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Performing Arts

Monday, August 24, 2009

JUDAS PRIEST

The album-themed tour has trickled down to heavy metal. At the Merriweather Post Pavilion on Saturday, Judas Priest played all of "British Steel," the 1980 LP that is about as important to the genre as the Book of Genesis is to the Bible.

With that album, the quintet that formed 40 years ago in Birmingham, England, forged a brand of hard rock that was both macho and non-sexual. By the time singer Rob Halford broke metal's "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" policy by coming out as a gay man in 1998, he had been wearing leather chaps and studded jackets for decades, and gotten most of his professional peers to follow.

Halford, who turns 58 this week and is still all about the leather, kicked off the Merriweather show by delivering the opening line to "Rapid Fire" -- "Pounding the world like a battering ram!" -- in the menacing shriek that just about all metal vocalists try to copy to this day. Heads banged, devil horns flashed and lasers beamed as Halford and his mates pounded the crowd with every "British Steel" track played in the order found on the U.K. version, and at a volume that could make a jet engine sound feeble. Guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, also leather-clad, duplicated the twin lead licks and facial sneers that the crowd, made up of what appeared to be fans from at least as far back as this batch of tunes, expected of them.

Following "Steel's" nine tunes, Priest went through the more popular pages of its catalogue, including the slasher epic "The Ripper," the closest-to-pop foray "You've Got Another Thing Comin'," and a cover of Joan Baez's "Diamonds and Rust" so heavy that not even Baez could identify it as her own.

Longtime local heroes Kix opened the show with the sort of fun, AC/DC-ish hard rock of that used to make crowds at Hammerjack's bounce. Kix was a last-second replacement for Priest's original tour partner, Whitesnake, after that band's puffy-haired singer, David Coverdale, blew out his throat during a recent show. It's probably not a bad thing Whitesnake didn't make the gig, what with the godawful things the night's humidity would have done to Coverdale's coif.

-- Dave McKenna

CHUCK BROWN

The crowd that filled the 9:30 club Saturday night was there for Chuck Brown, but -- as always with go-go audiences -- it was entirely capable of making its own music. The "wind me up, Chuck" chant began before the go-go pioneer had even strapped on his guitar, and throughout the show Brown ceded well-known vocal hooks to his fans.

Indeed, Brown's distinctive growl was seldom heard during the nearly two-hour concert, which marked the performer's 73rd birthday and the unveiling of "Chuck Brown Way" nearby at Seventh and T streets NW. Brown mostly played guitar, occasionally singing snatches of blues and jazz classics as well as his own compositions. Eventually he got to "Bustin' Loose," the 1979 hit that gave go-go its first national exposure.

Several other vocalists, including keyboardist Cherie Mitchell and "Little Benny" Harley, supplemented Brown. Yet the most important source of musical chatter was the strutting four-piece horn section, which interjected short phrases in the manner of a 1930s show band but also contributed longer, more modern solos.

The horns parried with Brown's guitar during both the Woody Woodpecker theme and "Also Sprach Zarathustra," two of the goofier moments in a set that ranged from Muddy Waters's "Hootchie Cootchie Man" to M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes."

While the vocals, horns and guitar jumped in and out, drummers Kenny Gross and Moe Hagans never took a break from the syncopated groove that held everything together. If Brown was the shining star of the evening, Gross and Hagans were its sweat-drenched heroes.

-- Mark Jenkins

THE BREEDERS

If the Breeders's new summer music festival, at Alexandria's Westminster Presbyterian Church, were timed conveniently for the slowest stretch of the classical music calendar. General Director Katerina Souvorova led an intensive two-week training program for young singers, who received coaching and master classes from professionals in return for modest fees to cover expenses. The goal was to stage an opera and present a recital of arias and scenes.

A mostly undergraduate cast, still very much vocally developing, gave a stripped-down, chorus-less version of Donizetti's airhead comedy "L'Elisir d'Amore" the old college try. If the results on Friday night were far from polished, it was remarkable that untried singers with relatively little preparation time brought off a more or less seamless performance. Most promising was the Nemorino of tenor Dennys Moura, with a sweet, sincere voice and true intonation that matched a guileless face. By "Una furtiva lagrima" in the second act, the top had wilted slightly, the vibrato darkening the color too much, but for a young man's first operatic role it was an achievement.

As Adina, Ashley Elisabeth Alden's clarified soprano voice was impressively solid above the staff. Nerves may have played havoc with her breath support in the middle and low ranges, where her intonation went haywire all evening long. Eric Christopher Black's Belcore had enough volume, although the sound was woolly and at times cracked, and Jim Krabbendam had the right vocal ingredients for a strong performance as Dulcamara, just not yet assembled into the complete product. Pianist Nicholas Catravas provided a sensitive approximation of the orchestral texture.

-- Charles T. Downey

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