KanKouran West African
Nobody starts a dance concert like the warrior-fierce drummers of KanKouran West African Dance Company. Saturday at Lisner Auditorium, as the company celebrated its 21st anniversary with what seemed more like a gathering of friends than a fundraiser, the drummers ruled. From their entrance processional to their second-act set, the eight men led by Senegalese drum master Medoune Yacine Gueye rapped out bone-jarring rhythms that pushed the KanKouran dancers to ever-higher climaxes.
"Circle of Praise" told one man's story through rhythm and movement, reflecting the journey of a people from Africa to America. The program called attention to Assane Konte, the founder and driving force of the high-octane troupe. His history serves as a repository of West Africa's cultural legacy and exemplifies how to share this sacred trust with the community. Opener "Take Me to the Water . . . to be baptized into the Circle of Praise" returned Konte to his roots. Set in an African American church, the work had dancers exerting prayerful reaches and spirit-filled stomps. Konte, the centerpiece of this dance by Sherrill Berryman-Johnson, trembled and twitched as performers dressed him in white to prepare him for Ronald K. Brown's "Ground for Redemption." That piece, rooted in the Afro-Caribbean dance-worship tradition, featured a chorus of white-clad women with undulating torsos and gently supple arms.
San Francisco-based Diamano Coura West African Dance Company's processional introduced "Lorma/Vai," a dance of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. The village spiritual seer, Zoe, clad and masked from head to toe in lengths of dried grass and resembling a human mop, thwarted evil spirits.
Finally, Konte returned with his company for KanKouran's signature finale: piston-pumping knees, rolling shoulders, generous hip thrusts and shimmies, and surprise stops and starts. The audience rose and roared appreciation.
At the end of the program, Konte received the Pola Nirenska Award for outstanding contributions to dance. Fabian Barnes, founder of the Dance Institute of Washington, and dance educator Rima Faber presented the award, administered by the Washington Performing Arts Society.
-- Lisa Traiger
Hampered by an early curfew and several long-winded opening acts -- particularly odious was the tiresome Graham Colton Band -- Cake never got into much of a groove at Merriweather Post Pavilion Saturday night, even though the Sacramento band's quirky, catchy tunes seem designed for the summer concert season.
Frontman John McCrea wasn't officially leading the quintet in a kickoff tour to support its fifth album, "Pressure Chief," mostly because the recording won't be released until mid-October. But the promise of the new disc did hover over the truncated show.
Advance copies don't reveal any radical breaks with the Cake recipe, but McCrea seems to sing with more attention to melody and actual sincerity than he's mustered in the past. That openness was present during some of the new songs Saturday, especially the churning "Wheels" and the sprightly anti-pollution screed "Carbon Monoxide." But for the large crowd -- no doubt enticed by blissful weather and $10 general admission tickets -- it was the burrowing guitar lines and hopping percussion of tunes like "Comfort Eagle," "Daria" and "Frank Sinatra" that got them shouting "Ho!" and "Hey!" in rickety unison. Whether "Pressure Chief" and its lead single, "No Phone," will break Cake beyond its core fan base of college-age slackers is unclear, but there wasn't any doubt Saturday night that a half-year layoff hasn't affected the band's snarky, oddball charm.
-- Patrick Foster
'Chicks With Attitude'
The "Chicks With Attitude" tour hit the 9:30 club on Friday night with four performers ranging in 'tude from brooding teenager Katy Rose to pop star-mom Liz Phair.
Swedish rockers the Cardigans gave a solid set of melancholy melodies, with Nina Persson's lilting vocals wafting over her band's simple but full arrangements. The Cardigans' songs were more pensive than angry, such as the outstanding "Communication" and the hopeful "A Good Horse." Overall, the Cardigans' set steered far clear of the fluffy pop that first made them famous -- and although they didn't play their biggest hit, "Lovefool," Phair opened her set with it in celebration of the tour's final night.
Despite the tour's moniker, showing attitude wasn't always a good thing: Rose -- who looks and sounds like Avril Lavigne -- spewed teen angst in a half-hour set that was memorable more for her dancing than for her music. The show's opener, Charlotte Martin, played piano with a nod to Tori Amos's dramatic phrasings, and while her reverb-soaked vocals expanded her sound in the absence of a backing band, her maudlin singing overwhelmed her cover of "Wild Horses."
If attitude were measured by the shortness of one's skirt, Phair would've won the gold medal. While her muffled vocals drew unnecessary attention to her recorded vocal overdubs, Phair's energy kept the audience bouncing 41/2 hours after the music first started as she alternated between her early classics and new pop hits.
And because apparently a chick can show more attitude with the proper makeup, tour sponsor Maybelline had a makeover booth set up within the club -- and free eye shadow samples at the end of the show.
-- Catherine P. Lewis
If some folks wandered into Blues Alley on Saturday night not knowing Mose Allison from Moses Malone, they may have left thinking that Allison's lacerating songs concerning political and cultural lunacy were composed post-9/11. Not so.
But certainly some of the 76-year-old tunesmith's vintage commentaries -- "Ever Since the World Ended" and "Monsters of the Id," for example -- now seem eerily prescient. Such lines as "Ever since the world ended, I don't go out as much" resonate with audiences as never before.
Allison isn't prone to rant; he's too southern and droll for that. Instead, he skewers his targets with surgical precision and caustic wit. His drawling voice still echoes his Mississippi roots and his fondness for old bluesmen and beboppers alike. Listening to him comment on the public's insatiable appetite for celebrity news -- "Who's fat, who's thin, who raises your thermostat?" -- one was reminded that Allison has never been "in" long enough to be tossed "out." Yet the list of artists who've covered his songs -- Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, the Who, Elvis Costello and Diana Krall, among others -- continues to grow, just as his concerts continue to delight fans, old and young.
Saturday night Allison was accompanied by bassist Tommy Cecil and drummer Tony Martucci. The pair have worked so closely with Allison over the years that they make the task of underpinning and accenting his notoriously quirky and sometimes vertigo-inducing piano flights appear deceptively simple. There were moments, though, when flashes of Allison's comic genius made stifling a laugh impossible even for them.
-- Mike Joyce