The recent past has been rough on Eddie Van Halen, now 49: His marriage to Valerie Bertinelli broke up. He had an artificial hip implanted. He was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue. But the savant of the six-string roused a middle-aged crowd Friday at MCI Center, flaunting his groundbreaking talent while the band performed its early, David Lee Roth-era material.
Roth left Van Halen in 1985, to be replaced by Sammy Hagar, who recently returned as the band's lead vocalist after an eight-year separation. Hagar boasted all night about being drunk and high; bassist Michael Anthony pumped up the lowbrow quotient by doing shooters with him and stumbling around the stage with a bass shaped like a Jack Daniel's bottle.
The Hagar-era Van Halen tunes have certain aural similarities to the band's earlier output; with the horrible sound mix in at least some portions of the arena, "Standing on Top of the World" could easily have been mistaken for "Dance the Night Away."
But the older songs -- "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," "Panama" and "Unchained" among them -- provided all the show's charming moments. While playing the opening of "Panama," Eddie, with his straggly brown hair tied up in a samurai-style ponytail, jumped off the drum riser and performed a running slide on his knees that ended with him bent so far back, his head nearly touched the stage. (Kudos to the manufacturer of his hip.)
Before the encore, Hagar shouted "Turn back the clock!" again and again. Eddie launched into Van Halen's first hit single, a cover of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me" that, if only for a couple of minutes, granted the wish.
-- Dave McKenna
Dave Alvin returned to form at Iota on Friday night. Or at least he returned to the form of his early days as a member of the Blasters, the barroomy Los Angeles roots/punk band.
On recent solo albums Alvin has explored traditional American folk songs and developed his own gritty singer-songwriter style. But on this night, the 49-year-old musician cast aside the quiet stuff for full-on rock, wielding his guitar like a weapon on searing solos and thrilling longtime fans with the sort of explosive music he was making a quarter century ago.
The show reflected the direction Alvin takes on his new album, "Ashgrove," a fabulous and fiery collection of bluesy tunes inspired by his visits to the long-since-closed L.A. blues club of the same name. Leading his five-piece band, the Guilty Men, he devoted much of the evening to new songs, including the entrancing title track, a gospel-tinged "Sinful Daughter" and "Nine Volt Heart," a roaring tribute to the power of a transistor radio.
With a deep, wonderfully weathered voice that owes much to America's cigarette makers, Alvin brings a richness and texture to his songs of down-and-out characters and strained relationships. It sounded especially poignant on the brutally sad "Fourth of July," arguably the best song he has written.
Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men will perform at the Birchmere on July 28 with Los Straitjackets.
-- Joe Heim
Bobby Lyle had access to a piano and an electric keyboard at Blues Alley on Saturday night, but he didn't spend the opening set playing musical chairs. Instead, he remained at the piano, where he refreshed a series of standards, unveiled two self-penned compositions and played an evocative tribute to the late Ray Charles.
"Straight and Smooth," Lyle's new double CD, inspired the performance -- or at least the "Straight" half did. Though a popular smooth jazz artist, Lyle is clearly at his best when displaying the full range of his influences in an acoustic setting, accompanied by a drummer and bassist. Swing and bop, gospel and soul, boogie and bossa nova, even glimpses of country and classical music, colored the performance, and many of the arrangements unfolded in episodic fashion, beginning with a sly or fanciful introduction that vaguely alluded to the theme.
Yet Lyle also has a way of refurbishing and celebrating classic melodies, as both "The Song Is You" and "Wave" quickly demonstrated, with their darting variations, surprising harmonies and lingering blue notes. Later, while saluting Charles with "Georgia," he transformed the tune into a touching elegy by moving from a hymnlike reflection to a soulful summation of the legend's cross-genre touch. Throughout the set, bassist Brennan Nase and drummer Mark Prince had their work cut out for them, anticipating sudden shifts in tempo and dynamics and frequent thematic twists and tangents. They served Lyle well, though, and further enhanced the show with nimble solos and quick-witted exchanges.
-- Mike Joyce
Victor Herbert's "Naughty Marietta" from 1910 is nearing its centennial, but it sounded as fresh as this morning's sunrise in a production that just ended a long run at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church.
Correction: The songs still sound that fresh; the plot, about a French countess of the ancien regime who runs away to start a new life in Louisiana, developed a serious case of arthritis long ago. But "I'm Falling in Love With Someone," "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life" and "Italian Street Song" are more vital today than most songs composed last month. The show has them, in sparkling performances, as well as many others unfamiliar today: "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp," "If I Were Anyone but Me" and "Live for Today," which are not as well known but thoroughly enjoyable.
As if that were not enough, director Darryl Winston added several songs from other Victor Herbert operettas, notably "When You're Away" and "Mister Voodoo."
The singing was excellent -- much better than one expects in a community theater production (the Mount Vernon Players, founded in 1936, are the oldest continuously operating community theater in Washington). This quality was achieved by hard work; Winston auditioned four casts before making his final selection.
Among the best voices were those of Casey Hutchinson, T.J. Cannady and Jen Morris in the leading roles, and Nick Stevens and Janice Bailey in supporting roles.
-- Joseph McLellan
National Orchestral Institute
Each year for the past 16 years, the University of Maryland-based National Orchestral Institute has brought together fine young instrumentalists from conservatories and universities around the country for concentrated coaching and mentoring that culminate in three Saturdays of orchestral musicmaking. Each year's group has its own strengths, and the orchestra fielded on Saturday at the Clarice Smith Center's Dekelboum Concert Hall for the last of this year's concerts boasted unusually able winds and a wonderfully agile and lyrical string bass section.
The program, Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra and the Berlioz "Symphonie Fantastique," gave these sections, and everyone else also, plenty to do. Wisely, conductor JoAnn Falletta let the already hyper-romantic idioms and brilliantly orchestrated tone colors speak for themselves. Her pacing gave the music the space it needed to speak clearly and she was able to allow the quiet moments, the wonderful French horn-oboe dialogue in the Berlioz third movement and the anticipatory first movement of the concerto, to develop without a feeling that something more active and menacing was about to overtake them. In the Berlioz, the bassoon-cello doubling was exquisitely balanced, allowing the overtones of each to color the other, and the violins and flutes found the same ideal balance.
Where inexperience and limited time playing together showed up most was in the measure or so it took each time for the strings to settle into racing speed in the concerto's Mendelssohnian second movement, and in the lack of concentration on the short third beat in the middle of each eight-measure phrase of the Berlioz waltz.
-- Joan Reinthaler
While the dominant music at most of the Caribbean Carnival concerts this past weekend was the simple beats and chants of soca, Friday night's pre-parade "Calypso Extravaganza" at Howard University's Cramton Auditorium offered a more lyric-heavy, old-school approach designed for listening as well as dancing.
Five veteran performers, backed by New York's Sunshine Band, delivered historic favorites and topical new efforts in approximately half-hour sets.
Opener Becket, from St. Vincent (the only non-Trinidadian on the bill), mixed singsong patois and platitudes in his plea to al Qaeda and America that "Love Is the Answer." Tigress, resplendent in a flowing dress and matching African head scarf, was a tad schmaltzy with a repertoire that included Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry." Explainer certainly stood out under the spotlights in his bright red suit, but what really captured the crowd's attention were his warm, melodically sung homilies on songs like "Life Is a Rollercoaster."
Cro Cro, in a baggy white suit with gold trim, used humor and anger to encourage "Youthman Put Down De Gun." Headliner Crazy, born Edwin Ayoung, showed how he got his name with his mad-professor robe and out-of-control hair. Aided by a rhythm section expertly melding played and programmed beats, and a horn section injecting call-and-response brassiness, this wild-eyed streetcorner preacher vocalized about aliens, referred to the vice president as a "chicken hawk" and queried, "Who Will Guard the Guards?"
-- Steve Kiviat
Saturday night at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival's La Fonda stage, a program titled "Grassroots Traditions From Central and South America" offered both quiet and energetic takes on traditional Latin music styles.
Openers Los Primos, a Mexican-rooted combo led by two acoustic guitarists and a guitarron player, served up romantic, slow dance boleros. The Silver Spring-based Guatemalan family trio Marimba Linda Xelaju followed, using mallets on a hand-carved, xylophone-like instrument six feet long. Their easy-listening tinkling evoked images of a Latinized tiki bar.
Headliner Grupo Cimarron from Colombia had its slow and subtle moments, but the band preferred frenetic triple-meter rhythms on both instrumentals and vocal numbers. Featuring a harpist, cuatro guitarist, four-string bandola llanera guitarist, acoustic bassist, maracas and two vocalists, this all-star conglomerate expertly delivered the unique sounds of eastern plains joropo music.
Resembling flamenco with its speedy string work and foot-stomping tempos, this style, as rendered by Cimarron, has stayed more folkloric than the pop version its musicians deliver when working as studio players.
On "Llanero, Si Soy Llanero" ("Plainsman, Yes I Am a Plainsman"), singer Wilton Games, in a stylish white suit and cowboy hat, displayed the tenor power of a mariachi balladeer while the harpist swiftly plucked his strings.
Fellow vocalist Ana Veydo may have looked soft with roses in her hair, but her voice was as huskily assertive as the busy syncopation behind her that had listeners dancing by evening's end.
-- Steve Kiviat