Arts & Culture

  • Cyann & Ben

    By Nikki Butgereit Sweet Beliefs, the third album from Paris-based quartet Cyann & Ben, could be a soundtrack to a film comprised of views from a car window on a psychedelic drive. The tracks pile vocals on top of synthesizer effects on top of organ and piano on top of guitar and drums. The effect is a swirling kaleidoscope of sounds where the meaning of the songs comes more from music than lyrics; the nine tracks flow almost seamlessly, building on each other while creating different moods and moments. The twinkling effects and scratch beats in “Sunny Morning” evoke rays of light sparkling on a lake with the persistent, long-held organ notes creating a hum in your head. “Let It Play” sounds like a whirling carousel that picks up speed as the song goes along, making your head spin slightly as the music intensifies to an exuberant crescendo. The track drops off abruptly and the next song, “Somewhere In The Light,” is a spare and melancholy, featuring Cyann’s sweetly lilting vocals, a piano and little else. Cyann & Ben’s music is reminiscent of Sigur Rós, particularly “In Union With…,” where the different instruments seem to be doing their own thing, like each part was created independently and then mashed together to form something that sounds richer for its spontaneity. With the promise of spring whispering all around, Sweet Beliefs is the perfect music to surround you and stir up daydreams as you cruise along the highway. VS

  • The Fall

    The mid- to late ‘70s was a time of musical change. If the ’60s “free love” culture, though hopeful, was not enough to transform mass awareness, then the “fuck you” attitude of punk and post-punk was the necessary conduit for change. Though The Ramones and The Sex Pistols captured the spotlight, no other band was quite as prolific and influential as The Fall. Throughout their history, which spans 30+ years, 50-some lineups and over 20 records, The Fall remain true to their roots. The Fall approach each release with a freshness orchestrated by stoic frontman Mark E. Smith and Post-TLC Reformation!, is no exception. The first track, “Over, Over,” begins with a menacing laugh and segues into, “I think it’s over now/I think it’s ending/I think it’s over now/I think it’s beginning.” Accompanied by a droned-out bass, a simple guitar progression and ambient sounds, “Over, Over” is an homage to cycles. This album is raw and some tracks sound improvised. “Insult Song” is a narrative, almost abrasive recounting of past show experiences interlaced with dark imagery and a satirical, intermittent chuckle from Smith. The beat is steady and syncopated, with a slap bass progression and melodic guitar solos. The overall effect complements the development of the story it tells. Post-TLC Reformation! is dark, but not depressing. The vocal style is consistently dreary, but the upbeat bass and uncompromising guitar riffs create a harmonizing juxtaposition that never lets the listener get too far down to get back up again. It’s groovy. VS

  • Green Gables

    The Green Gables were perfectly pitched on the set of First Stage Children’s Theater as they opened a musical version of the L.M. Montgomery classic novel Anne of Green Gables this past weekend. The book, music and lyrics, all penned by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman, do both literally and figuratively sing on stage from the first notes of “Have you ever seen such red hair?” Milwaukee’s well-known Richard Carsey was musical director along with Alissa Rhode and together the two skillfully integrated the score into the script. The melodies of the songs “Providential” and “A Dress with Puffy Sleeves” are two of the memorable selections, which were all well executed by the ensemble. Easing the beloved Anne Shirley through her teenage years during the 1900s in music is a formidable task, but both the production and the cast carry her with considerable charm. From the moment 14-year-old Jenna Wolfsohn steps on stage as Anne saying, “Anne looks so much more distinguished with an e,” she creates a character to embrace. As she finds her place among the people of Prince Edward Island in Avonlea, the music underscores her trials, including the death of Matthew in the second act. Her outspoken nature is clearly captured. By combining her talents with veterans Linda Stephens (Marilla Cuthburt) and Michael Duncan (her brother Matthew) a family is created during the performance that remains ever true to the love that abounds when an orphan finds a home. The Gables Cast, many of whom are First Stage Academy Students, includes standout performances by Kendall Iris Yorkey as Diana and Alex Miller as Gilbert. The Academy often jump starts the careers of these young actors, as Alex will be heading off to college auditions to pursue a BFA in musical theater. Corinne Kenwood, as Minnie Mae, was thrilled to be making her First Stage debut. The entire ensemble was an asset to the production as they walked the aisles of the Todd Wehr Theater in chorus or executed clever choreography around the outskirts of the delightful set. Members of the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra were the distinguished three-piece orchestra, which accompany this polished presentation. Since “Anne of Green Gables” has just entered public domain, now free from copyrights, several versions are in production around the country, including one currently in New York. This two-hour version, adeptly directed by John Maclay, moves quickly and smoothly, enchanting even the smallest members in the audience. At the end the ensemble sings, “Dreams are made of perfectly happy thoughts, and perfectly happy thoughts do come true.” First Stage’s Green Gables is an evening of dreams come true, especially for those children who dream of stepping on a stage. A perfect way to remember the Anne of Green Gables from childhood. VS Green Gables by First Stage Children’s Theater is presented in the Todd Wehr Theater, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts through April 22. Tickets: 414-273-7206.

  • String of Pearls

    Michele Lowe’s String of Pearls follows the title object through 30-years, as it passes from owner to owner to owner. Slowly, the necklace makes its long journey full circle as it leaves its mark on the lives of a large number of characters. Featuring some impressive talent in a small space, Renaissance Theaterworks’ production of the play is an enjoyable collection of dramatic moments. For the most part this is a string of disjointed moments held together by a single prop. The prop itself isn’t always extremely prominent in each of the stories that the play consists of, so it ends up feeling like more of a symbolic gimmick than a character that mixes with the rest of the play. The action onstage is largely spoken directly to the audience, making String of Pearls feel like a collection of monologues that aspires to be a single, cohesive play. It may not quite make it, but there are so many genuinely touching moments here that it hardly seems worth the effort to string them together at all. Renaissance has put together a cast for its production that not only captures attentions and imagination throughout the play’s many stories, it also manages to keep things flowing gracefully enough that each story seems to naturally flow from the one before it. And though we are, for the most part, watching a string of monologues, the actresses here have a strong enough chemistry as a whole to make it feel like they are all interacting with each other in a single story. Each actress holds several roles over the course of the play. None are so pleasantly wide-ranging as those performed by long-time Milwaukee stage actress Mary MacDonald Kerr. The butch, overweight lesbian gravedigger she plays at the end of the show may not fit her physically, but she plays it sympathetically with more than enough heart to make her performance truly engaging. Earlier on, she plays a comically annoying mother of an adult daughter, the comically hip mother of a much younger daughter and more. Kerr stands out in a script that hands many of the fun roles to her with only a smattering of truly heavy drama. While Tracy Michelle Arnold plays a number of roles herself, nowhere is she more memorable than in the role of an Irish funeral home employee who is looking after her aging mother. Arnold plays both high comedy and endearing drama from the subtle, Irish intonations of a woman whom seems to have spent a great deal of time pummeling. She’s brilliantly reserved in the role. So much comes out of so little in her performance here. Making her Renaissance debut in this production, it’s nice to see the American Players Theatre actress on a much smaller local Milwaukee stage. Tammy Workentin and Laura Birmingham round out the cast. Birmingham renders some really powerful moments as a woman looking back over her life at the beginning of the play and perhaps looking forward to new life […]

  • The Decemberists’ Chris Funk

    Anyone with even a minute awareness of The Decemberists would find it challenging to resist asking guitarist Chris Funk all kinds of ridiculousness, like the random “What’s your favorite Western?” or the general “Why are you guys so fun?” But, it takes only one spin of anything in their catalogue to understand – Guitarmageddon, stage antics and official drink aside – that they are indeed serious musicians. With Guitarmageddon, stage antics and official drink considered, however, perhaps “serious about music” would be a better phrase. Multi-instrumentalist Funk, who personally handled acoustic guitar, banjo, bouzouki, dulcimer, electric guitar, hurdy-gurdy, pedal steel and percussion on 2006’s The Crane Wife alone, is fresh off a European tour and at home in Oregon, a state whose spectacle and character lured him from the Midwest over a decade ago. “I felt like I had done all I could do,” says the Indiana native. “I wanted to move out to Oregon to play music, for some reason.” Portland may now be the hub for a list of acts just as extensive as Funk’s performance credits, but, he adds, “at the time it wasn’t known as a musical city, and not a music-industry city by any stretch of the imagination.” Intuition paid off for Funk, who has toured with The Decemberists for around six years, a substantial tenure. During that short span, they have cultivated an active community of fans and released four LPs and five EPs (including two online exclusives) to critical kudos. As impressive as that sounds, to Funk, it only means that he, vocalist Colin Meloy, keyboardist Jenny Conlee, bassist Nate Query and drummer John Moen simply “happen to find ourselves in a rock band that people marginally care about.” The understating Funk knows that “blowing people’s minds is really difficult to do these days” and that not many since Jimi Hendrix have accomplished anything of the sort. “I’m not saying our band is doing it; I don’t think our band is,” he says. Yet sitting somewhere between Hendrix and today’s Top 40 are The Decemberists. So what are they doing exactly? “We’re a pop band and that’s about it.” It’s clear that Funk is realistic, even while contributing to a group especially keen on narrative, mythology and folklore. That being said, The Decemberists aren’t your trendy, textbook cool, or even a particularly marketable band, which is why signing Capitol Records to push their new release last year, instead of their alma mater Kill Rock Stars, was a potentially risky move. Thankfully, outside of the inevitably larger venues and increased ticket prices, corporate pitfalls have been innocuous thus far to the quintet, who places “serving music” above all else. “The responsibility is initially with yourself,” Funk explains. Integrity will prevent the release of anything they’re “not into” in the future, regardless of what label is driving their deadlines. “When we make a record, we feel an unspoken responsibility to make ourselves happy and entertain ourselves.” The Decemberists are celebrated for their over-the-top theatrics and […]

  • Low

    Two years ago, The Great Destroyer marked a period of incredible transition for Low. Not only did the album itself bristle with challenges to the band’s established method of slow and steady and hauntingly beautiful, but the period shortly after its release also saw bassist Zak Sally leave the band and founding member Alan Sparhawk check into the hospital for mental health treatment. Clearly, there were shakeups, and Drums and Guns refracts the altered configuration of thoughts and people. Producer Dave Fridmann returns to work the subtle transformations that informed his efforts on The Great Destroyer (and with bands like The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev) ; new bassist and vocalist Matt Livingston fills no one’s shoes but his own and the album feels constantly unsettled. Even now, with listeners braced for new directions, Low’s music surprises. The opening track, “Pretty People,” crackles in with static and feedback as it raises a golem of Eastern-flavored psychedelic meditation. “Always Fade” sets an electronic whirl in the background of a jazz-funk bass line and a thunderous cardboard-like snare snap. And “Take Your Time” drops chiming bells over a deliberately skipping loop of church-like vocal cadences and a tinny drum-machine rhythm. Even in relatively familiar territory – the vocal harmonizing between Sparhawk and wife/drummer Mimi Parker is as tenderly hushed as ever on “Belarus” – Low orient themselves to see and hear things differently. Drums and Guns mesmerizes listeners to do the same. VS

  • Milwaukee Area Museums & Galleries

    A comprehensive listing of art museums, galleries and visual art spaces in and around Milwaukee.