The Sorcerer enthralls

The Sorcerer: Gilbert & Sullivan Society of AustinYes, it’s silly; yes, it will make you laugh. The Sorcerer is the current production of the Gilbert & Sulllivan Society of Austin.

A mysterious potion in a teapot causes upheaval in a country village. Love is everywhere but perhaps not always where it should be.

Not least among the pleasures is a full accompaniment for the excellent vocalists provided by the Gillman Light Opera Orchestra under the expert direction of Jeffrey Jones-Ragona: nineteen instrumentalists!

There’s no stinting on the fine chorus: ten men and ten women! The principal parts are sung by old favorites and new. Each is wonderful in his or her individual fashion, and there’s no justice in singling out anyone.

All are easily understood, thanks to the small auditorium with its excellent acoustics. There are, nevertheless, supertitles for all dialogue and lyrics. The libretto is available on line, but why spoil the story in advance if it’s unfamiliar? Keep the suspense. Read it after the performance.

Direction, costumes, lighting, set and sound design, stage business, and choreography are all just as they should be. We attended a performance preceded by an hour-long children’s program. Little children attended that and then stayed for the two-act show afterwards. The Sorcerer is truly a delight for audiences of all ages.

There are no bad seats in the house at the Worley Barton Theater, Brentwood Christian School, 11908 North Lamar. Remaining performances are:

Thursday, June 25; 7:30 pm
Friday, June 26; 7:30 pm
Saturday, June 27; 2 pm and 7:30 pm
Sunday, June 28; 2 pm

Ticket prices are most reasonable, from $7 to $25. The Sorcerer is a sparkling jewel, one not to be missed.

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Juneteenth parade 2015: a beautiful day!

Juneteenth 2015This was Year 150 for Juneteenth, and Austin turned out in great numbers to observe the occasion.

The Austin All Star Band is larger and sharper than ever. The Spirit of the Drum and Murchison Middle School were among the aggregations that provided music for the day. It was good to see children riding in the Wells Fargo stagecoach; some years it runs the course empty.

Politicos turned out in force, and volunteers were encouraging registration to vote. The weather, although threatening, cooperated; the downpour did not arrive until there’d been time to picnic.

See pictures and unedited videos for a hint of Juneteenth in Austin.

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Austin conjunto festival: 25 years of bringing happiness

conjunto t-shirtsHappy music makes for happy people and happy feet. The Austin conjunto festival marked its 25th anniversary on Sunday, May 3, established by Johnny Degollado all those years ago, when people first gathered in July in the heat, but in the shade of Parque Zaragoza, to hear and dance to the many rhythms of the accordion, bajo sexto, and other customary members of a traditional conjunto, so complex yet simple enough to set up in about five minutes.

The festival and dance contest were a happy component of the tenth Fiestas Patrias of Austin celebration of Cinco de Mayo. The weather was more than cooperative under the shade of the trees and the pavilion at Fiesta Gardens, with a beautiful breeze playing as children scampered and people of all ages danced and danced. Seven conjuntos were on the bill; we could be present for the first two only: Conjunto Aztlan and Santiago Jimenez, Jr.

This event is always perfect for music-lovers of all ages. See still images and unedited videos from this year’s festival and resolve to attend next year.

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Don Giovanni: a disguished production

Don Giovanni: Austin Opera 2015If you miss the Austin Opera production of Don Giovanni (the May 3 Sunday matinee at 3 pm is the last live performance, with a KMFA live broadcast Don Giovanni beginning at the same time), you’ll miss a highlight of 2015 music and theater in Austin.

The music is always a delight to hear whether or not the opera is staged in such a fashion as to awake emotions and promote deep engagement with the plot. So many times, for example, Donna Elvira is almost a figure of ridicule; not so in this staging. The entire cast sings beautifully, alone and with other members; the sets and lighting are evocative and speedily set up for each succeeding scene so that no virtually no time is expended in waiting and so that the momentum never flags. All stage business is inventive, but never to the extent that outpourings of song are hindered. The singers are not just vocally agile; they are physically agile, to the extent that they appear able to enjoy second careers as acrobats and dancers. It would be unfair to single out any individual member of the cast for particular distinction: everyone sounded wonderful, as did the orchestra and chorus.

The Friday night audience was attentive from beginning to end; no departures were observed during the sole, brief intermission; enthusiastic applause lasted and lasted. Check on line for available remaining tickets for Don Giovanni (as low as $15 and there are no bad seats), and don’t forget the live broadcast. What a triumph!

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The circus is in town!

Circo Hermanos Vazquez 2015Circo Hermanos Vazquez+ is smartly paced and choreographed and very beautiful as a spectacle. The costumes are not extravagant, but they are fresh and very becoming to the artists, who are of the first class. The band is live. The clowns are laugh-out-loud funny.

Circo Hermanos Vazquez is set up at Highland Mall through this coming Sunday, April 12, when there will be shows at 2, 5, and 8 pm. Monday through Thursday weekday shows are at 7:30 pm. On Friday and Saturday, the shows begin at 6 and at 9 pm. Tickets may be purchased on line; the box office is open every day beginning at 10 am. Discount coupons admitting a child under 10 accompanied by an adult with a paid-for ticket are to be found around town; there was a plentiful supply at Chango’s on the Drag. Doors open a half hour before the spectacle begins.

The popcorn (palomitas) was fresh; the beverage was Coca-Cola. Opportunities for souvenir photographs with the members of the circus are numerous.

Photographs and unedited videos give only the merest notion of what a very fine show this is, definitely a treat for all ages.

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Honk!Tx 2015: joyous sights and sounds

dancing in the streets

dancing in the streets

HONK!TX festival of community street bands brings life to the streets of Austin. For the fifth year, music and dance were to be found all over town, all free to those enjoying the event.

This is Austin as we know and love it. Some contingent (Wheatsville Co-op?) was offering kazoos to the onlookers during Sunday’s free parade to the park. They were put into immediate use.

View still images and unedited videos to see an acquaintance or to realize what you missed, if you did miss it. And if you did, resolve to listen for it next year and let your ears lead you to some of the best fun Austin offers.

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Austin City Limits Taping – TV On The Radio

Season 41 of Austin City Limits kicked off this week during SXSW with a performance that streamed live on YouTube from TV On The Radio (henceforth referred to as TVOTR) on Monday.

TV on the Radio - Austin City LimitsI first became familiar with TVOTR around the time their song “DLZ” was featured in an episode of Breaking Bad near the end of its second season. The series was known for its clever and fitting use of songs as a part of the plot and “DLZ” arguably marks the first sign of Walter White becoming Heisenberg. This was also around the time of the release of their third album, Dear Science which included the song. The single, “Dancing Choose”, got a fairb amount of radio play that year and seems to me to be their breakthrough and biggest selling album. I honestly didn’t fact check that so feel free to let me know if I’ve got that wrong.

They performed as a six piece. This was their first appearance on Austin City Limits. The set list is included below and, like most bands, included a significant amount of their new album, Seeds. They did not play “DLZ” but did play “Dancing Choose” and two other songs from Dear Science. They seemed genuinely appreciative of the audience and to be on the show. I’d characterize their songs as a mix of electronic and punk. They had a good energy and the crowd seemed more raucous than usual, probably attributable to SXSW attendees. Either I got on a bad row this time or the entire audience, while energetic, seemed antsy and I had to deal with more than the usual amount of people leaving their seats for the bathroom or drinks or who knows what. I found it distracting and disrespectful. As a note to those who haven’t attended a taping, this isn’t a typical show. You should really try to pace the bathroom and drink trips. In fact, you really shouldn’t leave your seat at all if possible. If you do, try to do it between songs.

TVOTR had other appearances during SXSW including the NPR music showcase on Wednesday at Stubb’s.

Set List:

  1. Young Liars (Young Liars)
  2. Lazzeray (Seeds)
  3. Golden Age (Dear Science)
  4. Happy Idiot (Seeds)
  5. Seeds (Seeds)
  6. Could You Love (Seeds)
  7. Wolf Like Me (Return to Cookie Mountain)
  8. Careful You (Seeds)
  9. Blues From Down Here (Return to Cookie Mountain)
  10. Winter (Seeds)
  11. Love Dog (Dear Science)
  12. Dancing Choose (Dear Science)
  13. Trouble (Seeds)
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Texas Independence Day parade

Texas Independence Day 2015Today’s parade was brief but spirited. There was precipitation and there was wind; temperatures were barely above freezing. There was a loud salute. The Del Valle color guard and cadets, so often a sharp presence at Austin parades, stepped out smartly. Krispy Kreme, assorted pirates, and legacy Texians passed by, looking chilly but jolly. The Texas Cowboys were visible on a trailer somewhere on the bridge but were not seen along the parade route on the Avenue. Construction workers paused. Some members of the police security staff were dancing to keep warm. Small in numbers as the marchers were, they certainly seemed to outnumber the spectators. See a couple of unedited videos and a few photographs.


Austin City Limits Taping – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Austin City Limits - Nick CaveWhen Terry Lickona came out to announce Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, he noted that Nick Cave has been around 30 years and that Austin City Limits has been around for 40 years, but this was the first appearance on the show.

I’ve been to quite a few ACL performances over the years and the first thing I noticed last night was that the floor configuration for the taping was different than any other that I’ve attended. They gave Nick Cave two walkways out into the crowd and did away with the traditional space between the audience and the stage along with the two floor cameras that are usually right in front. I heard that based on the previous night’s performance to a sold out crowd, they decided that they wanted more audience interaction to make for a better taping.

This was my first time seeing Nick Cave live. I’d been exposed to him through Henry Rollins who’s a big fan. I’m also pretty familiar with Cave’s 1992 album, Henry’s Dream, which was an employee favorite at the Sound Warehouse at 49th and Burnet Road where I worked when it was released. His Grinderman side project has been a favorite over the past few years. He’s got quite a stage presence. He reminds me of a goth Elvis with a more overt sexuality, even raunchiness. I don’t know that I would’ve wanted to be in the front on the floor the way he was shoving his crotch at the audience members.

You can see the set list below, but the performance included five tracks from 2013’s Push The Sky Away and a sampling of what could be considered his greatest hits from earlier records. As many of those in attendance noted on Twitter, it’s not likely that they’ll air “Stagger Lee” from Murder Ballads without having to censor a good portion of the song. Cave himself mentioned that they wouldn’t air “Mermaids” because of one of the lyrics.

I attended with a friend who had never been to a taping before. He noted the lack of cell phones during the performance as a welcome sight. Austin City Limits and Alamo Drafthouse… trying to restore civility to attending movies and concerts. Coincidentally, a Nick Cave documentary, 20,000 Days on Earth, plays tonight at 10pm at Alamo Drafthouse – Ritz. The Nick Cave episode will air in the Fall.

Set List:

  1. We Real Cool (PTSA)
  2. Jubilee Street (PTSA)
  3. Tupelo (TFID)
  4. Red Right Hand (LLI)
  5. Mermaids (PTSA)
  6. From Her to Eternity (FHTE)
  7. Love Letter (NMSWP)
  8. God Is In the House (NMSWP)
  9. Higgs Boson Blues (PTSA)
  10. The Mercy Seat (TP)
  11. Stagger Lee (MB)
  12. Push the Sky Away (PTSA)

Juneteenth parade

Saturday’s parade in observance of Emancipation Day brought out the politicians, including Chris Riley, Sheryl Cole, Mike Martinez, Steve Adler, Kirk Watson, and more; Riley cruised by on a bicycle and Martinez walked the route in flip-flops. Police chief Acevedo traveled the route on foot as well.

The mood was festive, as always. Apart from the Wells Fargo team of four drawing a stagecoach, horses were few this year. Church groups, City departments, corporate sponsors including H-E-B, and small businesses were there. The most appreciated were the providers of music, including Spirit of the Drum, the Austin All Star Band, WAMM, and bands all the way from Hearne and Houston.

We usually watch from a spot across the street from the Fresh Up Club. This year we returned to the Gonzalo Garza Independence School, where we admired the butterfly garden.

There’s no way to capture the spirit, really, but these unedited videos and pix made the attempt.

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Austin City Limits Taping – Tweedy

Austin City Limits - TweedyTweedy is in town tonight for a show at the Texas Union Ballroom. It’s Tweedy the solo project that includes Jeff Tweedy and his son, Spencer, on drums, not just Jeff. They’re backed by guitarist Jim Elkington, multi-instrumentalist Liam Cunningham, bassist Darin Gray and last night were joined by vocalists Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe from the Brooklyn band, Lucius. The ACL program pointed out that Lucius played the Bloody Mary Morning Party during SXSW 2013.

Tweedy is releasing a new album, Sukierae (sue-key-ray), on September 16th. This is his first solo album featuring 20 new songs. He joked that he had to wait 18 years to grow a drummer before he could go solo. I had decided to punt on getting tickets for the show because of the outrageous $80 ticket prices, but got to go to the Austin City Limits taping last night.

I last saw Jeff Tweedy solo at Hogg Auditorium in January of 2007. It’s one of the best shows that I’ve ever seen. Jeff Tweedy solo shows are typically an intimate affair. It’s just him and his guitar. He even eschewed the microphone for several songs at that show. The intimacy of those solo shows is somewhat lost with the backing band. It was also more difficult to get into the first three quarters of the show because it’s all new material that we’ve never heard. Jeff Tweedy commented on this and thanked the audience for sticking with him. His solo shows are also part stand-up routine with plenty of self-deprecating humor. He managed to squeeze a bit of that into his on stage banter, apologizing to Spencer more than once for possibly embarrassing the 18 year old as he spoke. There weren’t as many sing-a-longs in last night’s show but the crowd was encouraged to join in on “Slow Love”, one of the new songs from the forthcoming album.

This is the 40th season of Austin City Limits. Tonight’s show is an encore performance of Raphael Saadiq and Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears. The Tweedy show at Texas Union Ballroom is sold out. They play Dallas’s Majestic Theater tomorrow night. Austin360 also has a review of last night’s taping.

Set List:

(Full band)

  1. Down From Above
  2. Diamond Light
  3. Flowering
  4. Summer Noon
  5. World Away
  6. Desert Bell
  7. Honey Combed
  8. New Moon
  9. Where My Love
  10. High As Hello
  11. Wait For Love
  12. Low Key
  13. Slow Love
  14. Nobody Dies
(Solo)
  1. Via Chicago
  2. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
  3. New Madrid
  4. Hummingbird
  5. You and I
  6. Please Tell My Brother
  7. Born Alone
  8. Jesus Etc
  9. Passenger Side
  10. I’m The Man
(Full Band Encore)
  1. Give Back the Key to My Heart (Doug Sahm collaboration from Uncle Tupelo’s Anodyne recorded at Cedar Creek here in Austin)
  2. California Stars
(Solo Encore)
  1. Misunderstood
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H.M.S. Pinafore: this saucy ship’s a beauty

This production of H.M.S. Pinafore captivates. The orchestra’s bigger and brighter than ever (19 members counted), and so’s the chorus (28 members counted). Both the men and the women of the chorus excel, and for once the men get to dance more than the women. The orchestra is bold and bright, a true pleasure to hear.

Austin favorites Holton Johnson, Russell Gregory, Janette Jones, and David Fontenot reprised starring roles to great applause; Gil Zilkha as the captain and Carol Brown as Josephine, his daughter, shone. We attended the Sunday matinee that was preceded by a one-hour program for young people. H.M.S. Pinafore held the attention of children for the entire performance. There was no difficulty at all in understanding the snappy lyrics, so clearly sung, but there are supertitles above the stage for anyone who may find them to be a helpful supplement to the performance.

This show is crammed with songs that are not to be forgotten. Most are jaunty and funny; some are a bit more serious and are treated so (for example, “Refrain, audacious tar”). Pinafore will make happy people happier and will brighten the darkest day.

Remaining performances are: Thursday, June 19, 7:30 pm; Friday, June 20, 7:30 pm; Saturday, June 21, 2 pm and 7:30 pm; and Sunday, June 22, 2 pm. All seats are reserved; tickets may be purchased on line for pick-up at the theater (Brentwood Chistian School, 11908 North Lamar).

Thank you, Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Austin!

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Austin City Limits Taping – Beck

Beck - Austin City Limits TapingBeck taped a broadcast for Austin City Limits on this past Sunday night. Terry Lickona’s typical pre-show intro included a reminder that Austin City Limits celebrates its 40th year this year. They’re doing some special shows for the Fall that include past performers. They taped the first performances last week with Willie Nelson (the show’s first performer) and also Double Trouble, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s backing band.

It’s been a while since I paid very much attention to Beck. I’m glad he’s still out there cranking out music. He’s certainly proven that he’s got the longevity. I remember really cursing that I had moved to NYC during SXSW in 1994 when he played a well received set. That was also the year that Johnny Cash played Emo’s. I picked up Odelay as I moved back in 1995. Since then, the only other Beck album I’d purchased was Midnite Vultures. That’s the one that I (and I’m sure others) like to refer to as Beck’s “Prince Album”. His latest, Morning Phase, is said to be more similar to 2002’s Sea Change which appears to be pretty well regarded and I completely missed it at the time. Judging from the songs from Morning Phase that he played for the taping, it’s definitely an acoustic 70’s pop radio feel. I loved this show because it reminded me of some great radio hits that I’d forgotten and introduced me to some new songs along with songs that I had missed. “Think I’m In Love” from 2006’s The Information is super catchy. I feel like I must’ve heard it before, but even if I didn’t, the first listen had me hooked. I tend to enjoy his more groove-related stuff, but I did find “Blackbird Change” from Morning Phase sticking with me after the taping.

The band included guitar, bass, two keyboard/multi-instrumentalists and a drummer, Joey Waronker, with a kit to rival Neal Peart. The drum sound was amazing, particularly the tom toms. During their set (list included below courtesy of Leslie from ACL’s twitter feed), Beck called an audible and decided to do all of the acoustic numbers in the middle. This required a bit of a shuffle for the ACL crew. They also ended up re-doing three of the acoustic songs at the end. Their first stage exit after “E-Pro” was amusing. They all fell down to the ground with their instruments feeding back and then eventually crawled their way, snake-like offstage. I’m hoping they include that in the broadcast. It was likely more amusing for those of us watching from the balcony since we could see what they were up to. To the people on the floor, it probably looked like they had disappeared. I missed “New Pollution” and really could’ve done without “Loser”. It’s one of those songs that’s so overplayed, I probably would’nt mind if I never heard it again. I think it was the most lackluster performance of the entire set.

I mentioned in my review of the Fun. taping that the ACL staff has become much more militant about cell phones during the taping. This is understandable, but they must really have had problems over the past year. I typically use my phone to take a few notes for my reviews. I turn the brightness down to the lowest setting and hold the phone down between my knees to minimize distraction. It’s never been a problem, but this time, an usher tapped me on the shoulder and gestured that he was going to throw me out if I didn’t put the phone away. It seems a little overly militant to me though. I guess I’ll be bringing a notepad and pen from now on and kick it old school reporter-like.

Beck plays the Austin City Limits Festival this year and the episode that was taped this past week will air in October.

Set List:

  1. Devil’s Haircut (Odelay)
  2. Black Tambourine (Guero)
  3. Think I’m in Love (The Information)
  4. Golden Age (Sea Change)
  5. Blackbird Chain (Morning Phase)
  6. Don’t Let it Go (Morning Phase)
  7. Country Down (Morning Phase)
  8. Lost Cause (Sea Change)
  9. Sissyneck (Odelay)
  10. Soldier Jane (The Information)
  11. Blue Moon (Morning Phase)
  12. Dead Melodies (Mutations)
  13. Say Goodbye (Morning Phase)
  14. Waking Light (Morning Phase)
  15. Soul of a Man (Modern Guilt)
  16. Loser (Mellow Gold)
  17. Girl (Guero)
  18. E-Pro (Guero)
  19. Where It’s At (Odelay)
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The circus: mejor que nunca!

Circo Hermanos Vazquez is back in town, set up in the Highland Mall parking lot, and it truly is “better than ever,” which is saying something!

The seats in the capacious and sturdy big top are more comfortable than ever. No bad seats are to be found. There’s an eight-person live band again this year to accompany the acts, and the volume is not too loud for anyone, including all the infants, toddlers, and older children at the show attended. There are porta-privies available as there are at most events in Austin, and there are also sinks with soap for hand-washing inside the tent near the food-service area. The lighting seems to be entirely LED and provides excellent illumination. The audience is allowed to take still pictures and videos, so long as no flash is used.

The artists without exception were most entertaining and the acts were smartly paced and well done. They included funny dogs, a beautiful liberty act with white and dark Arabian horses, Russian swing, balance performances, an ingenious act featuring diabolos or Chinese yo-yos, aerial shows, two outstanding clown acts, and more. We were spared the cliches of the “wheel of death” and the “motorcycle globe of death.”

There’s a fifteen-minute intermission, during which attendees may have their pictures taken with the beautiful dog-act lady and some of the featured canines, with the result printed on the spot. Following the circus, there were two other photo opportunities, with the clowns and with the beautiful dancing girls.

Remaining shows are tonight (Wednesday) and tomorrow (Thursday) at 7:30 pm, plus Friday and Saturday at 6 pm and 9 pm, with the last performances on Sunday, April 13, at 2 pm, 5 pm, and 8 pm.

Prices are: adult general admission, $40.00; adult senior general admission, $35.00; children’s admission, $15; so-called “better seats” for adults, $50.00, and for senior adults, $45.00; with “VIP” adult seats going for $60.00. Radio 107.7-fm is stationed at Highland to give away free promotional items.

There’s no need at all to know any Spanish to enjoy this Circo Hermanos Vazquez. Safety announcements are made in English for those who need it; after that, words are completely unnecessary. See a few pix and unedited videos; go to the circus!

The box office is open every day from 10 am to 9 pm; tickets are also sold at Fiesta Mart.

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John Mueller Meat Co.





This is just some of the signage at this wonderful BBQ place on Pedernales Street.

John Mueller Meat Co. was selling out of everything quite early in the afternoon yesterday.

We caught some brisket just in time.

There were walk-up neighbors dining under the canopy, along by SXSWers. Everyone was happy, and rightly so.

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