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big picture

The Big Picture on the Big Screen

When globally renowned jazz clarinetist David Krakauer and his partners set out to create “The Big Picture,” they intended to tell the story of Krakauer’s Jewish heritage as well as a larger story of culture and identity. The idea of reconnecting with Krakauer’s own roots and promoting tolerance of others informs the work, as it has much of Krakauer’s career, but this multimedia performance ties it all together.

“The Big Picture” combines visuals from iconic films with the classic soundtracks reimagined by Krakauer and The 35mm Orchestra. Some of the films are directly related to Judaism, but all were chosen because of their portrayal of the Jewish experience in some form or another, according to Krakauer.

“I believe that by being proud of one’s culture and welcoming other people in, it’s a [message] saying to other people: ‘be proud of your culture and let’s celebrate our differences in a beautiful way,’” says Krakauer. 

The visuals serve as reminders of the iconic stories, which include “Cabaret,” “Life is Beautiful” and other classics.

“I think it helps people remember the movies, both from the music they hear and also little subtle visual triggers. But they’re not narrative visuals, they’re just kind of reveries, kind of meditations on the movies.”

The clarinetist has performed “The Big Picture” in the U.S. and in Europe, but regardless of where and when Krakauer performs his music, the message is always timely. E.g. some of Krakauer’s work with globally renowned Jewish roots band, The Klezmatics, coincided with the fall of the Berlin wall and a new era for Eastern Europe. 

On that experience Krakauer says:

“Coming to Europe in the late 80s/early 90s and playing Jewish music – without waving a flag or getting up on the soapbox – we were making a statement for multiculturalism, for tolerance, for a more inclusive view and that has continued throughout my career ever since.”

This is the same message brought out in “The Big Picture” and it’s one which has been a hallmark of Krakauer’s work no matter who he performs with.

Krakauer and The 35mm Orchestra will bring “The Big Picture” to George Mason University’s Center for the Arts on Friday, March 2 at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $26-$44 and can be purchased online here.

George Mason University Center for the Arts: 4400 University Dr. Fairfax, VA; 703-993-8888; www.cfa.gmu.edu

dropkick cover

Dropkick Washington

What better way to get into the spirit of St. Patty’s Day than to start your celebrations off with Dropkick Murphys? The boys from Boston will be stopping by The Anthem Saturday, March 10, exactly one week before St. Patrick’s Day.

Dropkick Murphys are touring in support of their newest album, 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory, which was released through Born & Bred Records, the band’s own label. The record was released January 6 and has since garnered positive reviews for its anthemic, raucous Celtic punk. Those descriptors may sound a little old hat for DKM, but the approach which the band took to making this record is what makes this album standout from their discography otherwise.

In 2009, Ken Casey founded The Claddagh Fund. Ken Casey is the DKM frontman and the fund supports those recovering from addictions as well as veterans programs and youth and mentoring programs. The songs off 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory were inspired by the various people Casey and the band connected with through The Claddagh Fund.

This includes: “Rebel With a Cause,” which was inspired by kids written off by the system; “Paving My Way,” which is about the path to recovery from addiction and “4-15-13,” which is an ode to the victims of the Boston Bombing.

There is a sense of pride and hope with this new album that leaves the listener with the feeling that you can rise above your circumstances to overcome the struggles in life. “4-15-13” is the last track on the record and though, again, it was written in deference to the victims of the Boston Bombing, it speaks to everyone: it doesn’t matter who you are, “we’re all just people trying to make our way…”

The following photos were taken by Shantel Mitchell Breen at a DKM show earlier this year:

Ken Casey and Tim Brennan

Ken Casey and Tim Brennan

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Al Barr

Al Barr

If you have not yet picked up your tickets for this show, visit www.theanthemdc.com. These boys never disappoint. You can listen to their new record on Spotify, iTunes and YouTube. The show is Saturday, March 10 at The Anthem. Doors are at 6 p.m. Tickets start at $35.

The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; 877-435-9849; www.theanthemdc.com

Photo: múm's Facebook page
Photo: múm's Facebook page

múm on a Sunday Night

The shot that captured the night was the slow but persistently waving Icelandic flag. Some lone fan leaned against the stage, and waved the flag like the turtle from Robin Hood – that is, gently and unfaltering.

múm played for a sparse but appreciative crowd Sunday night at 9:30 Club. The Icelandic collective, best known for tracks like “Green Grass of Tunnel” and “We Have a Map of the Piano” makes down-tempo, experimental electronic music inflected with acoustic instruments.

Last night, these acoustic instruments included a cello, which Gyða Valtýsdóttir plays standing, and a water jug used as a drum. The group was a little pretentious and, begrudgingly, I loved it.

They opened with “Sveitin milli Sólkerfa,” a track that – like the two aforementioned tracks – is off of their second record, Finally We Are No One. The song’s a 12-minute slow burn, and it was their strongest of the night. The glitchy, building beats along with Valtýsdóttir and Sigurlaug Gísladóttir’s voices feel like a call to the new communion.

Örvar Smárason spoke for the band that night. His banter was amusing but never clownish, much like the band; they’re cool, but toe-the-line dull.

“I’m going to play a special apparatus now called a synthesizer,” he told the audience, a line he’d also used during their KEXP performance.

He also made some rehearsed jokes about how it’s now “bikini weather” in DC. I’m sure nothing is cold like Iceland, but it’s f–king freezing out. Though if you want to wear a bikini, Örvar, be my guest.

A Little Bit, Sometimes” was the most energetic track of the night, from their 2006 record Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy; it sounds like a really cool cover of “Hotel California” that Yann Tiersen helped arrange.

Much of their music actually reminds me of Tiersen. It plays on the same tropes of eclectic instruments, modal changes and a subdued aesthetic. Like Tiersen, they had a strong record in the early aughts and have since continued to make music from that capital.

For Tiersen, that record was L’Absente (2001), which was famously used for the movie Amélie (2001). For múm, that record was Finally We Are No One (2001). Since then, múm has continued to make music in a similar vein, but I’m sure only a deeply invested fan could tell me why they keep coming back to it.

Since Finally We Are No One, their music doesn’t sound much different, but it has little of that initial verve. Still, I envy what they do, and still, I enjoyed their performance. The crowd was small and quiet, but genuinely enthusiastic in their applause after each song.

I probably wouldn’t go see múm live again if I had the chance, but I’m sure they’ll continue to come up in my work-related listening. Follow múm on Twitter to learn of upcoming performances, and check out their KEXP performance for further listening.

Photo: Shawn Brackbill
Photo: Shawn Brackbill

John Maus Rocks Out to John Maus at Rock & Roll Hotel

John Maus alternatively headbanged and screamed “All your pets are gonna die” onstage at the Rock & Roll Hotel on Saturday night. Maus brought his experimental and medieval-inflected synth pop to the H Street venue, and though he sings only 70 percent of his own lyrics, Maus rocked out and had the sold-out crowd losing their voices with him.

Pets” comes off Screen Memories (2017), and the lyrics are pure Maus. I won’t try to say where the madness of his lyrics comes from, but the majesty of his music comes from the influence of early synth pop pioneers like The Human League and Ultravox. Like those artists, baroque and medieval influences shine through in his music.

He is on tour for the first time since 2011 and the release of We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves. One of my friends who joined me for the show actually saw Maus on that 2011 tour. I was told to expect that he’d plug in his music and sing along. I love Maus for his nonsense and regal synth pop, but wasn’t sure how I would feel about a karaoke set.

Maus actually performs with a live band this tour, but his role hasn’t changed. Mainly he screams, punches the air and stalks the stage. But after a few bars of the opener “Believer,” I found myself not giving a shit that Maus only sings – and sings over recordings of himself and not even all the lyrics.

He never played the anthem of a generation, but standouts from the night include “Maniac,” “Bennington” and “Time to Die.” Maus’ role as a performer is made clear on the latter. He held his hands over his eyes as he yelled into the microphone.

“It’s time to die / and everybody knows that you can’t ask why / and even if an answered could be supplied / it wouldn’t change the fact that it’s time to die / Listen to your body.”

As text, the lyrics read depressing and the music is spooky. Maus’ knit brow and his sweat-drenched hair and buttondown bear the absolute severity and gravity of a child. But the feeling in the air is euphoria. Maus’ role is almost that of a priest. He is there to experience the music as much as the audience, and to lead the audience through a bit of hysteria to catharsis.

I’m writing this at home with my cat asleep on my lap. Our pets are going to die, but not you, Toulouse; don’t ever die. Meanwhile, go see John Maus rock out to John Maus and experience some mild relief in light of the fact that your pets are going to die. For more of John Maus, listen to him on Spotify, YouTube or Bandcamp.

Photo: Courtesy of MCT Management
Photo: Courtesy of MCT Management

Joe Purdy Brings Protest Song to The Hamilton

In these days when #protestisthenewbrunch in DC, there couldn’t be a better time for folk rock musician Joe Purdy to come to town. An Arkansas native, Purdy has been a significant and often underrated figure on the American folk revival scene for a decade and a half, and has put out a new release almost every year since his debut in 2001 (way before the genre’s coolness got, well, revived).

Tonight, Purdy brings his guitar, suspenders, shaggy beard and deep, gravelly voice to The Hamilton, where he’ll be promoting his latest record, Who Will Be Next? Fitting to the times, the album diverts slightly from the style of his previous work, which combines the best elements of blues, ballad and rock – to draw more directly from traditional American protest songs.

With Who Will Be Next?, Purdy has written an album that satisfies his “determination to honor the giants of American folk” like Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, while “addressing immediate transgressions” experienced and witnessed by many Americans in recent years.

Rhett Miller, lead singer of the alt-country band the Old 97’s, will join Purdy onstage at The Hamilton. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $20-$39.75.

The Hamilton: 600 14th St. NW, DC; 202-787-1000; www.live.thehamiltondc.com