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The Front Bottoms at Fillmore Silver Spring

The Front Bottoms performed the second to last show of their tour on Friday, November 24 at the Fillmore Silver Spring. Despite being the day after Thanksgiving, the show sold out and the venue was packed with enthusiastic fans who sang along with every song. The energy from the crowd could be felt throughout the entire evening. Bad Bad Seeds and Basement opened the show and delivered energetic sets to get the crowd ready for The Front Bottoms. Photos and write-up: Shantel Mitchell Breen

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Dead & Company at Capital One Arena

Grateful Dead members Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann and Bob Weir joined forces with singer/guitarist John Mayer to form the band Dead & Company, and the super group brought their throwback sound to the Capital One Arena on November 21. The band drew largely from the Dead’s historic catalog of songs. Photos: Mark Raker / Write-up: Dead & Company

Steven Reineke: Courtesy of the Kennedy Center
Steven Reineke: Courtesy of the Kennedy Center

How Well Could You Conduct If You Were A Hufflepuff?

This week, I spoke with Steven Reineke, the principal conductor for the NSO Pops, about his upcoming live scoring of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on November 24-26.

The NSO Pops consists of the same musicians you’d see in an NSO performance; the only difference is in repertoire. Reineke has conducted a range of shows for the NSO Pops, from Broadway favorites to programs featuring Kendrick Lamar, and Reineke insists that the preparation for each performance is no different.

“When you’re performing with a world-class orchestra, music is music,” he says.

Still, Reineke says that he would take Beethoven before a live scoring in terms of difficulty, especially with a score such as John Williams’ for Harry Potter. According to Reineke, Williams does not “conduct or write his music to be done with a click track.”

A click track has been retrofitted for the film, Reineke says, and “you would think that would be really helpful, [but] not on a movie like this.”

The click track doesn’t allow the music to ebb and flow, and in an orchestra of 80-plus musicians, “everyone interprets [the click track] slightly differently,” he says.

“It takes so much concentration, and you can’t let up for a minute.”

Luckily, Reineke has a few tools to help him.

“I call [it] Conductor Hero,” he says in reference to an app that helps guide him through the performance. “I have my own video stream of the movie that has streamers on it; colored bars that go across the screen that tell me where I am. I almost think of it like I’m playing a video game. It’s kind of like Guitar Hero, where you try to hit exactly on the right beats and everything. You’re really trying to see how many things you can get exactly lined up with where they’re supposed to be in the film.”

At this point in the conversation, we switch gears from video game-esque apps to Harry Potter.

On Tap: Why The Chamber of Secrets as opposed to say The Deathly Hallows?
Steven Reineke:
Well, we’re going to do the entire series. We’ve already done the first movie out at Wolf Trap this past summer. So we decided to go onto to book two now. And it’s a perfect thing to do on Thanksgiving weekend. It’s so family-friendly and people always have their kids around and relatives in from out of town, so I’m sure we’re going to have lots of families there.

OT: I already know my family is looking forward to it. Are you into Harry Potter yourself?
SR:
Oh my God yeah, I love this. I’ve seen all the movies. I read all the books. They’re a great read. J.K. Rowling really really hit on something, and I’m just so impressed with her. The stories are so captivating and there are so many life lessons in them. She really got kids reading again, voraciously reading. They all wanted to read the books and then the movies really did enhance the experience of it, and [there’s] nobody better than John Williams to write the music for it. He’s the best, simply the best.

OT: To what extent do you think the orchestra is into Harry Potter?
SR:
Oh, they always love [it], even when I pull out [the score] just to play the music, so I’m fairly certain that the orchestra is looking forward to this next installment here. They also really get to play, [because] there’s a ton of music in this movie. We play almost the entire time. Most of the movie has music to it, so we’re not sitting around twiddling our thumbs waiting for the next scene. It just keeps on going, and it’s a workout for everybody. Everybody has to sit up straight and pay attention. It’s very very difficult.

OT: What house would you say you’re in?
SR:
Oh gosh, I would probably be more of a Gryffindor.

OT: Yeah?
SR:
Yeah, you didn’t expect me to say Slytherin, did you?

OT: Oh, I don’t know.
SR:
No [laughs]. No, those guys are jerks.

OT: How about the orchestra more generally?
SR:
 That’s a loaded question. Don’t make me play sorting hat on these [musicians], because you could get me in real trouble. There are a few Slytherins in the orchestra, I know that. There’s people in every house. That’s a funny question.

OT: Fair enough. Are there any musical or visual moments you’re looking forward to?
SR:
 In the second half of the movie, a lot of the real drama happens [and] we really get to work very hard. But I will say one of my favorite moments in the movie to conduct is the big Quidditch match in the first half of the film. [It’s] a really great moment. The orchestra really gets to shine because there’s not much dialogue for about seven minutes. It’s just this wonderful sporting match with terrific music by John Williams.

OT: When are you going to perform The Prisoner of Azkaban?
SR:
I don’t know when it’s booked, but I’m sure we’re going to do it. I think our plan is to do all of them, and I’ll tell you what, I’m really excited about that [one] because that’s my favorite. I love that book. I thought it was a terrific movie.

The NSO Pops performances of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets are this Friday, November 24 and Saturday, November 25 at 7 p.m, and Sunday, November 26 at 2 p.m. Sunday’s performance will be sensory-friendly. Tickets to the performances start at $29.

After this weekend, Reineke will be back in Washington on December 8-9 for the NSO Pops annual holiday concerts, featuring guest artist and Broadway actress Megan Hilty. Reineke says that he and Smash star Hilty designed the program together, and they’re “ready to launch it.” The program will feature popular holiday songs like “Santa Baby,” selections from the movie White Christmas, a celebration of Hanukkah favorites and much more.

For more info, visit www.kennedy-center.org.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org

Photo: www.gobsmackedtheshow.com
Photo: www.gobsmackedtheshow.com

A Cappella Artists Set to Harmonize at Kennedy Center

With the success of the Pitch Perfect movies and NBC’s The Sing-Off, a cappella has had a rebirth over the last five years, as the image of barbershop quartets and “old-fashioned” music has been wiped clean. Today’s a cappella stars often incorporate beatboxers, and provide infectious melodies and soulful harmonies to radio hits that younger listeners crave.

One of the world’s most successful groups doing this today is Gobsmacked!, a UK-based collection of six performers led by three-time, undefeated UK beatboxer Ball-Zee. The group sings everything from Queen to Amy Winehouse to Bruno Mars, and is currently on its first-ever U.S. tour, stopping at the Kennedy Center for five shows from November 24-26.

In addition to the acclaimed beatboxer, the show includes Marcus Collins, the 2011 runner up in the UK version of The X-Factor, Norwegian singer Monika Sik-Holm, UK stage actress Emilie Louise Israel, West End actor Nick Hayes, and two original Gobsmacked! artists, Joanne Evans and Ed Scott. Ball-Zee recently talked with On Tap on a rare day off for the performer.

On Tap: How did the group get together?
Ball-Zee: It was originally formed by Nic Doodson, who is a producer for this show, and he had this idea to start a modern, cooler, younger a cappella show. He asked me to come to the first auditions two-and-a-half years ago, and now we’re touring in America.

OT: What can newcomers expect from your show?
BZ: There’s a lot going on. We have an amazing set, sound and lighting design. We have a little narrative throughout the show, but mainly we have some amazing singers and really good musical arrangements, and it’s an hour-and-a-half of high-energy, world-class a cappella.

OT: What tunes can people look forward to hearing?
BZ: We don’t want to give away too much, but we start with a modern song by the Black Eyed Peas. We do some Beatles, James Brown and things a bit more edgy like Lady Gaga. There’s something for everybody. In a nutshell, we take different songs from different genres, and each performer showcases their talent in a different way.

OT: What was the selection process for Gobsmacked!?
BZ: I think it’s just talent. I was asked to join, but they had auditions for the other performers and more than 800 people came out and they narrowed that down to 10 and finally six, joining me.

OT: How do you transition from one song to the next?
BZ: There is a narrative, but I’m sort of the conductor, and everyone is almost under my control. I make certain things happen. There’s no words apart from the actual lyrics of the song though.

OT: You are world famous for your beatboxing skills. How did you first get interested in the craft?
BZ: I’ve been doing it for about 13 years now. When I started, I didn’t even know what I was doing was beatboxing; I just liked to replicate sounds. The closest thing I could compare it to is what Michael Winslow of Police Academy was doing. After maybe six or seven months of making sounds, my older brother played me a CD of a guy called Killa Kela, an amazing beatboxer, and it just blew my mind. I researched what beatboxing was and found out there was a whole community of it, and I became hooked.

OT: How will our Thanksgiving break be enhanced by Gobsmacked!? 
BZ: In a nutshell, it’s amazing vocal gymnastics by cast members who perform some unbelievable songs from all different decades. People leave with smiles on their faces and a new appreciation for a cappella music.

Gobsmacked! will play Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Stage Friday, November 24­ through Sunday, November 26, with shows Friday at 4 and 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2 p.m. For more information, visit www.kennedy-center.org.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org

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Dustbowl Revival at The Hamilton

The Dustbowl Revival is an Americana and soul band with eight full-time members who mash the sounds of New Orleans funk, bluegrass, soul, pre-war blues and roots music into a genre-hopping, time-bending dance party that coaxes new fire out of familiar coal. The band, founded in 2008 in the bohemian enclave of Venice Beach, California, played for DMV residents on November 17 at The HamiltonPhotos: Mark Raker / Write-up: The Hamilton 

Bruce Cockburn performing at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia on November 14, 2017.
Bruce Cockburn performing at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia on November 14, 2017.

Bruce Cockburn at The Birchmere

Fresh from being honored at the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and the release of Bone on Bone, singer-songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire Bruce Cockburn has hit the road. On November 14, he stopped at Alexandria’s Birchmere and turned in a stunning two-hour performance.

Cockburn’s career spans five decades and, as he mentioned during the show, 332 songs. The 19-song set list featured the compelling new material, some deep-cut gems like “Free to Be, Tokyo,” and his standard rockers like “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” “Rocket Launcher” and “Strange Waters.”

I’ve seen Cockburn perform dozens of times, both solo and with a band. This particular ensemble featured longtime bandmates (percussionist Gary Craig and John Dymond on bass) with relative newcomer John Aaron Cockburn (Cockburn’s nephew) accompanying on accordion, violin and electric guitar.

The band experience affords Cockburn the opportunity to stretch out on the electric pieces while still being able to perform the quieter acoustic and instrumental songs. The highlight of the evening for me was “If a Tree Falls,” with the expert and flawless interplay of the younger Cockburn’s violin and Bruce’s lead guitar providing the evening’s emotional and musical high point.

Cockburn is already acknowledged, many times over, as one of Canada’s musical national treasures (joining the ranks of Leonard Cohen and Neil Young). Thankfully, we have two of those three still with us, so go catch Bruce on tour if you can. Find his remaining tour dates and Bone on Bone here. Photos and review: Mark Caicedo 

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Bleachers at 9:30 Club

Bleachers rocked the 9:30 Club last Saturday while touring for their second studio album, Gone Now. Photos: Krystina Gabrielle Photography

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The Sherlocks at DC9

The two sets of brothers (Kiaran and Brandon Crook, and Andy and Josh Davidson) that make up British indie/alternative band The Sherlocks rocked the DC9 stage on November 9. Photos: Mark Raker

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Everyone Orchestra at Gypsy Sally’s

Everyone Orchestra’s conductor, Matt Butler, has been leading a rotating cast of accredited musicians through full-length shows that are entirely improvised since 2001 after touring with the rock band Jambay. In 2012, Butler gathered particularly well-known musicians from bands like Phish, Moe. and others, and recorded Everyone Orchestra’s first studio album, Brooklyn Sessions, which was still largely improvised. The unscripted, untamed group rocked out at Gyspy Sally’s on November 11. Photos: Mark Raker

Photo: Courtesy of the Kennedy Center
Photo: Courtesy of the Kennedy Center

Mozart in the District

It’s not so much what Gianandrea Noseda says so much as how he says it. The Italian-born conductor speaks with a drawl that makes you want to listen closer and, even over the phone, you can tell which topics he finds blasé and which cause his eyes to light up.

At the mention of Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle, Noseda demurs and says he’s seen little of the show. But it’s hard not to see some resemblances between him and the charismatic conductor in the series, played by Gael García Bernal. Noseda may not share the character’s penchant for drama, but he speaks about music and the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) with a similar passion. He’s also very enthusiastic about bringing the orchestra outside of the Kennedy Center’s symphony hall and into the community.

Noseda began his tenure as the music director for the NSO this fall, and has already conducted the NSO at a mid-November performance at The Anthem, one of The Wharf’s new music venues. The sold-out performance on November 15 featured works from composers Ottorino Respighi, Jules Massenet, Manuel de Falla and George Gershwin. He described the program as a musical buffet.

“Someone who wants sweetness or tenderness can find it in some spots of Respighi or Chausson,” he says. “Someone who wants something very rhythmical will find it in Gershwin or Falla.”

Noseda was particularly excited for the Massenet piece from the opera Thaïs as it features a solo for violin, performed at The Anthem by NSO Concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef. The concertmaster is young, but has been with the NSO for some time. Bar-Josef is the first chair violinist, and Noseda describes the position as the sort of right-hand man of the conductor.

“[As a conductor], if you have a good concertmaster, as well as other principals, let’s say 70 percent of your job is guaranteed.”

This prompts me to ask him what exactly it is that a conductor does. Noseda laughs at the question.

“People have the impression that the conductor just waves his hands.”

His job is to first and foremost motivate the musicians, to get them to commit to a performance. In practical terms, that entails not only keeping time, but knowing the parts of all the instruments and how to balance them in a live performance.

“You have to know the music of all the instruments and how to balance the sound, because if you have the trombones play loud, and you ask the violins to play loud, the loudness of the trombones is five times the loudness of the violins,” he says. “So how to combine these things, how to balance – it’s like a dish. If you put too much salt, at the end of the day, you don’t have the taste of the meat, fish or vegetable that you are eating, because it’s salty. Salt is necessary sometimes, but in limited quantity.”

Noseda is hopeful that his orchestra’s recent performance at The Anthem will attract listeners to upcoming performances at the Kennedy Center. For him, the live performance is at the core of what they do.

“[Rather than] explain why music is so important in our society, just come and listen,” he says. “We are not from Mars. We are normal people and want to present the music we love to everybody.”

Noseda will conduct the NSO in “The Artist Abroad: Yuja Wang plays Prokofiev/Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances” on Thursday, November 30 through Saturday, December 2, and then returns to the Kennedy Center next spring.

Check www.kennedy-center.org for more details about upcoming performances, including free NSO in Your Neighborhood concerts; the first in the series will be held at Union Station next April.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org