01.11.18 – Variations on Themes from Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life and other works by John Bernd

How much of remembering is an act of love? That question suffuses every molecule of Variations on Themes from Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life and other works by John Bernd, the unequivocal highlight of my first day in New York this trip.

The first time I saw Ishmael Houston-Jones it was like the first time I heard Monk or Joni Mitchell; the first time I heard Amiri Baraka; the first time I saw a Rauschenberg combine. So I went into this revival presented by American Realness barely knowing anything about John Bernd, to whom tribute is being paid, and only a little more about Houston-Jones’ co-director Miguel Gutierrez. That instinct didn’t disappoint.

The cast of dancers is perfect, Toni Carlson, Talya Epstein, Alvaro Gonzalez, Charles Gowin, Madison Krekel, Johnnie Cruise Mercer, and Alex Rodabaugh. They feel like they like each other. Physical chemistry is paramount and abundant but there’s a warmth that’s much harder to capture. For a show about communion and tending to one another that sense means everything.

Sweet moments of singing syllables that boil down to “Oh, hi, heya” stretching out and sparkling like stardust (Nick Haslett beautifully reworks Bernd’s original compositions) master the supple stillness of being together many of us only strive for. There’s a gorgeous, subtle glow in the way these bodies slide through the original music; themes build, go through a chrysalis, then spark between the dancers.

Toni Carlson’s warm intensity, especially in concert with Charles Gowin, is a highlight; they ground the more abstract sequences in a heightened, best-selves version of the world we know too well.

Photo from American Realness website, by Ian Douglas

There’s a delightful slapstick edge here, most prominent in a sequence about fighting illness by “Taking control of [your] diet” making a parody of a smoothie. This shifts into a thesis statement as everyone puts their hands on the blender like a sorcerer’s talisman and chant in tones equal parts defiance and desperation words of hope like “I will not die before I do justice to my gifts.”

The use of pre-existing songs here is remarkable, with nary a cop-out crutch or easy wink for miles.

Copland’s “Hoe Down” section from Rodeo gets jubilant irreverence. This only piece from a traditional ballet gets razor-sharp use of that post-Balanchine narrative dance language but also the childlike play at Cowboys and Indians and some frankly erotic “playing at cowboys.”

Prince’s Dirty Mind grows out of the kind of hard triplet stomping Houston-Jones says is a signature of Bernd, a thudding, sensual shudder that’s a call to attention that could turn into “Walk this Way” at any moment. With this Prince song, the dance vocabulary that served as a quicksilver carrier for many moods, flowers into an electric bacchanal. Pairing off, tossing each other around, finding space for one another’s body. The highlight for me was Epstein, split off from the others, dancing in shadow back by the audience, twitching like a power-line violently ripped from its moorings; the kind of intense, erotic defiance of gravity and death it takes this much craft to look natural. I blushed and wanted to look away but I couldn’t take my eyes off her. New Order’s Age of Consent captured the bursting joy and melancholy of that song in a way I’ve never seen any movie or TV use pull off.

The coup de grace (double-entendre sting on “grace”) came with Lou Reed’s Street Hassle. Circumventing what most people gravitate toward in this song, the hustler narrative, Variations drops us right into Part C. We get strings already growing lush and Springsteen’s cameo before the sweet, keening melancholy of “I need you, baby. Oh please, baby… Please don’t slip away.”

I know how reductive this is for such an intense and complex work. But what I left with was: no energy is wasted. Bernd was an unlikely candidate for the canon but his friends made a zine 10 years after his death in tribute. 20 years after that an oversold crowd had the privilege to sit in a church built in 1799 and marvel at all the work in this recreation.

I don’t want to get all “Can I get an Amen” on you, but… May we all be so lucky to have someone love us that much. To love even one thing we made that much. To be some small part of reflecting or amplifying that love in some small way.


Huntertones – Live Reviewed in JazzColumbus

“The fat riff is the primary building block of Huntertones’ best pieces. The opening notes of Dan White’s “Anvil” kick off this collection of ear-worms like a fanfare. It sets the tone for the record’s road-tested arrangements…From that horn trill that opens “Anvil” to the country-tinged funk jubilation of Ott’s “Looking Back,” Live is a party record to be reckoned with. A snapshot of a band out of its chrysalis stage and spreading wings as it ascends to another level.”

Read the full review at JazzColumbus


Best of 2015: Theatre/Opera/Dance

they grip each other with a cry
expand into lamentations
become mist on the windows of dead houses
crystallize into chips of grief on dead lips
attach themselves to a fallen star
dig their hole in nothingness
breathe our strayed souls

Words are rocky tears
the keys to first doors
they grumble in caverns
lend their ruckus to storms
their silence to bread that’s ovened alive.”

-Venus Khoury-Ghata, Les Mots (trans. Marilyn Hacker)


Notes on the overall scene are after the list. Where I reviewed something for another outlet, I’ve attached a link. Unless otherwise specified, everything is in Columbus.

  1. Glory of the World by Charles L. Mee (Humana Festival, Louisville, KY) – Had a glorious day and night in Louisville with some dear friends on the way to Knoxville’s Big Ears Festival and the detour was mostly for the premier of this new Mee play, a riotous tribute to the naturalist Thomas Merton on his centennial. Glory of the World, gorgeously directed by Les Waters, uses the raw-flesh ambiguity of perception, the way we see what we’re looking for, and the way a person at the top of their game can embody all these things to different people. It’s a paean to male friendship, and the messy, beautiful complications of living in the world, full of joy and memory and mourning. The best thing I saw with a food fight and a fist fight on stage. NYC pals, BAM is presenting this staging in January right after APAP, if you can make it don’t miss it.
  2. the theatre is a blank page by Ann Hamilton and Anne Bogart (SITI Company presented by Wexner Center for the Arts) – This was the first adaptation of Virginia Woolf (To The Lighthouse) I’ve ever seen that captured everything I love about Woolf and gave me the same finger-in-a-light-socket sensation as reading her work. Threaded through by Rena Cherlouche Fogel’s narration, this guided tour through the guts of Mershon Auditorium was also a guided tour through the bones of theatre, a look at why making art matters and what makes it stick its nails in your heart. Both the most sensual, erotic evening I spent in a theater all year and something that reduced me to mouth-breathing, stumbling, childlike joy. Review at Columbus Underground.
  3. Don Quixote: A Pilgrimage by Jen Schlueter adapted from Miguel de Cervantes (Available Light) – As I chewed over the year, Jen Schlueter’s brilliant adaptation of Quixote with perfect direction by Matt Slaybaugh summed up everything I love about Available Light. An adaptation that recreates the pleasure of a text without being intimidated by it or trying to just retell the events in a way that elevates instead of diminishing the classic. It vibrates with the kind of whimsical seriousness that needed a cast this uniformly strong. Elena Perantoni dazzled doing double duty as a backpacker and as Rocinante, Sancho Panza’s donkey [the first draft of this misnamed Sancho’s companion], a very funny foil to Drew Eberly’s Panza. Her interplay with the very strong David Glover mirrored and echoed Eberly and Kim Garrison Hopcraft’s retired couple. But the core and the spine of this was Acacia Duncan’s heartbreaking character trying to reconnect with her father; without ever stating it, she gives us a look at the power of art to provide a roadmap and a toolbox to healing and the way stories change with the road you stumble down.
  4. Sweat Baby Sweat by Jan Martens (Wexner Center for the Arts) – In a more literal way than the Hamilton/Bogart, this was one of the most erotic things I’ve ever seen on a stage. Two dancers, a man and a woman, grapple with the arc of a relationship, almost never leaving contact with one another’s skin. As a physical act, the torturous, delicate, drenched slowness was astonishing, the lack of momentum as positions shift seemed to defy gravity. As bodies, seeing the occasional strain,the clenching of an ass, the tightening of a back, that sweat glistening over these two perfect people was heart-stopping. Got a little tense in my seat – in the good way – just writing this paragraph. His Dog Days Are Over was also stunning and encompassed more of the world but this played in my dreams over and over.
  5. A Little Night Music by Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim (Short North Stage) – Maybe my favorite Sondheim done better than I’ve ever seen it, this production directed by Michael Licata opened a very promising main-stage season at Short North Stage. It understands the way confined motions of a waltz echo the desperate search for love and the way that search tries to navigate our own neuroses, hangups, fuck-ups, lies and shame, with even a Pyrrhic victory being better than nothing. The cast is marvelous with standouts being Mark Harmon as Frederik, Marya Spring as Desiree and Kate Lingnofski, who damn near walks away with the whole show, as the Countess.  Review at Columbus Underground.
  6. The Grown-Up by Jordan Harrison (Available Light) – Available Light cemented their keen ear to the vibrations of the larger world of theatre this year with two productions (the other appears later). Jordan Harrison was the toast of NYC theatre with his new play Marjorie Prime almost simultaneously with AVLT bringing his recent work, The Grown-Up to open the 2015-2016 season in an exquisite production directed by Eleni Papaleonardos suffused with glowing wonder. Fragmented time-slippage follows Rudy Frias (as Actor A) through his life with family, lovers, co-workers played by the same handful of brilliant actors (standouts include Jordan Fehr and Michelle Schroeder) in a lean, cohesive look at how quickly life goes, how similar the people and circumstances we surround ourselves with are, and how easily lessons are learned and forgotten. Review at Columbus Underground.
  7. Henry IV by William Shakespeare (Donmar Warehouse presented by St Ann’s Warehouse, NYC) – I missed Donmar’s previous all-female Julius Caesar so there was no chance I was going to miss this, much less miss my first chance to go to the new St Ann’s Warehouse (which is a marvelous improvement in every way, maybe the best theatre space in New York). Phylida Lloyd’s direction of this look at female prisoners staging, and finding echoes for their own lives, in an edit of the two Henry IV parts, had some issues – largely in the edit that cut a little too close to the bone getting down to two hours – but left my jaw on the floor again and again. Jade Anouka’s Hotspur is the best rendition of the character I’ve ever seen, someone who can freeze your blood with her eyes even in the back row. Sophie Stanton’s Falstaff is a fascinating, hilarious, deeply sad take on possibly my favorite character in all of Shakespeare. And Claire Dunne’s Prince Hal is a beacon of intense charisma and menace you can’t take your eyes off.
  8. Lost Girls by John Pollono (MCC, NYC) – Pollono’s play, masterfully directed by Jo Bonney, plays with a surface-simple thriller premise where a missing girl brings up the uneasy détente between a divorced couple (a terrific Piper Perabo and Ebon Moss-Bachrach). As it flips back and forth to a hotel room off the interstate with a high school couple running away (a crackling Lizzy DeClement and Josh Green) the tension draws tighter and tighter, leavened with the kind of sharp one-liners that only characters who know each other that well could land. This is a textbook case in a play that transported me out of myself and literally had tears springing to my eyes after an hour and a half with a twist that’s perfectly set up but still made me gasp. A masterclass in how to love your characters and let that love come through to an audience.
  9. Thrill Me by Stephen Dolginoff (Short North Stage) – As good as the wide-canvas musicals were at Short North Stage, I was most heartened at how they turned the Green Room side-space into a showcase for the kind of smaller, edgier musicals that, with a couple of exceptions (like Red Herring’s sumptuous take on Romance/Romance) don’t get any play in Columbus. My favorite of the lot was Dolginoff’s sexy and vicious Thrill Me. Edward Carignan (maybe SNS’s MVP of the year) directed this with an eye on paranoia and claustrophobia. Evan Hoffman’s Richard Loeb was a performance as sharp as a stiletto you should see coming but don’t and Luke Stewart’s heartbroken, desperate Nathan Leopold is a defining study in the corrosive quality of bad love. Review at Columbus Underground.
  10. Standing on Ceremony by Various (OSU Theatre Department) – In a fascinating touch, OSU Theatre decided to perform this anthology of short plays by some of our finest writers (including Neil Labute, Jordan Harrison, Wendy MacLeod, and Jose Rivera) about gay marriage on a lower budget meant to mimic storefront theatre and using the entirety of Drake Union instead of proscenium stages. A beautiful, sometimes hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking, look at love and language directed by Jen Schlueter and Karie Miller, it was full of performances that belied their youth with standouts including Amanda Loch, Chorsie Calbert IV, and especially Bryan Arnold who broke me in the Moises Kaufman section. Review at Columbus Underground.
  11. The Christians by Lucas Hnath (Available Light) –  This is the other play I alluded to earlier about AVLT’s unerring sense in other people’s work of what’s new and what’s coming next. Lucas Hnath’s submersion into the murky depths of faith had an acclaimed run at Playwrights Horizons this fall after premiering at Humana last year, including feature articles in the New York Times, and it was given a perfect production here directed by Acacia Duncan. Underneath gorgeous semi-abstract projections standing in for the megachurch, The Christians featured heartbreaking performances from Matt Hermes as Pastor Paul and Jordan Fehr as Associate Pastor Joshua, at the heart of the schism of this church and with excellent supporting work from Ian Short, Michelle Schroeder, and especially Whitney Thomas Eads as the people caught in the middle, the real-world casualties of an idea being made real. Review at Columbus Underground.
  12. [title of show] by Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen (CATCO) – In a similar move to Short North Stage, CATCO experimented this year with the smaller Studio Three for cabaret style performances that, to my mind, were largely successful. My favorite was the Bell/Bowen meta-theatrical [title of show] about why we make art and the roadblocks we run afoul of as we go on. Joe Bishara’s direction used the smaller space beautifully well and the combination of the four actors – Elisabeth Zimmerman, Bradley Johnson, Annie Huckaba and Jonathan Collura (who also dazzled in Peter and the Starcatcher) – meshed perfectly. Even with a too-long second act there was joy on that stage to spare that hung over me all day. Review at Columbus Underground.
  13. The Object Lesson by Geoff Sobelle (Wexner Center for the Arts) – Sobelle’s one-man show was a look at memory, the way we let objects stand in for feelings and the way they conjure those feelings, set in a a huge room bedecked with boxes and boxes he hilariously and conspicuously unpacked. Scenes loop around on one another in hilarious and moving ways with the best use of audience participation I saw all year. Review at Columbus Underground.
  14. In Old Age by Mfonsio Udofia (Page 73, NYC) – Page 73 is one of my favorite sources for brand new plays in NYC and I was lucky my November trip overlapped with a reading of my favorite new (to me) voice all year in a little rehearsal studio in Chelsea. In Old Age is about the purging of old demons and not letting them hang over us, as much as anyone ever can, brilliantly played out by one woman and one man. I’m sorry to say I misplaced the program sometime between then and now but this is a play and two actors you’ll be hearing about in the future.
  15. Clowntime is Over by Joseph E Green (MadLab) – A cracked-mirror Christ analogue in the persona of a sad, drunk clown Max (a fantastic Andy Batt), Clowntime follows his adventure with his two funny animal sidekicks, Susie the Bunny (Shana Kramer) and Tidy the Llama (Chad Hewitt) on the day when Max realizes the audience – God? – is no longer watching. Slapstick and one-liners and pathos on a twisted mobius strip of daily routine, this was my favorite piece MadLab staged all year and the “guest appearance” of Stephen Woosley’s Paco the Mouse might have been the hardest I laughed. Review at Columbus Underground.

I could have easily gone with a shorter epigram, Leonard Cohen’s “God bless the continuous stutter of the word being made into flesh,” and almost gotten what I wanted to say. But the Khoury-Ghata came way closer to what I felt and what I went looking for this year. Theatre has a different grip on me than other art forms and, in a dark year like I alluded to in the visual art best of, its command of the physical and its dominion over time was a balm.

This was my first year as a freelance contributor for Columbus Underground. I’m grateful for the opportunity and hope, in some small way, I added to the conversation in town. What I’d ask of you as readers: if you see blind spots, let me know. I’m not going to like everything and I can’t see everything – I saw over 60 shows across four cities this year – but I want to shine light on corners I, and maybe local media as a whole, haven’t done a good job with yet. If you have a show I should know about, please email me at the contact information above.

The theatre scene in town feels like it’s at an interesting juncture, one of stability and flux. The new breed companies evolved into something akin to the establishment. Available Light celebrated its 10th year by changing their structure, bringing in Eleni Papaleonardos as fellow Artistic Director alongside founder Matt Slaybaugh, a decision which is already bearing fruit and I’m very excited to see the results of across the season. At MadLab, once the city’s enfant terrible, celebrating their 20th anniversary, longtime artistic director Andy Batt (whose podcast is already shaping up as essential listening for anyone taking the temperature of Columbus theatre) handed the reins to writer/director/actor Jim Azelvandre at a time they’re making some of riskiest, most exciting work I can remember. Shadowbox took some big risks this year with their massive Japanese collaboration The Tenshu (adapted from Kyoka Izumi) and while the play wasn’t a home-run it’s the kind of experiment I hope we see more of, along with their conceptual Pink Floyd history, Which One’s Pink? which I didn’t see but heard raves about. Warehouse Theatre made their return with a mix of edgy classics (including a great take on Lonergan’s This is Our Youth) and more contemporary work like Rajiv Joseph. Imagine had to relocate mid-season to the Northland Performing Arts Center and, while the Wall Street situation is depressing for several reasons, I’m excited to see what they do there and very excited to not sit on a barstool for a two-plus hour show.

In the recognized establishment there’s also some tectonic shifting. CATCO has a season loaded with new, interesting work, recently off the New York stage – accusations about playing it safe might still be apt but their higher production values are staging terrific plays no one else is doing and they look a lot more like the CATCO I knew and loved when I got introduced to theatre by old friend Doug Smith. Actors Theatre lost their Artistic Director and guiding light John Kuhn and found their season beseiged by some of the worst summer weather in a while but they came back swinging and made us all proud (and put on a great Richard III in the middle of a strong season).

I’ve had a few conversations lately about the lack of young, exciting companies making the last generation irrelevant – or at least making them work harder. I see a lot of promise in the college work in this town; Otterbein always stuns me and OSU (with their main stage productions and their fascinating Lab Series) is the strongest I ever remember it being, if a few of those folks stuck around town and made work it’d be a huge boon to this town. There are a few glimmers in that direction, most promising so far is Hollie Klem’s Haberdasher Theatre whose first production didn’t wow me but was one of the freshest voices I’ve seen in town in a while. To mangle Morton Feldman, show me that blank book, youngsters – astonish us and force us to astonish you.

I’m choosing excitement over worry, though don’t be surprised if the latter still creeps in. And I’m putting my money where my mouth is with tickets I’ve already purchased to Under the Radar and Prototype in NYC. I hope you do the same.

Best of 2015: Visual Art

“God, limit these punishments, there’s still Judgment Day –
I’m a mere sinner, I’m no infidel tonight.

Executioners near the woman at the window.
Damn you, Elijah, I’ll bless Jezebel tonight.

The hunt is over, and I hear the Call to Prayer
fade into that of the wounded gazelle tonight.

And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee.
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.”
-Agha Shahid Ali, “Tonight”

This year was so soaked enough in death you almost had to wring it out. There was a lot to be sick over. Personally: the other Grandfather, a dear friend Valerie, friends’ parents and lovers and best friends. And that’s all before the camera pulls back to look at the larger world – the larger world where terror hit closer to home than usual, people gunned down going to a show or the recent vandalism and suicide at the Wexner Center causing the After Picasso show to close early. That, of course, speaks to privilege because for much of the world death is never as far away as it, luckily, is for me, and my grey year doesn’t even move the needle on a larger scale.

For me, visual art has always been linked with the act of memory and the act of bearing witness. Its permanence (and in some cases, its deliberate eschewing of that permanence) gives it some of its meditative quality. My heart breaks for anyone there when the event happened in December and anyone who might have been there and, of course, the person who chose that place to end it. Even before the most recent event, the art that drew me to it, that made me want to tell somebody, that made me want to argue with it and wrestle with it, played right into the preoccupation with death I didn’t consciously realize I had this year. But more than that, it was a balm. It was fuck it, this matters. It was this is still standing. It was fight to rememberIt’s a reminder to keep trying.

As with all of my Year End summations, everything is in Columbus unless stated otherwise.

  1. Doris Salcedo, s/t (Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago) – On a grey, unseasonably cold day in Chicago in the middle of a great trip, this Colombian artist made me feel like someone was standing on my chest in a room full of knives. From the opening piece, Plegaria Muda, with its wooden tables the audience has to squeeze between and growths of vegetation coming out of the tables like a field of gravestones but still shot through with fragile life, on, this took my breath away. Sculptures using silk and human hair, abandoned doors concrete. It was a death mask for the world and a shrine, apocalyptic and very, very beautiful.
  2. Alberto Burri, The Trauma of Painting (Guggenheim, NYC) – This was the kind of show that left me kicking myself I didn’t know Burri’s artwork better beforehand. It gave me the same feeling as Giuseppe Ungaretti’s poetry, though his poet countryman is an earlier war, with its use of the surreal to crack open your chest and its fantasies about shipwrecks instead of the way you see you friends die. Molten plastic, welded metal leaving the seams obvious enough they look like blisters, burlap sacks as an indictment of capitalism. Everywhere I turned my mouth got dry and tears came to my eyes.
  3. Jack Whitten, Five Decades of Painting (Wexner Center for the Arts) – There’s been a lot of talk about the Wexner not having a permanent curator in a while (they still have curator-at-large Bill Horrigan) but I have to say they’ve done a great job working around those limitations this year. This Jack Whitten retrospective showed a singular voice working through, challenging, and recombining every interesting art trend of the 20th century and stripping away what didn’t apply to what he wanted to say. My favorite pieces were the portraits/tributes that combined painting and mosaic and found objects in a way that made blood hot in my veins, especially the tribute to Amiri Baraka (a flawed, complicated guiding light for me, always). Memory writ appropriately large.
  4. Elaine de Kooning, Portraits (National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC) – Knowing Elaine de Kooning’s work more by reputation (and a couple examples at MoMA), this series of portraits was revelatory. Obviously, especially for being at the National Portrait Gallery, this retrospective moved in tighter and tighter circles toward the famous JFK portrait but that gleams with sunlight and the way a beautiful sunny day throws the greens and yellows of the garden you’re in all around, fracturing what you see and what you can’t quite make out. These, all of them, are full of mystery and secrets and magic that gets closer, you think, to who the people being depicted were than maybe they’d ever shown.
  5. Shirin Neshat, Facing History (Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC) – I’ve been a fan of Neshat’s work for a long time so this retrospective was like gorging myself on something almost too rich to consume. The way she grasps the macro elements of history, history’s pain and the way it disfigures people with the twinned fires of love and hate but also it’s beauty, and the way she understands people is a marvel. Gorgeous works you can get lost in, a lot to say about the way the world gets created with our creation of language (this theme also resonated with me in several things on my theatre list coming soon). This was a series of varying punches that left me staggered.
  6. Walid Raad, s/t (Museum of Modern Art, NYC) – Walid Raad’s collections of photographs, videos, sculpture and fictional histories, gobsmacked me and left me babbling. It made me think a lot about the horrific situations in Lebanon over the years and how someone around my age would have processed that, and, weirdly, it made me think of the recent controversy in science fiction. This is a brilliant example of how fictionalizing and fabulism (for the latter, Raad’s “merged” sculptures from the middle east transported to the Louvre) can been tools (scalpels or daggers or stilettos or garrotes) to slice into your heart. And an example of how many stories those tools can be good for telling with emotional maturity and an eye to how big and fantastic (and sometimes fantastically horrible) the world really is.
  7. Various Artists, Sitter: Portraiture in Contemporary Photography (CCAD Contemporary Arts Space) – The CCAD space has been killing it the last few years and this year, with this (before the renovation) and the work after the renovation to create a better flow for the galleries has made it a force to be reckoned with for modern art in Columbus. This group show of 27 photographers really dug deep into what portraiture means now and was full of alive, striking, political, rich, sexy, intense work.
  8. Pablo Picasso, Picasso Sculpture (Museum of Modern Art, NYC) – I’m on the record as not being the biggest Picasso fan. All credit to his craft and his influence but most of his work I just don’t love. This was an exception. Seeing this many of his sculptures together had a delirious, vertiginous effect that actually made me want to go deeper and stay longer and talk about it more. This was also, by far, the best arranged and curated exhibit I saw, Ann Temkin and Anne Umland made this arrangement of sculpture both feel excavated and timeless and flow in a way that felt intensely personal and real.
  9. Catherine Opie, Portraits and Landscapes (Wexner Center for the Arts) – Opie, long a favorite of mine (who also had work in Sitter), took a step into something almost resembling Renaissance painting with her photographs here. These rich, dark portraits of her social circle, often naked or half naked but with expressions and clean lines that summoned a deep distance encouraged me to look again and again. Just as intriguing are the blurred-almost-to-abstraction landscapes that break up the intensity of the gazes like a note of sensual dissonance. She’s not here to comment on the souls of these people and she’s not here to pass any judgment. There are no easy answers, no pat summations, in this body of her work and we’re richer having it.
  10. Charles Atlas, The Waning of Justice (CCAD Contemporary Arts Space) – Atlas is another perennial for me but this doomsday clock over gorgeous landscapes and abstract concepts leading into a room where the larger-than-life figure of Lady Bunny gave a moving, hilarious monologue across a whole wall that periodically dropped out to silence was astonishing. Concern with a disappearing world turned into an aching dance.
  11. Various, Open This End: Contemporary Art from the Collection of Brian Byrne (OSU Urban Arts Space) – In general I agree with the concerns about single-collector exhibitions. That said, my understanding was this was already donated to its final destination and I was blown away by this collection of art that wasn’t just blue-chip but was also violent, intense, irreverent and wise. The curation was really stunning with pictures about race facing off against each other, corners about death. This wasn’t easily digestible and with all the big names it didn’t make concessions to being palatable and we were all the better for it.
  12. Archibald Motley, Jazz-Age Modernist (Whitney Museum, NYC) – Motley’s fascinating mix seems to obviously point toward Thomas Hart Benton, Hopper, and Toulouse-Lautrec. What I saw most was Chagall, with an assured willingness to discard any piece of a tradition he didn’t need and use exactly what of it he wanted. But his work’s in no way derivative, it shimmers and vibrates with an electricity that’s all his own and these portraits and large scenes got better and better seeing in a large group. Any fine artist working with the black experience, especially in those days, is to be considered seriously but beyond those serious concerns this was sensual, intense work, looking at an era as it started to tip over.
  13. Anonymous, Mingering Mike’s Supersonic Greatest Hits (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC) – As with most good things I see, this was a suggestion of A., and it was astonishing. If you grew up a record nerd and a comic book nerd like me, this was an extra delight. Using the medium of painted record covers and show fliers, this fictional universe the artist known only as Mingering Mike created where the same songwriting credits popped up again and again and various musicians played with other groups fit together and was just off enough to have an interesting tension. Similarly to the Walid Raad, this secret history pointed toward an unknown pain with notes vaguely intimating draft dodging and the work drying up after the pardon when the artist could find a job, the characters going away when they aren’t needed anymore.
  14. Louise Fishman, s/t (Cheim and Read Gallery, NYC) – This selection of paintings was the best thing I saw in a long day wandering around Chelsea. Vibrant and full of sensuous dissonance, like a landscape run through a distortion pedal on these big canvases.
  15. Various, Fiber: Sculpture 1960-Present (Wexner Center for the Arts) – This exhibit that came to the Wex after a run at Boston’s ICA opened my eyes to a whole new medium in a way that doesn’t happen much anymore. I marveled at seeing the way textile work embraces and pulls against easy connotations of domesticity and explodes into something political and angry, totemic and erotic; seeing the way it enfolds history and points toward the future. I visited this maybe a dozen times and I could have done a dozen more.

“Hey, Fred!” 09/21/15-09/27/15 A biased and idiosyncratic Top Five


September 21: Russian Tsarlag and Secret Boyfriend. Skylab Gallery, 57 E Gay St. 

Carlos Gonzalez, who records under the name Russian Tsarlag, makes a kind of narcotized, melted bedroom pop. Tsarlag rises above the vast morass of that genre with a keen ear for detail, a respect for the sensuality of noise, and a commitment to an emotional reality. His work reminds of me of looking at a Lucio Fontana canvas, peering through rough slash marks into a barely glimpsed world you need to fill in the details of yourself. Gonzalez has also been gaining more and more notice for his comic book work, there’s a terrific interview about that with him here: http://www.tcj.com/let-your-dreams-touch-air-an-interview-with-carlos-gonzalez/

His tour partner here is Ryan Martin, Carrboro-based singer-songwriter who makes beguiling work under the name Secret Boyfriend. Local openers include Mark Van Fleet, whose now-infrequent shows are always a treat and worth investigating, and Swen.

Doors at 8:00pm. $5 cover.

September 23: Rafael Toral and Ryan Jewell. MINT, 42 W Jenkins St. 

I wrote this up for JazzColumbus. Please see preview there including video, highly recommended.

Show starts at 9:00pm. $8 cover.

September 24: Sheer Mag. Ace of Cups, 2619 N High St.

Philadelphia’s Sheer Mag are at the forefront of the new riff-rock revival. Merging singer Christine Halliday’s punky howl with overlapping guitar riffs reminiscent of Thin Lizzy and Cheap Trick and a throbbing rhythm section, they make everything you grew up loving sound brand new again without ever getting too shiny.

Locals Worries and Cochina open.

Doors at 8:00pm. $7 cover.

September 25: EZTV and Shilpa Ray. Rumba Cafe, 2507 Summit St.

I’ve been a big fan of Shilpa Ray since her band Beat the Devil came through town regularly 10ish years ago. She’s never made a bad record but her new album, Last Year’s Savage, is one of my records of the year so far and might be the best thing she’s made. A melange of raw rock and roll, grim Patsy Cline-style torch balladry and even flecks of mutant disco, it’s the best series of musical settings for her torrent-of-lava voice. Never miss an opportunity to see her come through live.

In an interesting paring, she arrives opening for Captured Tracks’ EZTV whose clipped, soaring, hooky pop will be great in its own right and should be a terrific palate cleanser after Ray. Columbus’ finest raw pop proponents, Connections, open.

September 26: Obody. The Summit, 2210 Summit St.

Obody, percussionist Sarah Hennies’ new chamber-derived project, works with sensuous distortion and disjunction in as beautiful a way as I’ve ever heard it done. Rich tempos you can get lost in and tones that won’t let you be.

The local support is also a who’s who of people who can plumb the fissures in what we know and what we think and come up with gold like you’ve never seen. Faster Island who I haven’t seen yet but have been on my list and I’ve heard nothing but raves. Mike Shiflet whose records like Sufferers and Llanos come closest to a fusion of noise and classical as anything I can think of and he’s collaborated and toured with Hennies many times. Envenomist, the beautiful, brooding electronics project of David Reed (who also records as Luasa Raelon and collaborates with people like Larry Marotta and Rocco DiPetro) doing a rare live set. If you have adventurous tastes, this might be the sleeper best show of this great, great week.

Doors at 9:00pm. $5 cover.

“Hey, Fred!” 09/14/15-09/20/15 A biased and idiosyncratic Top Fiveart

As I settle back in to my hometown and the routines of work and life, there is no rest for the wicked this week. I could have easily filled a Top Ten and still had to leave interesting, valuable stuff off – all this recommended in addition to three plays I’m reviewing and probably a record or two.

Visual Art

After Picasso: 80 Contemporary Artists. Wexner Center for the Arts, 1847 N High St.  

This has been one of the strongest years for the Wexner Center’s visual arts exhibitions in recent memory. The group show Fiber, the new Catherine Opie work, and the Jack Whitten retrospective all astonished me. From all accounts, they’re ending on another high note.

It’s almost impossible to imagine a 20th century without the hand of Pablo Picasso – through his long career, his wide-ranging stylistic experiments, and his constant devotion to the truth, Picasso created the template almost all artists have to deal with either for or against to this day. After Picasso, organized by Dirk Lucknow, general director of the Diechtorhallen in Hamburg, attempts to show the breadth and depth of responses to Picasso’s work. It includes 80 artists as diverse as Cindy Sherman, Maria Lassnig, Khaled Hourani, Robert Longo, and Wolfe von Lenkiewicz.

Opening Reception Friday September 18 kicks off with a curator’s talk by Dirk Lucknow at 5:00pm and goes until 9:00pm. Free to the public. The exhibit runs through December 27.

Us Is Them
. Pizzuti Collection, 632 N Park St. 

One of the most important things an artist can be is an articulate canary in the coal mine. If an artist has their receptors tuned and ready to receive, they know when the air’s rotten and they know when there’s not enough oxygen to breathe. Even better than that canary in a mineshaft, they have the tools and the empathy to explain on an emotional level why things are fucked and do it in a way that continues to resonate into other times.

The new exhibition at the Pizzuti is the kind of who’s who of the artists making the biggest splash on the global scale we expect but with an eye toward how their work intersects with and delineates the million spiderweb-crack crises threatening to blow our world apart. Names like El Anatsui, Nick Cave, Mickalene Thomas, Aminah Robinson, Kehinde Wiley, and Carrie Mae Weems have given me some of my most moving experiences with visual arts and there are at least 10 artists I haven’t investigated yet at all. One of the things I most look forward to this fall.

Opens to the public Saturday September 19 and runs through April 2, 2016.

Conception and Reduction: Recent Landscapes by Eric Barth / Line and the Landscape: Recent Drawings by Marc Lincewicz. Keny Galleries, 300 E Beck St.

Keny Galleries is one of our steadiest, most consistent commercial galleries with terrific retrospective shows and classic artists represented but also with an eye toward people making timeless work now. Their September-October show reunites Eric Barth and Marc Lincewicz who have an interest looking back but doing it with sharp, clear eyes.

Lincewicz’s recent work has seen himself delving deeper and deeper into a deliberately raw line that makes his new landscape investigations incredibly moving. I have a hard time looking away from his work, it’s always something I can get lost in. Barth’s work I don’t quite as well, this will be probably the third exhibition of his I’ve seen, but it feels like color is more important in his newer pieces and with his jaw-dropping compositions I truly look forward to seeing these in person.

Opening reception 5:30pm Friday September 18. Exhibition runs through October 30.


September 17: Chuck Prophet. Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza, 5601 N High St.

Chuck Prophet, since leaving Green on Red at the vanguard of the paisley underground wave of cowpunk, has quietly built up one of the most impressive catalogs of songs of anyone working today. He’s made a bigger splash on the mainstream with his collaborations with longtime friend Alejandro Escovedo on Escovedo’s Real Animal and Street Songs of Love records, but under his own name he makes smart, literate, soulful rock and roll with deep grooves and huge hooks.

His new record, Night Surfer, is a complicated, thorny rock rock record with the same care for arrangements and thick, twangy guitar he always brings to the table. Expect that to be hit heavily but in this rare solo acoustic show (leaving his crack band The Mission Express at home) look for a diverse set list that hits all periods of his career including favorites of mine Age of Miracles and his big-hearted paean to San Francisco, Temple Beautiful.

September 20: OBN IIIs. Cafe Bourbon Street, 2216 Summit St. 

For meat and potatoes rock lined with all the best parts of punk, there isn’t a better band working today than OBN IIIs. I first saw Orville B. Neeley’s eponymous group at Gonerfest 8 when they stole the whole damn festival – saying something since I also got my lid flipped by Royal Headache, Straight Arrows, Deaf Wish, Shannon and the Clams, Reverend John Wilkins, and early sets by Ex-Cult and The Fuzz (still called Sex Cult and Aquafuzz, respectively) that same weekend.

Back then they struck me as a young Eric Davidson fronting the Dictators – controlled rawness and intersecting edges and exploding, angry pop hooks. They’ve subtly evolved to incorporate Neeley’s terrific guitar playing and to cast a wider net over rock and roll history, making muscular record and a coiled, ferocious show that incorporates elements of The Stooges, The Saints, Thin Lizzy, and even in the one song on WFMU I’ve heard so far from the new record Worth a Lot of Money, Cheap Trick circa In Color. Not to be missed if you want to remember how fresh and exciting rock and roll can still sound.

I have not found anything out about start time or who’s opening or how much cover is about this show – if I find that information before I’m traveling, I’ll try to update this.

“Hey, Fred!” 09/07/15-09/13/15 A biased and idiosyncratic Top Five

Back on the horse, my friends and (like we talked about last week, emotionally if not by the hands of the clock or the pages of the calendar) my favorite season, Fall, is upon us. Going to Raleigh the week of this entry for the Hopscotch Music Festival and to see one of my oldest and dearest friends who had a profound influence on me over the years, both of which I’m incredibly excited about, but there’s lots I’m gutted to miss – get out and see some shit, mes amies.


September 8: New Works Lab: Cold Read – Baltimore by Kirsten Greenidge. 

Since I do so much writing about theatre in other, more widely-distributed venues I’m going to cover less of it in “Hey Fred” and what I do write about here will be things that wouldn’t fit the manifest of other places. Mainly, one-offs or things I couldn’t see until the last shows. While OSU’s always had a strong theatre school, it’s really come into its own the last few years and one of my favorite parts is their New Works Lab. The Lab series is a combination of student work given a shot in front of an audience for the first time and a chance to delve into professionally produced plays from elsewhere that might never have a full production in Columbus. As a friend said, “It’s surprising how much value you can get just reading a great play out loud in front of people. If you strip away sets, lights, etc, you can get 85% of the charge with 20% of the cost.”

Kirsten Greenidge, based in Boston, is one of the brightest lights in the US right now with an incisive, distinctive voice. Baltimore, the work being read here, was developed with assistance by Michigan State University in the Big Ten New Plays Initiative and looks at loss of innocence and the still-fractious subject of race viewed through the prism of an incident on a college campus.

Starts at 7:00pm. Free.


September 9-13: Kate Schulte Tribute featuring Hamiet Bluiett and Kidd Jordan with the Jazz Poetry Ensemble. Various locations.

Michael Vander Does has long been one of Columbus’s shining lights as a booker, a writer, and a musician (leading his Jazz Poetry Ensemble). Since his wife – known civil rights attorney and advocate for good in the world, Kate Schulte – passed away in 2011, through a fund in her memory, he’s been bringing the great Kidd Jordan (as artist-in-residence) and usually at least one other legendary jazz musician into town for a concert at Hot Times Festival and satellite shows. These are always fantastic but this year looks extra special because the additional act is the great Hamiet Bluiett.

The baritone sax – Bluiett’s principal axe – is the lifeblood of rock and roll and R&B. From Heywood Henry and Paul Williams through Floyd Newman and Red Tyler and Mike Terry all the way up to Dana Colley from Morphine and Steve Berlin from The Blasters and Los Lobos, the sweet growl of a bari adds a depth of field and a propulsion to anything blessed by it. In jazz, Harry Carney’s bari defined the sound of those classic early Duke Ellington records and Gerry Mulligan helped shape the West Coast “cool” sound in the ’60s. But, and with all due respect to the great Peter Brotzmann and Ken Vandermark, no one’s done a better job of fusing the different strains of the bari – the snarl, the sadness, and the sweetness – and putting it into an avant-garde context than Hamiet Bluiett.

Coming out of St. Louis’ still-under-recognized Black Artists’ Group, along with Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, Bobo Shaw, and Joseph Bowie, Bluiett’s unmistakable tone can crack your chest open from a hundred yards away. Arguably, his run in the ’70s was better than any other reed player working, From his work with Mingus at the beginning of the decade, through the phenomenal World Saxophone Quartet records on Black Saint, and his solo albums (I’m particularly fond of Resolution, maybe the best free jazz record of all time) you can’t find a bum note or an ill-conceived move. As a sideman he held down Julius Hemphill’s two best records – Dogon AD and Coon Bid’ness – and lent key color to classics by Abdullah Ibrahim, Don Cherry, and Anthony Braxton. I think Bluiett’s last appearance in Columbus was with the World Saxophone Quartet backed by the Promusica Orchestra, and before that was with David Murray I think when I was still in college.

Kidd Jordan’s no slouch either – massive understatement alert. A eminence grise of American music, one of the few people who can say they played with Big Joe Turner, Larry Williams, Clifton Chenier, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, and REM (on Out of Time). I still remember the first time I heard his collaborative record with Fred Anderson, Two Days in April, and the way it cracked my mind open. Jordan’s still playing at the top of his game by accounts and video from his 80th birthday celebration at this year’s New Orleans Jazzfest this spring. There aren’t many chances to see two people who shaped the vocabulary of American music, especially in intimate venues with a crack rhythm section (Vander Does, Brett Burleson, Roger Myers, and Roger Hines). This is the thing I’m sorriest to miss this week.

For a better writeup and details on the three shows happening this week, see Andrew Patton’s article in JazzColumbus.

September 9: Tigue. Garden Theater, 1187 N High St.

New Amsterdam is one of my favorite record labels right now – documenting and influencing the new breed of chamber music composers and their give and take with interesting rock and roll. They’re one of a handful of labels right now I’m checking for anything they put out and I’ve never been disappointed.

NYC’s Tigue is a percussion trio comprised of OSU alums Matt Evans, Amy Garapic, and Carson Moody. They work in long forms with looping, overlapping cells, that don’t neglect that frisson that’s supposed to shoot up your spine. It’s a physical, body music, with lots of thematic complexity and intellectual weight. There’s plenty to chew on – I’d recommend this to fans of Steve Reich, Man Forever, So Percussion, and even the Boredoms’ multi-drum days. This show, in advance of their first record on New Amsterdam, is highly, highly recommended.

Starts at 7:00pm. Free.

September 10: Tyondai Braxton with Clark. Wexner Center for the Arts, 1871 N High St.

There are very few composers working today more exciting and surprising than Tyondai Braxton. First coming to my attention with his solo cut-up and processed guitar work and exploding onto the national scene in the first iteration of math-rock groove specialsts Battles, his frenzied post-Battles creativity has consistently sated me and left me hungry for more. His first solo record for Warp, Central Market (2009), is my favorite chamber music record of the last 10 years and getting to see him play that live with Wordless Music Orchestra in 2011 at Lincoln Center poured me out onto Broadway floating but unable to speak. And I wasn’t alone there, looking down from the balcony I saw no less than David Byrne lead a standing ovation.

Braxton said, in a terrific interview with Ben Vida for BOMB Magazine, that “The artist’s role is to be in dialogue with their times, whatever that means, and to translate complicated ideas simply.” He achieves that in spades – he’s writing music that makes me look at the world differently. I was blessed to see his new piece, HIVE, at Big Ears Festival in March (so taking the sting out of missing this a little) – on a handmade installation of pods and colored lights Braxton and four classical percussionists wove exploding webs of sticky synthesizer through shifting tectonic plates of rhythm. It was the first thing I saw that last day and I had that same just-stuck-my-finger-in-a-light-socket feeling. The record based on that piece – originally commissioned for the Guggenheim – HIVE1 came out this year on Nonesuch and I’m still finding my way into and learning more about the stuttering, cracked, wrigglingly alive forms. But this rare – these days and not in NYC or London – solo show should not be missed by anyone who misses the days the Wexner’s music booking was as adventurous as their film and visual art.

Clark (full name Chris Clark), Braxton’s Warp labelmate, also played Big Ears but I couldn’t make that set – hoping to catch him at Hopscotch. His electronic dance work is informed by a sensuality of stopping – the way sounds degrade and beats that don’t continue to their logical point – and his new EP Flame Rave is an intoxicating listen. These two on the best soundsystem in town will be a massive treat.

Starts at 8:00pm. For more info and $18 tickets, visit http://wexarts.org/performing-arts/tyondai-braxton-clark

September 12-13: Aaron Diehl and Cecile McLorin Salvant. King Arts Complex, 867 Mt Vernon Avenue.

At all of 29, Aaron Diehl is one of Columbus’ proudest exports to the jazz world. Since going to Julliard he’s played with Wynton Marsalis, music directed series at Jazz at Lincoln Center, premiered Philip Glass etudes, and has made two fantastic studio albums as a leader – Bespoke Man’s Narrative, a polished tribute to the Modern Jazz Quartet, and this year’s Space, Time, Continuum, which features legendary tenor player Benny Golson.

Any time Diehl has a homecoming show, it’s an event and this two-night stand at the King Arts Complex is doubly special because it’s a duo performance with vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant one of the rising stars in jazz singing. Salvant also has a new record out which includes fresh takes on standards like “The Trolley Song” and the West Side Story classic “Something’s Coming,” and co-wrote a song on the Diehl record.

Saturday at 7:00pm and Sunday at 4:00pm. $25 tickets available at https://aarondiehl-cecilemclorinsalvant-912.eventbrite.com/