11.02.09 My Top Ten RIGHT NOW
1. MUSICAL Fela!
The first act of this too long musical is beyond splendid, a spectacle of African dance and the overblown personality that is Fela Kuti as his alter-ego on stage, channeled brilliantly by Sahr Ngaujah, walks you through the evolution of the Afro-pop sound that became synonymous with Fela. The choreography by Bill T. Jones, accompanied by intelligent and engaging staging, pulls you right into the heat and sensuality of the Nigerian world, all destroyed slowly but surely as the facts of Fela’s history turn deeply political and horrifying. The second act is tough and stands too in contrast to the first, but thankfully gives the under-utilized Lillias White a real show-stopping number. Just try to see this and not want to dance yourself crazy afterward… hell, try not to dance while watching the show!
2. FOOD The General Greene
This was a decadent meal, in quantity, not in cost. The Fort Greene eatery invites you to share all their dishes family style, making for an excellent gorging fest while sampling everything and not feeling like you’re stuffing your face. Starting with the cold prawns, perfectly cooked for maximum enjoyment, and the chorizo salad, a spicy bit of goodness, you’re well on the way to contentedness. My company moved easily onto steamed cockles with cilantro, lime and a healthy dose of garlic and the special of the evening, a delightfully cooked fresh Dorado that melted in your mouth covered with a light salad and raw onion. But my personal favorite was the salt and pepper grilled pork ribs that were a cross between the best BBQ and steak au poivre you’ve ever had the pleasure of being served. We finished off the meal with the season appropriate pumpkin pie and an ice cream sundae covered with pretzels. A truly wonderful mid-Fall meal.
3. NEW CONSTRUCTION Alice Tully Hall
The new construction at Lincoln Center blew me away. From the large glass atrium that funnels you into the Starr Theater to the warm wood interior, all soft curves and strict geometry, you find the perfect setting to enjoy gorgeous music. Lit from within, the skin of the wood (a veneer over a resin base) around the stage literally glows, playing artfully against a large installation of dots at the back of the stage, precisely organized and in relief to create the most pleasing of patterns. The space just embraces you, intimate in so many ways, but still impressive, especially when the concert being performed delightfully plays off the interior. Which brings me to the music…
4. CONCERT Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg at Alice Tully Hall
This efficient orchestra under the baton of Ivor Bolton created beautiful music with two of my favorite classical pieces. Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor just poured over me with its lyrical bliss that always reminded me of the grandiosity of a Bernard Hermann score for a Hitchcock film, and made all the more so with this orchestra that seemed to pull out even more dynamics than originally written. And with the amazing Johannes Moser taking center stage, I was surprised to find the well-known Jacqueline DuPre version slipping from my mind. Even more robust and lavish was a fantastic take on Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 that can be summed up in the last hit of the orchestra, so rounded that you find yourself inching to the end of your seat with every bar only to be exhausted when that last note finally hits, subdues and comes back fighting. An evening that reminded me how much I truly love this music, and even more so when performed live.
5. CONCERT Scythian at Stout
This Irish band seems to deftly move an audience despite what can only be described as an odd repertory. “Black and Tan” becomes a rabble-rouser of a different sort, sending the crowd into convulsive bopping, unable to resist the strong drums and expertly played violin. The propulsive odd music even continues into stranger crowd-pleasing areas such as the violin theme from Fiddler on the Roof smoothly transitioning into Hava Nagila. In many ways, these are the quieter counterparts to the harder edged Gogol Bordello. My personal favorite of the evening was the Irish-ized take on the 1953 standard “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” which practically becomes a war cry getting the whole audience to scream along. I felt a bit bad for the band in this particular performance, having to contend with a Manhattan Halloween as well as…
7. SPORTS Yankees vs Phillies – World Series Game Three
I can’t claim to be an avid sports fan, which I think is clearly in evidence week after week in this column. That said, there are some things (or aspects of living in this city) that make sports-loving impossible to avoid. And that includes the excitement of the Yankees being in and clearly going to win the World Series. And there was something truly exciting about being in a bar when the game ended and hearing “New York, New York” blasted and everyone singing along. Now that’s some pride in our fair city! Fingers crossed for Game Four, occurring now as I write this, which by the time you read this will already be set in stone. GO YANKEES!
6. ALBUM Please Please Me The Beatles
No doubt this is the poppiest of beginnings and you can just hear the excitement of the sound (or maybe that’s my imagining the shrieking girls that accompanied so much of this music). Opening with “I Saw Her Standing There” and closing with “Twist and Shout,” the hip swiveling easy rockability is so classic throughout that it becomes amazing just to fathom this as a starting point given how varied and sensationally different their music became. It also reminded me of so many songs that I forgot how much I loved from their catalog, namely “Love Me Do, ” “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” and the title track. And then there is the odd “Taste of Honey” that I can’t tell if it’s genius or ridiculous. But with these guys, I tend to believe it’s the former.
7. ARTICLE “From No Home to Back Home on Broadway”
A total and amazing New York story is reported here, of a Tony-winning Broadway star finding herself homeless, actually couch hopping and sleeping in a park, but through the kindness of friends, makes her way back onto Broadway this season in Finian’s Rainbow. The life lessons seem almost inapplicable to any semblance of my life, but at the end of the day it reminds you that in the most desperate of times, you can reach out to those around you and actually find a helping hand. And having seen her splendid performance, it seems beyond apropos that she is singing “Necessity” in this show, a rare moment of reality in a show filled with bright sunshine and fairytale romance.
8. CAST of Away We Go (2009)
There is so little to be enjoyed in this cinematic mess of a message movie from Sam Mendes who attempted to find his funny bone and missed completely. The saving grace of this catastrophe is a stellar cast, not necessarily name brand, but of such high performance quality that it seems impossible they all wound up in this quagmire together. Allison Janney and Jim Gaffigan are laughably sad as parents who have lost the spark for each other and their kids but are still together. Catherine O’Hara makes the most of a role that is just too ugly for even her to make funny. But it’s really all about Maya Rudolph, always a pleasure on SNL, coming forward with a dramatic heart and a depth in her acting that I found ultimately surprising. While she couldn’t save the movie, it was her reactions to the world around her that kept me going all the way to the very end.
9. WEBSITE Stereomood
It’s always hard to select the exact perfect music for your mood. Sure, you can cobble some things together, but there are always these stray bits that don’t quite make sense in your collection. And unfortunately, iTunes’ attempt (known as Genius) falls far short of its title by seemingly being completely unaware of what music should actually go together. Well, along comes this fantastic site that uses perfect keywords (“candlelit dinner,” “it’s raining,” “just wake up” and “feel like crying” just to name a few) that take you to perfectly composed playlists of music. The range of artists is huge and will make you want to download all sorts of new things, but more than anything else, no matter the occasion or mood, you no longer have to be the perfect DJ, this site does an amazing job for you. It’s kinda like XM radio, except with keyword searches rather than genres, which I think makes a whole lot more sense.
10. PHOTOBLOG A Walk Through Durham County, Pennsylvania
At first these photos could be written off as pretty computer background images that are standard with any new electronic, but that would be denying the true artistry and incredible eye that photographer Kathleen Connally brings to each image. She turns a lone crabapple tree into a fanciful dreamscape of mist and Lewis Carroll-esque wonder. A secret pumpkin patch amidst golden stalks of corn becomes a world unto itself, seemingly covert and yet infinite. A flock of snow geese so densely dot the ground and trees that they start to look like actual snow. These are stunning and trained photographs, what seems like just being at the right place at the right time more often becomes having the right eye in the right place at the right time.