MUSIC REVIEW | Mary Chapin Carpenter sings her stories at State Theatre

Mary Chapin Carpenter, the five-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter with a 13-album catalog, returned to Minneapolis to play sans mosquitoes (her last Minnesota performance was at the MN Zoo Amphitheatre) at the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s State Theatre on May 2. It was an acoustic performance featuring her long-time friends and extraordinary musicians, John Carroll on keyboards and John Doyle on guitars and bouzouki. Chastity Brown, a relative newcomer to singer-songwriter fame, opened with a 30-minute set featuring, among others, “Solely,” “Colorado,” and “When We Get There.” Ms. Brown sings with an old soul’s expertise and resonance. She has guts and she’s not afraid to show that. Her performance was acoustic—impassioned and spirited—interspersed with charming personal points of reference to how she made her way to Minnesota from Tennessee. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Gregg Allman timeless at the Pantages Theatre

Gregg Allman and his eight piece traveling band, in the midst of a spring tour, played to a sold-out house at Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Pantages Theatre on March 27. The storied bluesy-rock icon still wears his hair long and his tattoos proudly. He looks great and his signature voice still resonates with a tender clarity that welcomes you while his rasp makes you ache. As a founding member of the legendary “The Allman Brothers” band, he’s been writing and performing for 50 years—give or take a few-but his talent, and contribution to music history, is timeless.Allman, on vocals, guitar and Hammond B-3 organ, was playing his customarily stage right position for most of the show. He shared the spotlight (center stage) with guitarist and music director Scott Sharrard. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | “Motown the Musical” strikes a chord at the Orpheum Theatre

Motown the Musical is playing, joyously, at Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Orpheum Theatre through December 28th, 2014. Get yourself a holiday gift and go get a ticket. Based on Motown founder, Berry Gordy Jr.’s (sic), book “To Be Loved,” the musical celebrates Gordy’s talents as a writer, producer, entrepreneur, also his legacy and character while telling the story about the music and stars created at “Hitsville U.S.A.” Starting out with the infamous “dueling” between The Four Tops and The Temptations, the show never stops moving as a fleury of sound, light, and talent brighten the stage. You hear Smokey Robinson, Martha and the Vandellas, Junior Walker and the Allstars, Rick James, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder and more …. many more. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Celtic Thunder make a little noise at the State Theatre

Celtic Thunder, a group of Irish male singers, performed a 90-plus minute (with one intermission) Christmas special at the State Theatre on Nov. 28, 2014 to a mostly sold-out audience. The group was conducted by their music director, David Monroe, and was backed by the Minneapolis Theatre Orchestra. The voices do sing in perfect harmony and occasionally in strong solos, but rarely “thunder” when merged with a symphony the size of the one accompanying them.The show consisted of standard Christmas tunes, typical of the season, including: “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Walking in a Winter Wonderland,” “Mary, Did You Know?,” “Oh, Holy Night” and others. There were two Irish highlights: “Christmas Morning, Donegal” (an original by Celtic Thunder) and “Fairytale of New York,” the Pogues classic. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | Nimbus Theatre translates August Strindberg’s “Ghost Sonata”

nimbus theatre, located in NE Minneapolis, is currently featuring a fantastically surreal Ghost Sonata by August Strindberg. Rarely translated to English, well, probably any language these days, it’s a rare chance to see an undersold classic.Per nimbus’s website: “Strindberg unflinchingly squires us through a strange maze of desire and disillusionment, drawing us inexorably deeper into a world of bright shadows and dark truths … [this performance] illuminates Strindberg’s seminal work of modernist drama.That’s why I wanted to go see it: modernist, drama, Strindberg. The translation by Danielle Blackbird rarely disappoints. There are some conversational nuances that don’t translate well, but the actors are superb and masterful in their delivery including Bergman-like silences and dramatic pauses. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Jeff Bridges brings true grit to the Pantages Theatre

Jeff Bridges and The Abiders entertained Midwest fans Sunday evening at the Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. The band plays bluesy country rock that’s a little bit laid back and a little bit riff raff while infusing a whole lot of sincerity and some touching, soulful stories. There weren’t any particularly magical musical moments on stage, but Bridges’ shout-outs to his many friends, touring colleagues, and past collaborators sure made him seem like one of the kindest and happiest dudes on the planet. A couple of surfing references and some nods to his acting education let us know he was from LA-la-land, but a peace of mind and comfort in his own, good-lookin’-skin, gave a grounded, super down-to-earth-guy impression.The song list was heavy with features off the forthcoming Live album, and a varied catalog of tunes written by Bridges’ life-long pal, John Goodwin, but some rock classics from CCR-Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tom Waits, T-Bone Burnett, and Townes Van Zandt were in there, too. Bridges chose to end the 90-or-so-minute set with the Dylan tune “The Man in Me” and The Byrds classic “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.” Bridges, again in keeping with his big picture attitude, also gave mention to being directed by Minneapolis-born, Monty Python-fame, Terry Gilliam in “The Fisher King.” This mention evolved into Bridges dedicating the show to his co-star, the late, great Robin Williams.Most people rightly associate Bridges with a storied acting career, spanning his entire 60-plus year life, with starring, storied roles in (to name a few) “The Last Picture Show,” “True Grit,” “The Fabulous Baker Boys” and, of course, “Crazy Heart” and the local Coen Brothers’ cult-classic “The Big Lebowski.” However, Bridges has been touring off and on with The Abiders since the Blue Note Records’ release Jeff Bridges in 2011. Continue Reading

ARTS REVIEW | Henrik Nygren covers everything from A to Z at his “Insights” lecture at the Walker Art Center

This recap wraps up my review series of Insights, four lectures co-presented by The Walker Art Center (WAC) and AIGA-MN. Four leading graphic designers from around the world were chosen to share the thinking, methods, and processes behind their professional design work this year. The Insights series has been presented for over 25 years, an impressive fact demonstrating that the Minnesota design community continues to support design leadership throughout the world. Each presenter gave their nod to previous Insights series and two noted that they’d often been audience members (via the web casts, most likely).Henrik Nygren from Stockholm, Sweden, presented on Tuesday, March 25. The American Swedish Institute (ASI) was also a sponsor. Continue Reading

REVIEW | Martine Syms connects with the audience during her Insights series lecture at the Walker Art Center

Martine Syms’ was the third presenter at Insights, a lecture series co-presented by the Walker Art Center (WAC) and AIGA-MN Ms. Syms is described in promotional material as a “conceptual entrepreneur.”The goal of this series is to help cash-strapped designers decide whether “being there” to see, listen, and meet offers any inspired benefits vs. buying one of the designers’ books or researching their Web sites or attending the lectures on-line. All Insights lectures are streamed online at the WAC Channel and via various AIGA chapters-the Sioux Falls Chapter showed it on the big screen with popcorn. The WAC suggests having an Insights Viewing Party (kit available) and encourages participation by sending in your comments and questions for the speakers via Twitter (#Insights2014).)  In The Gradient, a WAC blog, I was introduced to the content of Ms. Syms’ lecture: “In preparation for her Insights design lecture . . . Continue Reading

ARTS REVIEW | Sara De Brondt talks cultural design at the second installment of the Insights series at the Walker Art Center

The Walker Art Center (WAC) and AIGA-MN are co-presenting Insights, four lectures featuring leading graphic designers from around the world who have graciously agreed to share the thinking, methods, and processes behind their professional design work. The presenters have some intense labels to live up to: Lance Wyman/NY is called a humble master (of design) and a legend, Sara De Bondt/London, the epitome of a cultural designer, Martine Syms/LA, a “conceptual entrepreneur” (sic), and Henrik Nygren/Stockholm, a premier graphic designer. Because there is a fee associated with this series, I’m taking a stab at understanding if attending this lecture series is a good value. Better than, say, buying one of the designers’ books or spending time at home researching their Web sites. Why? Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | “All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914” finds peace at the Pantages Theatre

Al Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 is enjoying its sixth anniversary (and six performances only) from December 19-22, 2013 at the Pantages Theatre. Featuring Cantus, an accomplished vocal ensemble along with three actors, Theater Latte Da’s artistic director Peter Rothstein artfully recalls the historic foot soldier-created truce between WWI’s Allied and German forces over Christmas 1914.Although an astounding moment in history, few of us were schooled in details about the truce. Rothstein’s inspired development of this production took five years, visits to the Western Front, and extensive research in Brussels, Ieper, Paris and London. This approx. 90-minute, no-intermission production tells the story of how active-duty soldiers working, literally sometimes just feet from each other, decide to lay down arms for at least one night (and in some locations, a few nights). Artfully presented, the production begins with a Christmas carol prelude by Cantus. Continue Reading