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Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company
Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

Modern Shakespeare: Richard the Third at STC

“Now is the winter of our discontent.”

The opening line of Richard the Third would have you believe that all hardships are over and only good days are to come. But as theatergoers attending Shakespeare Theatre Company’s (STC) upcoming production of Richard the Third will soon realize, anything but peace lies ahead.

Directed by David Muse for STC and running from February 5 through March 10, Shakespeare’s Richard the Third follows the titular role of Richard on his ambitious quest for the crown. A spiteful megalomaniac, Richard (Matthew Rauch) will stop at nothing until he sits on the throne, and thus invites the audience into a world of murder, villainy and even dark fun.

“Yes, Richard does horrific things in this play,” Rauch says, “but my hope and David’s [Muse] hope, I think, is that at least for the first part of the play, the audience reaction will not be ‘Oh, what a terrible person,’ but ‘Oh, isn’t he just deliciously evil’ and it’s terrible, but it’s fun to watch.”

Rauch emphasizes that just because the title of the play is Richard the Third, it doesn’t mean the story is only about him.

“It’s very easy with a face on the poster and the title of the play, for people to think there’s only one person involved,” Rauch says. “The truth is there’s about a hundred people involved and all of them are crucial.”

Some of those crucial people are the women around Richard, including his mother the Duchess of York, Margaret of Anjou and Queen Elizabeth. Rauch points out that while Richard can brilliantly manipulate people and events, these particular women don’t bend easily to his will and disprove the outdated notion that Shakespearean women are damsels in distress.

But a fourth woman equally as important to the play’s development, Lady Anne of Neville (Cara Ricketts), is the person who perhaps best understands Richard.

“Richard sees himself in [Anne] and she sees herself in him, in a way that she probably feels like she may break through to him,” Ricketts says. “He pretends it’s a possibility and she falls for it.”

Bust because Anne is ultimately manipulated by Richard, this doesn’t make her simple.

“My Anne is not a pushover,” Ricketts says. “There’s nothing soft about these women. The foundation for these characters has never been soft women.”

Ricketts adds she is ready to play Anne the way an audience 70 years ago may not have let her.

“During the 50s, you had preconceived notions about what a woman was in terms of society so that’s what you got,” Ricketts says. “Now I’ve got a chance to let loose the girdle and make it rip, so that’s what I’m doing while respecting what that character is.”

These preconceived notions of Shakespearean women are not the only ideas cast and crew hope prove outdated. Perhaps one of the most famous scenes in the play is the “wooing scene” where Richard interrupts Anne’s mourning of her father-in-law.

Rauch stresses that while many feel the scene is “creepy” and Richard comes off as “sexually predatory,” this is not the way they plan to portray Richard.

“The only event that needs to happen in the scene is that Anne consents to come to Richard’s house. Nothing else is implied in that scene or on the page and my hope is that it will not come off as sexually creepy,” Rauch says. “David [Muse] and I were never interested in a Richard who was sexually predatory, not because it’s not politically correct, but because we didn’t believe there was anything in the text that supported that.”

Changes in the character’s tones will not be the only noticeable differences in STC’s Richard the Third production. About 40 percent of the original text – mostly obscure English history – has been cut for a streamlined production.

“The Shakespeare Theatre is, I would argue, literally the best classical theater in the United States,” Rauch says. “They know how to do this here and they have created such a web of support.”

Rauch adds that despite the play’s age, audience members will find a lot of similarities between the 500-year-old story and modern society.

“[This is] a story about a deeply complicated, manipulative, brilliant person who rises to power and the people who are complicit in his doing so,” Rauch says. “All you need to do is read the front page of the New York Times to find parallels to that story.”

See Richard the Third at Shakespeare Theatre Company from February 5 through March 10. Runtime is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets start at $44. For more information, click here.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Urban Bush Dance Place

Stage and Screen: Winter 2019

THROUGH SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 9

The Baltimore Waltz
It’s hard to blame someone diagnosed with the fictional “Acquired Toilet Disease” from going all out in the pleasures of the skin. With the fatal illness starting the timer leading to her impending doom, unmarried school teacher Anna heads to Europe with her brother Carl so she can live a little – complete with lots of food and sex. Meanwhile, Carl becomes entrenched in a bizarre espionage scheme meant to discover a cure for his not-long-for-this-world sister. You might be wondering, “Why did you mention a trip to Europe when Baltimore is mentioned in the title?” Well, about that… Various dates and times. Tickets $50. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

TUESDAY, JANUARY 29 – FRIDAY, MARCH 10

Nell Gwynn
Coming from humble beginnings, an orange seller eventually finds her way to the stage where she immediately becomes a household name. Upon Nell Gwynn’s successes, she manages to make a fan out of King Charles II. Eventually, the royal leader of England brings Gwynn to court as a favorite mistress. From there, the story about this amazing woman takes off. Various dates and times. Tickets $42-$79. Folger Theatre: 201 E Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 30 – SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 17

Shame
An adaptation of a documentary may not seem all that enthralling at first. However, the subject matter of Mosaic Theater Company’s Shame is more than enough to draw you in as it tackles the challenges facing Israelis and Palestinians who choose to work with one another despite significant hurdles. The story focuses on several examples of this predicament and integrates several mediums, including Facebook messages, tweets and telephoned threats. Various dates and times. Tickets $15-$35. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 4 – SUNDAY, MARCH 3

BLKS
Spurred by a scare, Octavia decides it’s time to forget about any troubles or trepidations and have a raucous night on the town with friends. Joined by companions June and Imani, the three depart into the city for an epic night. But the evening becomes more than a hardcore party session, as the trio encounter strange characters, outrageous events and endure a true test of their friendship. Poet and playwright Aziza Barnes wrote this play, which celebrates queerness and sisterhood as the friends wrestle with universal factors such as truth, love and the struggle of adulthood. Various dates and times. Tickets $20-$51. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 5 – SUNDAY, MARCH 10

Richard the Third
Power as an addiction is not only a trope in real life, but a common theme for villains in a number of stories – and perhaps the most famous is the power-hungry king from Shakespeare’s Richard III. Fueled by a bottomless well of ambition, the ruthless and cunning man continues to reach for more, more and more in his quest for power. By the play’s end, no one in the audience will be rooting for his lust. This is the study of what makes a villain, and few put on better performances than Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC). Various dates and times. Tickets $44-$102. STC’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 7 – SUNDAY, MARCH 3

El Viejo, El Joven y El Mar (The Old Man, The Youth, and The Sea)
A new play by Irma Correa, El Viejo, El Joven y El Mar tells the story of a renowned Spanish philosopher who runs into a fisherman, general and journalist. He speaks with each of them about their different beliefs regarding freedom, reason and faith; all the while, the old man is planning his escape from the Spanish island of Fuerteventura. Though the play is based on historical events, the subtext is heavily rooted in today’s society. The play is in Spanish with English subtitles. Various dates and times. Tickets $48. GALA Hispanic Theatre: 3333 14th St. NW, DC; http://en.galatheatre.org

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 14

Story District’s Sucker for Love: A Valentine’s Day Special
No need to get mushy on Valentine’s Day when you can laugh at the misery of others, right? Okay, admittedly that sentence was a little Seinfeld-ish, but on the day dedicated to love, heart drawings and chocolates, Story District’s Sucker for Love provides an alternate mode of entertainment. Instead of a candlelit dinner with expensive wine, head to Lincoln Theatre to hear true stories involving sex, love, breakups, makeups, dating and anything else you can fit into the genre of Valentine’s Day. Show starts at 7 p.m., tickets $35-$45. Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; www.storydistrict.org

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 16 – SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 17

Urban Bush Women’s Hair & Other Stories
Through personal narratives crafted in living rooms, communities and kitchens, Hair & Other Stories is dance theatre that blends conversations with movement to challenge existing – and sometime archaic – American values. The Urban Bush Women company is always on the cutting edge of delivering pieces that fit within the contemporary dance genre while also highlighting the cultural history and spiritual traditions of the African-American and African diaspora. Saturday night opening party starts at 8 p.m. Sunday afternoon performance starts at 4 p.m. Tickets $15-$100. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; www.danceplace.org

Photo: Ryan Pfluger
Photo: Ryan Pfluger

Sharon Van Etten Talks TV, Her New Record and Focusing on the Positive

Singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten is many things. The recording artist has scored movies, acted in Netflix hit The OA, returned to school to pursue a psychology degree and navigated motherhood. Her accomplishments are dizzying and her talent is seemingly unending, but the musician is incredibly grounded and open about her creative process and personal life. On her fifth studio album, Van Etten put down the guitar and took to a Jupiter-4 synthesizer to compose 10 stunning songs about falling in love and forgiving yourself. The cover of her record Remind Me Tomorrow – yes, like the software notification update that’s universally postponed on computers and phones across the world – features two children in a sea of toys and play clothes.

The children belong to Van Etten’s friend and collaborator, director Katherine Dieckmann, who showed her the image after she expressed her worries around raising a child and being an artist. Dieckmann presented the photo with a laugh and the sincere encouragement of “You’ll figure it out.”

It’s clear that she not only figured it out but also entered a new era in her personal and professional life that’s responsible for the creation of her best work yet. Van Etten describes the photo as beautiful and liberating – an apt description for the feeling that anchors Remind Me Tomorrow.

On Tap: Your music is making a mark on current TV shows. “Serpents” is featured on The Walking Dead, your The OA character Rachel shares her pipes with viewers and you perform at the famous Roadhouse in Twin Peaks: The Return. How did these opportunities present themselves?
Sharon Van Etten:
“Serpents” connected with the zombie crew. It wasn’t something that I had planned or asked for. Someone made the connection and it was an honor, because that show is pretty epic. As far as The OA, I found out the casting director was in the audience when I was touring for Nick Cave in 2013 and I got asked to audition in 2016. They were looking for a singer because that’s a big part of the role of Rachel. In so many ways, that’s her superpower. In the few acting roles I’ve had, they were looking for a version of myself, which is comforting. For Twin Peaks, it was a similar thing. I think [director] David Lynch’s son [Riley Lynch] is a fan, and he turns his dad on to a lot of music and is also a musician himself. I also have a friend whose role is music and film crossover work who also said a kind word to David. There’s also a stroke of luck somewhere in there.

OT: How did you land on “Tarifa” for the Twin Peaks scene?
SVE:
It was a request! It was like, “Well, David wants ‘Tarifa’ so David gets ‘Tarifa!’” [laughs] It was kind of a no-brainer.

OT: It seems like so many people really connected with The OA and are really excited for the new season. Why do you think that is?
SVE:
I think real people in a sci-fi context is just something people connect with. The cinematography is so visceral, and all the characters have such a different emotive feel that it’s hard to just connect to one character. There’s a lot of care put into that show at every level. I’ve never been part of a production that large and everybody cares so much about all the fine details. It’s fun to watch them unfold.

OT: When did you start working on Remind Me Tomorrow?
SVE:
During the writing of this record, which spanned from 2015 to 2017, I was asked to score a film for Katherine Dieckmann called Strange Weather. A reference she gave me for the film was Ry Cooder’s score for Paris, Texas. It’s really beautiful and ambient – very Southwestern, dreamy guitar, introspective playing. It’s a style that I had to try very hard to give an homage to, but I don’t know how to play that naturally. In moments where I was feeling writers’ block, I put down the guitar and gravitated toward the keys [and] synthesizer that my space mate Michael Cera had called a Jupiter-4. I ended up writing a handful of songs on it.

OT: So in the midst of that, how did the record itself take shape?
SVE:
I did it without realizing I was writing for a record, which is really liberating – just to play and sing and not care about what it was for. It was more of a vibe that I was creating. The goal of that was just to cleanse my palate so I could return to the guitar and finish Catherine’s score. So by the time my son was about six months old, I got the itch to be more creative and write again. I opened this folder of demos and realized I had like 40. My partner encouraged me to make another record, but it was not my intention.

OT: How did you narrow it down from 40 demos to the 10 songs that make up Remind Me Tomorrow?
SVE:
When I started whittling down the songs after hearing everyone’s favorites, I wanted to pick the ones that also felt positive. I also wanted to pick the ones that were left of center. When I met with [producer] John Congleton, I had three folders: Folder A was all the songs I felt like needed to be on the record, Folder B was backups, and Folder C was wild cards that were either going to be great or terrible. He picked some from each.

OT: Which of the Folder C wild cards made the cut?
SVE:
That would be “Hands.” I wasn’t sure if it made sense. You don’t know until you go into the studio and let the sonic palette unfold. It ended up really standing out on the record to me.

OT: You said you wanted to pick songs that sounded positive. Why is that?
SVE:
When I was touring my last record, I was really proud of my songs and the production. But playing those songs over the years was also heartbreaking in a way that I wasn’t prepared for. I was going in a dark place to perform those songs. I feel this responsibility to be a positive influence and a role model. I want to share a positive message and my positive experiences. I want to feel good, to sing love songs not about mourning something that didn’t survive but about something that is just born. I think that will help me endure the next couple years of touring as I perform these songs every night, just infused with a bit more love than regret.

Sharon Van Etten performs at the 9:30 Club with Nilüfer Yanya on Wednesday, February 6. Doors are at 7 p.m. and tickets are $30. For more on Van Etten, visit www.sharonvanetten.com.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

the helio sequence

Music Picks: December 2018

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 4

The Helio Sequence
This Portland, Oregon duo hits the road to celebrate the ten year anniversary of their album Keep Your Eyes Ahead, which is (in my humble opinion) the best breakup album of all time. And while I can find no solid evidence it’s actually a breakup album (that’s the beauty of music, it’s whatever you need it to be!) it’s definitely worth the critical reevaluations it’s been receiving, whether or not listeners are brokenhearted. In fact, I had no idea the band was only a duo until today; their sounds are so lush and large I’d have insisted it was the work of a six piece band. If that’s not a testament to lasting talent I’m not sure what is. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $20. Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 5

Justus Proffit & Jay Som
Musicians and friends Justus Proffit and Jay Som make music inspired by the likes of Elliott Smith, Bright Eyes and other purveyors of sensitive and sensible guitar-driven music. Both accomplished artists in their own right, they’ve joined forces to bestow the gift of their EP Nothing’s Changed upon the world. And in the spirit of holiday giving and fierce friendship, they’ll take the stage at DC9 together. Doors 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $13. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 6

JD McPherson
JD McPherson is ready to get you in the rock and roll holiday spirit that will have you dancing through the Christmas season and, let’s be honest, probably beyond. McPherson released Socks, his first Christmas album, this year and it’s full of eleven original holiday tunes. As someone who’s officially sick of traditional carols already, Christmas came early for me (and everyone else who’s ready for some originality in their seasonal playlist. Doors at 7:30. Tickets $25. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

Kimbra
Electro-pop artist Kimbra’s live shows are usually colorful and electric, but she’s adding a new dimension to her artistry with this “intimate, reimagined evening” at Sixth & I. This comes on the heels of her EP Songs from Primal Heart: Reimagined released earlier this year, and will hopefully also include reworked or stripped down versions of her experimental but honest to goodness pop. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $25. Sixth & I Historic Synagogue: 600 I St. NW, DC; www.sixthandi.org

Roosevelt
French singer, songwriter, DJ and producer Roosevelt (real name Marius Lauber) has been making waves with his danceable indie pop since 2013. Now back on the scene with the recently released album Young Romance – to which prolific producer Chris Coady lent his chops – Lauber will bring warmth to event the chilliest December night with what’s sure to be a high energy dance party. 18-plus. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $15. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 8

Cloud Nothings
The last time I saw Ohio post-punk outfit Cloud Nothings, their rainy festival set concluded with security guards attempting to rush the band offstage in the midst of lighting strike while frontman Dylan Baldi attempted to hang from an amp. Oh, and there was a mud-filled mosh pit. While I can’t guarantee the same things will transpire at Union Stage this month, I can guarantee Cloud Nothings will show you a good time. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $20. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 9

DRAMA
DRAMA return to DC after a recent stop at the 9:30 Club supporting French pop singer Jain for their very own headlining show. The purveyors of a perfect blend of soul, R&B and good old-fashioned pop self released their impressive Gallows EP in 2016, followed by a handful of singles this year, and have been busy touring behind their self-described “happy-sad music” ever since. They’re definitely ones to keep on your radar, so don’t miss seeing the duo at the intimate DC9 space. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $13. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

MONDAY, DECEMBER 10

Jingle Ball
The most stacked lineup in pop returns to DC this year with Top 40’s biggest hitmakers new and old. This year sees Shawn Mendes, The Chainsmokers, G-Eazy, Meghan Trainor, Bebe Rexha and more bringing both their hits and holiday cheer to Capital One arena. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $40-plus. Capital One Arena: 601 F St NW, DC; www.hot995.iheart.com

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 14

Curls
I mourn the breakup of the band Girls, helmed by California based singer-songwriter Christopher Owens, on a more or less daily basis. Lucky for me (and for anyone who’s a fan of 60s influenced psych pop) Owens has been hard at work with solo albums and now a full band, Curls. Here, Owens has enlisted the wildly talented lineup of Cody Rhodes and Luke Baće to complete this trio. While a fully formed and very different band on their own, Curls has the same surf rock sensibilities and introspective songwriting that’s been a hallmark of Owen’s career so far. DC’s own Baby Bry Bry & Friends open, marking their first live performance in nearly two years. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $13. Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

The Japanese House
Amber Bain has yet to release a full length album under her musical moniker The Japanese House, but she’s still garnered legions of fans and songs with over 20 million plays on Spotify since the release of her first EP in 2015. As Bain gears up to release her first full length album, she’ll visit DC with the music of her spectacular EPs and hopefully some new tracks this winter. If you’re a fan of the dreamy vibes of bands like Cocteau Twins, Imogen Heap and Mazzy Star, this is a can’t-miss show. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $18. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 15

Darlingside
If you’re looking for a show that screams winter vibes, this is it. The indie folk quartet Darlingside bring their warm and wonderful harmonies to the halls of Sixth & I just in time for the holidays. Fresh off the release of their critically acclaimed album Extralife, which is described as “an experimental ode to the apocalypse,” they’ll bring songs new and old out for what’s sure to be a toe tapping, guitar picking good time. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $22. Sixth & I Historic Synagogue: 600 I St. NW, DC; www.sixthandi.org

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 16

Cat Power
There is a fantastic profile on Chan Marshall, better known as Cat Power, written by the eloquent and iconic music journalist Jessica Hopper, that ran in The Cut earlier this year. It deals with Marshall’s prolific 25-year career, motherhood, rejection from her longtime label and finding camaraderie in other – namely female – musicians. It’s an enlightening deep dive into the enigmatic world of the artist that has me counting down the days til Marshall graces the 9:30 Club’s hallowed halls with her phenomenal new record Wanderer in tow. Read up and grab your tickets to see this living legend as soon as you can. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $40. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

Ryley Walker
Ryley Walker makes impressive, intricate psych rock that draws from a pantheon of differing genres but somehow ends up incredibly cohesive. In an ever interesting turn, he covered Dave Matthews Band’s late 90s bootleg album The Lillywhite Sessions from front to back. Part reimaging and part paying his dues to one of his most well loved bands, Walker is nothing if not a breath of fresh air in the music world. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $12. Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 19

Hammered Hulls
This band features some of DC’s best musicians all in one place: Alec MacKaye, Mary Timony, Mark Cisernos and Chris Wilson. With so much unfettered talent in one place, it’s hard to think of a better way to spend your Wednesday night than watching the five piece band tear up the Black Cat’s backstage. If you missed their amazing set at the Black Cat’s 25th Anniversary show, the universe is granting you a Christmas miracle in the form of a do-over. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $10. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 20

Hiss Golden Messenger
I saw Hiss Golden Messenger open for Bon Iver back in 2017, and when Justin Vernon thanked the band for opening he quipped, “I feel like I was listening to his music when I was in the womb or something.” An odd but apt description, the work of Michael Taylor is warm, comforting and does have the feel of something you may have heard in a past life. Sure to remedy the cold winter nights we’ll have late December, he’ll stop at the 9:30 Club in support of last month’s release Virgo Fool. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $20. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 21

Snail Mail
Maryland’s Lindsey Jordan (a.k.a. Snail Mail) has been making waves since her 2016 EP released on DC’s Sister Polygon Records, and many (myself included) eagerly awaited the debut of her full length album, Lush, which arrived this past summer. Hands down one of the best releases of the year, Jordan will be rounding out a year of touring and critical acclaim just a hop, skip and jump away from her hometown at the 9:30 Club. Celebrate with her and end your 2018 right at this show, where she’ll be joined by Empath and Instupendo. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 28

The Roots
The legendary Philadelphia outfit will pick you right out of your post holiday slump, guaranteed. They’ve been named one of Rolling Stone’s Greatest Live Bands, so that’s not an understatement. And although they haven’t released new music in four years, they’re sure to pull the classics from their massive catalogue of hits. Bring your family in town to the party or use this as an excuse to take a break and dance away. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $69.50. The Fillmore Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

MONDAY, DECEMBER 31

White Ford Bronco
90s babies and 90s music enthusiasts rejoice. The District’s all 90s band returns to the 9:30 Club for New Year’s Eve. While December 31 is typically all about toasting to new beginnings, there’s no harm in looking a little further back and dancing into the new year to the best 90s hits spanning all genres. Round out your throwback with a champagne toast at midnight. Doors at 9 p.m. Tickets $55. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

Photo: Ray Polanco
Photo: Ray Polanco

The Many Lives of Toro y Moi

Chaz Bear has written, recorded and released music under a host of names over the years, but is perhaps best known for his work as Toro y Moi. One of the most successful names to come out of the chillwave movement in the early 2010s, the Berkeley, California-based musician has done much more than simply be part of the larger scene. The release of his most recent effort as Toro y Moi, Boo Boo, saw a more introspective and stripped-down era for Bear. He’s lent his production talents to some of this year’s most exciting up-and-coming artists like Tanukichan (who’s signed to Bear’s label Company Records, an imprint of DC’s own Carpark Records) and Astronauts, etc. We caught up with the artist ahead of his 9:30 Club show on November 12 to chat chillwave, community and what’s next for one of the hardest working names in music.

On Tap: Your album Boo Boo sounded like a slight departure from the more electronic-influenced sounds of your previous efforts. What were some of the themes surrounding this record?
Chaz Bear:
This record was written in 2016, a time when I was going through a change, and that’s what the record is about. It’s not really about a relationship with another person. It sounds like that, but it’s more of a relationship with society and about how to navigate the world in hectic times.

OT: You came onto the scene during the chillwave zeitgeist in the early 2010s. Were you ever worried about being associated with one of the first trendy blog rock genres? Do you care how people classify your music?
CB: It was never intimidating to be part of the genre. I always felt like it was helpful and useful to be connected to a scene. I’ve always used it to my advantage. It’s definitely easy to want to play into it and satisfy the listeners you have, but my goal with Toro y Moi is to explore as much as possible. I want to grow and explore different types, styles and sonic palettes, whether they be lo-fi sounding or shiny and hi-fi. I think that’s the whole challenge for most, if not all, listeners: to take down those sonic barriers and enjoy music from everywhere – all genres, all qualities.

OT: Your background is in graphic design. Has your work in that field influenced your music at all?
CB:
Graphic design initiated the conversation in my head about taste and style – what I think I want to present and how I want to present myself. That carried on to music as well. Before I got into graphic design, my music was more of the times: emo and post-punk stuff. I never really referenced music from the past until I got into graphic design. It taught me how to achieve and maintain a sense of timelessness.

OT: In addition to your own work as Toro y Moi, you’ve been producing work for artists like Astronauts, etc. and Tanukichan. How does approaching these projects differ from your own solo work?
CB:
When working with new artists, the first thing that I’m drawn to is a person and their actual character. If their music is good on top of that, they become a friend who makes dope music and it’s like, “Oh man, we should make more music together,” and we just go from there. The motivation behind making music with friends comes from the idea of building something together within our community. Everyone on Company Records is based in the Bay Area. It’s a label that’s sort of eclectic in the sense of [having] a lot of different genres. It’s also still very honed in with a community vibe.

OT: Speaking of community, Berkeley recently honored you by declaring June 27 “Chaz Bear Day.” What was it like to be recognized by the city in such a public way?
CB:
That was a really big turning point for me because I hadn’t realized that my presence was so impactful. I needed to truly think about how the city was looking at me and where I wanted to go with this. It was truly flattering, and it still is an amazing thing. It was kind of like more of the city recognizing you for your good work. That’s really all I can do: keep working.

OT: You’re also overseeing the aforementioned Company Records. What are your goals for the label, and how are you choosing who to sign and work with?
CB:
There’s two ways to approach it: working with new and younger acts and working with your peers. Everyone I’m working with, I’ve known them first not as musicians. I like that approach more. I do feel like we’re all around the same age – 20 and 30-somethings – and we all started playing music around the same time. But some of us didn’t get the exposure, so I think bringing up the community is what I’m focusing on and making sure there is a solid, level platform for everyone I’m rising with. It will make the city better, it should make the Bay Area better and inevitably it should make (laughs) everything a little bit nicer.

Toro y Moi will play 9:30 Club on Monday, November 12. Tickets are $25 and doors open at 7 p.m. Follow Bear on Instagram and Twitter @toroymoi. His next album Outer Peace will be released on January 18 via Carpark Records. Learn more at www.toroymoi.com.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

Photo: Jim McGuire
Photo: Jim McGuire

Banjo Legend Béla Fleck Part of Terrific Trio

With 16 Grammy Awards to his name, Béla Fleck is not your average banjo player. He’s known throughout the world for redefining the instrument, and sits proudly in the American Banjo Hall of Fame alongside notable players like Jim Henson, Steve Martin and Pete Seeger.

“I first heard the banjo on the Beverly Hillbillies theme,” Fleck says about the bluegrass stylings of banjoist Earl Scruggs, who famously played the tune. “Something about the sound hooked me as a little kid, and then my grandfather unexpectedly got me one just before high school. I became obsessed and still am.”

In 1973, Fleck began at New York City’s High School of Music and Art where he studied the instrument seriously. It didn’t take him long to discover he’d play the banjo for the rest of his life.

“I took no steps to do anything else once I got into it, so there was no escape,” he continues. “No colleges were submitted to, I trained for no jobs. I just came out of high school and right into bands. I was fortunate that my mom was surprised and distracted with a new baby when I was a senior in high school, otherwise I never could have gotten away with it.”

His group Béla Fleck and the Flecktones have been touring for 30 years and have released a plethora of music, most famously, the landmark three-disc Little Worlds. Recently, Fleck also moved into the teaching side, inspiring future youngsters to pursue the instrument professionally.

“I’ve just returned to teaching after not doing it for many years. I just hosted my first banjo camp  The Blue Ridge Banjo Camp – and it went very well, with 100 students.”

On November 10, Fleck will join forces with bassist Edgar Meyer and tabla performer Zakir Hussain for a trio performance presented by Washington Performing Arts at GW’s Lisner Auditorium. While each member of the group is expected to play some solo pieces, Fleck notes there won’t be any individual sets as they’ll perform as a band.

“We are adding a wild card this time: an incredible bansuri player named Rakesh Churasia. The music will be sometimes beautiful and sometimes very exciting. There will be a strong groove, with Zakir’s incredible percussive abilities, and a lot of melody and warmth coming from Edgar’s bowed bass and the rich sounds of the flute. And I’ll be fitting my banjo in there somewhere in the middle.”

The trio has known each other for awhile and play together periodically.

“Rakesh is new to the group, but Edgar and I go way way back, and Zakir and Edgar and I go back 10 years or longer. We got together to create a triple concerto to celebrate the opening of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, home of the Nashville Symphony. After that, we loved playing together and toured quite a bit with the trio.”

They even found time to record The Melody of Rhythm: Triple Concerto & Music for Trio in 2009. The tour marks the first time they’ll reunite on stage since 2013.

“I would say that Edgar and Zakir have both impacted my music making immensely,” he says. “I can learn from everyone, and that always keeps me intrigued and on my toes.”

Once the tour ends in December, Fleck will start performing again with his wife, clawhammer banjoist Abigail Fleck, who recently gave birth to their second child in June. Together, the two won the 2016 Grammy for Best Folk album.

“I have lots of things brewing, too early to say much, except more touring with the Flecktones and Chick Corea. There is something very powerful about the experience of improvising in front of an audience. There are things that I can only pull off in front of a crowd. They are part of the collaboration.”

Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussain will play the Lisner Auditorium on Saturday, November 10 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $40-$50. Learn more about the performance here, and about Fleck here.

Lisner Auditorium: 730 21st St. NW, DC; 202-994-6800; www.lisner.gwu.edu

Junglepussy

Music Picks: October 2018

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 3

Leon Bridges with Khruangbin
These two Texan musicians are bringing their acts to the East Coast early this month. Khruangbin sources their inspiration from their newest work Con Todo El Mundo from soul and funk music in the Middle East, which I wouldn’t have even considered to be a thing until I looked into this album. Leon Bridges will bring some classic R&B and soul with a country twang to The Anthem from his new album Good Thing. Though they may occupy dissimilar genres, the smooth soulfulness of their music ties them together really nicely and makes pairing them together on tour a fantastic idea. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $55. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 3 – SATURDAY, OCTOBER 6

Capitol Hill Jazz Foundation’s Hillfest
Hillfest, an all-day, free concert held in Garfield Park, will bring musicians together in an effort to translate performances into policy. The festival begins with a conference addressing policy concerns that directly affect musicians on a local and national level, followed by a day-long concert. Enjoy performances by bands such as Stefon Harris & Blackout, JOGO Project, Cheryl Pepsii Riley and many more. Learn more about music and marketing through the conferences that will take place on Wednesday and Thursday, and enjoy the various vendors showcasing their wares on Friday. Garfield Park: 2nd and F Streets in SE, DC; www.hillfest.org

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 5

Lupe Fiasco
Chicago rap veteran Lupe Fiasco released his new album Drogas Wave in late September. The 24-track album features frequent collaborators like Nikki Jean, Crystal Torres and Simon Sayz, as well as new ones like Damian Marley. Though he’s always been a prominent voice in conscious rap, Fiasco’s work has taken on a new level of self-awareness – especially amid the various controversies and threats of retirement of the past few years. Hopefully, this new album gives fans of his old work something to be excited about again. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets $30. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com 

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 6

Black Masala CD Release Party
Celebrate the release of Trains and Moonlight Destinies from this dynamic live brass band based in DC. One of their many musical influences comes from India in the form of Bhangra music. Even their name refers to a term used to describe a mix of spices often used in Indian cuisine. Their eclectic tunes run the gamut from jazz and New Orleans funk to Balkan brass and free-spirited, Romani-tinged folk with punk-rock vibes. Hopefully, their new album demonstrates a bit of growth when it comes to their liberal use of the “g” slur. It’s 2018 and we need to do a bit better, no? Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $15. Pearl Street Warehouse: 33 Pearl St. SW, DC; www.pearlstreetwarehouse.com

The Presets with Blood Red Shoes
Australian electronic duo The Presets and English alt-rockers Blood Red Shoes take the stage this month at U Hall. Rolling Stone Song of the Year winners The Presets released Hi Viz a few months back after going years without releasing any big projects. Blood Red Shoes took a similar hiatus right before starting to record their new album Get Tragic, which is set to debut in January. According to a recent Clash interview, their leading single “Mexican Dress” is about the lengths people will go to for attention. “Whether it’s online or in real life, small hits of validation and the feeling of having all eyes on you have become our generation’s biggest drug problem,” says guitarist and vocalist Laura- Mary Carter. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $25. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

MONDAY, OCTOBER 8

J Cole, Young Thug, Jaden Smith and EarthGang
There’s so much to be excited about for this tour – for one, you get to see J. Cole. Did you know his album 2014 Forest Hills Drive went platinum with no features? I’m so thankful for Cole’s KOD era so that meme can finally be laid to rest. Also, Young Thug posted bond for the felony charges he stacked up in Georgia, so we can expect to see him on this tour date. Plus, he has a new song “On the Rvn” in the works with the legendary Elton John, 6lack and tourmate Jaden Smith that should be coming out any day now. Smith and EarthGang round out this very comprehensive lineup that represents various facets of the rap world and conveniently places them all together on one stage just for you. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $29.50. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.capitalonearena.com

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 9

Nine Inch Nails with The Jesus and Mary Chain
In honor of their ninth album Bad Witch, NIN is joining fellow white noise lovers The Jesus and Mary Chain on The Cold and Black and Infinite Tour in October. Scottish alternative pioneers JMC released Damage and Joy in 2017 – their most recent music prior to that was from 2002, so it’s been more than a decade since any fan has seen them play new music on tour. It’ll be an experience to see these two bands touring together again since it’s been almost 30 years since they’ve shared a bill. Doors at 6 p.m. Tickets $95-$175. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC;
www.theanthemdc.com

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 11

Mija
The mysterious producer is coming to Ten Tigers and bringing her unique sound with her. Some of her musical influences include Björk as well as Chopin, Imogen Heap and Nicolas Jaar. The Just Enough EP, which only features two songs, debuted earlier this summer. With these tracks, Mija delves deeper into the concept of her own genre-bending production that she somehow still manages to fill with sensitivity, introspection and raw emotion. She also has a collaboration with Heelys, which accurately reflects her reluctance to stick to only one medium of expression. Any artist that’s making music while simultaneously designing (and probably wearing) Heelys out here in these streets is someone that is clearly riding their own wave, and I definitely respect that. Doors at 10:30 p.m. Tickets $20. Ten Tigers Parlour: 3818 Georgia Ave. NW, DC; www.tentigersdc.com

MONDAY, OCTOBER 15

Mikaela Davis
Singer, songwriter and classically trained harpist Mikaela Davis dropped her debut album Delivery this July, but it’s definitely not the angels-coming-down-from-heaven harp playing that you’d think. Davis uses her harp as one would use a guitar, and her music takes elements from psychedelic rock, chamber pop and folk. For good examples, check out her songs “Get Gone” and “Other Lover,” and be sure to check out her show when she comes to DC, too. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $13-$15. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.com

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 18

Junglepussy
Junglepussy continues to flourish as she steps further into the greatness she claimed for herself on 2015’s Pregnant With Success. Since then, this queen of affirmation, health and self-awareness has catapulted to new heights not only with musical cameos (shout-out to Insecure) but onscreen ones too. The good sis has an IMDb page now and has appeared in shows like Mostly 4 Millennials, the SXSW movie Support the Girls and HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness. If you missed her in any of these roles, you owe it to yourself to check out her live show when she comes to DC to give us a taste of her newest album JP3. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $20. Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe: 2477 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

Little Dragon
Little Dragon is a Swedish electronic band, or at least that’s how they’re often described. To me, Yukimi Nagano’s vocals and the intelligent musical compositions of her bandmates catapult them into their own realm. The haunting soulfulness in Nagano’s voice makes them able to work with people like Big Boi, Anderson .Paak, Mac Miller (RIP), De La Soul and more. They have a newer song with Faith Evans called “Peace of Mind” up on their website that you should check out if you want to see what I’m talking about. In any case, this is a can’t-miss show especially since it’ll be at an intimate venue like Rock & Roll. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $35. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC;  www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 20

Mae
Call me a nerd for this, but I literally did a project about Mae and the concept albums they released back when I was in high school. Oddly enough, it was for a class where we made our own websites from scratch to learn HTML, and my little artist page and bio that I wrote about them turned out really nice if I do say so myself. Maybe it was the precursor that led me to my true destiny of writing tons of mini-artist bios about upcoming concerts for a local magazine. Personal anecdotes aside, I have a tremendous amount of reverence for one of the bands that formed my emotional landscape as a youth, cemented my love of concept albums and earned me an A in my web design class. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $22-$40. Jammin Java: 227 Maple Ave. E Vienna, VA; www.jamminjava.com

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 21

J Balvin
At the time this was written, Colombia’s own J Balvin was the second most streamed artist on Spotify – worldwide. The artist has been working tirelessly to bridge the language barrier of popular music in the American mainstream, and whatever he’s doing is finally paying off. With the recent success of his Cardi B and Beyoncé collabs, and the constant stream of bangers he puts out, I’d say his goal is well within reach. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $39. EagleBank Arena: 4500 Patriot Cir. Fairfax, VA; www.eaglebankarena.com

Lily Allen
LDN-born Lily Allen is back with her new album No Shame. The last I’d heard from her was about her culturally appropriative video for her single “Hard Out Here,” and since then, I’ve not been able to see her music the same way though I had been a huge fan of hers since 2007. Upon realizing she would be coming to DC, I looked to see what she had been up to. In the four years since Sheezus, it seems the pop star has experienced much growth. Not only has she apologized for the insensitive video, but she wrote a memoir detailing her experiences with motherhood, addiction and the perils experienced since rising to fame at such a young age. In her new album, her maturity is apparent – the cheeky honesty that’s been a hallmark of her music from the beginning now comes forth with a lot more vulnerability and wisdom. Her evolution as an artist makes me proud to be a fan again. Show at 7 p.m. Tickets $35-$40. The Fillmore: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 23 – THURSDAY, OCTOBER 25

NSO Pops Presents Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back with Live Orchestra
The number one reason to go see this show is to have the once-in-a-lifetime experience of having an orchestra play you the Star Wars theme (and the other songs from the soundtrack that are arguably much less iconic) note for note while the movie plays in real time. The number two reason is that if you go see this, you will be able to brag to your friends about how cool it was – and no one would be able to top it unless, you know, they were in the original film or something. Tuesday’s show begins at 7 p.m. but the other two shows start at 8 p.m. Tickets $34-$149. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 24 – THURSDAY, OCTOBER 25

Beach Fossils and Wavves
For some reason, I really like surf-inspired rock that’s heavy on the angst and emotion. It makes me feel like I’m lying on the beach next to my surfboard contemplating my life choices (mind you, I’ve never even so much as looked at a surfboard up close in real life). Beach Fossils and Wavves will be joining forces with opener Kevin Krauter, whose music offers a nice change of pace to balance everything out. Wavves will be headlining on Wednesday and Beach Fossils on Thursday. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $25. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 25

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
I’m going to keep it 100 here and say that what marginal knowledge I have of Nick Cave comes from eavesdropping on the excited chatter of my editor. Quite a few members of our editorial staff really go up for this man and are super excited for him to come all the way from Australia to our little corner of DC. From what a brief jaunt through some Google pages has taught me, this post-punk poster boy and his crew are a very on-brand choice to really amp up the Halloween vibes. Catch them at The Anthem this fall. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets $60-$100. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 28

Kllo
Australian duo Kllo is a staple on many “chill” type playlists populating Spotify. The light, airy R&B-inspired vocals of Chloe Kaul and the skillful production of her cousin Simon Lam make for an ambient blend of music that is danceable yet incredibly calming. Come see what all the fuss is about when they travel to DC this month on the U.S. leg of their tour. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $15. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com

Photo: Shervin Lainez
Photo: Shervin Lainez

St. Lucia Brings New Record To Life On Stage

Some bands have the ability to sound great on a record but struggle to bring that same quality of sound onstage. Others are the opposite, captivating in real time but less inspiring later on. Since the release of St. Lucia’s first EP in 2012 to their new record Hyperion, they’ve proven time and time again that they’ve hit the happiest of sonic mediums.

Jean-Philip Grobler (the group’s founder, frontman and primary songwriter) and company make the perfect music to soundtrack an early fall road trip with earworms like “Dancing on Glass” and “Elevate.” They also consistently sell out iconic music halls, including their last run at 9:30 Club. In fact, they sold out two New York City shows at Pier 17 ahead of Hyperion’s release. Grobler is adamant their live show has helped them realize the full spectrum of their music, set them apart from peers and has garnered them a loyal fan base through the years.

“I loved making the album,” he explains. “It’s a grueling process, but it’s necessary. Through that process, I fully rediscover who I am as a person and an artist each time. The record really comes to life onstage, through people seeing and hearing the songs performed live. Sometimes [listening to a record] is too much for people to absorb. It’s like hearing just the audio of a movie and thinking, ‘What exactly is going on?’ and then seeing the movie and hearing the audio, which makes way more sense.”

St. Lucia is preparing to bring even more energy on this tour, which kicked off at the aforementioned sold out Pier 17 dates. Grobler and his bandmates will be back at the 9:30 Club on November 5 and 6.

“I feel like out of all of our records, [Hyperion] is tailor-made to be played live because it was constructed as a ‘band in a room’ kind of record, even though there’s also a higher production value there,” he says.

“We have the craziest production lights and rigs we’ve ever taken on tour, and we have this custom video content.”

Aside from the bells and whistles, their live show is part of their identity at this point.

“We believe in playing music as a band, but we also believe in bringing a show so that people get more than maybe what they would expect from the size venues that we’re playing.”

While their lush, breezy sound will have you dancing in your car on a daily commute as much as in front of the stage in concert, don’t write them off because of their pop-leaning sound – especially in this contemplative full-length effort. The band is more than meets the eye, or the first listen.

“I feel like in music and art in general, it more celebrates what’s f–ked up and negative,” Grobler says. “People, for some reason, believe your art more if you’re a dark person. I’m making this music that’s very positive and uplifting, but I think it’s important that all art has balance – that it explores the dark and light sides of the human condition. Having Indy made me think a lot more about that. To me, it comes across on the record and it feels like it’s a deeper exploration of both ideas.”

Indy is, of course, Grobler’s son with his wife and St. Lucia bandmate Patti Beranek. She was pregnant during the writing and recording stages of Hyperion, and that life-altering experience for both naturally gravitated into the sound of the album. Global chaos and impending first-time fatherhood led him to meditate on what kind of good and bad things in the world would greet Indy when he finally arrived.

“I would definitely call myself an optimistic person. I’m quite romantic and I think the world is beautiful. But I also see how it’s f–ked up in a lot of ways. A lot of the album is just dealing with being that kind of person in this world. We have this very positive vibe to our music. From the outside, I think for people who listen to darker music, it can be difficult for them to make that jump. But I think if they did, they would find something good in it.”

The reciprocal relationship music creates between artist and listener lies at the heart of everything St. Lucia creates. As excited as he is to inspire listeners through a record and in person, Grobler thrives off the energy and excitement fans new and old provide with each new album.

“When you start touring [and] you see people singing along to the words, that’s such a moving thing. There were so many moments of self doubt in making all these records. I think it’s natural for an artist to experience that. You go through this really grueling pilgrimage and process of making a record and then you release it, and you’re f–king terrified of what people might think. But then to just see how it moves people – and we haven’t seen it yet with this record – I’m really, really looking forward to that.”

Move and be moved with St. Lucia at the 9:30 Club on Monday, November 5 and Tuesday, November 6. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets are $32.50. Learn more about the show at www.930.com, and about the band at www.stlucianewyork.com.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

Photo: Erin Brethauer
Photo: Erin Brethauer

Behind The Audio: NPR’s Yowei Shaw Brings Mystery to Pop-Up Stage

When Yowei Shaw attended her first Pop-Up Magazine show, she was so intrigued by the unique storytelling platform she knew immediately that she wanted in. The current NPR producer for Invisibilia was a freelancer at the time, so she was well versed in the act of pitching proper stories for the right outlets, but after proposing nonfiction after nonfiction stories, Pop-Up proved to be incredibly selective about its performers. Though Shaw is still figuring out the perfect pitching formula, a story based on her personal experience was approved for the fall 2018 issue and is on its way to Warner Theatre in DC on September 25 (she’s also performing in Portland and Toronto for Pop-Up’s international debut).

“I think it was a little bit of a fluke that I got through,” Shaw jokes, but as she describes her upcoming performance, it has all the traits to captivate a listener and keep them tuned in until the end.

The story is based on, “something strange [that] happened to me years ago when I used to run a tiny DIY youth radio project in Philadelphia,” Shaw says. During a workshop she taught to young people about creating radio stories for their communities, “something went totally haywire with one of my students and I haven’t ever been able to get it out of my head.”

Shaw was able to track down her former student who inspired the story, but that’s all she could share with me. Staying true to her background in long form audio content, the story involves an abridged investigation packaged for her live set. Through collaboration with Pop-Up’s team of the artistic and visually-minded, her story will feature animations and documentary photos.

At the time of our interview, Shaw hadn’t seen all the visual elements to her own story but is excited to see what the team comes up with. “Each story presents different opportunities and I feel like they’re always trying to maximize potential and try different things,” Shaw says.

Pop-Up ensures a diverse lineup, starting with shorter, comedic stories followed by heavier, longer stories toward the end. Shaw’s somewhere in the middle.

Shaw’s seen at least four or five Pop-Up shows now, explaining, “it’s really a magical experience. Every time it comes to town I have to go.” She adds that the Pop-Up team are masters of this new medium of storytelling and she’s very excited to meet her fellow performers and watch their own stories come to life.

“I’m a huge fangirl of [Ann] Friedman (Call Your Girlfriend podcast). I subscribe to her weekly newsletter, so that will be personally gratifying to meet her and see her story. I’m really excited to see what Albert Samaha (BuzzFeed) comes up with, Ed Yong (The Atlantic), really all of them. Almost all the rest of the lineup, these are people I admire and respect very much. It’s very strange to see my name [alongside their’s]!”

The storytelling performances are made up of avid note takers by profession – journalists from all media platforms. But what happens at Pop-Up Magazine’s live shows stays at Pop-Up: with its no-recording policy, audiences are left to sit through these performances and leave with just the memory of a night that draws from all bases of the human experience.

Working mostly in the radio world, Shaw was eager to collaborate with other types of journalists, making her both thrilled and nervous to perform a story live instead of producing it in a studio.

“Listening to the audio is a pretty solitary experience so I don’t know what people think really or how they experience it. I don’t know where people laugh, I don’t know where people sigh… I have performed before just a few times, and there’s a high you get from that kind of audience participation and reaction that you don’t get from putting out a podcast or radio show.”

As for what Shaw has planned next, she will produce a longer version of her performance for NPR’s Invisibilia, returning for its next season in spring 2019. “Imagining the audience and how they react in a much more intentional way, that is something I will be bringing back to my work with Invisibilia. Just the thrill of taking people by the hand and in the story and just giving them a ride and an experience.”

Pop-Up Magazine is coming to DC’s Warner Theatre on September 25. Find ticket information and see who’s performing here.

Warner Theatre: 513 13th St. NW, DC; 202-783-4000; www.popupmagazine.com

Photo: Chris McKay
Photo: Chris McKay

MC50 Kicks Out Jams For Freedom

For 50 years, “Kick out the jams, motherf–kers” has been one of rock ’n’ roll’s most ecstatic, transcendent rallying cries. When it was first heard blasting out of the streets of Detroit, it went beyond music. MC5, or Motor City 5, the Detroit rock band that helped paved the way for punk, employed it as a cry to their fellow youth – for energy, for justice, for racial equality and yes, for some righteous, roaring jams.

Does MC5’s music still embody that call to action and exuberance? Can a band that aspired to spark revolutions both political and musical light those same fires today? Those questions lingered in the air as the crowd awaited the group to take the 9:30 Club stage on September 13.

For the latter question, the answer is, “Probably not.” People’s politics and goals change with time. In fact, the most political the group got was when lead guitarist and founding member “Brother” Wayne Kramer sermonized about the participatory nature of democracy, imploring the crowd to go vote before launching into the swinging, proto-punk “The American Ruse” from MC5’s second album Back in the USA. The band has little reason to try and instigate the same musical battles it waged across Midwestern concert halls at the onset of the 1970s because generally speaking, they won.

Kramer and the original MC5’s victory is seen most prominently in the very musicians who currently make up the band. Joining Brother Wayne for the MC50th, the all-star rock supergroup celebrating the Motor City 5’s fiftieth, included Soundgarden’s lead guitarist and human tidal wave of sound Kim Thayil, Faith No More’s Billy Gould on bass, Fugazi’s Brendan Canty on drums and, relative newcomer, Marcus Durant of Zen Guerillas out front as an eerily ideal stand-in for original vocalist Rob Tyner. All of these bands had longer, more successful and prominent careers than MC5’s originals, yet they all joined collectively to revive the music – that’s how deeply ingrained this band is to rock’s DNA.

At the 9:30 Club, these all-star musicians did not gather to fight yesterday’s political battles but to remind everyone in the room – from the graying hippies to the Washingtonians in their finest punk rock threads – how potent this music is. The supergroup ripped through MC5’s breakthrough album Kick Out The Jams, bringing everything from backyard boogie garage rock of “Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa” to the metallic boom of “Come Together.”

Kramer himself best tried to channel the spirit of 1968, leaping and dancing across the stage while unleashing his signature high octane, high register steam whistle solos. Gould and Canty conjured the crushing force of Detroit’s factory days in the rhythm section while Thayil, who usually summons sound waves like tsunamis in Soundgarden, stepped back into rollicking, prototypical rock guitar shedding.

The surprise of the night came as MC50 closed their run through of the famed album with “Starship,” the nine-minute-plus, space-meets-early-noise-rock closer that features a verse of poetry by the Afrofuturist jazz leader Sun Ra. As the song’s familiar verse-chorus-verse structure gave way to amorphous, borderline atonal, pulsating free fusion, the MC5’s spark shone through brightest.

You can hear echoes of “Starship” and “Kick Out the Jams” across the frontiers of rock today. In fact, it was appropriately reminiscent of the avant jazz stylings in some of the work of DC’s own Priests.

As Durant wailed on a miniature saxophone and Kramer wandered cosmically along thefretboard, the MC50th embodied the original message the MC5 pushed, one that punk embraced and spread to a whole generation: freedom. MC50 served a reminder for everyone in the crowd, anyone who would listen, that the central promise of American music – of the United States of America – is to create what you want.

It was a joyful, noisy reminder that American music, from avant-garde jazz and death metal to Lady Gaga and Usher, celebrates at its very core the idea of liberty we all cherish.

For more information about the MC5 and the MC50, check them out here