don’t call Aida a grand opera for nothing. It’s big, bold and opulent, much like the ancient Egypt in which it’s set. When the entire cast comes together, all under the masterful eye of director David Gately, it’s nothing short of electrifying, particularly at the end of Act II as Egypt celebrates its victory over Ethiopia. The story arcs converge in a messy apex as the sprawling company crescendos to a roar, creating a palpable buzz throughout intermission.

But eight principal singers, 12 dancers, 35 extras, 60 choristers, and an orchestra of 64 make for a crowded, busy production, meaning a few things that should have been dealt with in dress rehearsal make it to stage. For instance, the large-scale victory celebration after Egypt defeats Ethiopia features countless soldiers marching out of time. The few who do fall in line highlight the imprecision of their counterparts.

And while set designer Roberto Oswald has crafted some truly impressive, large-scale replicas of iconographic Egyptian landmarks, costume designer Anibal Lapiz’s occasional use of gold lamé fabric jarringly recalls ’70s disco rather than ancient times. In contrast, the dresses he’s created for Aida are stunningly beautiful, and he injects a wonderful amount of Amneris’ personality into the character’s bold garments.

The orchestra, superb under conductor Jonathan Darlington, has to share some of the burden for Rawls’ disappointing first act, drowning out his voice several times in the opening 20 minutes. But the combative nature between the pit and the singers mellows into something beautifully copacetic after the initial rough patch, so perhaps it won’t be an issue in the remaining performances.
These are niggling details for only the fussiest among us to dwell on, but it’s a luxury Aida affords its audience by falling just shy of masterpiece status.

Special to The Globe and Mail.
Vancouver Opera’s Aida plays at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre at 7.30 p.m. Tuesday, April 24; Thursday, April 26; Saturday, April 28; Tuesday, May 1; Thursday, May 3.