Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Long Weekend Of Good Art

I heard about the band Gogol Bordello for the first time on NPR's On Point radio show, my favorite podcast. Host Tom Ashbrook was interviewing GB's singer, Eugene Hutz, and asked him to describe the world-famous GB concerts. Hutz's response: "It's like a great, cosmic orgasm." I knew I had to hear this band. The group is best described as gypsy punk, but they are a group of eight people from all over the world, and their collective cultural heritages seem to come out in the music. Besides their great sound, what really captivates me about GB is their catchy, yet profound, lyrics. This first struck me when I heard "Zina-Marina," a catchy-as-hell little ditty that happens to be about ... sex trafficking. Hutz told Ashbrook that the song was inspired by a trip back to his native country, Ukraine, when he noticed that all the beautiful women were gone. He asked someone about it, who said that they are recruited as overseas "models" and are sold into sex trafficking.

In a similar vain of catchy, but pointed, songwriting, Hutz sings in "Break the Spell," a song about prejudice against the Roma, "You love our music, but you hate our guts. I know you still want me to ride the back of the bus." Ouch!

A great GB classic is "American Wedding,"(video link here), which manages to capture the boring nature of most American weddings. This is where attending mostly Orthodox Jewish weddings has spoiled me: they make most other American weddings, including other Jewish-but-not-Orthodox weddings, seem lovely but ... boring (no offense meant if you had one!) Thus, "American Wedding" cracks me up.

Anyway, back to their show: it was as close to a cosmic orgasm as I could imagine -- I have never seen a band more masterfully work their crowd. The fans, and GB, were loving it, and they played a good mix of old favorites and lots of stuff from the new album. It was a great time, and even though my feet were killing me from standing for 4.5 hours (the club is standing-room only), it was really worth it. In the coolest move ever, after the encore, one of the band members announced that they would meet fans at the after party at the bar across the street from the club! How cool! If I had the stamina, I would've gone.

Kudos to the 9:30 Club for having free Wi-Fi so I could play my Scrabble games against David and my sister in between the acts. One of those opening acts, Man Man, was the most hilarious performances I have ever seen. These guys, whom David points out have not one, but two, xylophones, had their faces painted and all started off wearing white shorts that look ridiculous on grown men. The singer ended up wearing a bunch of different outfits, including a flasher-style trench coat, and a beaded ladies' tunic. Man Man's act was so bizarre and funny to me, I literally had tears of laughter streaming down my face. As for their music, I can't improve upon David's description: "Imagine if Frank Zappa hired Devo to play klezmer music, and added Tony Clifton as a frontman."

Our second great arts experience of New Year's weekend was seeing the Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of Candide. It had gotten rave reviews from media in D.C., but it really upped the ante to see it when my mom -- who lives in Memphis, TN, -- said she had heard it was incredible. In a moment of serendipity, the day after that conversation with my mom, I got a Goldstar notice that they had $30 tickets for Candide over the weekend. I never read "Candide," so I had no idea what to expect, but I really enjoyed the show. The subject matter at hand is whether the doctrine of Optimism -- whether everything that happens is for the best and furthers God's plan -- is viable or true (Voltaire's answer, and mine, is a resonant "no.") Interestingly, I have a devout Mormon friend who believes this, that everything that happens is part of God's plan. This has come up with her in several discussions, and I always have a universes colliding moment, because that is so not my worldview, or that of my faith. Anyway, back to the play: it managed to be amusing, cheeky, provocative, and entertaining for a full three hours. The acting, music, and sets were really awesome, and I felt privileged to have seen it. I was pleased that the male and female leads were both in the Broadway show "Rock of Ages," which of course you knew about since you read my blog post about when I met Dee Snider.

We had a tiring weekend, since both the concert and musical meant that we couldn't go to bed until past 12:30 a.m., but we really enjoyed ourselves and got to experience two very different kinds of great art.

One of the things that occurred to me when we saw the play was how awesome Washington theater has gotten in the past decade. I don't recall D.C. being a great theater town when I moved here in 1994; the Kennedy Center was the most prolific professional theater around. Now there are tons of great theater companies doing all kinds of quality theater, and what limits my theater going is money, not lack of desirable options. There is such a variety and glut of good choices, David and I have resisted subscribing to any one theater, preferring to not be locked into one company and being able to pick and choose. My dream would be some kind of collective theater subscription, where a bunch of theaters pooled subscriptions and I could pay for a package of shows at different places.


Stef said...

Sarah, it sounds like you had a delightfully fun weekend! The band experience sounds amazing. I can't imagine how difficult it is to blend "fun" with social activism (I.e., making 'upbeat' music with a powerful message), and I appreciate any artist who can do that and make it seem "easy".  

And to contrast that with Candide... I also have never read the play, and am not familiar with the story.  I do have a (kind of, kind of not) related question for you, though: if your faith doesn't believe that everything that happens is part of God's plan, then why have a faith?  This isn't meant to be a provocative question; I truly, earnestly am curious as to the answer.  (And if you don't want to address this question online, or at all, I fully respect that.)

Okay, that's it from me for now. :)


Sarah said...

Stef, I am sick and functioning at a 2nd grade level at the moment, so I won't attempt to tackle your question right now. David and Lillie are reaping the benefits of my state and are kicking my butt at iPhone Scrabble. Hugs!

Sarah said...

Stef, I'm thinking about your question, and I need clarification before I answer it. I don't see a relationship between having a faith and believing that everything that happens is part of God's plan. To me, it's like saying, "Why go to school if you're wearing a yellow turtleneck?" What does one have to do with the other? And I guess this statement is a big part of my answer.

Stef said...

Interesting...I didn't follow your school/turtleneck association at all. :) Perhaps this question is better addressed on a phone call. Or maybe just not at all.