Friday, December 15, 2017

Review: Marvin Pontiac's "The Asylum Tapes"

Posted By on Fri, Dec 15, 2017 at 5:50 PM

John Lurie's cover art for the new Marvin Pontiac album, "The Asylum Years." As the website reads, Pontiac was anonymously sent a 4-track tape recorder during the years he was held at Esmerelda State Mental Institution.
  • John Lurie's cover art for the new Marvin Pontiac album, "The Asylum Years." As the website reads, Pontiac was anonymously sent a 4-track tape recorder during the years he was held at Esmerelda State Mental Institution.

“Marvin Pontiac – The Asylum Tapes” closes out 2017 on a bluesy, surreal, darkly humorous and nakedly personal note -- or at least as personal as a fictitious character can be.

Pontiac’s 2000 debut, “The Legendary Marvin Pontiac,” introduced him as an half-Jewish/half-Malian musician, whose brilliant voice was stifled by institutionalization for insanity, and silenced in a 1977 bus accident. His work was unknown, except to a swarm of A-list musicians including David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and Beck, whose straight-faced, lavish praise accompanied blurry photos of the artist in attractive but mysterious packaging.

Behind it all was John Lurie, saxophonist founder of the Lounge Lizards, a “punk-jazz” band with stellar players and a strong compositional voice. Lurie went on to star in independent films (“Down by Law,” “The Last Temptation of Christ”) and create and host of what is easily the best show about fishing for people who don’t fish. (“Fishing with John.”) Despite an established following, Lurie’s name was nowhere on the packaging of the first “Marvin Pontiac,” although his utterly distinctive vocals gave the game away with the first song.

Then came 17 years of silence. Lurie came down with neurological Lyme disease, making playing saxophone impossible. With his musical expression cut off, Lurie started yet another career as a painter of idiosyncratic works of startling beauty with perfect titles: “The Invention of Animals,” “The Spirits Are Trying to Tell Me Something but It’s Really [Expletive] Vague.” The success of the paintings, including “Bear Surprise” which became a huge, unlikely meme in Russia, were the vehicle for Lurie’s gradual reemergence. He started doing rare Q&A appearances for theater showings of “Fishing with John.” His friends and former sidemen staged a series of tribute concerts in 2014.

But nothing musical from the man himself until the recent release of “The Asylum Tapes.” Again, it is a model of faux authenticity, billed as recorded at the “Esmerelda State Mental Institution” on an anonymously-donated 4-track tape deck. On the surface, it is a seamless continuation of the serious/not-serious 2000 project. But, informed by two challenging decades, this edition is darker, funnier, and even more true to the lone outsider concept than the first album.

The songs are mostly miniatures, often clocking in under two minutes, with stripped-down, often multi-tracked voice, harmonica, and banjo. The lyrics have the roots integrity of Delta Blues, often rustic, sometimes profound, illuminated with lightning flashes of unexpected humor.

Like Captain Beefheart’s legendary “Trout Mask Replica,” the “Asylum Years” is at once innocent and smart, primitive, and canny, the musical analog of Lurie’s strange and beautiful paintings.

You can find links to purchase the album here.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Video: Watch the First Trailer for Showtime's "Homeland" Season 7

Political drama has been filming in Richmond.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 12, 2017 at 2:20 PM

A view from behind the cameras in the parking garage of the James Center, on the first day of shooting for Showtime's "Homeland" back in early September.
  • A view from behind the cameras in the parking garage of the James Center, on the first day of shooting for Showtime's "Homeland" back in early September.

Looks like we already have a first trailer for Showtime's "Homeland" season seven, which has been filming in Richmond the last few months.

As Entertainment Weekly notes, the trailer seems to "depict the show’s heroes and villains alike struggling against an overreaching and civil rights-abusing president." Hmmm, you don't say?

You'll notice shots inside Jefferson Hotel, outside the Virginia State Capitol, in the basement parking garage of the James Center -- plus many others maybe less recognizable in a split second.

"Homeland" season seven will debut on Showtime on Sunday, Feb. 11 at 9 p.m. EST.

Round-up: Science Museum Names New Deputy Director

Plus, local musician Lucy Dacus debuts new song on NPR.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 12, 2017 at 1:30 PM


From the press release desk today: Elizabeth Voelkel has been named the deputy director of the Science Museum of Virginia. This is the second most senior position in the leadership structure, according to the release, and she will be responsible for the efficient operations of the 40-year-old Museum.

"In this role, Voelkel will oversee the teams that handle facilities management, marketing, program development, technology, financial services and education for the organization," reads the release.

Voelkel has worked at the museum for more than 22 yeras, holding many positions including human resources director. Since 2008 she has worked as director of operations and inspiration, according to the release.

“The Museum has been on an impressive trajectory of growth the last five years,” Voelkel says in the release. “I’m excited to help the Museum continue to excel and grow to become an even bigger community resource.”

In local music news, Lucy Dacus unveiled the first single, "Night Shift," from her highly anticipated second album, "Historian," on Matador Records. It's already got one vocal proponent in NPR critic Bob Boilen, who says "honestly this song is going to be the high bar to hit for guitar-driven, brokenhearted love songs in the coming year." You can read the rest of the NPR piece here.

Dacus will perform at Charlottesville's The Southern Cafe and Music Hall on Wednesday, March 7. Her new album will be available on March and you can order it from her website linked above.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Shaka Brings Sizzle to Siegel Center

Posted By on Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 3:00 PM

Former President of VCU, Eugene Trani and his wife, Lois, pose with former basketball coach Shaka Smart after Tuesday's highly touted game. - F.T. REA
  • F.T. Rea
  • Former President of VCU, Eugene Trani and his wife, Lois, pose with former basketball coach Shaka Smart after Tuesday's highly touted game.

On Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in the prime-time bright lights, Virginia Commonwealth University's Siegel Center put its best foot forward with a big-game atmosphere.

The back story on the Texas at VCU tilt's two head basketball coaches added an irresistible angle to the matchup. To some observers it was a Shaka Smart vs. Mike Rhoades affair. The history connecting them supports that view.

It was the 105th consecutive capacity crowd for the home-standing Rams. Scalpers were said to have been getting $75 and more for tickets. As ESPN2 was in the house, a national television audience also watched the visiting Texas Longhorns build a 19-point lead with 11:59 left in the contest.

Then, like magic, the Rams defense became crushing and their shots started falling. For the next few minutes it got as loud as I've ever heard it at the Siegel Center. At the 3:52 mark, VCU seized what would prove to be its only lead in the game: VCU 63, Texas 62.

For the next few furious minutes neither team scored. When the burnt orange-clad visitors pulled ahead, again, the home team's goose was cooked. The Longhorns went on to win what was truly a first class college basketball game. Both teams gave it all they had. Final score: Texas 71, VCU 67.

After the game, the Terry Sisisky Media Room was jam-packed with sportswriters, broadcasters and certain others who are granted access. Those assembled had to expect this part of the night would be special, too. They weren't wrong.

VCU hoops fan Stuart Siegel was there; he frequently is and why not? So were VCU President Emeritus Eugene Trani and his wife, Lois. While the losing coach, Mike Rhoades, answered questions, his former boss, Shaka Smart was still on the gym floor, posing for keepsake pictures with old friends and several former VCU players. As usual, Rhoades did a fine job of handling the postgame ordeal.

A few minutes later Smart sat in the hot seat. After praising his friend Rhoades and the VCU team, the winning coach seemed eager to say, "This is a special place to play a basketball game." He also seemed tired.

Once Smart was done with answering questions, the reporters and cameramen started to pack up and leave. Trani approached Smart. The two of them had a warm but brief conversation. Rather than hurry out of the room, I snapped a quick shot of them with my cell phone. Trani then asked me to take a photo of the three of them.

Naturally, I was happy to document the moment. Looking through the lens at the smiling trio felt like living in a Frank Capra movie.

National notes: See Longhorns freshman phenom Mohamed Bamba's monster dunk here. The Washington Post also covered the unusual scene with a nice feature article by Dan Steinberg.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Review: Kamasi Washington at the National, Dec. 1

Posted By on Mon, Dec 4, 2017 at 10:30 AM

Kamasi Washington's melodic solos reminded our reviewer more of Sonny Rollins than the oft-mentioned comparison, John Coltrane. - PETER MCELHINNEY
  • Peter McElhinney
  • Kamasi Washington's melodic solos reminded our reviewer more of Sonny Rollins than the oft-mentioned comparison, John Coltrane.

Who says that jazz is dead?

Kamasi Washington may package his music with rock-and-roll elan, and ensure rhythmic connection with paired drummers, but the music he played at the National on Friday, Dec. 1 was rooted in the acoustic tradition. (The only electric instruments were keyboards and most of the bass.)

While Washington is often compared to a latter-day John Coltrane, his solos have more in common with Sonny Rollins, driven more by melodic flights than harmonic depths. Washington cut his teeth on the hip-hop circuit, as saxophone player for Snoop Dog and others, and he knows how to use minimal movement and monumental charisma to create a cinematic experience with appeal to a seemingly post-jazz audience.

The apparent average age of Washington’s crowd was easily two decades younger than that of the previous night’s Wynton Marsalis’s Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra holiday show at the Altria Theater. In an odd parallel, both shows had shout-outs to the 1960s cartoon “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

The music drew from the 2011 recording sessions that produced Washington’s breakthrough, “The Epic”, to his most recent release, a series of short pieces about the transcendent value of diversity. It was a big change from the more down-home version of the band that played the 2015 Richmond Jazz Festival. Everything was bigger, glossier, louder. But at the center of it all was the same, generous, hard-beating heart.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Richmond in the Running for "Olympics of the Violin" in 2020

Posted By on Fri, Dec 1, 2017 at 1:00 PM

A photo of the 2016 Competition Jr. Finals in London with first prize violinist, Yesong Sophie Lee. Lee performed with the Richmond Symphony and violinist Joshua Bell for its opening concert in September.
  • A photo of the 2016 Competition Jr. Finals in London with first prize violinist, Yesong Sophie Lee. Lee performed with the Richmond Symphony and violinist Joshua Bell for its opening concert in September.

The Richmond Symphony, University of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University and WCVE-FM have joined the city is placing a bid to host the International Menuhin Competition – or ‘Olympics of the Violin’ in 2020.

The world's leading competition for young violinists is named after famed violinist and conductor, the late Yehudi Menuhin, and takes the form of a large festival that attracts the best violinists in the world under the age of 22, according to a press release from the Richmond Symphony.

"Richmond is currently in the running against Melbourne and London," says Scott Dodson, director of advancement and patron communications for the Richmond Symphony via e-mail. "While we are confident that we put together a very strong bid, we will know for certain when they announce the 2020 location in April of 2018 during the Menuhin Competition Finals in Geneva. There is a lot of work that will happen in the meantime."

Dodson explains that the biding process began last April when members of the Menuhin Trust attended a Richmond Symphony performance.

"They invited us into the application process at that time. In September, the Chairman of the Trust’s Board, Duncan Greenland and Artistic Director Gordon Back spent a week in Richmond performing site visits and meeting with Mayor Stoney, as well as leaders from University of Richmond, VCU, Community Ideas Station and the Symphony in preparation to a formal application."

The only other North American host for the event in the past has been Austin, Texas in 2014.

Here's more from a press release:

Gala concerts are held to open and close the festival and the finalists compete by performing concertos with the Richmond Symphony. Competitors are judged by a jury of some of the world’s most celebrated musicians, who also perform their own recitals and chamber concerts throughout the host City during the event.

Past competition hosts have included: Oslo, Norway (2010); Beijing, China (2012); Austin, Texas (the only other North American host, in 2014); London, England (2016); and Geneva, Switzerland (upcoming: April, 2018). During the 2016 Competition in London, over 300 young violinists from over 40 countries applied to participate, leading to the 44 best competitors being accepted from 17 countries.

Richmond, Virginia is understood to be the only North American venue still being considered by the Menuhin Competition as host city for 2020: Melbourne, Australia, and London, England are known to be under consideration by the Competition as potential alternatives.

The winning bid for host city will be announced from the stage during the upcoming competition’s finals in April 2018 in Geneva, Switzerland. If awarded, the competition will be broadcast world-wide through international streaming, with components recorded for broadcast by the Community Idea Stations potentially for regional, national and international audiences. Leading up to the 2020 Competition, partners will work with local companies, individuals and foundations to secure the significant resources needed to host the Competition.

Richmond audiences already received a taste of the event when London’s 2016 Junior Competition 1st Prize Winner, Yesong Sophie Lee, performed with Joshua Bell as part of the opening of the Richmond Symphony’s 2017-18 season.

“As Governor and First Lady of the Commonwealth of Virginia, it is our pleasure to offer Virginia’s support of the partnership bid by the University of Richmond, Richmond Symphony and Virginia Commonwealth University to host the 2020 Menuhin Competition in Richmond, our capital city,” say Governor Terence R. McAuliffe and First Lady Dorothy S. McAuliffe in a joint message. “The Menuhin Competition is an incredible opportunity for Virginia’s musical community to grow and connect with the best of the world’s musical talent. Competitors and visitors will experience nothing but the very best of what our capital city has to offer.”

“On behalf of the City of Richmond, I want to express our enthusiasm in supporting the University of Richmond, Richmond Symphony and Virginia Commonwealth University’s bid to host the 2020 Menuhin Competition in Richmond. Our city would be honored to offer its hospitality to you,” says Mayor Levar M. Stoney, in the letter the City of Richmond submitted as part of the bid document. “The Menuhin Competition will provide an opportunity for creative synergies in Richmond’s music community. Furthermore, it will strengthen the international profile of the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University for young musicians and provide an opportunity for Richmond’s public school students to experience quality violin masterclasses.”

If awarded, city-wide competition events will take place at the University of Richmond, VCU and the Dominion Arts Center in spring 2020. For more information about the competition visit http://menuhincompetition.org/home

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Video: Danica Roem Shouts Out Richmond Metal Band on Comedy Central

Posted By on Thu, Nov 30, 2017 at 2:00 PM


Danica Roem, the first openly transgender person elected to the Virginia legislature, is already doing her part to promote Virginia metal. Appearing on Comedy Central's "The Opposition with Jordan Klepper" she was asked about her favorite music.

The award-winning Northern Virginia journalist's quick answer was "old school thrash metal." She then gave a proper shoutout to Richmond band, Municipal Waste, for bringing the kick-ass genre back to prominence.

Before that, the host tried to entice Roem into bashing her vanquished opponent, Del. Bob Marshall. But she took the high road instead, noting that voters of the 13th district did not elect her "to be rude" but rather to fix Route 28, to fight Dominion Energy's power tower proposal and to insure 3,000 uninsured people. Or in her words, to "make some damn progress" as opposed to singling out and stigmatizing people she was elected to serve.

You can watch the entire segment below:

Waste's latest album, "Slime and Punishment" is available here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Quill Theatre Adds Two New Positions

Looks to expand educational outreach in the future.

Posted By on Wed, Nov 29, 2017 at 3:30 PM

James Ricks and Melissa Shorey.
  • James Ricks and Melissa Shorey.

Quill Theatre announced today that it has hired James Ricks to the position of associate artistic director and Melissa Shorey to the position of development coordinator.

A press e-mail noted that these new additions "mark an exciting transition for Quill Theatre, as [we] look to expand [our] educational reach and strive to produce truly exceptional theatre."

Producing Artistic Director Jan Powell notes: "We are delighted to welcome these two professionals to our team. James is well-known in Richmond for his brilliant artistry and daring as a director, and our productions will be enriched by his incisive sensibility. It's such a pleasure to welcome Melissa back home to Richmond. Her expertise will greatly enhance our patrons' involvement in the Quill family. We feel so lucky to have them both."

Here is more biographical info from a press release:

James Ricks has been working as an actor, director, and educator for twenty years in New York City, Washington, D.C, West Virginia, and Richmond.

Locally, James has directed for Quill Theatre, Henley Street Theatre, Firehouse Theatre, TheatreLAB, SPARC, and Sycamore Rouge Theatre. This summer, he directed Quill Theatre’s critically acclaimed "Love’s Labour’s Lost," which garnered nominations for Best Play and Best Direction from the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. Most recently he directed Quill’s 2017-18 season opener, "Lysistrata," at the Dominion Arts Center, and will be directing "As You Like It" for the 20th annual Richmond Shakespeare Festival.

He served as the Artistic Director of Henley Street Theatre from 2009-2013, before Henley Street and Richmond Shakespeare merged to form Quill Theatre. He is a member of Actor’s Equity Association, The Actor’s Fund and is certified with the Society of American Fight Directors. Ricks received his BFA from the University of Oklahoma and his MFA from The Shakespeare Theatre’s Academy of Classical Acting in Washington, DC.

Melissa Shorey joins the company from New York City, where she began her fundraising career with Lighthouse Guild, a vision services organization. While at Lighthouse Guild she oversaw the first million dollar grossing gala in the organization’s history, increased the average annual fund gift by 15 percent, and cut direct mail costs by 12 percent.

Though she is currently on hiatus from the stage, she has experience in stage acting, production design, dance, costuming, playwriting, painting, and sculpture. She is a graduate of Henrico County Center for the Arts, and holds a BA from Virginia Commonwealth University in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Preview: Love Cycles at One Wellness Studio

Courtney Love's mom to give relationship advice workshops.

Posted By on Mon, Nov 27, 2017 at 12:15 PM

Linda Carroll was briefly married to Grateful Dead hanger-on, Hank Harrison, in the early 1960s -- their daughter, Courtney Love, was born in 1964 and spent her early years in the Haight-Ashbury district.
  • Linda Carroll was briefly married to Grateful Dead hanger-on, Hank Harrison, in the early 1960s -- their daughter, Courtney Love, was born in 1964 and spent her early years in the Haight-Ashbury district.

When you’ve been a couples counselor for 38 years and happily married for 33, you know a thing or two about relationships.

After years of giving talks about the seasons of a relationship, Linda Carroll compiled the essence of her talks into the book “Love Cycles: The Five Essential Stages of Lasting Love,” which is now in its fourth printing.

Carroll is the daughter of award-winning novelist Paula Fox and the mother of musician Courtney Love.

She is bringing her talk to Richmond at One Wellness Studio for two workshops geared at all ages and gender identifications.

“It’s for anyone interested in love,” Carroll says by telephone from her home in Oregon. “Even single people. The cycles don’t just apply to married people, they apply to all relationships.”

Carroll refers to that first cycle of falling in love as the merge stage - two people coming together to spend as much time as possible together - but it’s also the most disorienting. Falling in love, she says, is not a choice but rather a whole set of biological chemicals being released and they tend to wear off in the doubt and denial stage. She chalks this up to fundamental human nature: we want to form connections but also want to keep our independence.

Conflicts grow in the disillusionment cycle, followed by the decision cycle of whether or not a couple wants to stay together and work on the relationship. The wholehearted loving cycle is only for those willing to work hard on all aspects of the relationship, both the joyous and the challenging.

“I don’t try to get people to stay together if they don’t want to,” she explains. “But people who want to stay together and need a road map, I can help them.”

For many couples, dissatisfaction is a function of the marriage “rules” having changed since the ‘60s and ‘70s when no one worried about connection or intimacy. “Now people want to be married to their best friend and have sex into their ‘90s. You need a different skill set for that.”

Elizabeth Krusen, owner of One Wellness, has known Carroll for three years and says this workshop is aligned with their mission to provide services, instruction and experts in their fields who can help further the intention of a mindful life.

“Linda is one of those rare teachers who embody both real world spirituality and other worldly wisdom,” Krusen says. “She allows us to understand our relationships as our greatest teachers and a means of self-discovery.”

According to Carroll, relationships have seasons and there are ways to get through the difficult times while holding on to the good parts. “I give people a tool kit and a sense of hopefulness for what’s possible in a relationship.”

Love Cycles One, Dec. 2, 8:30-11:30 a.m., Love Cycles Two, December 3, 1:30 – 4:30 p.m. at One Wellness, 4110 Fitzhugh Ave., 303-2869

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Pick: the Dustbowl Revival at Tin Pan on Thursday, Nov. 16

Watch a video for the LA group's new song, "Call My Name."

Posted By on Thu, Nov 16, 2017 at 1:55 PM

They've previously been awarded the best live band in Los Angeles by LA Weekly, and tonight you can see them at the Tin Pan.
  • They've previously been awarded the best live band in Los Angeles by LA Weekly, and tonight you can see them at the Tin Pan.

There's been so much happening musically in Richmond lately that it's hard to keep track of everything, much less write about it.

One venue that continues to step up and deliver a steady flow of quality shows is the Tin Pan in Quioccasin Station Shopping Center. Former Richmonder Aimee Mann is coming in January.

But first there's tonight's gig: acclaimed Los Angeles ensemble the Dustbowl Revival, whose self-titled album from last summer debuted at number one on Amazon's Americana/Alt. Country and Top 200.

The eight-piece group's album, produced by Grammy winner Ted Hutt and featuring a guest turn from Keb'Mo', offers an infectious blend of vintage American sounds -- including swingin' New Orleans jazz, funk, blue-eyed soul and Stax R&B. Mostly it's high-energy, feel-good music likely to get Tin Pan listeners out of their dinner chairs and onto the dance floor. Just the thing people may need to get out of the November doldrums.

Check out a new video from the group:

Music writer Rob Sheffield, in Rolling Stone, hailed it as a great band “whose Americana swing was so fun I went back to see them again the next day.” The LA Weekly noted the “upbeat, old-school, All-American sonic safaris exemplify everything shows should be: hot, spontaneous, engaging and, best of all, a pleasure to hear.”

If you check out more of their material, you get a sense of a band taking those old-school pleasures and hybridizing them with new school attitude, searching for a vibrant sound with a nod towards the future.

Dustbowl Revival performs tonight, Nov. 16 at the Tin Pan, 8982 Quioccasin Road, at 8 p.m. $20-$25. 447-8189.

  • Re: Review: Marvin Pontiac's "The Asylum Tapes"

    • It's great to have John Lurie, oops... Marvin Pontiac back to making strange & beautiful…

    • on December 16, 2017
  • Re: Shaka Brings Sizzle to Siegel Center

    • It was a great game and the VCU fans were amazingly warm and welcoming to…

    • on December 8, 2017
  • Re: Shaka Brings Sizzle to Siegel Center

    • Isn't dwelling on the past an old Richmond stereotype that the likes of Style Weekly…

    • on December 7, 2017
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