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PERFORMING ARTS

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Leslie Feist

At 16 members strong, it's hard to tell who's who in the Canadian ensemble Broken Social Scene. But judging from her sold-out Black Cat show on Wednesday night, Leslie Feist has managed to make her solo career (under the moniker Feist) stand out from the crowd.

Feist's 90-minute performance jumped styles seamlessly, from pop-jazz (the trumpet-accompanied "Gatekeeper" ) to R&B (an interpretation of the Bee Gees' "Love You Inside Out") to indie-rock (a bouncy cover of Ron Sexsmith's "Secret Heart"). Sounding like a cross between Bjork and Cat Power's Chan Marshall, Feist cooed her way through the tribal "When I Was a Young Girl" and confidently captured the melancholy of Bob Haymes's "Now at Last" (complete with a whistle solo).

Feist spent a fair amount of the set encouraging audience participation, asking the crowd to hold up lighters and leading singalongs on several songs. Introducing her final number, the sultry "Let It Die," she expressed nostalgia for "the days when romance wasn't so ironic." She brought onstage a couple from the audience to slow-dance and concocted an elaborate story of what their courtship could have been like in 1917. Her storytelling may have gone on a little bit too long, but her effort was successful, as several other couples followed their lead and danced to the mellow torch song.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

Ricky Martin

Ricky Martin is no stranger to criticism, but the 34-year-old Puerto Rican singer has recently been ridiculed not for producing ultra-commercial Latin pop but for discussing his bedroom behavior. While detractors have never silenced Martin's singing, the outraged reaction to his frank sex talk in a recent Blender magazine interview seems to be suppressing his confessional chattiness.

Martin's show at Constitution Hall on Thursday night included cries for the crowd to "let it go" and "let it flow," but talk was light as the former Menudo member and "General Hospital" actor gave a 90-minute performance of what he deemed "the best of my music."

That characterization seemed debatable when Martin opened with a trio of songs from the mediocre mash of pop, reggaeton and Middle Eastern music that was last year's "Life," as well as a reworked "Livin' la Vida Loca" that swapped the peppy horns and wailing chorus of the original for a slick electronica sound.

Things improved when Martin straddled a cajon and drummed through "Jaleo," and offered up a sultry flamenco version of "She Bangs." Pulsing Spanish-language material such as "Por Arriba, por Abajo" and "Lola, Lola," both from 1998's "Vuelve," more than made up for flat, overexposed Spanglish tunes such as the 1998 World Cup anthem, "The Cup of Life."

Martin also ingratiated himself by shedding items of clothing as the night wore on. He first emerged wearing a jacket and scarf, then donned a tank top until finally, during "La Bomba," the heartthrob ripped open his sequined tunic to reveal his chest. He then gyrated to the song's salsa rhythm, silently reassuring fans that while he may be reluctant to talk about sex these days, nothing can stop him from simulating it onstage.

-- Sarah Godfrey

Felicity Lott

While some song recitals go for deep emotion or sonic brilliance, the delightful performance by esteemed British soprano Felicity Lott and accompanist Graham Johnson at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater on Thursday evening focused more on whimsy and character. In a program of songs creatively gathered under the title "Fallen Women and Virtuous Wives," Lott variously became women of rectitude, loneliness and depravity, expertly wielding her focused and flexible voice with its warm radiance and gleaming top.

Surprisingly ribald songs of classical composers Mozart and Haydn, as well as more overflowing romantic works, traced an arc from the charming to the serious and back. Lott set the mood with an intentionally hard-edged and breathy "Nanna's Song," ladling Kurt Weill's 1939 work with a world-weariness that seemed far removed from the enraptured tenderness of "Here I'll Stay," which closed out the first half. Along with beautiful characterizations of Brahms and Schumann songs, Lott called forth the tragic heroine Ophelia in radiantly delivered works of Richard Strauss.

After intermission, the musicians skillfully plumbed such gorgeous, lighthearted French works as Reynaldo Hahn's pleasingly sinister and melodic "It Is Very Bad to Be Unfaithful." Lott also delivered a trio of Noel Coward songs with confidence and panache.

At every turn, Johnson played with a continual sense of balance and rapport that was sensitive to the texts and mood. The Vocal Arts Society of Washington presented this memorable evening.

-- Daniel Ginsberg

Deadboy & the Elephantmen

He's not quite in Joseph Merrick's league, but Dax Riggs, leader of Louisiana duo Deadboy & the Elephantmen, has always been something of an outcast. Through his days with sludge-metal band Acid Bath, more conventional hard rockers Agents of Oblivion and a full-band version of his current outfit, Riggs has consistently labored on the fringes. But his appearance (with drummer/singer Tessie Brunet) at Iota Thursday night seemed to mark a new phase: Deadboy's new album, "We Are Night Sky" is the highest-profile release of Riggs's career, the duo will open a string of dates for the Fiery Furnaces later this month and Riggs's singing has never sounded better. All of which made their uneven set a little puzzling.

Deadboy's new disc -- skip the lazy White Stripes comparisons, please -- is radically pared down, but the songs sounded more like incantations than anything else Thursday, electric or acoustic guitar riffs underpinning short phrases that burrowed into Brunet's raw, thudding beats. The pair handled that high-drama stuff -- "Misadventures of Dope," "Stop, I'm Already Dead" -- too casually, lurching at times, losing the edge at others. The sparks came when Brunet went easy on the drums and matched her delicate high harmonies to Riggs's throaty leads, turning "No Rainbow," "How Long the Night Was" and "Evil Friend" into spooky tone poems: half blues and half strung-out T. Rex lamentations. It's that combination that might finally bring Deadboy & the Elephantmen out of the shadows.

-- Patrick Foster

Richard Lewis

Richard Lewis opened his show Thursday at the Improv with a warning.

"Okay, here's the deal -- I don't have an act -- I'm just trying to hone my life," he said in his trademark confessional style. "I just got married. I'm 58. I can't take it."

He elaborated on everything he "can't take" for more than an hour in a frenetic monologue filled with illogical transitions, disjointed observations and unfinished anecdotes.

Smooth-flowing delivery, of course, is not something you'd expect from a man who has made desperate neuroses the center of his comedy for more than a quarter-century. And though neither marriage nor his regular gig working with longtime friend Larry David on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" seems to have brought him peace, his hand-wringing, hair-pulling responses to life are funny as ever.

Lewis's rant mainly turns inward, making fun of his appearance ("a behind that looks like a Shar-Pei"), his sexual misadventures ("I used to be a buccaneer in bed; now I'm like Ed Norton") and growing old ("I look like Leonard Cohen with cancer").

But he also took some political shots. Regarding the riots by Muslims in the Middle East offended by European newspaper cartoons, he said: "I wish the prophet Muhammad would come down and kick the [stuff] out of these fundamentalists." And, of the current president and his immediate predecessor, he observed: "I'd rather have a sex addict in the White House than a man who has English as a second language."

Comedian Jared Stern introduced Lewis and an appealing opening act by Eric Lydon; the show runs through tomorrow at the Northwest club.

-- Leonard Hughes

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