Yeah Yeah Yeahs
At the Black Cat Karen O ought to wear a bib when she performs. The lead singer for the Brooklyn art-punk trio the Yeah Yeah Yeahs has made a habit of spitting beer all over herself and all over the stage. As she sprayed suds and spun in circles at the Black Cat on Sunday night, a wacky smile on her face, she looked the part of a goofy, hurling dervish.
It's all part of the elaborate performance of course. O looks like she's fulfilling some sort of punk-rock karaoke fantasy. And even though she, guitarist Nicolas Zinner and drummer Brian Chase make a ferocious, occasionally brilliant noise, it can all start to feel a bit like a novelty act after a while. The band played essentially the same show a year ago at the Black Cat, and there was little to suggest it's got anything new to offer, besides a few token songs from its upcoming full-length debut. Not that the old stuff is at all bad. "Mystery Girl" was near perfect, as was the amusingly nihilistic "Our Time," on which O proclaims, "It's our time to be hated." That's a great line and makes you wish for more good songs and less of the act.
Better better better than the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were openers the Kills. It isn't just the rock band name to die for that made the noisy duo instantly likable. It's the abandon with which they attacked the songs from their debut album, "Keep On Your Mean Side." And their post-punk names, of course. She is V.V. He is Hotel. With help from a drum track and looped sound clips they created a storm of sound built on his crunching guitars and her tortured, otherworldly howl. V.V. could teach O a thing or two.
-- Joe Heim
At the Kennedy Center Underpaid and overlooked by the oppressive micromanager Duke Vincenzo I of Mantua, the Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi sought greener professional pastures. Eventually he won the music directorship of Venice's splendid Basilica of St. Mark, reportedly boosted by his Vespers of 1610. On Sunday at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Robert Shafer led a multitude of musical forces in an ecstatic performance of the Vespers. The assembled masses -- the Washington Chorus and Orchestra (using modern instruments), the Annandale High School Women's Choir, the Washington Men's Camerata and vocal soloists -- were well balanced and responsive, combining in a blaze of Venetian-inspired grandeur.
The performers did more than justice to Monteverdi's wonderfully diverse mix of the old and new musical styles of his day. And he forged this colossal whole while maintaining a liturgically ordered succession of 14 sections. In the larger choruses, voices interwove in vigorous thrusts of antiphonal majesty, bursting into sheer ebullience as Monteverdi toyed with ever-changing metrical impulses. The orchestral players gave full support and shifted confidently from one instrumental combination to another.
The young Annandale singers gave cantus firmus passages the punch of boy sopranos but with softer sonic edges. Tenors Byron Jones and Scott Williamson showed outstanding virtuosity in the highly embellished style of early baroque opera. But often the Camerata men sounded reticent in ensemble and mushy in diction.
-- Cecelia Porter
Los Hombres Caliente
At the Kennedy Center At Blues Alley on Sunday night, Los Hombres Caliente, the horn-charged New Orleans funk-and-jazz ensemble, sounded like it was in the export business, its songbook bursting at the seams with festive sounds from Louisiana, the Caribbean and South America.
The band's recent travels to Cuba, Haiti and Brazil contributed to the party mix and complemented the homegrown swagger evident on "Creole Groove" and other tunes. Irvin Mayfield, the 24-year-old trumpeter and a protege of Wynton Marsalis, was responsible for most of the brass highlights, producing a tone that moved fluidly between pinched smears and solar flares. He shared the spotlight with co-leader and percussionist Bill Summers, a fusion jazz veteran best known for his work with the Headhunters. An ingratiating performer with a beaming smile, Summers stirred up Afro-Caribbean chants and vamps with contagious spirit and, along with drummer Ricky Sebastian, vibrantly sustained clave beats and samba rhythms.
Pianist Victor Atkins also stood out when he contrasted thick chordal vamps with bright, cascading solos.
As for the group's youthful horn section, it made up in energy what it lacked in finesse. So much so, in fact, that no one in the audience seemed to mind when "A Night in Tunisia" veered off into a boisterous and seemingly endless series of funk-inspired solos.
It was party time, after all, and the hosts were only too happy to play the role of noisemakers.
-- Mike Joyce
John Rutter Conducts
At the Kennedy Center In a collaborative performance with Columbia Union College musicians Sunday evening at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, guest conductor John Rutter energetically demonstrated how a composer, leading talented singers and instrumentalists through his own works, can ennoble music.
After a tentative start with Mozart's "Magic Flute" Overture, the New England Youth Ensemble, led by director Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse, acclimated quickly to the hall but played somewhat mechanically.
Once the baton passed to Rutter for his "Gloria," the ensemble transformed into an animated duet partner for the Columbia Collegiate Chorale. For his "Requiem," Rutter returned with soprano Kimberly Porter. Both choir and orchestra conveyed myriad emotions, but Porter's solo sounded thin and restrained in the third movement over a warm, pastoral accompaniment. She achieved better projection and expressiveness in the final movement but swallowed her last run to attain a pianissimo high note. (Her dissolving high notes had a beautiful effect in Vaughan Williams's "Serenade to Music" under chorale director James Bingham's direction in the second half.)
For the finale, mezzo-soprano Sylvia Twine joined Rutter for "Feel the Spirit," his seven-movement medley celebrating familiar spirituals. The addition of bass clarinet, tubas and drum set had Rutter bouncing on the podium. Twine's rich, enthusiastic voice, at times soulful, mournful, even playful, captured the very essence of the spiritual, most poignantly in the penultimate movement, "Deep River," accompanied by arpeggios in the harp.
A rousing arrangement of "When the Saints Go Marching In" concluded the medley -- and the concert -- in jazzy glory.
-- Grace Jean