It's not always easy to separate the visionaries from the pranksters in rock-and-roll (think Yoko Ono). But with a set that covered more than three decades of classic recordings in two-plus hours, David Bowie reminded a crowded house at the Patriot Center on Sunday how far ahead of the curve he so often was.
Bowie, in a shabby-chic ensemble of black jeans, cheap-looking sneakers, T-shirt and yellow scarf, mixed guitar-heavy versions of his smash hits with ecstatic renditions of his best non-smash material. At the beginning of the show, he rendered tunes about sexual confusion (1974's "Rebel Rebel" and 1972's "All the Young Dudes") that were written when pop androgyny was new enough to qualify as shocking. Madonna was practicing high school cheers when Bowie reinvented himself -- and not for the first or last time -- as the Thin White Duke for 1976's "Station to Station," a tune gloriously reprised for the Fairfax crowd. Folks old enough to know better dusted off funkless dance moves and hit the aisles during "Fame," a song that predated disco.
Bowie let longtime guitarist Earl Slick power the house-shaking take on 1973's "Panic in Detroit," which Bowie introduced as "the first song I ever wrote about terrorism." His equally heavy interpretation of 1997's "I'm Afraid of Americans," an industrial rock tune he wrote with Brian Eno and recorded with Trent Reznor, added a little too much perspective to the proceedings. There was a reverent reaction to 1981's "Under Pressure," among the finer pieces of pop bombast ever crafted, as Gail Ann Dorsey filled in for Freddie Mercury on the high notes.
After giving his spacey 1970 tune "The Man Who Sold the World" a reading that had the house swaying, Bowie said in a mock-surprised voice, "You wrote that?" -- a reference to the attention Kurt Cobain brought the song with his 1993 cover. Bowie heaped praise on some relative youngsters, covering "Cactus" by the recently reformed Pixies. He got as big a charge as anybody when he led the arena in screaming "Wham bam thank you, ma'am!" during his encore of "Suffragette City." Time was when those lyrics would get you in trouble.
-- Dave McKenna
Amultifaceted celebration commemorating 10 years of freedom in South Africa, presented at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Sunday night, started long before trumpeter and headliner Hugh Masekela played a note. Dressed in riotously colorful garb, the renowned township ensemble Moving Into Dance Mophatong swarmed the stage during Mzansi-Africa Delight, an imaginatively choreographed collage featuring nine elastic troupe members and a vibrantly percussive soundtrack.
It was, to say the least, a hard act to follow, and much the same could be said for Masekela's special guests: singer-songwriters Vusi Mahlasela, Victoria Busi Mhlongo and Jabu Khanyile. Each is blessed with a compelling voice, and their performances with Masekela and his seven-piece band generated waves of drama, poignancy, humor and sensuality.
Still, there was no upstaging Masekela, who charmed the capacity crowd with tales of his bugle-blowing boyhood (while getting in a plug for his recently published autobiography, "Still Grazing' "). At age 65, he still seems capable of wooing the world with the glowing and energizing tones he extracts from his fluegelhorn, and as if to prove the point, he brightly reprised his 1968 hit "Grazing in the Grass." His voice has grown raspy over time and his repertoire, though still rooted in township jazz percussion, has become deeper and richer. The evening's emotional high point came when he performed "Stimela," a searing portrait of the plight suffered by South African migrant mineworkers, in conjunction with the marvelously expressive dance ensemble.
The entire cast returned for a joyously sung, choreographed and crowd-fed version of "Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela)," a finale that instantly brought the audience to its feet.
-- Mike Joyce
50 Foot Wave
Kristin Hersh has spent the last 20 years playing in the rock band Throwing Muses and performing her own mellow solo songs. She brought her latest project, 50 Foot Wave, to Iota on Sunday night for a 45-minute set that teetered between pounding punk and screeching metal.
Fifty feet understates the tsunami of bludgeoning sound that assaulted the crowd, which gradually grew smaller as the set went on. While many probably left due to the sheer loudness of the music, the unbalanced mix in the club was also a problem, favoring the bass and drums over Hersh's guitar. Her vocals, which alternated between a growl and a bleat, were barely audible over the muddy mix.
Despite the poorly adjusted sound, Hersh raged all night, shrieking lyrics and pounding at her guitar, her facial expressions always restrained and glassy. Hersh's impersonal presentation, rarely speaking directly to the audience other than an occasional "thank you," gave a cold feeling to the set, and the audience's only reaction to her venomous singing was a rhythmic bounce.
The band, which also includes drummer Rob Ahlers and former Muses bassist Bernard Georges, closed with "Dog Days" from its debut EP, which somehow overcame most of the sound problems to be one of the tightest songs of the performance -- and the only one whose lyrics were distinguishable.
-- Catherine P. Lewis
Gesel Mason's 'No Boundaries'
Part editorial, part essay, Gesel Mason's "No Boundaries" mixed media performance program at Dance Place on Sunday night was a partly successful attempt to ask and answer some questions about the intersection of contemporary art and African American identity. The six pieces by six choreographers represented a range of black modern dance expression beyond its stereotypical categorization as "dances in the Alvin Ailey technique, African dance, or Negro spirituals," Mason explained.
"Belle of the Ball," choreographed by Andrea E. Woods, featured violinist Tia Hanna playing onstage. As Mason, propelled by her strong arms as she slices through space, becomes more frenetic, Hanna sings a haunting melody. In an intentionally awkward cultural juxtaposition, the piece suddenly takes on a bluegrass flavor with allusions to clogging and Irish dancing.
Driven by the George Clinton beats of Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain," Jawole Willa Jo Zollar borrowed heavily from the '60s and '70s in her fun-spirited work "Bent." Dressed in bell-bottoms and a tie-dyed top, Mason begins to move, with the arms leading the body into sensuous undulations. The shoulders then take the lead, then finally the hips. The movement extends the music and culminates in raw, exuberant athleticism.
"Rain is water as blessing" flashed across the screen as prologue to Bebe Miller's solo piece "Rain." The black stage is punctuated only by a bright green carpet of grass and Mason, statue-still in red velvet. She writhes and wiggles across the black floor, as if she is in a pond, finally reaching the haven of land.
When Mason posed the question "What is black modern dance?" to the invited artists, they answered that they did not want to be labeled in a way that would limit their creativity. Mason answered differently. "Black Angel," the final work of the evening, choreographed and danced by Mason, featured a lone dancer lost amid three video screens. A long segment featuring the 1998 hate killing of James Byrd in Jasper, Tex., and speeches by the Ku Klux Klan was too emotionally overwhelming to allow any cognitive space for the dance's commentary.
-- Barbara Allen