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Irish writer Roddy Doyle, author of "The Commitments," has written an original short story for this year's St. Patrick's Day festival in Dublin. "Brilliant!" can be downloaded for free from the festival's website (here), and will be used as the theme of Thursday's parade.
This is in recognition of Dublin being named the fourth Unesco City of Literature, with celebrations all year long.
Can't get there yourself? You can read the Doyle story online and then watch the parade on the webcam of Dublin's main newspaper, the Irish Times.
"While he's out taking care of the world, you're the one girl who he kissed goodbye / He's a beautiful man, and he's so far from home / Children dance and sing wherever he goes."
I wouldn't be surprised if Dan Wilson was wearing a red suit when he wrote that. If you didn't know it was a Christmas song, one might easily mistake "Are You Lonely Tonight, Mrs. Claus?" -- newly recorded and posted online in time for (and in the spirit of) the holiday -- as something of an autobiographical composition. Even the drawings that make up a YouTube version of the tune were done by Wilson himself.
Wilson has been living out in Los Angeles in recent months, where he has worked up quite a reputation as a song craftsman after working with such worldly artists as Weezer, Josh Groban and Adele. I'm seriously waiting to hear of a Slayer/DW hook-up any day now. In the meantime, though, it sure sounds like Dan is pining for home. Maybe he didn't hear that our winter wonderland is a snowy abyss this Christmas. Either way, though, this song will help make you glad to be home this weekend.
“It started out with just the three of us … and a dream.”
Reminiscing five years into his band's new-standard-setting role as holiday entertainers, New Standards co-leader John Munson made that comment about a third of the way through his trio’s set Friday night at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul -- when there was about five times the normal amount of musicians on stage. Expanding the event from a one-night affair to two nights and a Sunday matinee, the Standards similarly upsized the show itself. Here’s just a sampling of some of the extracurricular offerings on the extra-snowy opening night:
*Poetry and comedy courtesy author and public-radio fixture Katherine Lanpher, whose best bit was a holiday-angst-filled story about a “small regional carrier” that allegedly lost her luggage five Christmases in a row. Lanpher also popped up in one of the balcony boxes to sing part of “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch.”
*A drum line that marched from the stage into the lobby led by brothers Tim and Pat O’Keefe and their Brazilian-flavored percussion ensemble Batucada do Norte, which set up the intermission. You can probably guess which Christmas standard they also had their hands in (hint: pa rump pum pum), but the surprise came when New Standards co-leader Chan Poling segued that song into “Rattle My Bones,” a favorite by his previous band the Suburbs.
*A theramin solo courtesy Ken Chastain, who also played drums throughout the show. As if the theramin wasn’t, um, shocking enough, he plugged it in during a jazzy take on Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me.”
*An all-star cast of backup singers on such holiday classics as “Most Wonder Time of the Year” and “Angels We Have Heard on High,” featuring spouses Alison LaBonne and Brian Tighe (the Owls), Janey Winterbauer (Astronaut Wife), David Salmela (Twilight Hours) and Jeremy Messersmith. Winterbauer also took over lead vocals during the encore for a straight-up, don’t-mess-with-a-good-thing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
*A string section and horn/wind ensemble, the latter featuring local vets Stephen Kung, Max Ray and Rochelle Becker as well as Cloud Cult’s Sarah Elhardt and Heiruspecs’ Devon Gray (who, it turns out, also plays bassoon). They especially proved valuable during a melting version of Muson’s Trip Shakespeare nugget “Snow Days.”
*Two songs by Chris Koza, including his recent Rogue Valley ditty “Hummingbird” and a sweet, old kids classic, “Walking in the Air,” which they played underneat footage of the animated feature that bore it, 1982’s “The Snowman.”
*More guest turns by Adam Levy (Honeydogs) and singer/songwriter Ashleigh Still. She showed off a jazzy side while turning “What Child Is This?” into a “Moondance”-like slow-bopper.
*The brightest guest spot was by Matt Wilson, Munson’s bandmate from the Twilight Hours and Trip Shakespeare, who seriously has me thinking about looking up Anne Murray on iTunes after he soared on “Snowbird,” a song she made famous (and yes, Wilson's version was more Anne than Elvis).
*Rupert, the mysterious, PG-13-rated dancing machine who used to always show up at Hopefuls shows, among others. He especially cut loose during the Standards’ standard spin on Britney Spears’ “Toxic.”
Despite all that, the New Standards themselves were still the biggest presence under the tree, with Steve Roehm tearing up the vibraphones during a segment of “Charlie Brown Christmas” music and other instrumentals. Meanwhile, Poling and Munson showed off their year-round rapport. When someone in the crowd yelled out that the sharply dressed Poling “looks presidential,” Munson shot back, “I thought he looks residential.” Munson one-upped his one-upmanship: “I think I look Suburban."
The Current will be airing an edited version of these Standards shows Dec. 24-25. Tickets are still available to Sunday’s matinee, which won’t have the same all-star cast but will feature Adam Levy’s kids act Bunny Clogs as well as The Man in Red.
By Graydon Royce
Best theater deal so far this week to come in via e-mail blast: Tuesday’s matinee of "Holiday Pageant" at Open Eye Figure Theatre. Family of four gets in for $20, with additional tickets at $10 each. With puppets and humans, a distinctly Old World artistry, this is a delightful treat. Michael Sommers, who created the show, portrays a Lucifer frustrated at the depravity of humanity. He’s been so successful spreading sloth, greed and licentiousness that he has no challenges left. God throws a bone to the sulphurous one, with the birth of a child intended to battle for souls.
Visiting Open Eye is like stepping into a time machine. It’s cozy, comfortable and European in its sense of theater. Besides the Tuesday 2 p.m. family special, "Holiday Pageant" runs today (Monday) through Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. and again Wednesday at 2 p.m. Those prices are $12-$18.
Call 612-874-6338 or check the website:
Holly Cole with those Happy Holly-Days red gloves. Photo/ Andrew MacNaughtan
By Jon Bream
Holly Cole always delivers.
The Canadian jazz thrush wasn't always in great voice Monday night at the Dakota but she still won over a near-capacity crowd with her personality, creativity and those bright red elbow-length gloves that screamed Happy Holly-Days!
Originally advertised as playing two sets, Cole condensed the evening into two sets for the price of one, with a brief intermission. Backed by her attentive quartet, she mixed seasonal songs (seasoned her way) with selections from her own jazz recordings.
Cole cast "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" with character and suspicion ("he sees you when you're sleeping-- that's weird," she sang). For the Pretenders' "2000 Miles," she alternated a girlish voice and a very adult voice."I'd Like You for Christmas" was delivered with slow, jazzy/bluesy aplomb.
Cole used a similar approach on a pair of Tom Waits' tunes, "Shiver Me Timbers" and "Train Song," one of the night's highlights with her theatrical presentation and artful vocal riffing combined with heavy breathing from her voice and Colleen Allen's saxophone. (Guess you had to be there.)
Cole has a terrific sense of theatricality, which often compensates for her occasional lack of vocal precision. Her instincts are to take chances with arrangements and her vocals, which led her to treat William Bell's "Everyday Is Like a Holiday" like a whispery New Orleans reverie.
And did I mention her satiny red gloves, partially hidden by the gauzy black sleeves on her fabulous outfit? Hope she reprises those gloves when she performs again at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Dakota.