Welcome to Artcetera. Arts-and-entertainment writers and critics post movie news, concert updates, people items, video, photos and more. Share your views. Check it daily. Remain in the know. Contributors: Mary Abbe, Jon Bream, Tim Campbell, Colin Covert, Laurie Hertzel, Tom Horgen, Neal Justin, Claude Peck, Rohan Preston, Chris Riemenschneider, Graydon Royce, Randy Salas and Kristin Tillotson.
***UPDATE: Brother Ali requested a clarification on what was admittedly a breezy recount of his complex statements on same-sex marriage. It's posted at the end. Also, he reports that his bandmates from the taping will unfortunately not be involved in his Soundset performance.
What a difference a few TV cameras can make in the reality-show-worthy world of Brother Ali. The battling rapper performed in front of a film crew for the second installment of the “Lowertown Line” series Wednesday night at Twin Cities Public Television’s studios in downtown St. Paul. It was alternately one of the lightest and heaviest showings hometown fans have seen by him. And let’s face it: Ali has been anything but light of late.
Looking leaner and (no kidding) a little tan after a few months of being off the road, Ali opened the taping with “Mourning in America,” the title track off last year’s dense, stern, sometimes preachy album. The song was accompanied by the burka-wearing female dancers from the video, and by an installment from Brother Ali’s Book Club (he recommended “Dirty Wars” by Jeremy Scahill for another look at America's recent military actions). Along the same lines, Ali later threw a couple new lines into his 2007 classic “Uncle Sam Goddamn,” including: “Even Obama is killing people with drones / Now I’m going to jail with Occupy Homes.”
The headiest parts of the taping came after the performance, when Ali sat with “H2” radio co-host and Rhymesayers staffer Kevin Beacham for a Q&A filmed for a new initiative on TPT’s website called “Open Air.” That discussion was done on top of an interview with “Lowertown Line” host Dessa, which was filmed separately (she’s currently on the road). All the audience’s questions were submitted via mobile phones in the studio. Among them was an inquiry about Ali’s Muslim faith shaping his opinion on same-sex marriage. One of the performers who urged fans to shoot down the amendment banning gay marriage at First Ave’s Vote No concert last fall, Ali conceded that he supports Imams who would refuse to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.
“But we don’t live in a country where my spiritual beliefs dictate your life,” he said. Perhaps pointing to his failed first marriage, he added with a laugh, “I don’t get [same-sex marriage], but I also don’t get why someone would marry a mean-ass woman, either.”
There were many more wryly humored moments like that throughout the taping. He repeatedly talked about the sociopolitical tone of last year’s album. “It was career suicide,” he said, admitting it fared poorly compared to his more personally toned, better-loved 2007 album. “It’s not as good as ‘The Undisputed Truth,’ but it’s the album I had to make at the time.” Introducing another dark track off the 2009 "Us" record, “The Travelers,” he joked, “My job now is to do music that’s entertaining and that says what I want to say. So I did this one for the clubs … and it’s about slavery.”
Other songs in the taping included “Forest Whitaker” and “Fresh Air.” In addition to his usual ace DJ support from Plain Ole Bill, Ali performed with keyboardist DeVon Gray (Heiruspecs, Liminal Phase) and guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker (Andrew Bird, Alpha Consumer), whose funky and sometimes freaky interplay added a cool, grinding edge to the songs.
Ali will return to the stage again for next weekend’s Soundset festival. Look for Ali’s “Lowertown Line” episode to air when TPT’s new season kicks off in September.
Here is Ali's further explanation of his answer based off Tuesday's passage of the Freedom to Marry Bill, which made Minnesota the 12th state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage:
To give a little context, I was asked what is "The Muslim Opinion" of same sex marriage in light of the Marriage Equality bill that just passed in Minnesota. My answer was that aside from the belief that there is a Creator called Allah, there's no one "Muslim opinion" on any topic. Muslim scholars, Imams and activists have debated almost every topic for hundreds of years just like every other community gathered around a system of beliefs and ideals.
I said that my personal understanding is that Islam starts with the prospect that Allah has dignified every member of the human family and that basic human dignity is under attack in this society based on identity. Its our sacred duty to protect and defend the human rights of everyone regardless of our differences.
I went on to explain my personal understanding of marriage in Islam and when TPT posts the entire session, folks can hear the entirety of my comments. To be clear, though, I didn't say that I support Imams not performing same sex marriages. I said that some Imams probably will, but most won't.
I'm not saying that you quoted me completely wrong, but I feel like the quotes you selected don't reflect the overarching theme and message of my answer to the audience question. I have a strong sense that Religion and GLBT rights are generally being portrayed as opposing ideas in the media. I think that undermines not only GLBT folks who also belong to religious communities, but the alliances that exist and can potentially be built between the GLBT fight for human rights and prophetic faith communities.
JD McPherson dialed up retro sounds at First Avenue/ Photo by Samantha Franklin
As with Dawes and Brandi Carlile, the Twin Cities are the biggest market for JD McPherson. The Oklahoman thanked 89.3 the Current for making that happen when he performed Saturday in front of a full house at First Avenue.
McPherson should also credit the live shows he’s done in the Twin Cities at the State Fair and First Avenue. He’s built a well-deserved following. And he slayed his followers again on Saturday, sounding more vibrant, dynamic and louder than ever.
With his punk-rock intensity and intoxicating mix of vintage-sounding rock, rockabilly, R&B and blues, McPherson recalled the 1980s heyday of the Blasters, the thrilling retro L.A. band that launched Dave Alvin. But there was no old R&B veteran in this band like the Blasters had with saxophonist Lee Allen, though McPherson’s bassist/producer Jimmy Sutton, 47, is a bit older than his bandmates.
For 85 minutes, this quintet played with punk-like frenzy. Keyboardist Ray Jacildo’s solos should be called “hammer time” because of the way he pounded on the piano like Jerry Lee Lewis on steroids. Doug Corcoran provided the honking saxophone and Sutton the right bass line to propel every number.
There were covers of Chuck Berry (“Beautiful Delilah”) and the Pixies (“Head On”), a reggae-tinged treatment of the hymn “Oil in My Lamp” and pretty much everything from McPherson’s retro-cool 2012 album “Signs & Signifiers.”
Moments echoed the Stray Cats (Brian Setzer was in the house, in the owner’s box), Jackie Wilson and other old-school sounds. Fittingly, McPherson sang of party lines (the telephone kind), jukebox soul and Caddies with ragtop roofs.
McPherson, an accomplished guitarist, has become an impassioned blues-rock shouter and growler, with just enough soulful nuance to pull off ballads. But it was the forcefulness of his soul shouting that elevated the radio-favorite “North Side Gal” into one of the night’s many highlights. Vocally, he can go from 10 to 60 mph in one breath. And he likes to travel with speed and style when he rocks his favorite town.
Michael Wegner aka "Donuts"
Michael Wegner, best known by his radio moniker Michael "Donuts" Douglas, died Wednesday after a severe injury to his head. He was 65.
From 1979 to 1994, "Knapp & Donuts" was among the hottest morning shows in the Twin Cities, eventually helping to establish KS95 as the country's most popular FM radio station.
Program director Chuck Knapp may have technically been the boss, but it was his on-air partner's homespun, and often cranky, personality, that defined the program.
"When he disagreed with a news story, he would take the paper he was reading from, crumple it up so listeners could hear and throw it away," Knapp said. "That was his idea of editorial commentary."
Wegner seemingly lived a simple life on an Osceola horse farm, but he was always up for an adventure, whether it was learning how to fly stunt planes or climbing on a bull in a rodeo
"My dad always pounded into me, 'Be an individual,'" Wegner told the Star Tribune in 1987. "One of the first stations I worked for wanted me to be Paul Harvey. That's bull. I've got to be who I am."
Wegner had had close calls in the past, including a recent bout with prostate cancer. He once fell out of a tree and laid in a coma for two weeks. But on Wednesday, his luck ran out. According to Knapp, his friend was on his computer when his wife went to bed. A few hours later, she heard an ominous sound.
When she went to Wegner's music room, she discovered that her husband had fallen down and hit his head on one of the speakers. He was pronounced dead at Osceola Medical Center. The reason for the fall is undetermined.
The family suggests memorials ot the American Cancer Society in Wegner's name instead of flowers. A visitation will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday at the Grandstrand Funeral Home in Osceola.
Wegner wished to be cremated. According to Knapp, the plan is to eventually sprinkle his ashes over a horse pasture.
Chris Egert/courtesy of KSTP
Elizabeth Ries finally has a dance partner. The "Twin Cities Lives" host will be joined by former KSTP weekend anchor Chris Egert starting April 29. Ries has served with guest hosts ever since John Hanson left the daily talker this past December to serve as program director for a Kansas City sports radio station.
"It's an exciting career move for me and my family and I can't wait to be part of the show," Egert said.
"TCL," which airs from 3-4 p.m. weekdays on KSTP, Ch. 5, celebrated its fifth anniversary this past Friday.
Photo by Barry J. Holmes/ rufuswainwright.com
A full house of 1,000 people went to see a solo Rufus Wainwright Saturday night at the Fitzgerald Theater and a VocalEssence concert broke out.
A world premiere, no less. Unadvertised. Written by Wainwright.
He explained that he’d composed “Bloom” as a five-movement piece for a dance by New York's Stephen Petronio Company. Wainwright sang all the vocal parts himself for a recording that accompanied the dance performances. So the Fitzgerald performance was a world premiere for “Bloom” delivered live by a choral group.
Using words from one Emily Dickinson and two Walt Whitman poems, the 20-some-minute piece also included some humming. VocalEssence, under the direction of Philip Brunelle, did a splendid job of presenting the work while Wainwright sat off in the wings.
But “Bloom” didn’t connect with every Wainwright fan. After the concert, I overheard a couple debating about the choral number; she didn’t like it and he was wowed by the VocalEssence’s prowess.
In any case, the inclusion of “Bloom” cut into beloved cult figure Wainwright’s time in this solo concert. We didn’t get anything from his Judy Garland repertoire or anything by his father (Loudon Wainwright III) but we did get a song by his mother (the late Kate McGarrigle), “Hallelujah” (the Leonard Cohen standard that Rufus recorded for the movie “Shrek”) and his classic “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk.”
The two-set, 1 ¾-hour concert was quite different from Wainwright’s show with a band last summer at the Minnesota Zoo. This one lacked the depth, range and showmanship. But not the humor.
The French Canadian/American Wainwright, 39, was his usual chatty, catty self – which the crowd loved. After many performances in Minneapolis (where he once lived for a bit), he said this was his first show ever in St. Paul.
“I’ve always liked Minneapolis,” he said, sitting at the grand piano. “I really like St. Paul for some reason. There is something about St. Paul. There’s a kind of nothingness about it. They don’t try to hide. They don’t have to.”
Before he put his foot in his mouth, he also praised Hymie’s Haberdashery,the downtown St. Paul shop where he bought the new shoes he was wearing.
Since he was at the Fitzgerald, the house that Garrison Keillor rebuilt, Wainwright also prattled on about “A Prairie Home Companion,” on which his mother had performed (and loved it) and his dad hadn’t received a “PHC” invite (so he wrote something to that effect on a Fitzgerald dressing room mirror). Rufus, too, bemoaned that he hasn’t been on the famous radio show, either.
Wainwright also talked about disliking Jeff Buckley (because of their rival versions of “Hallelujah”) until they met for a night of drinking in New York. Buckley drowned a few weeks later and Wainwright wrote “Memphis Skyline” about him. That number, which segued into “Hallelujah,” was a highlight of Saturday’s show.
Throughout the evening, Wainwright’s musical talents were on full display as he threw in elements of different styles – with an emphasis on cabaret, classical, opera, Broadway, jazz and pop. With his backup band at the zoo, he’d also incorporated other styles, including disco, tango and ABBA, that weren’t heard in this solo effort, with Wainwright playing mostly grand piano but also some acoustic guitar.
Part of Saturday’s concert will be broadcast at 9 p.m. May 22 on 89.3 the Current, along with a pre-concert interview Wainwright did with Current DJ Mary Lucia.
Here is Saturday’s set list:
Set 1: Art Teacher/ The Maker Makes/ Vibrate/ Out of the Game/ Jericho/ Who Are You New York/ Memphis Skyline > Hallelujah
Set 2: Bloom (performed by VocalEssence)/ Going to a Town/ Montauk/ Zebulon/ Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk ENCORE Millbrook/ The Walking Song (Kate McGarrigle)/ a song in French / Foolish Love