Monthly Archives: February 2011

Pop Conference Bound

The annual EMP Pop conference of people taking music way seriously comes to LA for the first time this week. I’m on a morning panel at the Thursday pre-conference, Work It:  Gender, Race, and Sexuality in Pop Professions. I’m also moderating a panel at the conference itself at UCLA, on Sunday at 4:15. Besides me, there are lots of smart, interesting people involved: Seymour Stein, Daphne Brooks, Greil Marcus, Dan Charnas, Alice Echols, Josh Kun, Oliver Wang, Randall Roberts, Ann Powers, Daphne Carr, Gayle Wald, etc. Oh, and some guys named Moby and Raphael Saadiq.

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Vanessa Paradis by the Orpheum Light

I meant to mention the influence of bossa nova in my review of Vanessa Paradis’s show at the Orpheum Friday night. The concert reminded me of the spell-casting fusion that Bebel Gilberto tries to cast in her shows. But Bebel is such a bleating bore. Paradis was, as one of the comments on my review says, “pure beauty.” I don’t know who I’m more jealous of: her or Johnny Depp.

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33 Remixes?

Jane Fonda has always been the kind of woman both my mom and I admire: Strong, smart, glamorous. Today we saw her together, playing the dying mother figure in 33 Variations, at the Ahmanson. Fonda’s performance was everything we hoped it would be — better, even. This is a hard, painful role, not an easy star turn. Moises Kaufman’s play is in part about the relationship between a high-achieving mother and her daughter, so it was doubly interesting to see with Mom. Plus, Fonda’s a musicologist. Lots of levels here for both of us.

Fonda was just one of the highlights of this smart, layered play about Beethoven. The sets, by Derek McLane, were stunning. All the cast was good, but I especially liked Greg Keller as the flighty, sweet nurse. I was also fascinated by the concept of Beethoven’s variations, which seem like modern versions of the remix. Who owned the copyright on these pieces? Were they registered at Creative Commons?

Plus, heh heh, we saw Jane’s boobs.

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"Rock" Rocks

I hated the ’80s. The vapidity, narcisissm, and machismo of hair metal epitomize everything that made me miserable during the reign of Reagan. And yet, I had a great time at the Pantages opening of Rock of Ages last night. The jukebox musical craftily written by Chris D’Arienzo and exuberantly directed by Kristin Hanggi treasures the pure-pleasure hedonism of the music while utterly  deflating its pomp and pretension.

Rock‘s a thoroughly cheesy show with a predictable plot and stock, stereotyped characters that too often draw on racial, sexual, and ethnic stereotypes. But it’s just so much fun, largely because of blow-out performances by divas (male and female) who get the connection between MTV hard rock and Broadway musical just right. Constantine Maroulis is pitch-perfect cute and charming — Warner Brothers needs to give him the lead in the movie version. Patrick Lewallen conducts the show as the Shakespearean fool lighting guy with the swivel hips and jazz hands. Rebecca Faulkenberry belts her way out of the eye-candy burlesque bubble. MiG Ayesa preens and prances and writhes and pukes as the Axl Rose-esque overcooked rock star. Travis Walker and Nick Cordero rise above their cliched roles.

Rock of Ages manages to resuscitate and make meaningful again overplayed, overwrought 1980s anthems like “Wanted: Dead or Alive” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Without an original score, it’s no Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Rent, or Hair. But it’s about as much fun as you can get from a night in the theater.

And since it was opening night, it was a star-studded event. Weird Al Yankovic and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and a lot of Botoxed, blown-out celebs who looked like they are or were almost famous — and probably were. I thought we were behind Jack Lemmon, but he’s dead, so trying to figure out who it was. I suck at recognizing celebrities.

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"Rock of Ages"

I confess I’m no fan of hair metal. But it was fun to report this LA Times piece on Rock of Ages, and I’m looking forward to seeing the balding celebs tonight at the Pantages opening.

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Grammys Postmortem

The awards choices sucked. Lady Antebellum? Really?! But it was an entertaining spectacle, for old-fashioned commercial mass culture. It was ridiculous that here in LA, where the damn thing was happening, we had to wait three hours to watch it. That makes no sense in this day of Twitter. And put it on the Internet, CBS. You’re just losing potential markets.

Favorite performances:

Cee-Lo Green and the Muppets. I have no idea what the Gwyneth was doing there, but loved the George Clinton/Labelle/Elton John/peacock outfit. And that Al Green voice.

Mick Jagger. He looked so tiny he would break, and then he ran all over that stage. Sounded good too (esp. after Dylan), and singing Solomon Burke — he sure knows how to rip black people off!

Lady Gaga. No, really. If she were David Bowie, you’d love her. Okay, the song is totally “Papa Don’t Preach.” Favorite comment from my student livebloggers: “Was she born with those shoulders?”

Janelle Monae/B.O.B./Bruno Mars: It was a good night for pompadours.

Skylar Grey: Amazing voice. Not sure why that angry white rapper kept getting in her way.

Aretha tribute: The divas oversang, but still.

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The Return of Poly-Styrene

One of my favorite sheroines of all time is back: Poly-Styrene of X-Ray Spex has a new album out in April. The first single is even all new media ish. Oh bondage, up yours!

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