Sonic Youth at the 9:30 Club

So, we saw Sonic Youth last night at the 9:30 Club. They were good; we were at the second of two sold-out shows and I’d guess a lot of the audience was repeaters. Except for the times when we were all focused on the woman in the opposite balcony who was first leaning over the railing in her bra, then getting in a fight with her (pretty obnoxious) boyfriend who was trying to control her, and then getting physically dragged out, we were all glued to the stage and happily nodding our heads in time. (We were old, tired, and in the balcony; plus, the band played some pretty mellow stuff.) The performance was solid; I suppose after sixteen albums and tours and thirty years of playing together you get to be pretty comfortable with each other. And, it was actually quite cool to see them produce all the funky sounds they’re known for, using their actual instruments rather than a Macbook.

Before this show, I hadn’t listened to Sonic Youth in fifteen years, and I’d definitely skipped all that 90s stuff (the phase when they became what someone called ‘more experimental’). Everything they played sounded vaguely familiar but I didn’t know any single song well enough to sing along; I don’t actually own any of their CDs despite recognizing their musical greatness. (If I hadn’t already lost my hipster card by not liking The White Stripes and finding The Mountain Goats to be atrocious, now would be the time for it to be recalled.) Which is to say, I can’t tell you what the set list was or how their live performance diverged from their studio recordings or whether the time that Kim had to swap out her instrument because she either broke a string or the tech brought the wrong one was a point when she was actually supposed to be playing.

You can, however, listen to the concert on NPR and answer all those questions for yourselves.

Sonic Youth at the 9:30 Club

A December sampling of arts in DC

December is always busy for us, and this year is no exception. If anything, our choice to celebrate the season by attending performances of various kinds has heightened the schedule-juggling.

Our first event of the month was The Trumpet of the Swan, a reading of the book set to music that debuted at the Kennedy Center. The Trumpet of the Swan is one of my favorite books, and the actors and musicians did an excellent job of portraying it. I was excited to be able to see Kathy Bates and Fred Willard, and Washington local Edward Gero was perfect as Louis’s father. Attending this performance was my (early) birthday present, and I was glad to be able to share it with my partner, who had never read the book as a child.

The following Tuesday, we returned to the Kennedy Center to see the Martha Graham Dance Company perform Clytemnestra. Although I’ve seen many of the great modern dance companies perform at the Kennedy Center in recent years, I had yet to see a Martha Graham production. While I began to suspect that her version of Clytemnestra is something like the Ring Cycle of modern dance—by which I mean to say that we may not have risen to the level of knowledge or appreciation of other members of the audience—we were both fascinated. I found it particularly interesting given that it was first produced in 1958; I commented to my partner that you would have had to be terribly fashionable to attend this performance in its first run, as it was somewhat avant garde even for contemporary productions. The costumes and choreography were wonderful, and of course the dancing was superb. And now we can say that we’ve seen a show created by the mother of modern dance!

Following close on the heels of this performance, we went traditional on Friday and attended a reception at the Swedish embassy celebrating Santa Lucia Day. A highlight of the evening was Mats Carlsson, a ‘rather well-known up-and-coming Swedish opera singer’ as we were told by one of our fellow guests, joining the girls for a lovely solo. Our hosts were very gracious, the hors d’ouevres were excellent, and the Glögg was wonderfully potent. Maybe next year we’ll get invited to the gala and I’ll have a chance to wear my wedding necklace! (A girl can dream.)

The next night we headed back down to Foggy Bottom to see the Christmas Revels at GWU. We don’t go every year, but this year’s program had a French-Canadian theme that I just couldn’t pass up. We had a wonderful time; there’s something about being knee to knee and elbow to elbow with strangers while belting out holiday tunes that creates an incredibly festive atmosphere. The evening had the added bonus of exposing my partner, who never studied French in school, to the joys of Alouette, complete with popping out of our seats to point at the various body parts as they became relevant (et le bec!). We particularly enjoyed the operatic flourish with which the young child a few rows in front of us bowed at the completion of the last round of the song.

We wrapped up all of this celebrating by hosting our now-annual holiday cookie party on Sunday night. It’s always fun to sample the variety of confections, and this year was no exception. We had quite a mix of styles and cultural origins this year, with a nice representation of classics in the form of chocolate chip, oatmeal, and sugar as well. Word of a party with nearly unlimited access to sweets appears to have gotten out among the under-8 crowd, and the children-to-adult ratio tilted quite dramatically this year. We are pleased to report that our friends, colleagues and neighbors are doing exceptionally well at instilling manners in their (many) young offspring; our household fabrics thank you, and you and yours are welcome back any time! In addition to being just a general good time, the party spurred us to finally deal with all of the furniture and household goods displaced through various acquisitions and basement trouble this year. After a whirlwind of preparation, it’s wonderful to look around and see shelves, tables, and sideboards in their proper places, and to have boxes of our family treasures stored in tidy piles in the (clean!) attic rather than in the center of our offices. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have tins of cookies on those tables, either.

Our plans for the coming week are quite tame compared to all of this. We’ll be celebrating the solstice with our gift exchange on Sunday, and I have a couple of surprises planned as part of our weekend festivities. (They’re surprises; you will have to wait to learn of them.) In the meantime, I will enjoy quiet evenings that involve neither dressing up nor rearranging furniture.

A December sampling of arts in DC

music I thought I’d forgotten

One of my gifts this year was Mental Jewelry on CD. The band, Live, is one of my favorite bands, largely on the strength of this first album. I have a weakness for debut albums, believing they represent an artist’s hopes and dreams that they’ve been tweaking and polishing for years up until the point of recording. Plus, they frequently remain the best of a band’s discography, unless the artist dramatically changes their sound.

At any rate, Live is one of my favorite bands, and Mental Jewelry is one of my all-time favorite albums, and up until now I have only had the album dubbed on tape. It’s true that I have two copies, each given to me by the two people I was closest to that year. Which is perhaps a clue as to my affinity for the album: it reflects my ethics and sensibilities regarding living in the world in many ways. I suppose that’s why the two people who knew me best in 1992 passed it along. To some degree, selections from their first album have an energy similar to that of other recordings from that year: EMF, Jesus Jones, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. Which is fine by me, I am of my age and I liked all of them as well. Just not as much as I still like Live.

I started hankering to have a copy of Mental Jewelry on CD after seeing them at Meadowbrook this past summer. I happened to be in LaSalle, and to see an ad for the concert on TV. As it happened, I could have picked up a voucher at any gas station in the Detroit area and gone for five bucks, but I didn’t; I bought a single ticket and showed up early to pick it up at the box office. The guy in the seat next to me had done the same thing—he’d also driven nearly 4 hours to come to the show, and had never seen them in concert before. This made the fourth time I’d seen them, and it was definitely the biggest venue. Well, the Palace was comparable, but they were the opener.

I am a bad fan. Despite having loved the music for 15 years now, I knew very little about them, and still couldn’t really tell you who’s who in the band. I’ve always known they were my age, I remembered that much from having interviewed them after the show at my college my first year. But I only recently learned they were from Pennsylvania, and I couldn’t tell you any kind of trivia about them. I do know that they’ve been together as a band since junior high, and that may explain some of the fondness I have for them. That aspect reminds me of people I know who’ve been playing together just about that long, and have succeeded in leaving the garage sound behind. I have to say, knowing a lot of people who played music in garages growing up pretty much ruined me for garage bands in my adult life.

But, back to Live. I got the CD as a gift, I listened to it on our car trip across the Midwest, and I thought to myself ‘I must have listened to this tape A Lot, because I know every word of every song and I would have sworn I couldn’t even tell you what was on this album with any degree of reliability.’ I still couldn’t tell you the names of half of the songs, but the brain cells that contain the actual music have not been reallocated after all.

So now, this week, I’ve been listening to the CD on my wee shuffle. I’m sure I’ll get sick of it again at some point. So far, though, all it’s really done is give me a strong craving to hear the version of ‘I Walk the Line’ that they performed at the concert last summer. Which in turn is giving me a strong craving to see the film again; one of the rare instances when I thoroughly enjoyment Reese’s acting, in addition to being impressed with both of their voices. Even the interjections of my friends to the tune of ‘he wasn’t that good-looking, was he? I don’t remember him looking like Joaquin Phoenix, did he? Can we find a picture online?’ didn’t take away my appreciation.

But June Carter Cash is a topic for another day.

music I thought I’d forgotten