Monday, October 27, 2008

Alan Jackson

Alan Jackson is the least bombastic modern country superstar. So Jackson was just telling it like it is when he told the Patriot Center audience on Saturday that he's had so many hits that "I can't name 'em." But then he tried to play 'em -- all of 'em. Or at least parts of all of 'em.

Jackson, who turned 50 this month, really has written and/or sung dozens of No. 1 hits over the last two decades, and he didn't want to send anybody home without hearing a personal favorite. He tried to please everybody by delivering abridged versions of many of his smashes. Among the nuggets that Jackson and his grand big band, the Strayhorns, gave the medley treatment to: "It Must Be Love," "Here in the Real World," "Who's Cheatin' Who?"

Good intentions aside, the tactic came with a cost. Jackson, for example, dropped the best verse (the one with the "don't sound much different than Dylan" line) of "Gone Country." And the romantic ballads, including "When Somebody Loves You," and his cover of Rodney Crowell's "Song for the Life," lost their emotional power when given short shrift.

The show's best moments came during songs that were delivered whole. His tributes to father-son relationships, "Drive," and "Small Town Southern Man" (the latter off his latest CD, "Good Time"), were as touching as pop country gets. Jackson gave his fabulously warm and fuzzy "Remember When" a reading that was just as long as fans remembered it, so one couple had enough time to get up in the aisle and slow-dance around the arena floor.

The concert was part of a gala sponsored by the American Freedom Foundation, a military-themed organization. The crowd was particularly into "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)," Jackson's 9/11-inspired ballad about a guy who isn't sure he could "tell you the difference in Iraq and Iran." Some would say that's a worldview that has caused the United States some problems in the years since the attacks. But, again, Jackson was just telling it like it is.

-- Dave McKenna

Dancenow Productions

Forget plastic tombstones and candy corn: For a less cliched dose of Halloween spirit, how about choreography performed on a Ouija board?

Laura Schandelmeier and Stephen Clapp of Dancenow Productions conjure up such an entertainment in "Haunted," an intriguingly spooky movement-theater piece that twitches and skates -- like a bedeviled planchette -- across a black floor painted with numbers and letters. The hour-long work, which muses in part on the documented local incident that reportedly inspired "The Exorcist," had a three-performance run over the weekend at Joe's Movement Emporium in Mount Rainier; it will encore at midnight on Oct. 31 and at 8 p.m. on All Saints' Day (Nov. 1).

Schandelmeier and Clapp created "Haunted" in concert with R.I.S.E., a musical ensemble, and Ghanaian percussionist and storyteller Kofi Dennis, who performs onstage in the show's glowing, fog-misted light. As Dennis wields drums and rattles, supplementing R.I.S.E.'s eerie recorded soundscape -- chanting, hypnotic piano riffs, poltergeist-like squeaking and hissing -- Schandelmeier and Clapp spasm, freeze and knit themselves together in movements suggesting entrapment and spiritual frenzy. Sometimes they grab at each other, or wrestle, or entwine in supported handstands, their gold-black tunics and leggings fluttering; sometimes they reverently match palms or move their hands in sync, as if invoking a spell. Sometimes Dennis joins the physicality, whirling in mystic fervor, his white garments flaring around him.

Anchoring the colorful kinetics to history, the "Haunted" soundtrack includes an echoing recitation (read by Michael Kramer) of a 1949 Washington Post article about an exorcism that, some averred, purged a Mount Rainier boy of diabolic possession (an event mined by the novel "The Exorcist"). Less persuasive is another spoken-word section, in which Dennis cites a recent local child abuse case; this sequence seems a forced bid for topicality, interrupting "Haunted's" enjoyably spectral tone.

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