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Trey Anastasio Band gets the State bouncing

Trey Anastasio Band came to the State Theatre Sunday, hitting the road to support "Traveler," Anastasio’s newest solo album released on Oct. 16.

T.A.B. — Trey Anastasio Band's acronym — is also short for tablature. If you're learning a new song, there are the chords and the "tab," the guitar notes and melody.12-9-14-TG-trey-band-1
Anastasio, the front man for Phish, is an innovative composer and master of improvisational form and structure. He is a globally recognized virtuoso, involved in all kinds of musical diversions, like Oysterhead, a side project with Les Claypool from Primus and Stewart Copeland from the Police.

Anastasio's indelible style infuses all of his projects. His hallmark is the deconstruction and exploration of a song with heavy emphasis on crescendo and coda. It's like an exploded diagram. The Trey Anastasio Band is more than a proving ground for new talent or ideas; it's an academy of musical prodigies. With TAB, it's hard for even Phish-haters not to love the full sound of this ensemble. The horns give it a brassy big band gravitas while Rick Paczkowski's keys, a Wurlitzer sound, make for some serious, gritty and thick funk.12-9-14-TG-trey-band-2
Same for the TAB. Like Phish and other Trey iterations, there is a theme that is developed in the song that then gets teased out and explored, invariably leading into a tight jam, sometimes meandering into strange soundscape territory, sonic mayhem. Other times, he plays soft lullabyesque trances. And then, of course, ripping and shredding high voltage, high-pitch quintessential Trey licks that invariably tear the roof off the place. He has also explored some newish territory, bringing out a twangier, Schofield-esque strum style.

Also, in the TAB, like Phish, Trey is careful not to dominate. He leads, but ensures the rest of the band and their total sound are balanced. Another key component is Trey's generosity. He loves to perform and is a consummate professional, giving audiences (like so many great musicians) a lot of joy again and again. He infuses his songs with positive lyrics and bright tones, lines like "The time has come for you to be alive again" and "Strings of electricity ... I feel inspired."

Anastasio has gone out of his way on this tour to bring on three young musicians: Jennifer Hartswick (trumpet and vocals), Natalie Cressman (trombone and vocals), and James Casey, saxophone and vocals).

Each were given solos, and the audience treated them reverentially. They were solid, but their youth was not forgotten. Anastasio was even making some awkward jokes (his métier) at their expense, saying something about them all being single and that they were on their Tinder app coming into town.

From the outset of the show, the audience was fully engaged and locked in, many arms beating the air, a legion of loyal fans, old and new.

For 35 years, Phish has worked with Chris Kuroda as their lighting designer/engineer. Kuroda is known as one of the most innovative lighting techs in the world, and the State Theatre show was a good example why. It was a simple but effective rig — very lean, with what appeared to be cutout spirals of paper or some sort of stretched lycra. Super-sophisticated lights mounted with the ability to cast in all directions and change to any color, jiggle, strobe, or spot were impressive.

The tour is called Paper Wheels, with a new album of the same name due out in early 2015. The new song "Bounce" (available for a free download) sounded amazing in concert and had the entire place bouncing as instructed.

There were popular favorites from Trey's repertoire, "1st Tube" and "2nd Tube," as well as a great "Gotta Jibboo," co-written by bassist Tony Markellis.

A second set cover of The Gorillas song "Sunshine in a Bag" was an audience favorite. It has a hip hop beat and seemed to be a nod to the younger band member's musical persuasions, (even though the song is 20 years old), with each of them in turn rapping lyrics during various parts of the eclectic tune. During another song, Cressman rapped in French to the rapt audience.

Anastasio seems to have an affinity for this part of the world, saying he loved the effect of waking up in his tour trailer that morning with a view of the ocean, watching the tides and waves. And the fans loved the show, streaming out of the State and into the cold.



Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 December 2014 02:43

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Swagger: Lake Street Dive rocks on at adopted home

Lake Street Dive, the high-flying soul rock quartet, returned a conquering hero last Saturday night, Nov. 22, to the city they love to visit and to the State Theatre, which helped launch their dazzling new career this past April. Back then, the band was on its rise and the State Theatre show had been its biggest to date.11-28-14-TG-lake-street-dive

Between songs Saturday night, lead singer Rachael Price fondly remembered their last time here, and said it had been a transformative experience for the band, giving them the confidence to go on a national tour. Now winding down that sold-out trek, the band was clearly amped to be back in the State, with several new songs and a plan to rest in the New Year and produce a new album.

Drummer Mike Calabrese bounded onstage to "Eye of the Tiger," complete with '80s-style headband, while bassist Bridget Kearney and founder Mike Olson, who plays trumpet and guitar, ambled on with more stated cool. Price hovered between the styles, super suave in black leather skirt but also giddy as a candy-store kid to be back where the band feels, perhaps, most at home. Price was named last month by Rolling Stone magazine as the Best New Voice at Austin City Limits 2014.11-28-14-TG-lake-street-dive-2

The band launched into "Rapid Animal" and "What About Me?" both tunes from their latest album, "Bad Self Portraits," the crowd singing along with the now-familiar songs. "Clear A Space" from "Fun Machine," the album that started it all, was up next, with Olsen's trumpet baps and Kearney's bonging bass providing bookend beats to Price's vocal range, strong and sweet.

A new song, "You Know It's Gonna End Somehow," and a cover of Annie Lennox's "Walkin' on Broken Glass" kept the 1,680 fans rocking between a new favorite and a new version of an old one. The title track from "Bad Self Portraits," "Stop Your Crying," and "Just Ask" were capped off with a couple new tunes, "Are You Loyal to Me?" and "I Care About You Anyway."

The rest of show, backdropped by the neon-like logo of the band's name, which comes from an actual neighborhood of seedy bars in Olson's Minneapolis hometown, interspersed bouncing hits that have been the band's main meat (like "Use Me Up") with covers of Van Halen's "Jump" and Michael Jackson's "I Want You Back." A simply shot YouTube version of this song, with the band on Boston sidestreets, went viral a few years back and helped kick off their claim to stardom. They ended Saturday's show with it, a fresh and soulfully harmonized rendering of the tale of lost love. But Lake Street Dive has found theirs, here in the heart of the State.

Lake Street Dive next plays on Nov. 30 at The Academy of Music in Northampton, Mass., a sold-out show; and a gig at New World Stages in New York City on Dec. 2. For details on the band, visit http://www.lakestreetdive.com.


Photos courtesy of Joshua Frances

Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 November 2014 22:35

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Arthur Miller gem given added meaning by Mad Horse

My New England upbringing puts me into a mood of yearning hearty fare when the autumn wind begins to howl. Meat and potatoes to stick to the ribs, nourishing through the long, dark, bitter winters. Our Soul and intellect hunger to be properly feed as well. Summer frivolity melts away into warm hazy memory. We are left naked against the elements, forced to deal with the realities of life once again.

Voices from the Theater, for centuries, have tried to offer insight into our collective humanity. Mad Horse Theatre Company reaches into the near past to present an American Classic, Arthur Miller's A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE. This play is surprisingly, extremely relevant within the political speak of today, tackling the basic questions of struggle in belonging, acceptance and social taboo. Too often great scripts of yesteryear collect dust, overlooked for modern takes and contemporary visions and voice. New isn't always better and this production delivers wisdom from a master of the American Stage, boiled down to the bare essence of word and actor. A feast is being served, your soul is hungry.

Director Christopher Price unapologetically embraces a Spartan approach to staging. The Mad Horse space is extremely intimate, with audience seated on three sides of the black box space. Mr. Price directs, fully aware of pictures and sight lines, never leaving an actor static for too long. The evening provided a beautifully composed montage. One of my favorite moments was a scene staged around a support pole.

Lighting Design by Corey Anderson gave wonderful illusion of street light illumination, creating a Brooklyn street corner vividly painted for the spectator. The show started in darkness, with only the sound of, I believe, pennies, being used in a game. The sound was coupled with a slow rise of the lights. The directed moment was a strong choice to invite the audience to fully engage all their senses to prepare for the full impact of this script. The American public is addicted to drama provided by the small screen. The thrill of a production at Mad Horse is the closeness to the action, giving the sense of being part of, hiding in the shadows. If you like your drama in your face, this production doesn't disappoint.

No secret here that I very much enjoy a theater presentation that takes a great script, coupled with talented actors, and offers a bare bones juggernaut. This cast doesn't need much to create the complete world of Brooklyn, circa 1950s. Kat Moraros is downright perfection in the role of Catherine. A strong, young women finding her place in the world, struggling to cross the bridge to adult independence without seeming ungrateful to the extended family members who helped raise her. Ms. Moraros exploits the emotions her character is inhabiting with full body, facial, and vocal interpretation. I have seen Ms. Moraros' work more than once in the past few years and this is performance certainly is a crowning achievement.

Christine Louise Marshall portrays her Aunt Beatrice. Ms. Marshall also is tremendous in creating a character the exact opposite of Catherine. A women of a different generation. A women who is searching to crawl out from the role of being someone's wife. Ms. Marshall brings heartbreak to the stage, a women who embraces the realities of her existence. The moment she confronts her husband about "truth," sent chills up my spine. Her character is an "Edith Bunker" of a male-dominated household, beholden to her husband's wishes and paycheck. As an actor, Ms. Marshall does her homework and fully brings to life the complexities of this women.

The narrative is presented as a flashback, the thoughts of Alfieri, the family lawyer. Brent Askari creates a character just a bit slimy. He plays him as the pudgy, smart kid in school who grew up to help his tougher classmates through the legalities of being American. The Italian neighborhood, a bit rough around the edges, looks to him for advice and to be the intermediary to the "acceptable culture."

Eddie Carbone stands at the center of this story. Portrayed by William McDonough lll, the man brought to life is many things. Humans are complex creatures, showing different sides of ourselves, depending on our audience. Mr. McDonough pulls no punches when tackling the inner demons and the inner goodness that make this man so interesting. We all have the capacity to be a hero in one moment and a complete disappointment within the same time frame. Portraying the working man always is a challenge. A king in the home, yet a cog in a large wheel in the world beyond the threshold, is an exciting dynamic to witness an actor mining. Mr. McDonough succeeds in leaving the audience unsure of how to feel with his fate.

Immigration has been the tool this country has used to create the most diverse, innovative society the earth has ever known. The nightly news will inform you we still struggle with the idea of legal and illegal entrance to these United States and what makes an American. Assimilation is necessary on some levels, yet the richness of the world's cultures have made the American melting pot vibrant and dynamic. Every generation is confronted with new arrivals. Burke Brimmer is Marco, immigrating from the Italian peninsula. Mr. Brimmer is a forceful presence on stage. Bringing a proud individual to fruition and creating the tension that envelopes this household. Rodolpho is created by Nate Speckman. Rodolpho is the opposite of Marco in manner and outward timidity, yet is the fuse that ignites the fireworks that bring this play to climax.

There are moments in this production where I did feel a few dragged out moments and lost momentum. The first act needed just a tad of tightening up. The totality of this production is immensely satisfying though and the second act is completely captivating as the tragedy steamrolls to the emotional ending.

Arthur Miller's A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE will be performed through Oct. 19 at 24 Mosher Street in South Portland. For tickets or information please the box-office at 207-747-4148 or www.madhorsetheater.com.

(Harold Withee is a member of Actors' Equity and SAG/AFTRA.)


Last Updated on Friday, 17 October 2014 00:12

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Lyric pokes fun at the PC with 'Avenue Q'

Community Theater has many connotations and different levels of expectations. Greater Portland is home to many and we are very lucky they strive to offer forward thinking, professional level productions of ambitious scripts. Lyric Music Theater's attempt at mounting the Broadway sensation AVENUE Q, once again shines a spotlight on the enormous well of talent this small metropolis harbors. Many of the Bio's list Theater and Voice degrees, along with other training.10-3-14-HW-avenue

Director Jonathan R. Carr has expertly cast this adult riff off the children's classic " Sesame Street." This is a puppet show for the PG-13 and up crowd. Songs such as "The Internet is for Porn," "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist," "What Do You Do with a BA in English," "I'm Not Wearing Underwear Today" and "it Sucks to be Me" will put a smile on the lips while poking a stick at our PC society. Mr. Carr has assembled a cast with great voices, talent in puppet manipulation and extremely expressive, three dimensional performances. z-theater-withee

Karen Trask is credited with the creation of the wonderful characters represented by puppets. Many incorporate two people to breathe life into these creatures, such as Trekkie, who likes Porn.

Ken Hutchins has constructed a simple yet highly usable set. The windows are a nod to the hilarity of "Laugh-in," allowing quick entrances and exits. Lighting by Bruce Gray and Costuming by Paul J. Bell and Louise Keezer layer the production, lending to a polished appearance. Musical Direction by Leslie Chadbourne never allowed the vocals to be overpowered. The Lyric doesn't use microphones, yet I never missed the lyrics during the musical numbers.

This cast is a true ensemble, each excelling within the framework ofof this fictional, offbeat street, AVENUE Q. Ashley Christy as Lucy T. Slut, provided one of the best vocals in this very talented cast. Kate Monster, in the hands of Molly Harmon, became the center this story revolved around. Ms.Harmon is able to delve beneath the fur to mine the emotional journey this character travels. Eight years in the Air Force, Joel Crowley plays Kate Monster's love interest, Princeton. Mr. Crowley has a theater background from the University of Southern Maine. Mr. Crowley has an air of ease on the stage, allowing Princeton to wear the crown of conscience, seeking purpose.

Alison Bogannan is always enjoyable, and as Christmas Eve, allows herself a maternal approach as a citizen of the Avenue. Torin Peterson brings a wonderful humanity to the sexually confused Rod. Nicky is his best friend, lovingly portrayed by Shawn Reardon. Mr. Reardon has a unique vocal quality, perfectly suited for this performance.

AVENUE Q is ultimately a musical about relationships and finding our purpose. Should we find our purpose disappointing if being someone's "guiding light" or "touchstone" for feeling whole, is our only valuation?

The Saltwater Grille is close to this theater and sits looking upon the majestic city sky line that is Portland. South Portland has theater worth checking out.

AVENUE Q will be performed at Lyric Music Theater through Oct. 4. For information or tickets, please contact the box-office @ 207-799-1421 or www.LyricMusicTheater.org.

(Harold Withee is a member of Actors' Equity and SAG/AFTRA.)


Last Updated on Friday, 03 October 2014 02:03

Hits: 5126


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