Movie Review: Heima (2007)

Title:  Heima
Release Date:  5 October 2007
Director: Dean DeBlois
Rating: ****


Not your average concert film.  Sigur Rós returns to Iceland after a world tour (the title means “At Home”) and conducts a thank you tour of their island nation.  The band performs in community halls, an abandoned factory, on hillsides, and on a dam where protestors are encamped.  The cinematography and the editing are so gorgeous, pairing the music with the Icelandic landscape and the people in the audience (you get the sense that a good portion of the Icelandic population appear in this film). A local choir, brass band, and traditional chanter join in the performance to add to the Icelandic cultural milleiu.   It’s really a movie one can immerse oneself in and get a sense of a country’s national identity.


Concert Review: Wayne Potash & The Music Fun Band

Artist: Wayne Potash & The Music Fun Band
Venue: Club Passim, Cambridge, MA
Date: 1 February 2014

Wayne Potash wears his trademark fish hat as he plays with his band.

Yesterday morning we took our children Peter & Kay to a family concert at the famed Club Passim listening room in Harvard Square.  It was a special occasion as Passim is a place I’ve seen dozens of folk music artists perform (I was even a volunteer there for many shows in the late 90’s/early 00’s).  It was also special because Wayne is a familiar face who played at Peter’s preschool and at birthday parties and special events.  Surprisingly, Wayne genuinely remembered Peter from his preschool days.  Peter once brought in his ukulele to jam with Wayne.

It was great to see Wayne with a full band as opposed to just playing on his own as it added a new dynamic.  The banjoist Paul Sedgwick was particularly charming as he gave out hints to the kids to guess what the next song would be about.  Wayne’s teenage son also performed on keyboards.

The first song “Clap Your Hands” and the entire show were dedicated to the memory of Pete Seeger, appropriately as Wayne Potash is from the Guthrie/Seeger school of children’s folk music.  The band also recognized the upcoming holiday on February 2nd with a song about a Groundhog.  Some old favorites like “I Like Trucks,” “Juba,” and “Shy Shark” were fun to sing along with.  The song “Allis Chalmers” about an old tractor from Wayne’s childhood farm in Pennsylvania was a pleasant new discovery.

The only thing that marred the performance was an unfortunate incident when a dancing child knocked over one of the bands’ amps, but fortunately, no one was hurt.  With participation by singing, dancing, and jumping at such a premium, it might be better if Club Passim would move the tables out of the way to clear up more open space for the kids.  On the other hand they do need to have the room ready for lunchtime at Veggie Planet, so I can understand why they didn’t do that.

We did stay for lunch and got to speak with Wayne some more.  It’s a great thing about folk music and venues like Passim that the artists are so approachable and that everyone can be involved in some way. It’s a nice part of the folk tradition to pass on to our children.

Kay takes her folk music very seriously.
Peter watches and sings along.
Kay lets it be known that she likes to eat pancakes for breakfast.

Set List (Songs I remember being performed in this show, in alphabetical order)

Allis Chalmers
Bold Beaver
Clap Your Hands
I Like Trucks
Lobster Dance
Pancakes for Breakfast
Penguins Attention
Shy Shark

Related Posts:

Concert Review: The Dismemberment Plan

Saturday, November 2, 2013 at Paradise Rock Club in Boston

Opening act: Yellow Ostrich

Headline act: The Dismemberment Plan

On a rare night out for an aging dad, I took in the concert performance of indie/post-punk band (with a healthy dose of R&B and funk) from Washington, D.C., The Dismemberment Plan.  They’re touring to support their first album in a dozen years Uncanney Valley which comes after a long separation of the band.  I was acquainted with the lead vocalist Travis Morrison when we both were in college.*  I say this not to brag of my brush with celebrity, but because without this small connection I would not have heard of The Dismemberment Plan and my life would be less rich as the result.  The remainder of the quartet is Eric Axelson (bass), Jason Caddell (guitar), and Joe Easley (drums).


The Dismemberment Plan had a friendly, knowledgeable audience for their Boston show.  Early on, Morrison bantered that they’d always gotten a good reception going all the way back to their first show in 1847 when the only person in the audience was Herman Melville.  The literary joke got a good response from the audience, and seemed appropriate given that The Dismemberment Plan are a literary band.  Their lyrics often tell a story and the music emphasizes the natural rhythm of the spoken word.  A good example is the crowd pleaser “You Are Invited,” a song about a magical invitation in which the words of the invitation are sung as the chorus, at first gently but later in a rave-up leading to a guitar solo.  It was a great experience to see and hear the dynamics of this song live.

The band were tight in their performance and it was clear that Morrison was enjoying himself as he smiled throughout the concert.  The band continued their good relations with the crowd, inviting a couple of men onstage to model their t-shirts as a lead-in to “The Dismemberment Plan Get Rich.”  In the encore, audience members were invited to dance onstage during “The Ice of Boston” (a Dismemberment Plan tradition).  I had the opportunity to access the stage myself, but having performed onstage in Boston elsewhere I left the space open for someone else.  Morrison forced one particularly obnoxious fan to stay on stage and dance for the finale.

This was an intense concert and if you have a chance to see The Dismemberment Plan live, take it.


Set list:

  • Living In Song
  • Gyroscope
  • Ellen and Ben
  • Mexico City Christmas
  • You Are Invited
  • Girl O’Clock
  • No One’s Saying Nothing
  • The City
  • Time Bomb
  • Invisible
  • The Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich
  • Spider in the Snow
  • Go and Get It
  • Do the Standing Still
  • What Do You Want Me to Say?


  • Daddy Was A Real Good Dancer
  • The Face of the Earth
  • The Ice of Boston
  • OK, Joke’s Over (w/ a brief interpolation of Lorde’s “Royals”)

Travis & I were both DJ’s at the college radio station WCWM.  One semester he was the host of the popular Quiz Kid game show that lead into my world music show.  He said he liked my show, which made me feel good since he was cool and I was not.  OK, now I’m bragging.

Songs of the Week: Beck’s Song Reader Performed Live

The songs in my head this week, of course, are the songs I’m rehearsing for a concert called Beck’s Song Reader Performed Live.  The show is next Thursday, February 28, 2013 at Somerville Theatre in Davis Square (on the Red Line) at 8:00.  Beck released his 2012 album Song Reader entirely as sheet music, and 150 of Boston’s best musicians, dancers, and performance artists will be presenting their interpretations of all 20 songs.  My choir will perform an arrangement of one song a capella and provide accompaniment to four other songs.

Get your tickets now for $25/seat as this show is sure to sell out!

The choral centerpiece is a song called “The Wolf is on the Hill.”  In this video, you may hear us rehearsing a couple of weeks ago.  We sound even better now.  At the end of this clip you can also hear a small portion of “Title of the Song” which is the grand finale of the concert.

The choir is also accompanying Sarah Ribdau and Peter Moore on their rendition of “Please Leave the Light On When You Go” and Peter Moore’s take of “Heaven’s Ladder”:

The choir is participating on a fifth song as well, “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard” by Molly Zenobia.  This may be my favorite of all the songs I’ve heard, but you’ll have to take my word for it and come to the concert to hear it, because there is no demo.

Some other songs you will hear at the concert include:

  • “Why Did You Make Me Care” by Mary Bichner:

  • “Now That Your Dollar Bills Have Sprouted Wings” by The Highland Drifters
  • “Sorry” by Endation
  • “Old Shanghai” by Mary Bichner

This barely scratches the surface, as there will be a dozen more songs plus choreographed dance performances for each number.

So buy your tickets now!!!

Concert Review: Boston Symphony Orchestra – Ligeti, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky

On Saturday night, I enjoyed my first performance at Symphony Hall by the Boston Symphony Orchestra accompanied by my mother.  Assistant Conductor Julian Kuerti lead the orchestra on three lovely pieces by Eastern European composers:

Marc-André Hamelin performed on the piano for Shostakovich’s concerto and I really enjoyed Thomas Rolfs‘ trumpet on the same work.  I tend to be drawn to the timpani though, like Holden Caulfield, I like a good kettle drum player.

I can’t begin to make an informed review of a classical music performance, so here are some assorted reflections:

  • Our seats were in the third row of the 1st balcony, dead center.  I can’t imagine a more preferable place to sit at Symphony Hall.
  • The acoustics really are good.  I felt like I had violins all around my head.
  • Trying to find some commonalities among the composers I conjured up that two were Russian and one was Romanian.  Two lived in 20th Century and one in the 19th.  Two lived through World War II and the Iron Curtain and one under the tsar.  All incorporate some folk and traditional music motifs in their compositions.
  • I haven’t seen many symphonic conductors, but Kuerti is the first one I’ve ever seen raises his arm so far back that he strokes his shoulder blades.  It was like he was lashing himself on every upstroke.
  • Hamelin finished of the Allegro con brio movement of Piano Concerto No. 1 with some very animated hand gestures that reminded me of the piano player in a carnival shooting gallery.
  • The part of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 with the Chinese gong made me laugh allowed because it was so delightfully unexpected (although I should have noted that a gong on the stage would eventually be used).  It reminded me of a George Plimpton story where he participates with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.  He is given the gong because “he can’t mess it up” but hits it so enthusiastically that even the conductor notices.  I looked it up and the piece Plimpton played gong on was indeed Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2.
  • I need to take advantage of the <40 = $20 program again within the next three-and-half years.

Previously: Tour of Symphony Hall

Concert Review: Yo La Tengo

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a rock concert, especially on my own, but I couldn’t miss seeing Yo La Tengo.  So I took a Dad’s night out to the Wilbur Theatre on Sept. 16th where New Jersey’s finest band entertained a crowd of with a large number young hipsters and colleges students.  Nerd chic was in full effect as many in the audience wore checked shirts, argyle sweaters, and even neckties!  I just had to have faith that the roof of the Wilbur Theatre was structurally sound.  I didn’t feel out of place though because there were plenty of middle-aged music geeks like myself in the crowd as well.

Wilbur Theatre is a classic-style playhouse where all the seats on the orchestra level  have been removed and sectioned off by gates into different standing room only pens.  My ticket allowed me to go all the way up front and found a spot by the stage all the way to the left.  On my way in I was surprised to see three Japanese men all with extraordinarily long hair playing screaming blues rock.  They are Yura Yura Teikoku and Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan would tell us letter that this was only their third American city after New York and Burlington.  There psychedelic music was pretty good although I did start to tire of the languid, dreamy guitar solos.  I  could see Kaplan and Yo La Tengo bassist James McNew watching from the wings and drummer Georgia Hubley actually came out to the audience to talk with people she knew.  I refrained from throwing myself down before here and shouting “I’m not worthy!”

Yo La Tengo is one of my favorite bands partly because they are so eclectic.  They are equally adept in folksy songs as they are in power pop and can range between ethereal pieces and noisy machine music.  Similarly, all members of the band can take lead vocals and play multiple instruments.  I guess this versatility can be a turn off as well.  After leading off with “From A Motel 6,” Yo La Tengo launched into a least 8 minutes of reverb, feedback and screeching guitars over a monotonously repeated drum & bass line.   Kaplan stepped into a land where only he, his guitar and amp existed.  It was almost as if Yo La Tengo wanted to test the devotion of the audience.  Later they’d win the crowd over with catchier numbers like “Sugarcube” but lose them again on the finale, an extended version of the Beach Boys “Little Honda” which broke down into another feedback/noise/screech fest.  I actually saw as many people heading for the doors as there were calling for an encore, which I’ve never seen happen at a concert.

But I get ahead of myself, and whatever other may think, I loved every minute of this show.  Highlights for me included seeing McNew – a burly man with a big mop of hair and a surprisingly sweet voice – singing “Stockholm Syndrome.”   Kaplan’s guitar went out of tune on the last verse and he commented that since Wilbur Theatre is usually a comedy club that people might think he was doing comic tuning.  He insisted that they do the last verse again.  Afterwards McNew suggested facetiously that they do it yet again causing much confusion to the roadie bringing new instruments on stage.

For a couple of songs, Yo La Tengo was joined by a string octet of local musicians who accompanied the band on newly composed arrangements by a friend of the band whose name I missed.  The song “Here to Fall” from Yo La Tengo’s new album Popular Songs sounded particularly good with the string accompaniment.  Two of the violinists rejoined the band for the noise part of “Little Honda” with one of them getting down by an amplifier to get distortion from the violin!  Even if it was not a crowd-pleaser, I thought that was worth the price of admission.  The other new song I recognized “Periodically Double or Triple” was a great funky organ piece that you can dance to.

I’ll have to confess that I didn’t recognize a number of songs played, presumably from their newest album which despite that fact that I ordered it in a special package with my tickets didn’t arrive until today and I’ve been unable to find a setlist on the internet.  Also from my perch by the stage my view of the Hubley’s drumming was blocked by a synthesizer and despite being next to an ear-shredding loudspeaker her vocals were inaudible.  Actually the mix on all the vocals was pretty bad. I’m glad she came forward to sing and play acoustic guitar on a couple of songs.  But these are minor quibbles for what was a fantastic show.  I’ve seen Yo La Tengo twice before (once when they were accompanying Jean Painleve’s nature films on their Sounds of Science tour) and thought this was the best of the bunch.  Not bad for a band that’s been around 25 years.

Related links:

  • Acidgalore – the majority of this post is griping about an MBTA shutdown on the night of the show but there is some commentary about the show in the final paragraphs.
  • – James Reed of the Boston Globe reviews the show and it’s obvious that he’s a fan.
  • On A Friday – photos from the show including many images of Kaplan going crazy with his guitar.
  • Clicky Music Blog – a photo album from the show.
  • bsearles on flickr – even more photos from the show.
  • NPR Music – a full concert by Yo La Tengo in Washington on September 17th.  Despite being just one day after the Boston show, the set list is almost completely different.  You’ve got to love a band that keeps it fresh.  I also love that NPR considers McNew the “new guy” even though he’s been with the band for 17 years.


Concert Review: Butterflyfish

On Saturday, June 27th we saw the new band Butterflyfish at the Wellesley Village Church.  We were enticed by a listserv description of the band that plays a mix of folks, gospel, bluegrass, and country (and reggae, not mentioned in the invite) targeted to children and families:

There is an underlying theme of spirituality – as parents we were looking for music that underscored the idea that we are all rooted in spirituality without being heavy handed or laced with synthesizers! Couldn’t find any so we wrote our own!

As an added bonus, a musician we like a lot, Marc Erelli – a fine singer/songwriter, folk, country, troubadour – would be playing with the band.  Erelli must be one of the most generous musicians around and really like performing, because he plays with everyone!

We were late for the show but glad we made it.  The band performed standards like “Amazing Grace” and “This Little Light of Mine” along with some lovely originals.  I’m fond of the song “Music” which has the chorus:

We are going to a place where music falls and fills up everything. Though it might be a long time, but it’s going to be all right because we’ve already started to sing.

The band members Matthew Myer Boulton, Zoë Krohne, and Elizabeth Myer Boulton sing some lovely harmonies and keep things upbeat and entertaining.  Even my son who is a non-stop bundle of energy sat still on my lap for several songs.  Peter got up to dance and run around the sanctuary during the encore but even then was really enjoying the music.  The instrumentalists were great too, with Mark Erelli on guitar, Zack Hickman on bass and Charlie Rose on banjo.  Erelli also sang lead on “I’ll Be There” in tribute to Michael Jackson, which was far better than the Mariah Carey version.

After the show there was a reception with church punch and cookies.  We also picked up a copy of the Butterflyfish band album “Ladybug“.  I suggest you do to if you like folk music, gospel and children’s music, or any of the above.

Where the Monkey Craps in the Buckwheat (concert review)

Last night I was fortunate to see folk singer/songwriter Peter Mulvey play a set at the Passim Folk Music and Cultural Center. Apparently, the last time I went to a concert it was also Peter Mulvey as reviewed on this blog a year ago (before the baby was born, but not before I was married). I sat with my friend Craig as well as his friend Sheila who I met for the first time. Sadly, Susan was not able to attend because our baby Peter had a fever.   One day we’ll take Peter to see Peter.

Beyond brilliant guitar playing and lyrics, it’s a joy to see Peter Mulvey because he tells great stories between songs.  Some of the best are about his father Frank, who apparently used the phrase “I told him I know where the monkey craps in the buckwheat.”  Frank Mulvey tried to defend this as a commonly-used phrase, which it isn’t, but it should be and I’m going to work it into my everyday conversation.  Peter Mulvey also told tales about his second No Gasoline Tour, where he traveled between shows in Wisconsin on bicycle.  Next year he promises to ride to Boston.

Mulvey played a great set with many unfamiliar songs – some new songs of his own and a lot of great covers.  The complete set list is below.  The titles of songs #3, #4, & #14 are my best guesses.

Openers: Ryan Fitzsimmons (guitar) with Ian Goldstein (mandolin)

  1. Stranded in a Limousine (Paul Simon)
  2. If Love is Not Enough
  3. I Go Mmm-Mmm-Mmm
  4. Raven on the Roof
  5. The Kids in the Square
  6. Old Fashioned Hat (Anais Mitchell)
  7. Health Food Girl
  8. Welcome Back (John Sebastian) – with Ian Goldstein
  9. Easiest Thing to Do – with Ian Goldstein
  10. Hang Down Your Head (Tom Waits) – with Ian Goldstein
  11. The Knuckleball Suite – with Ian Goldstein
  12. Dynamite Bill
  13. Shirt
  14. Black Rabbit (instrumental)
  15. Mailman
  16. Sad, Sad, Sad, Sad, and Far Away From Home

Encore: All You Need is Love (Lennon/McCartney)

Concert Review: Tunes, Tales & Tricksters

On Sunday, the Forest Hills Educational Trust and Chameleon Arts Ensemble of Boston presented a family concert in the lovely Forsyth Chapel called Tunes, Tales & Tricksters. The theme of the concert was stories, conversations, and communication through music.

Hans Indigo Spencer narrated the event by telling stories about the pieces and involving the children through questions and answers. Spencer also composed a great piece about a lonely cello looking for a friend at school. The music was interesting and accessible to children — even my 7-month old boy who was rapt in attention by the drums during “She who sleeps on a small blanket” — without being too cutesy for adults (my son did get fussy during the narration parts though).

Another example of why Forest Hills Cemetery is one of the great venues for arts and culture in Boston

The program included:

Richard Strauss
Till Eulenspiegel einmal anders! for clarinet, bassoon, French horn, violin, and double bass

Martin Rokeach
Six Questions for violin and percussion

Ned Rorem
Katherine from “After Reading Shakespeare” for solo cello

Kevin Volans
“She who sleeps on a small blanket” for solo percussion

Jean Damase
Conversation for clarinet and bassoon

Hans Indigo Spencer
“Conversations with a Cellist” for cello solo
with clarinet, bassoon, French horn, violin, double bass, & percussion

Concert Review: Peter Mulvey at Club Passim

Craig, Susan and I caught the first performance of Peter Mulvey at Club Passim in Cambridge on Thursday night. Peter Mulvey is a great singer/songwriter folk musician from Wisconsin who also has ties with Boston where he used to perform in the MBTA stations. Susan & I were fortunate enough to catch him recording his cover songs album Ten Thousand Mornings at Davis Square Station but the songs we saw recorded didn’t make it to the album. We’ve also seen him perform at various venues around Boston usually with his friend David Goodrich as well as in the trio Redbird with Kris Delmhorst and Jeffrey Foucalt.

Mulvey is an excellent introspective songwriter and a talented guitarist. This may be the first time we’ve seen him perform all alone, and despite it being just him and his acoustic guitar, it sounded like an entire band was playing. This was especially true in the number he opened with “Wings of the Ragman” where if I couldn’t see it with my own eyes I would swear there were at least two guitars playing.

In addition to an excellent performance, Peter Mulvey is a great storyteller. Last month he toured Wisconsin on bicycle towing his guitar on a trailer behind him. One day on his journey he came upon a very defensive redwing blackbird who flew straight at him and bounced off his helmet. He also told a story about finding something in his basement that ended with this brilliant quote: “Disorder in my basement, that’s not misery, that’s America!” (NOTE: both Craig and Susan heard “water” not “disorder” but I like my version better).

Here is the complete setlist (songs 6,7,8, 11 & 12 are new songs or older songs I’m not familiar so I’m not sure if the titles are correct):

  1. Wings of the Ragman
  2. Me & Albert
  3. The Trouble With Poets (he improvised some new, clever lyrics about Sylvia Plath into this song)
  4. Abilene (The Eisenhower Waltz)
  5. The Knuckleball Suite
  6. Dynamite Bill (apparenty based on a true story of someone Peter Mulvey’s dad knew. He shared a poetic email from his father about Dynamite Bill)
  7. The Kids in the Square
  8. Mailman
  9. Girl in the Hi-Tops
  10. You and Me and the 10,000 Things
  11. Gasoline (Smell the Future, per Jonathan below)
  12. Instrumental piece (Black Rabbit, per Jonathan below)
  13. Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies
  14. Charlie
  15. The Dreams
  16. 29-Cent Head
  17. Words Too Small To Say
  18. Sad, Sad, Sad, Sad and Far Away From Home
  19. Encore: Our Love Is Here to Stay

I’m only disappointed that he didn’t play “Marty & Lou” because these days, these days I tell you, these days it’s all about the monkeys.