Monday, August 14, 2006

Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young

Though his name comes last in the sequence of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Neil Young was the fulcrum of the group's show at Nissan Pavilion on Saturday night, providing the star power, the freshest material -- and the controversy.

Though the set list included political tropes spanning four decades, it was Young's new song, "Let's Impeach the President," that sent some patrons heading toward the exits. Were their red-state sensibilities offended, or was it simply that the song came late in a three-hour show and certainly felt like the climax (though the band had another half-hour to play)? Hard to say. After all, the gig had been as much an antiwar rally as a concert from its opening moments, and the audience's rapturous response to "Wooden Ships," "Military Madness" and "Almost Cut My Hair" appeared to be prompted as much by the sentiments as by the actual performances -- which, by the way, deserved the ovations they got.

Young's current "Living With War" protest disc accounted for a quarter of the material spread over two long sets, with new songs such as "Families" accompanied by a CNN-parody video presentation of uncensored combat footage and U.S. casualty counts in Iraq.

But the show gave more or less equal time to the other three songwriters, who graciously introduced one another's songs, and found some of its finest moments in performances of lesser-known ones, with Stephen Stills's "Treetop Flyer" a particular highlight. Still, "Impeach" was the only song in a set of three dozen to have its lyrics projected on the video screens, and any patrons who walked out during the lines "What if al-Qaeda blew up the levees? / Would New Orleans have been safer that way?" missed powerful renditions of "Ohio," "What Are Their Names" and an incendiary four-guitar meltdown of "Rockin' in the Free World." Chalk it up to the prescience of their authors or the folly of our leaders, but this material is still topical, and this band of sixty-somethings still rocks.

-- Chris Klimek

'Four Islands' at Wolf Trap

It takes guts to mix Britten, Chabrier, Irving Berlin, and Rodgers and Hart. Wolf Trap Opera Company Artistic Director Steven Blier is gutsy. He also showed himself to be a genial host and fine pianist at the Barns at Wolf Trap on Saturday night (although one could quibble with his naming the program "Four Islands" -- for Ireland, Madagascar, Cuba and Manhattan -- when additional islands, even imaginary ones, kept cropping up).

Soprano Heidi Stober and mezzo-soprano Lauren McNeese, fresh from triumphs in "Le Comte Ory," were outstanding. Baritone Alexander Tall was solid and expressive. Tenor Jeremy Little emoted well but pushed his voice hard and tended to shout when projecting.

The program proved too ambitious, too diffuse and too long (at 2 1/2 hours), but high points were numerous. McNeese and Tall made a delightful skit out of "The Palatine's Daughter." Stober smoldered in Kurt Weill's edgy cabaret song "Youkali." Tall was sensuous in Ravel's exotic 1926 cycle, "Chansons Madecasses." Little and Tall intertwined neatly in the ambiguous "La Cleptomana."

The most fun came from some rather silly show music. Two Jerome Kern celebrations of suburbia, "Enchanted Train" and "Bungalow in Quogue," came across as short sitcoms. And "What a Movie" from Leonard Bernstein's "Trouble in Tahiti" was a showstopper: McNeese sang and acted wonderfully.

What did they do for an encore? "Rigoletto"! Yes, a four-person Verdi scene, sung with intensity and understanding, capped this highly unusual recital. It took guts to plan it and musicianship to make it work.

-- Mark J. Estren

Irish Tenors

The luck of the Irish may be legendary, but there's a lot to say for the skill of the Irish, as demonstrated by the Irish Tenors' blending of traditional and modern songs at Wolf Trap on Friday night.

It's the first U.S. tour for this particular trio of Anthony Kearns, Karl Scully and Finbar Wright. As the new tenor on the block, Scully -- who just joined the group, replacing John McDermott -- had the most to prove, and prove it he did, with a wonderfully light voice and clear enunciation.

Kearns and Wright are old hands at this music. Their darker, fuller voices were a good fit with the many melancholy lyrics. The three tenors' tones blended beautifully in songs such as Phil Coulter's remembrance of Derry, "The Town I Loved So Well," as well as "The Irish Rover" and "The Stone Outside Dan Murphy's Door."

Many sentimental, nostalgic solos dealt with the Irish diaspora, such as Scully's heartfelt "A Song for Ireland." But some standouts had other sources: Wright's tender "The Isle of Innisfree" came from the 1952 film "The Quiet Man." Wright's "South of the Border (Down Mexico Way)" was the most incongruous song in the concert. Why perform it? Because the lyrics are by Ireland's Jimmy Kennedy, who also wrote the words to "Teddy Bears' Picnic" -- which the enthusiastic backup orchestra, under conductor Arnie Roth, played as an instrumental interlude. The tenors did not sing "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," but plenty were smiling -- some tearing up -- by the evening's end.

-- Mark J. Estren

Morris Day

Morris Day sounded good but looked even better at Constitution Hall on Friday night. Although the name Vanity belongs to another Prince pupil, Day is perhaps more deserving of the moniker. The singer adjusted the buttons of his suit jacket and his fly with care and indulged in short grooming breaks. While gazing into his ubiquitous mirror (proffered by valet/tireless hype man Jerome Benton), Day dabbed sweat and smoothed errant hairs. "Primpin' ain't easy!" shouted an audience member. Nope, but it sure is fun.

While Jas Funk spun a tremendous opening DJ set, Georgia funk rockers Mother's Finest earned a thunderous standing ovation, and Average White Band brought the entire room to its feet with "School Boy Crush" and "Pick Up the Pieces," could any of them sport a winter coat in August and still look cool? Before singing "Gigolos Get Lonely Too," Day slung a white wool duster over his shoulders for effect. "What's the matter?" he asked when the crowd hooted. "Y'all ain't never seen a pimp before?"

Morris Day and the Time, the band that launched the careers of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, revisited its bawdiest '80s funk dance tracks and some Day solo material: the paean to pantyhose, "Fishnet"; wedding singer staple "Jungle Love"; and "777-9311," digits still given out to unwanted admirers everywhere.

His steps are no longer of-the-moment, but Day excels at leading fans in a silly "brand-new dance," and his most enduring songs have corresponding choreography. "The Oak Tree" calls for vigorous jazz hands, "The Bird" requires furious arm-flapping, and "The Walk" is a modified, exaggerated two-step. Uncoordinated? Here's a series of moves anyone can execute: Bop head, roll up sleeve, look at watch and check the time.

-- Sarah Godfrey

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