Sunday, May 15, 2011

New Sweden and Free Energy Tear Up the Arden Gild Hall

New Sweden @ Arden Gild Hall. Photo: Joe del Tufo
The idea behind bringing Philly rock gods Free Energy to the Arden Gild Hall was simple: to draw a younger crowd to the breezy venue, which usually boasts a more solidly mature audience. And, of course, a local band kicking off the night was a must. Enter New Sweden, easily one of the most buzzed-about bands in Delaware right now. On every level, this XPN-sponsored show was a success, from the generationally diverse crowd to the choice of bands to the enthusiasm that filled the room through the night.

If you haven't seen New Sweden yet -- and I hadn't -- they are a band that has earned the hype. They play folky, foot-stomping rock, sometimes light and airy, sometimes hard, with viola, banjo, mandolin, pump organ and glockenspiel added to the traditional rock instruments. It's sort of like Burl Ives meets Cowpunk. Very cool. New Sweden is the kind of band you can sing along with, even if it's your first time seeing them. I can see why they've got the passionate following they have -- they put on a great show.

Free Energy @ Arden Gild Hall. Photo: Joe del Tufo

While we at DE Arts Info always focus on Delaware artists, headliners Free Energy deserve mention. I'll frame it like this: Delaware, and Arden in particular, should be very proud to have hosted this band and this show. Free Energy, whose sound can be described as modern "70s rock" -- think Sweet meets Teenage Head meets the Stooges meets the Stones in the 21st Century -- had the entire room dancing through the night. Not moving, but full on dancing, from the kids to the seniors, and that's not something you see every day.

New Sweden will be playing NON-COMM at World Cafe Live at The Queen on Friday, May 20; on June 4, they will perform at the Baby Grand; they'll return to The Queen to headline on July 29th (see their band page for full schedule and information on their upcoming album). Free Energy will be touring the US this summer; their album, "Stuck on Nothing" is available on iTunes and Amazon.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

NINE is a Winner

City Theater Company has a winner with NINE, a musical by Arthur Kopit (book) and Maury Yeston (music and lyrics). The character Guido Contini is loosely based on Federico Fellini’s autobiographical character in the movie 81/2. A wonderfully humorous-and sometimes sobering journey into the troubled filmmaker’s psyche, the production is crisp and vibrant. Director Michael Gray assembles a terrific cast and makes creative use of the black box space. The small orchestra, led by Chris Tolomeo, aces the difficult score, which ranges from jazzy numbers to baroque-style recitative.

Guido (Michael Gray) is a simpatico, self-absorbed womanizer. When he sings Only with you, he caresses his wife and his mistresses with tender words of faithfulness. As his career is foundering, he finds himself under the thumb of his producer, Liliane LeFleur (Karen Murdock). She constantly badgers him for a script and hires her lover-who despises Contini’s work-to be his assistant. Murdock is terrific in the role with her show-stopping Folie Bergeres and pompous French attitude.

The all-female ensemble functions a sort of Greek chorus. They echo Guido’s thoughts and gush with the admiration he so desperately craves. As Guido’s mother, Ruth Bailis is convincing and her Italian accent and mannerisms authentic. With her strong presence and rich voice, TS Baynes is ideally suited for the role of Guido’s neglected wife, Luisa Contini. As she sings Be on your Own we feel the depth of her suffering and sense of abandonment. Eleonore Thomas is vocally and dramatically riveting as Saraghina. She sings Ti Voglio Bene/Be Italian to the young Guido (Nolan Moss), coaching him on matters of love and sex. Moss does an excellent job in the role of the young boy, both overwhelmed and intrigued by the powerful female forces that surround him. Also entertaining were Corinne Grosser (Claudia Nardi) and Ashley Harris (Carla Albanese) as Guido’s two mistresses.

Though much of the music light-hearted and often silly, Yeston builds some very complex, layered songs. For each character he creates unique musical themes, which weave together nicely into larger ensembles. The Bells of St. Sebastian is a haunting, rich first act finale. The songs also serve as a vehicle for character development. In Luisa’s My Husband Makes Movies the veneer of her denial is shattered, and by the end of the song her distress is more exposed.

Be sure to check out this gem, which runs through May 21, 2001 at the Black Box at OperaDelaware.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Hail Cinema Jams at the World Cafe

Hallowed Cain
Photo: David Norbut Photography
The World Cafe Live at The Queen is the kind of venue Delawareans used to have to drive to Philly or DC (or any bigger city, really) to experience. If you haven't checked it out yet, think The Trocadero meets the TLA, only a bit more intimate -- a size that's completely appropriate for our small city. The downstairs stage, which hosted The Battle of the Bands: Cinema Jams on Saturday, April 30, is a beautiful restored relic of a movie theater, highlighted by its original organ pipes and ornate stonework, the delicate decorative paint faded by time. Quite literally, you're watching a show in 20th Century ruin of sorts - one that's spotlessly clean, well-lit and lined with a 21st Century bar.

The World Cafe boasts some big names coming through, and it's primarily a venue for touring artists. On this night, though, the stage belonged to local acts The Hold Up, Stallions, Hallowed Cain, Rubber Skunk and My Friends, for a battle royale unlike anything I've seen. The concept of Cinema Jams was a Film Brothers brainchild: each band does a set of their own songs, in the theme of a movie. So, costumes, interludes and video all played a part, and the audience -- I don't know if it was sold out, but it was certainly packed -- voted for the  top band of the night.

The evening started with one of my local favorites, The Hold Up, in full "Fight Club" ensemble, doing their old school rock 'n roll flavored tracks like "On Hallowed Ground" and "Zombies Ate My Neighbors." The Stallions set their classic modern rock sound with "No Country for Old Men." Funk fusion Rubber Skunk officially did "An Inconvenient Truth," with a humorous "powerpoint" show, and wound up featuring others such as Charlie Sheen, Shaft, Nosferatu, Indiana Jones and "Snakes on a Plane." My Friends were fully decked out for their "Aladdin" theme, complete with a trumpet-playing red parrot and a genie on percussion. It was Hallowed Cain, though, who stole the show, and won the night, with their fully integrated "Clockwork Orange" theme, including video, costumes and props, which worked perfectly with their heavy, intense music.

A great night all the way through. We hope to see more shows like it in the future!

More: World Cafe Live at The Queen

Check out David Norbut's amazing photos of the show here!